Traveling to Amsterdam was never in my plans. Let alone by myself, lost and with a raging ear infection. I woke up at the end of the 2-hour flight just in time to catch the sunset over the coast of the North Sea- a sight for sore eyes after being land locked for months. At the airport, I somehow boarded the wrong train and found myself speeding away from civilization through the Netherlands countryside in late October. I befriended a young Italian who had also taken the wrong train, and with blind trust in his warm brown eyes as my only option, I followed him off the train, onto a platform, and back onto the correct train until we reached Amsterdam Centraal, parting with broken English and a look that longed to know me better.
It took me several wrong turns, two run-ins with bikers, and a lot of frustration to finally reach my dark dingy hostel on the outskirts of the Red Light District. I took a deep breath, stored my bag, grabbed my camera and set off to explore. Amsterdam is like being in a dream world where people look like friendly skiers, vibrant sunsets settle romantically over canals, and the air has layers of sugar, chocolate and fried food. The contrast of pleasantly chiming bicycle bells and questionable vendors created a Disney World of vices that continually amazed my sheltered mind. I woke up to soft rain making music on the cobblestones and dripping off the slanted buildings as I set off for the Anne Frank House.
I followed Anne’s life from room to room as the rain outside mirrored my silent tears. I felt powerless to save the innocent character from the tragic ending I knew all too well. When I reached the end and saw the original plaid book sitting alone in the center of the room, my heart broke to think that Anne would never again get to live outside these walls and the fading pages of her diary. The very streets she described as full of beautiful life in the same town where she was betrayed would become my own escape from reality, even if just for a few days. She wrote about she and her friend “looking out at the blue sky, the bare chestnut tree glistening with dew, the seagulls glinting with silver as they swooped through the air,” as the life she imagined for herself slipped farther and farther away, the life I was able to walk out and rejoin. Anne’s untapped potential and Amsterdam’s unexpected poetry changed me in a way that, months later, I can finally start to describe- appreciation for ethereal beauty in all things dead and alive.
Hmm, where to start, where to start… Maybe with that I can’t believe I didn’t even want to go here in the first place (and almost didn’t go)? Or with that I developed an ear infection the day before I was supposed to leave? What about with I had to make my first international flight abroad, find the hostel and then kill 5 hours by myself before everyone else showed up?
Nah, I’ll just start with Thursday:
After classes, I hopped on the metro and went to the airport in Madrid. I waited for my flight and devoured read quietly The Da Vinci Code. (That part was easy.)
I fell asleep instantly on the two hour flight to The Netherlands, but woke up just in time to catch the sun setting on the coast of the North Sea.
When I got to the airport, I was surprised (and a tad disappointed/confused/relieved) to see that all the signs were in English. However, I still managed to take the train in the wrong direction… oops. Thank God for the group of attractive helpful Italians I met along the way, who had also taken the same wrong turn. Long story short, we all ended up at Amsterdam Centraal.
Between asking a police officer (my parents trained me well) and reading the map screenshots on my phone (#nowifiproblems), I eventually found my hostel, stored my stuff, and set out to explore the downtown area while I waited for my friends to arrive a couple hours later.
I was amazed at how different Amsterdam is from Madrid. Like 100% different. My initial impression at the train station was that I was at a ski lodge based on the people and the attire, and I finally got to wear my new winter coat! Some places I saw vaguely resembled Boston, but it’s hard to explain. Also, there are canals EVERYWHERE. Even more than Venice. The buildings look like they’re going to lean over any second and there are cobblestone streets and way more bikes than cars.
After exploring the shopping areas, doing some cheese tasting, eating a “traditional Dutch dessert,” and watching the street performers, I headed back to my hostel.
Yes, those are knives he is juggling.
I met up with our friend Kristin and a couple ‘Cuse friends who are staying in London and we caught up about how we are liking our respective cities while we waited for the rest of the crew.
Once everyone was together, we checked in, took a quick lap around the surrounding streets and called it a night early.
Anne Frank Museum. Definitely the most meaningful abroad experience to date. Walking through the house, the Secret Annex, and reading passages of her famous diary along the way was like watching an unsuspecting movie character when you already know the tragic ending, and feeling helpless to change the outcome. As a diary keeper and internally reflective person myself, I couldn’t help but cry picturing Anne writing about longing to run and jump and play outside the very city I was visiting, but never being able to after she went into hiding. Her courage, optimism and wisdom at such a young age was truly a loss to the world.
Heineken Brewery Tour. We were looking for quite a different tone for the afternoon, so once the rain cleared up we walked down to the Heineken Brewery for a tour! It was really cool to see how the beer is made and there are theaters playing continuous loops of Heineken advertisements (which intrigued all of us communications students). We ended the tour in the Heineken bar, and each person received two free beers while we sat and socialized with our now 15 person group.
The thing I really liked about our group was that it was big enough to split up if people wanted to do different things, there was no drama, and everyone was super enthusiastic about sightseeing and maximizing our time in the city.
We did a Canal Tour in the late afternoon that took us in and out of Amsterdam’s famous canal ways. I can definitely see why it is called “the Venice of the North.” We got to pass the quirky houseboats and get a unique perspective of the city.
After experiencing the vibrant sunset, we headed over to Barney’s and I had one of the most delicious hamburgers ever, followed by chocolate-covered waffles for dessert and more exploring.
After grabbing a quick coffee we headed over to the Vincent Van Gogh Museum. I loved the progression of his early works, drawings, and famously colorful masterpieces as the floors got higher. My favorite ones were of a sailboat, flowers, and seasonal scenes. Not gonna lie, his self-portraits kind of freak me out.
Later, we took the traditional “I amsterdam” pictures with the letters in the backyard of the Rijksmuseumand enjoyed the local street performances.
FINALLY we got to have pancakes (something I haven’t found yet in Madrid and desperately miss). I got the bacon-egg pancake and I regret nothing.
As if we hadn’t been active enough already, we decided to rent bikes! It was pretty hectic and a little dangerous given the fact that some of us hadn’t biked in years and there are literally zero (traffic) laws in Amsterdam… But everyone survived and I was able to check “bike in Amsterdam” off my Abroad Bucket List. Sweet.
We got pizza for dinner and revisited our friend at the chocolate-covered waffle place. Again, no regrets.
As a final activity of the night, we decided to follow the crowds to Amsterdam’s infamous Red Light District before heading back to the hostel for the night. I don’t think I’ll elaborate any more than that.
Overall, I really really enjoyed Amsterdam way more than I anticipated. It was the glimpse of fall that has yet to hit Madrid, the air smells a bit like sugar and chocolate outside the bakeries, and the clash of rich history and a Disney World of vices made it seem like it wasn’t even real, or couldn’t exist in the context of my mind. In a way it reminded me of Pinocchio’s Pleasure Island, but I was also drawn into the romance of the canals at sunset, the slanting and sloping houses, and the pleasant old timey chime of bicycle bells that just seems to make Amsterdam a fantasyland…