According to my last post, I was supposed to be going to Valencia with a couple friends. However, once I realized that this was going to be one of the only longer weekends of the semester, a fellow Wipper and I decided to use that time to travel somewhere outside of Spain. After contemplating WHERE to go (Berlin, Italy, Ireland…) that place ended up being Amsterdam. And wow, I am so happy with that choice.
Despite being known for the obvious (marijuana and prostitution), Amsterdam is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen. It’s a city located on a series of canals that weave between the city streets and help to give Amsterdam the title of the “Venice of the North.”
The architecture is also is something that should be appreciated thoroughly because it is absolutely remarkable and charming in accordance with the canals.
When we first arrived in Amsterdam we were on a mission to find a ticket for the train that would take us into the city itself. Doesn’t sound too hard, right? Wrong. After having both our cards denied at the ticket kiosk we went searching for somewhere that could give us correct change so we could purchase the tickets. No such place could be found. Finally, after a long search, someone pointed us in the direction where we could purchase a train ticket into the city with cash. Then we were on our way!
Once we arrived at the stunning Amsterdam Central station, we went searching for our hostel that we had booked only a few days prior.
Now, I must say something about where we stayed. I suppose it comes with the travelers burden of staying wherever is the cheapest, but we stayed in the middle of the red light district next door to “Cannabis College” as well as a live sex show. Pretty much, this hostel was in a location that embodied everything Amsterdam is known for and it was all within a couple steps of where we were sleeping. Pretty laughable. But in the end, it was a place to stay and it wasn’t so bad and makes for a great story.
After settling in to our new home in the red light district, we went to find somewhere to eat, explore the city and bit and also buy tickets to the “Heineken Experience” where we went later that afternoon. Of course, traditional Belgian waffles were a must.
I had heard mixed review about the Heineken Experience, but I thought it would be worth going to, so I went in with lower expectations and wasn’t disappointed.
It was very interesting to learn about the history of Heineken and the process of making a beer which includes the ingredients of water, barley, hops, and yeast.
I also got the chance to stir wort, which is a substance extracted from barley and is later fermented to make beer.
When we concluded the tour of the Heineken Experience, we walked around the city more and went to an Indian food restaurant for dinner because Amsterdam is said to have some of the best authentic Indian food in Europe… and it was. The night was topped off by going to a bar and having a drink while we talked about what we wanted to do the rest of our time in Amsterdam because we really didn’t have any plans.
Sunday began by going to this amazing pancake house where they serve you huge pancakes.
These pancakes are thiner that what we are used to in America, but they are delicious none the less. For the rest of the day we rented bikes- which is probably the best decision we made when we were there because it was absolutely wonderful. Amsterdam is truly a bike city because, as we learned, there are more bikes than people in the city.
This also makes driving, walking, and biking all dangerous activities if you are not paying attention. If you ever get the chance to go to Amsterdam, I highly recommend renting a bike for a day and riding around the city. It’s so much fun to ride along the canals and over the little bridges in the less-busy city neighborhoods. We also stopped at the famous I AMsterdam sign located in front of the Rijksmuseum.
Theres this great park located on the outskirts of the city near the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum as well. This park is perfect for biking and is so beautiful! It’s filled with rose gardens, water features, and hidden pathways located throughout.
Ride through this park, put in some headphones and listen to your favorite songs. It’s a spiritual experience.
This day, we also went on a “free” tour of the city (donations were accepted at the end). Although I’m usually not a fan of walking tours, I thought this one was extremely worth while. Our tour guide was amazing and I learned so much about the city of Amsterdam. For example, Amsterdam thinks of itself as a business city. This is why they seem to have little regulation on things that have strict regulation elsewhere. It just so happens that it’s good for the city and good for business- and I can see it. In the past, Amsterdam was the only city willing to publish ideas that would have been banned anywhere else in Europe. During this time, Amsterdam published many of the ideas that later gave rise to the Enlightenment period in Europe. Why did they do this? It was good for business and attracted many philosophers to the area to publish their thoughts. You may think Amsterdam is crazy with their silly, forward-thinking ideas and way of life today, but they thought the same thing back in the day. Whatever Amsterdam is going they must be doing something right.
But I digress, I hope you get the chance to visit and experience Amsterdam for yourself someday. After the tour, we went out to catch some of the nightlife of Amsterdam and experience beauty of the city at night.
This time it was greeted in the form of me being surrounded and serenaded by a group of traditional Spanish singers and guitar players. A very cool experience! They called out to me specifically and then serenaded me with a Spanish love song.
This night we also went to the museum of prostitution located within the red light district. Mainly, I wanted to learn more about the red light district and the about the history that makes it what it is today.
And I learned a lot! The legality of prostitution makes the profession much safer for the girls because they work for themselves rather than being owned and rented out by someone else. These girls rent a red window in the district for as much as 150 euros a night and also 70% of the working women are either married or in committed relationships.
On Monday, my travel buddy, Chris, went on a tour of the countryside and to see the windmills for half the day which left me free to explore the city on my own. Basically, I went on a mini tour of the cafés (not coffee shops- there IS a difference) in the city.
I even ended up at the Amsterdam Cheese Museum- how appropriate for a Wisconsin girl.
I loved wandering around Amsterdam on my own because like I said before, it’s such a quaint and charming city.
Between the canals and buildings, there is also some pretty cool street art that you can find within the city as well.
Once I met back up with Chris, we walked down by the larger body of water that all the canals are connected to and explored the city some more.
It was getting cold in Amsterdam and my sweater wasn’t keeping me warm enough, so I purchased a cheesy discounted Amsterdam sweatshirt for 10 euros (usually 30 but it had a small hole on the shoulder) and it made me so happy because I got a cool souvenir out of it as well.
On Tuesday, our last day in Amsterdam, we went to the Anne Frank house. This is probably the most famous attraction in Amsterdam for tourists- especially those interested in history. Of course, this is the house/annex where Anne Frank and her family lived during the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam. The line itself took 1.5 hours before even entering the house, but for a good reason. This museum was truly touching. Unfortunately, no pictures were allowed in the Anne Frank house but it was probably for the best. You wouldn’t want to disturb the tranquility and ambiance in the moment. Googling pictures of the house turns up images that have been taken in the past if you are interested in viewing the inside.
Being in that house was profound. This is the location that gave life to one of the bestselling books regarding the Holocaust. However a quote I heard on a tour really stuck with me, “Anne’s story is not particularly special, so many people lived and died in the same way as her. What makes Anne special is that she gave a human face to an inhumane crime”. Because of Anne’s words and story, she is a person and not just a statistic like so many others are.
After a solum and moving visit to the Anne Frank house, we spent our final hours walking through the city one last time before heading back to the airport.
I found some awesome thrift shops and got lost in all the stylish clothing they had. Amsterdam has some of the best thrift shops and also stores that sell vintage clothing. I highly recommend the store, Zipper.
But that was it! We headed back Madrid that night, finished up some homework due the next day (papers-ick!) and went to bed. I am so grateful I had the opportunity to go and experience Amsterdam. Hopefully someday I’ll have the chance to make it back there because it is a beautiful, vibrant, and remarkable city!