Sara, I have found the geek store in London (one, at least). It's called Fantasy Planet. I didn't go inside because I was in a hurry, but it looks promising.
So, Amsterdam. GORGEOUS! I love Dutch architecture! I think Amsterdam is my new favorite city. Unfortunately, I can't upload any of my photos, because I loaned my uploader cord to a friend who will not be named, and she lost it. Grr.
UPDATE: She who must not be named very promptly bought me a new and improved USB thingy! Yay! Pictures here.
I went to Amsterdam with two schoolmates, Patricia and Karen. We booked a tour with a tour group, which included transport, accommodation in a youth hostel, a canal cruise, entrance to a site with a bunch of windmills, and a few hours in Bruges. We left London by coach bus at 6am, got to Dover around 8:30. I really need to go back to Dover and explore the famous white cliffs. Parts of the cliffs were carved out as a military fortress, and you can go inside. We took the ferry from Dover to Calais, in France, then drove straight through France and Belgium to Amsterdam. It felt weird being back on French soil and not being able to stay.
We got to Amsterdam after dark, and I noted that all the homes I could see were way more inviting than any homes I pass in London. England is a dreary, dreary place. I don't know what possessed me to come here. To be fair, though, the weather in Amsterdam was dreary as well, but the houses looked so much more comfortable. We got off the coach and immediately hopped on a canal cruise, which gave us a good introduction to the city and it's architecture. Many of the row houses lining the canals used to be warehouses, but have been converted into amazing homes, where the owners kindly leave the curtains wide open so all the tourists can peer in. We then checked into our youth hostel, and rushed back out for a tour of the red light district. Having been through the red light district in Hamburg, I wasn't too shocked by anything I saw. All the women were covered up top and down below, but some of their "outfits" were scimpier than others. Some just had a thin piece of cloth stretched across their chests. The most disturbing thing about the red light district was the looks we got from the hoards of men there. It was like they couldn't turn off their horny leering when switching from looking at a prostitute to looking at a woman on the street. And we were all wearing heavy winter coats and scarves!
On Saturday, we all hopped on the bus and drove about 20 minutes into the countryside, to a site called Zaanse Schanse, "a living Dutch museum." Basically, the Dutch were worried about losing their heritage to modernization, so they dismantled some historic buildings, including several full-size windmills, and reassembled them in one site. We were treated to a demonstration of clog-making and another of cheese-making. The clogs were awesome! They had some really cute polka dot ones, and I really wanted a pair, but I couldn't justify it because there's never a time when I would need or want to wear them. I settled on a miniature pair to display. We didn't go up into the windmills cuz they costed money (only a few euros, but I've been on a windmill in Germany, so whatevs).
We got back to the city around noon, and Patricia, Karen, and I headed to the old Heineken factory. I'm still not sure if it was worth the 10 euro. The factory is no longer in use, so they didn't actually demonstrate beer-making, and it wasn't much of a museum. The whole place was just a giant advertisement. The self-guided tour goes through the stables, where there were no horses, then a "ride" called "Brew U" involving a movable platform in front of a big screen showing a video that made it seem like you were being brewed and bottled, then they gave us our first half-pint of beer, then a weird room with videos of people playing soccer all over the world, then a room where you have the option to pay money to get a personalized bottle of beer, a room where you can take absurdly dark photos of yourself and email them to friends, a room with futuristic chairs where you can watch Heineken tv commercials through the years, a room with a bunch of soccer gear, and finally, another half-pint of the product. So we payed 10 euro for two half-pints (and we each only drank one) and to be bombarded by advertisements.
After that, we headed to the Anne Frank house, which was only 7.50 euros, but significantly more relevant and interesting. Funny how that works. It was weird to stand in the very rooms where she and her family were in hiding for two years. It was hard to imagine them there, though, because there was no furniture at all. The Nazis cleared out the furniture after arresting her family, and it was her father's wish that the rooms remain unfurnished. Still, Anne had pasted many pictures and newspaper clippings to her wall, and these remained, as did a pencil-marked chart of Anne's and her sister's growth over the years.
Karen and Patricia, like me, were not interested in the cannabis-related activities available in Amsterdam, but we felt like we should do something scandalous while there, so we went to a "sex museum." I assumed it would be sort of classy, if pornographic. No. There was not an ounce of class to be found in the place. Just many disturbing drawings and photographs of people in various awkward positions, which large penises and breasts everywhere. Some involved bestiality. Disturbing!
Our youth hostel was actually in the red light district, which I discovered when I looked out of my room window to see a row of glass doors, backlit in red, where scantily-clad women were calling out to potential customers.
On Sunday, we left Amsterdam for home, with a stop in Bruges, Belgium. The city of Bruges is a UNESCO heritage site, and is was very cute. The architecture was similar to Amsterdam's, but more ornate. Karen, Patricia, and I climbed "the Belfry" (that was it's name, as if it's the only belfry in the world), which was 332 very narrow, spiraling stairs tall. I'm quite out of shape, it turns out! Afterwards, we focused on Belgian traditions: waffles, chocolate, and "French" fries. Mmm mmm!
A word about the people on the tour: all American, almost all women, all undergrads, and all surprisingly rude and unfriendly. We were doing our best to avoid them all weekend, and I had to listen to my iPod through the whole bus ride home to drown out their insipid chatter.
And that ends reading week. Stats was confusing today. I'm really starting to worry about the exam in June, because the questions they ask in practical sessions confuse me. I can't figure out what information they are asking for. Still, it's good to get back to a structured schedule. Time off always makes me feel disoriented.