Kasteel Well Week 1: Amsterdam
Part of our program here at Kasteel Well requires us to go on 2 mandatory excursions with the faculty and staff. Our first excursion was to Amsterdam – the largest city in the Netherlands. Although we flew into Amsterdam from the United States, this was our first real experience in a European city for many of us.
Our trip started off with a walking tour of the city led by different faculty members. As we walked through the streets and over the canals, we began to walk though different eras. We’d be surrounded by 19th century buildings, then 17th century buildings, then in a hidden village of homes that date back to the 1400s. After our tour, we wandered around the area surrounding Dam Square. I was in search of a Dutch Cycling jersey, but ultimately came home empty-handed.
Biking is huge in Amsterdam. People bike everywhere. There are bike parking garages. Bikers rule the road. One professor commented that it goes like this: Pedestrians < Cars < Gods < Bikes. It took us a little while to get used to the traffic patterns. We had to watch out for cars, trams and bikes every time we wanted to cross the street. By the time we got used to that, it was time to head home.
A visit to the Rijksmuseum resulted in an overview of Dutch history as well as the pleasure of viewing many paintings by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn – including his masterpiece em>De Nachtwacht (The Night Watch). After dinner, I settled in for an early night knowing we still had another full day ahead.
Saturday brought us to the Amsterdam museum (About the history of Amsterdam! Who knew?) and then I was off to the FOAM Photography Museum. I didn’t even know that photography museums existed, so this was quite the experience for me. The variations among the 3 exhibits we visited were incredible. From Russian photographs dating back to the late 1800s to a contemporary photographer shooting a theater group backstage, these displayed so many different avenues of photography that I had never imagined.
Amsterdam is often considered the “poster child” of certain aspects of Dutch culture such as marijuana use and prostitution. Being in the city with our Dutch staff to show us around made the experience so much more interesting for me. They explained to us how the Dutch believe in openly discussing issues that are so forbidden in most places across the globe. By legalizing soft drugs, the Dutch government is able to regulate the trade providing a safer environment for the consumers. In regards to the legalization of prostitution, the government is able to recognize the industry as a profession which means the workers pay taxes, receive benefits, and the police are in heavy numbers around the Red Light District. We heard that the average response time for a police officer is around 20-30 seconds. That definitely made our group feel safer as we took a walk through the crowded Red Light District on Saturday night. It was definitely an interesting cultural experience to see how business goes on so openly in the Netherlands while it would be completely taboo in the United States.
The final day of our trip started with a somber visit to the Anne Frank House. It was rather eerie because Otto Frank requested that the house remain empty as it was after the house was raided by the SS upon the family’s capture. Walking through the house brought back memories of my time at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.. If you are ever in Amsterdam, take the time to visit the house.
Before leaving the city, we asked the professors what we needed to eat before we left. Their response was “bitterballen & a Heineken” so off we went. Bitterballen is essentially a mixture of meat that is balled up, breaded and deep-fried. It is definitely an interesting treat and a must-have in Amsterdam! We somehow managed to make our way to the Amsterdam Centraal train station and made our way back to Kasteel Well.
One adventure down!