After a week in Rome with my sister and her fiancé, we were off once again to a new city. This time to a foreign land where none of us spoke the language. A sorority sister of mine, Rachel, studying with me in Rome joined us for this adventure, which began at 4 a.m. on Valentine’s Day. Our flight was at 6 a.m. so we needed to be up at an ungodly hour. The trip was relatively uneventful and we arrived in Amsterdam around 9 a.m.. One of the first things I immediately noticed besides the strangeness that is the Dutch language, is the way people greet each other in The Netherlands/Holland (I was never quite sure what to actually call it). Instead of the two-cheek kiss that is normal in most European countries, the Dutch greet each other with three kisses. Right, left and right again. Although looking like a lot of work at first, I began to absolutely love this tradition and kind of wish Americans were that excited to see each other.
Upon leaving the airport we attempted to navigate our way around the trains that we had to take in order to get the center of the city. Thank goodness for the fact that many people in Amsterdam speak English and a special shout out to the very sweet lady who told us how to work the tickets for the train. Once on the very crowded train, which reminded me of the trains going in and out of Penn Station in NYC, I was seated next to very nice people from Whales. We chatted about England and my Spring break plans to visit and I decided that I would love to live in a little English countryside; if only there was more time to travel the world and see everything.
Once we got to the city center, we were immediately lost. I never mind being lost, I think being lost leads to the very best adventures you can have and often to the very best memories and stories.
“It feels good to be lost in the right direction.”- Unknown
Armed with our suitcases and maps we attempted to find our hotel. Out on the streets and immediately captivated by the city’s beauty and adorable architecture, we learned very quickly that many people here travel on bikes in bike-specified lanes on the streets. Not even ten minutes into our vacation, Rachel was nearly run over by a biker and then consequently told off in Dutch by said biker. After that we paid extra attention to where we were walking.
We arrived at our hotel, which according to business magazines, is one of the best hotels in Amsterdam. Looking around at all of the families and business people, we realized that we stuck out like sore thumbs. We quickly checked in, dropped our stuff off and went to explore. Good thing I like getting lost because 50 percent of our time in Amsterdam was spent looking at maps and street signs seemingly spelt out in hieroglyphics. However, the explorer in me did not mind because we wound up seeing the cutest parts of the city.
We immediately looked for a place to eat and found a quaint little restaurant where I enjoyed an amazing lunch and an unforgettable cup of hot chocolate. After lunch it was more wandering, where we continued to see dozens and dozens of houseboats stretched across the city’s many canals. Rachel and I quickly decided that we were buying a houseboat and a bike with an adorable bell and basket and moving to Amsterdam. After making future life plans we took a trip to the Anne Frank House. While waiting on line for admission to the house, we completely randomly ran into my cousins from New Jersey. If that isn’t proof of a small world then I don’t know what is.
Once inside the Anne Frank House I was captivated by the history and information I was being fed. It is unbelievable what happened in this house and what the people inside had to endure. It truly was an eye-opener and one of the most inspiring displays of courage I have ever seen.
After getting our dose of reality it was back to vacation with a walk down little streets in an effort to find some places to enjoy the local delicacies of Amsterdam. Disclaimer: although many tourists come to Amsterdam to enjoy this, the city is so much more than that and I am glad I was able to travel here and realize that.
Finished with our coffee shop stop, we were stuck in the rain, lost once again in an attempt to find the Heineken factory. After some deliberation and loss of patience we decided to call it a day, go back to the hotel, grab some food and if the weather permitted check out the infamous red light district.
Living in Rome and indulging in Italian food everyday is great, however, you come to a point where you just miss all other cuisine. With that being said, when we passed a Chinese restaurant we were beyond excited and couldn’t wait to have some dumplings and lo mein.
Once the rain finally stopped we headed on over to Dam Square and then made our way to the red light district. This place is definitely one of the most interesting places I have ever encountered in my life. I was born a very curious soul and when I can’t fathom something I ask about a million questions, most of them repeats because I just really can’t comprehend it.
The red light district takes window shopping to a whole new level. There are barely-dressed women standing in window after window on street after street beckoning you in. I couldn’t help but stare- not out of judgment but out of complete curiosity. Some windows had curtains drawn, which I thought meant the rooms were being occupied. Other windows had women sitting, standing, dancing, pointing, eating and texting. I was surprised to see that many of the women were sitting there, looking bored and on their cell phones. Others were chatting with each other or doing their hair or make up in what looked like personal bedrooms and bathrooms the way they were set up.
I was beckoned by many pretty ladies as I couldn’t help but linger and wonder and stare. I was also beckoned by a few men trying to get us to go into what I could only determine from the signs were “for ladies eyes only” shows. However, after about an hour wandering and asking every question I could think of, we returned to our hotel.
Not only was our hotel unbelievable looking, the bed was something sent directly from heaven. This was the most comfortable thing I have ever slept on. The fluffiness of the comforter was matched by the cloud-like texture and feel of the sheets and pillows. I don’t think any of us have ever fallen asleep faster.
After taking advantage of the scalding hot shower the next day I was beyond excited to go to the breakfast place across the street from our hotel. Bagels are by far the thing I miss the most about NY and when I saw signs for a bagel cafe I cried with joy. I was able to enjoy yet another cup of hot chocolate and an absolutely delicious warm bagel with cream cheese.
After breakfast we headed over to one of the most famous- and largest- markets in Europe. My favorite thing about this market was all of the food. Rachel and I bought the most amazing artichoke and tomato dips with a fresh loaf of warm bread. Not being able to wait to eat it, we enjoyed it on the go while we walked to the Heineken factory. On our way to which we were told it was closed because everyone was off celebrating its 150th anniversary. Extremely disappointed we decided to walk past it anyway and were pleasantly surprised when we found it to be not only open but free to the public in honor of its anniversary!
Not only was it free, but they gave you two tokens for free beer and a token for a free glass from the gift shop. This day taught me about being in the right place at the right time. After we went through the factory and made personalized Heineken bottles, we were greeted with a party, complete with a DJ and free food. After enjoying our two free beers, we were making plans for our next move when someone came up to us and offered us their free beer tokens.
Not only did this happen once, it happened two more times as well. Clearly enjoying ourselves, we indulged in the free food and made friends with the DJ. We also were given a coupon for 18 euros to use in the gift shop and bought ourselves some very authentic Heineken bottle openers- another perfect example of being in the right place at the right time.
After sadly having to tear ourselves away from the best place ever, we made our way over the iconic I Amsterdam sign. We were like kids in a park- climbing all over the letters and taking about 100 pictures. It definitely was the icing on the cake to a perfect day.
Again, we enjoyed some of our favorite foods, nachos and French fries and ended the night with Nutella-covered hot waffles. The night was made even more perfect by ending it in the heavenly bed I was bound to miss the most when we had to leave the next day.
I truly think that by the end of this semester Amsterdam will still be one of my favorite cities, with its hidden charm and unexpected culture and history. This is definitely a place I will return to again and again. Feel free to visit me in my houseboat, just look for the girl on the bright yellow bike ringing her bell down the street.
“The use of traveling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are.” – Samuel Johnson