Brussels, Amsterdam and the Green Fairy

Posted: June 26, 2009    Categories: Belgium, Netherlands

The green shot glass on the left was mine

The green shot glass on the left was mine

I’ve left Brussels and have made the short trip to Amsterdam. I enjoyed my time in Brussels but in the end I was left with the question “what is really there?”. Brussels is the capital of the European Union and of NATO, as well as being the capital of Belgium. Unlike Paris or Rome the city isn’t dripping with history. Paris has a 1,000 foot tall iconic tower created for a world expo, Rome has a 2,000 year old Colosseum which is a wonder of the world, and Brussels has a two foot statue of a little boy peeing. It is a functional city, and yes despite stereotypes, the fries and waffles are good. (French fries are in fact not from France, but from Belgium. They came to the US after WWI when soldiers returned.) Many of the fries I had were cooked in animal fat not vegetable oil, which is very hard to find in most restaurants.

The highlight of my stay was the people I meet up with. On Saturday I met up with Ninfa, who is from Honduras, her brother and her Irish boyfriend Tony. They made me dinner in their apartment and later we went out to a bar which had the largest selection of beer, rum and absinthe in the world. I had never had absinthe before and thought I’d give it a try. It had been illegal in the US until recently. Despite rumors of absinthe causing hallucinations, I can report no such effects. It was like doing a shot with cough syrup mixed in.

Canals in Amsterdam

Canals in Amsterdam

All the absinthe drinks seemed to have something to do with fire. The shot I had was in a custom glass with a straw built into the bottom. It almost looked like a Sherlock Holmes pipe. They light the top of the drink on fire then you suck it through the straw from the bottom. You are supposed to suck it really fast so you don’t burn yourself.

The next night I met up for drinks with several twitter users in Brussels: @elise_huard, @melissa_bxl, @mateusz, @janisozoltan, and @Indeneus. It was nice to meet other Twitter users and see how they are using the technology. I think I was the only one with out an iPhone which sort of puts into perspective how long I have been on the road. When I started my trip, there was no iPhone.

Tuesday I took the train to Brugge. I had heard a lot about Brugge so I thought I’d go see it myself. Since the movie “In Brugge” came out it has been getting a lot of attention. It seemed like there were more tourists in Brugge than there were in Brussels. It is a quaint old city but it wasn’t THAT big of a deal.

Bikes in Amsterdam

Bikes in Amsterdam

I’m currently in Amsterdam which, so far, I enjoy immensely. The Dutch are probably the most fluent English speakers in Continental Europe. The English language television shows and movies which are show in the Netherlands are subtitles not dubbed, unlike in France or Italy. Everyone I have meet from the Netherlands, including Dutch people I’ve meet traveling, can speak English better than some Americans I know.

Amsterdam is just like the photos you see. Canals are everywhere and you could almost navigate through the entire city by boat. It is also the most bike friendly city I have ever seen. There are a LOT of bicycles and the roads are built to handle bike traffic. All of the bikes here look like 50 year old Schwinn bikes that my grandmother might have rode. There is a huge diversity of restaurants in city, more than I’ve seen anywhere else in Europe so far. I haven’t seen any of the legendary coffee houses or red light district, but then again I haven’t gone looking for it either.

So far I’ve been to the Rijksmuseum and I’ll be going to the van Gogh Museum today. I also might be going out with Karel, probably our best Where On Google Earth player, to visit some of the World Heritage sites outside of Amsterdam. I also plan on doing a lot of walking and photography. Amsterdam seems like one of the most photogenic cities I’ve visited so far.

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