University of Wisconsin–Madison

Van Gogh & More – Amsterdam

A ~52 minute train ride is the only thing that separates me from the city filled with an overabundance of canals, bicycles, and museums. Yeah, you’ve guessed it, Amsterdam! The first time that I was technically in the city was when I got off the plane at Schipol Airport back in August, but that definitely doesn’t count. I only got to see a tiny bit of the charming town as my train zipped down the tracks towards Wageningen.

The first REAL time that I went to Amsterdam was with two of my new friends on a beautiful Saturday in September. We decided that exploring the 4th busiest port in Europe would be a great way to celebrate a successful first week of classes. So, we woke up bright and early (and by early I mean the ungodly hour of 8 am) to catch the 9:15 train to Amsterdam.

Using my OV-Chipkaart cost €14.50 each way. The OV-Chipkaart is handy because it works like a debit card and allows me to easily travel by train, bus, and tram throughout all of the Netherlands, and is easily reloadable at any station. On days that I am feeling too lazy to bike the half of an hour to campus for class  – which, admittedly, is usually multiple times per week – I can hop on the bus from the station near my building in Ede and simply scan my OV-Chipkaart.

When we first got off the train in Amsterdam, we NEEDED coffee. A cute organic cafe helped us solve this problem, and all three of us ordered some caffeine and freshly baked bread. Then, we headed over to a local market to wander the stalls. There was something for everyone – from beautiful tartes to unique jewelry to fresh herring to vintage clothing.  I managed to find three (three!) paperback thrillers for only five (five!) euro. Books are my weakness!

Next, we visited the “touristy” area. This included the Dam Square, which had both people from every corner of the globe and pigeons flocking to hang out in front of the Royal Palace. It was a bit ‘eh’, if you ask me. From there, lots of shopping was close by. We did some thrifting, and I bought a new sweatshirt. Our next stop was the Bloemenmarkt – floating flower market. Basically, a bunch of barges filled with greenhouses of fresh tulips and other souvenirs.

Since the two friends that I went with are both vegetarians, we ate lunch at a vegan restaurant. I had a delicious falafel kebab paired with french fries and a Fanta soda. The destination for the afternoon was the museum district. On the way there, we stopped at the ‘I Amsterdam’ letters (you know, the famous ones that are the perfect photo op). But our real goal was the Van Gogh Museum. It was a Saturday, so of course it was packed, but that didn’t stop us.

The Netherlands offers a Museumkaart, which for €60 allows you unlimited access to the 400+ museums in the Netherlands for one year. We decided that the pass would be a good investment, since access for the Van Gogh Museum alone was around €15. We knew we wanted to go to the Anne Frank House, the Rijksmuseum, and a few others for sure within the next couple months that we were in the country, so it just made sense to buy the Museumkaart.

The Van Gogh Museum was AMAZING! A bit crowded, but the beautiful art was worth it. It was nice because the entire building is themed around varying parts of Vincent’s life, so each floor is a different time of his career. I learned a lot about Van Gogh’s personal journey, including his struggles with family, friends, and mental illness. As an artist, he has created an immense amount of art, and it was kind of overwhelming and humbling to be surrounded by it all. Besides seeing some of his most famous work in person, my favorite part of the museum was an interactive exhibit that they had in the basement. It was a sensory experience meant to give an idea of what Vincent went through in his head. The rooms included a variety of strobe lights, high pitched buzzing noises, curtains, and mirrors – overall a really cool experience that showed a physical glimpse of what mental illness could possibly feel like in somebody’s head.

After the museum, we were STARVING. We decided to try Foodhallen, an indoor food market inside of an old warehouse with a ton of different food and drink and dessert stalls. The options were overwhelming, but we eventually decided to split a margherita pizza, some wine and a few tartes. There were so many other delicious choices that I know I will have to go back for – tacos, dumplings, falafel, pulled pork, pita, and a yogurt bar, just to name a few. The best part about Foodhallen is the atmosphere, with Christmas lights strung across the ceilings and picnic tables crowding the rooms. It is the perfect place to spend an evening with friends!

Of course, no trip to Amsterdam would be complete without visiting the Red Light District. It was entertainment enough just to stroll the streets and watch all of the intoxicated people stumble around. We opted to go closer to the train station to sit down and drink, enjoying a few beers at some cafes with outside seating. The entire day we walked alongside canals (DUH), so my camera roll may or may not be filled with too many pictures of little bridges brimming with bicycles, flowers, and houses stacked side by side, overlooking the canals.

My first experience in Amsterdam was nothing short of the best. Besides the blisters on my feet from traversing the city, the day spent exploring the Netherland’s capital with two of my friends was wonderful. There is soooo much to do and see, and I can’t wait to visit again soon!