Chapter 2: V.E. Day in the Dam

Amsterdam Travel Blog

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At 8 A.M. Dan and I were awake, alive and heading North on a train for Amsterdam.   It was the calm before the storm.  Half asleep, smiling, anticipating, hypnotized by the sound of the tracks:  we had no idea, but were preparing the best way possible.  Like athletes walking through the tunnel into a huge stadium, the excitement grew as we approached the exit doors of the station, the entrance of the city.  On May 5th, we walked out into the embrace one of the most amazing city spectacles I have ever experienced.  The bright sunshine and eighty degree weather warmed our bodies and tanned our faces instantly.  There was loud music pumping through the air; there were people everywhere!  It was more amazing than anything I had been told and everything that I had imagined about the city.  The choices of things to do were endless, but the American Tourist in me took over and made the decision, “Let’s get our heads straight!”  We went slightly to the left, about two hundred yards from the station and gave ourselves “a whole new way to look at the day.”
With our senses kick into high gear, we walked for hours just soaking up the culture, the life.  We walked around with wide eyes and ears:  listening to the different languages being spoken all around us, admiring the beautiful and unique people, getting a laugh from the openly vivid sex shops, questioning our morals in the Red-light district, capturing the freedom bestowed upon us.  I remember being so impressed with the street people earning money, not begging for it!  I must have given out twenty dollars between the energetic African who could mimic a trumpet perfectly with his voice and the first of many “human statues” I had come across.  This talented people would coat all of their clothes and skin in silver or gold and stay perfectly still until the exact perfect instance to scare someone or solute a donation.  It was well worth the price of admission to give children money to take to the statue for the various, humorous responses they would receive.  Children will stare at them forever; they were amazed!  And, that’s how I was with Amsterdam.

In Tangent #2:  Give a Man a Fish
My philosophy with street persons or the homeless is well known and straightforward, “Give a man a fish, he eats for the day.  Teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime.”  It was one of my favorite philosophical sayings that I liked to think about growing up.  It was easy to understand and how it applies, yet I had never practiced the philosophy (like so many) because it’s so difficult to refuse someone who is obviously less well off, begging on the street.  Throughout college, I was notorious for giving money to anybody that may be asking for it, definitely hundred’s of dollars over the years.  When I finally convinced myself of its relevance and importance, I needed to find a way to teach someone to fish.  This opportunity came one afternoon when I was walking up the front steps of the Michigan Union, the most central building on the University of Michigan campus, and was surprised to see a homeless gentleman begging for money wearing an arch-rival Michigan State baseball cap.  My man was pretty down on his luck, basically just holding out his hand and grunting, but his naïve fashion sense made me laugh and I saw the potential.  Making me laugh was enough to earn something from me, but I wanted him to earn it from everyone else as well!  I told him to stay there and I would be right back.  I hoped he understood.  In a recycle contained I found a pizza box and ripped off the top.  In the union, I borrowed a big, black magic marker and wrote.  When I came back to the front steps, he extended his hand not remembering that we had already met.  “I don’t have any money for you brother, but I might have something better?” placing the sign in his hands that read, “Help a Good Man Earn a Better Hat.  Go Blue!”  After class, I walked again by the area to find my boy, this time, all smiles at me, holding his sign proud and high.  He had learned to fish and it felt much better than paying the usual passing toll to avoid the situation.  

Eventually, Dan and I chose one of the very inviting outside tables for a tall, cold Heineken and all the eye candy we could handle.  Something was going on?  The city was packed with people.  The street that we sat next to must have had a few thousand people funnel by in the two hours we drank and relaxed.  We were missing the obvious (which isn’t hard to do in Amsterdam, almost expected), but something had to break and it did as we walked out into Dam Square, the center of the city.  In celebration of V.E. Day, Independence Day, the day the Canadian Army liberated the city of the Nazis, Joe Cocker stood in front of thirty thousand singing his lungs out.  Dan and I stood there in owe.  It was the perfect finale to a fantastic and eye-opening day.  We were part of two millions that join the locals in celebration on this day.  I’ll never forget the sound of those crushed beer cans, scattered everywhere on the ground in the square.  You couldn’t walk three steps without kicking and stepping on them.  The city had literally erupted!  
My first and most unprepared visit to Amsterdam was a success.  We were exhausted, but still had the strength to leave.  That’s the trick with Amsterdam.  It would be harder to find that strength later in the summer.  We had walked into the biggest Amsterdam party of the year and lived up to our half of the bargain.  Dan and I have always had great luck together and this wouldn’t be the last event that would come to us as much as we came to it.  On the way back to the station, I grabbed a couple “to go bags,” as we were headed for Rome the next day.  It would contribute to both the high and low points of my first visit to Italy.

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photo by: pearcetoyou