Call me an awful American, but this weekend was not filled with football. Sorry Superbowl X-something something, I had other plans. But don’t fret, what I did was well worth it, trust me.
This week’s big adventure: Amsterdam. A place known for its...unique culture, but I had something else on my mind--my bucket list. Believe it or not, Amsterdam is one of the few European cities I've yet to visit (well, up until a few days ago at least). So naturally, this place was on my "Top Five Wanderlust Wish-List." Call me basic, but yes, I do have one of those. What can I say, so many places, so little time. My new mission is to make it to 30 countries before I turn 30, but that’s a whole other story.
Let me start backwards as I did before, and begin with my plane ride to Amsterdam.
Normally, I wouldn’t really mention the ride over; they’re usually all the same: reading books, watching movies and listening to the same 5 songs on repeat. But this time was different—this time I met a guy. But don’t worry, this isn’t going where you think it’s going, I promise. No love story here– though he did call me “bella” on several occasions, but hey, that’s just what they do here.
His name is Robbie, and he taught me my new favorite Italian word: allegria. The word literally means cheerfulness (or so says Google Translate) but Robbie explained it a little differently. The way he explained it, he said that allegria means loving the life you live; enjoying; being happy. He said I had allegria. Best compliment of the year.
Here's what he had to say:
(Sorry for the picture quality, the plane lighting wasn’t ideal, but I thought it’s better to let you put a face to a name)
Anyway, so then Robbie gave me some tips on what to do in Amsterdam, and among his many ideas, he said to make sure to visit the Van Gogh museum; ever since he uttered the words Van Gogh, he kept joyfully singing the same line of “Stary, stary night” by Don McLean, over and over, with his mix of Italian and Dutch accent. It was funny.
Oh and I haven’t even told you the best part! He’s a photographer based in Amsterdam, so we bonded over the fact that I literally had 4 different cameras in my purse (my Canon, polaroid, GoPro and of course, my phone). He gave me his card and said if I ever get lost or need help to give him a call.
Little did he know how lost we would get. Like literally so lost to the point where we almost ended up in Belgium. I’m not even kidding. Belgium.
But before the Belgium fiasco, I got this.
It basically let me go to museums, ride the public transport, and go on a canal ride all in one fell swoop. I’d say it was pretty worth it. If you’re going to Amsterdam anytime soon, I’d recommend getting a pass. But anyway, back to the Belgium story:
After we landed, my five friends and I wanted to do what any ordinary group of 20-somethings would want to do: go to our hostel and SLEEP. A simple request, right? I’d say so. But ah, traveling is never simple.
We were supposed to just hop on the subway, wait a few stops, get on a tram and then voila, our hostel. Except there was a problem: there was a jumper. It took me a few seconds for that word to register; it made me stop and think for a minute about how insignificant my problems really are. But, then we had to move on–keep going. So, we asked a guard for directions, and she told us to run–a phrase I would begin to hear more and more often as the weekend went on.
Huffing and puffing we barely made it before the subway doors closed; but we made it, and all was well again… or so we thought. Turns out we were going the wrong way. We were supposed to get off and transfer but that wasn’t so clear. So off we went, away from Amsterdam and toward the Eastern Netherlands. By the time we realized our mistake, we hopped off, and found another guard.
“You are very VERY far from Amsterdam. This is East Netherlands. A few more stops you would have ended up in Belgium…. follow me, there is a train now…you must RUN,” she said, in her harsh, worried Dutch tone. As we ran with our backpacks flopping from side to side, our feet climbing two, three stairs at a time, we got back to the platform only to see a train whip right past our out-of-breath bodies.
All right, so we missed that train too. Now what? Well, it was the security woman to the rescue. Gosh, I don’t even remember her name. She told us there was another tram in about 25 minutes. She would wait with us until it arrived. Bless her, seriously, bless her.
She warned us to run, or at least very very quickly walk, once we arrived at the Amsterdam station–it was after midnight and not the safest place for a group of young girls to be roaming around at night.
But my brain was still on the jumper. So, I asked. Is this a common occurrence? How often do you see “jumpers”?
“Once, maybe twice…” oh okay, twice a year, that’s not so bad, alright….. “a day,” she said in a matter-of-fact tone.
Once a DAY?! People try to take their own lives and jump ONCE A DAY? My journalistic mind was swirling with questions like bees buzzing around a hive. But then the train arrived. And so off we went, left to contemplate that thought; off on our own dangerous journey back to Amsterdam. NOT Belgium.
Don’y worry Mom, it was all okay. We ended up making it to the hostel, showered, and slept safe and sound. It’s all good.
Then the next morning started like this:
Yes, my first day in Amsterdam was off to a delicious start. The Netherlands is known for their pancakes. But CAUTION: when they say pancakes, they mean crepes, but I got the typical American kind anyway, and they were divine. The restaurant was charming as ever and the next time I’m in Amsterdam, you'd better bet I’ll be back. It was called The Breakfast Club, so that made it even better.
So after the Breakfast Club, we expLaured a bit—–my favorite. Finding hidden gems in Amsterdam is quite easy, lemme tell you. Like this one:
Oh and this:
Then came my absolute, hands-down favorite part of the weekend. Though it may not look like much, it was the most bone-chilling and intense experience I’ve ever had. Yes, just a mere building could do that to me. Do you know where I’m talking about? I can guarantee with about 110% certainty you’ll know what it is once I tell you.
Any ideas? It’s that brown building right there, with the long, rectangular black windows. Do you see it? There, to the right of the center building with the red shutters.
Here’s a closer look.
Yes, it’s the Anne Frank house. The annex she hid in for two years of her short, short life was right in front of me. And I was about to go inside.
I walked where she once tiptoed. The floorboards creaked and cracked. I stood where she grew taller and taller and took in the wall with scratches that marked the passing of time. I saw where she wrote, just as I do, in her diary. I gazed at her pictures and posters plastered on the wall, just as I did at that age. I stared out the one little window in the attic that gave her and her family their only glimpse of the outside world they cherished so dearly. The entire experience was bizarre. Despite the extraordinary difference in our life circumstances, I couldn't help but to feel similarities between Anne and me.
A chill ran through my entire spine on my way up. Going up those small stairs and behind that brilliant bookcase was….freaky. I had just re-read her diary this past summer, without knowing I would soon stand where she once stood. But there I was. A young little Jewish girl, going up to see where an even younger Jewish girl once lived, breathed, and wrote. Where she laughed, cried, dreamed and was betrayed.
She wanted to be a journalist; a writer. And she was, she really was. Her voice is one of the most heard and remembered voices around the world, and though her end was tragic, her voice is here to stay. I love that about writing.
The Anne Frank House was one of the most incredible museums I have ever been to, and it really changed me. One of the things that impacted me the most was this quote:
“The only thing we have to remember is: all her would-haves are our real possibilities. All her would-haves are our opportunities.”
That hit me hard--really hard.
There was no picture taking allowed in the museum, but I’m kind of glad. It allowed me to truly take in the moment without any interruption. But unfortunately for you, fair reader, you’re just going to have to go to Amsterdam and experience it for yourself. It’s worth it. It really is. But a word of caution: unless you can wait 4/5 hours in line to visit, I’d HIGHLY recommend making a reservation first; that way, you can go right in and skip the line. They sell out quickly, so try to plan in advance.
The intensity of that experience left me there was a somber, feeling an awkward stiffness to the air. We weren’t really sure what to do next. Nothing quite felt appropriate. We decided to just walk and make our way over to the museums. Anne would have liked that.
So we went to Van Gogh.
But before that, we stumbled upon this famous Amsterdam landmark: the Iamsterdam sign. It’s iconic and cool, and people climb all over it. I joined in the cause, because, well. why not.
For the lucky ones whose name begins with any of the letters in the sign, it makes sense. For those of us unlucky enough to be plagued without such letters, we had to settle. But there was an S, so I went for my last name instead of my first….Styles. Lol okay, I know, I did it for Sloan, but it sure is convenient Harry’s last name shares the common letter.
Then I got this baby:
It’s called a stroop waffle. It’s a classic Dutch treat filled with hot, sticky and chewy caramel inside a warm, crunchy golden-brown thin waffle. If I could have ordered the whole stand, I would have. Oh, and they make it fresh, right in front of you. And it was only 2 euro. 5 if you added a cup of hot chocolate (which I did). Ugh, I love Europe.
Okay theeeeennnn we made our way to Van Gogh. Finally. Sorry, we got a little distracted. But don’t worry, we eventually went and made Robbie proud.
There were portraits and paintings galore. So many Van Goghs, so little time. I learned a lot about the little Dutch man. And although his most famous work in the museum, the sunflowers, was currently being restored (ugh,) I’m still really glad I got to see his impressive work.
But to be honest, I liked the Rijksmuseum more. They had more Renaissance style and famous Dutch artists of the time. Now that my friends, is my thing. I’m a sucker for that time period and my art history nerd went berserk in there.
Even just the mere building itself was something to marvel:
But on the inside, wow. There was art that I had only previously seen on art history flashcards and tests—but this time it was real, and right in front of me.
REMBRANDT. I SAW A REMBRANDT!
It’s called the Night Watch and is the most famous painting in the entire museum. Not sure if you can tell by the picture, but it’s also huge. It was found under a pile of soot, and they were amazed to find what was underneath. Hence why it’s called the Nightwatch.
Oh, and then I saw a Vermeer. He was one of my favorites.
After that, we went to a farmer’s market called Noordermarkt. Now this was FUN. We were not only surrounded by locals, but also by the best local FOOD you could possibly find.
If you want to see more, here’s a small snippet of what being in the market feels like:
Oh, and what’s a visit to Amsterdam without some Tulips? (HI MOM!)
(Follow my foot-stagram @gelatoez for my pictures of where my feet have taken me.)
So after I stuffed my face with a) the best cheese and bacon quiche of my life, b) a banana nutella crepe and c) a slice of raspberry jam cake, it was time for some true Amsterdam culture:
First, there were the “coffee” shops:
Warning: in Amsterdam, seeing a coffee shop does not mean a cute little cafe with coffee and pastries. No, not at all. It means weed–and lots of it.
It was so interesting and strange to see it being sold out in the open, people sitting at tables puffing away surrounded by smoke and steam and that skunky smell–all just casually there for the taking. Like it was no big deal. At all. Because, well, there, it’s not. It’s legal and a part of the culture. Nobody even blinked an eye. Except me.
And that’s not the only legal thing in this crazy city.
Ah, yes, the infamous Red Light District. Everyone has heard of it I’m sure. But what exactly is it? Well, I learned very quickly what they mean by Red Light District.
You see, it’s like window shopping: but with real people. Real women.
It works like this: women stand in windows like a department store display, with a red light shining above them. They are clothed as you would imagine any prostitute would be. Skimpy lingerie, that doesn't leave much up to the imagination, let’s just say that.
So they just stand there seductively, waiting for a knock on their door/window. When the knock comes, it means she has a customer. The curtains are closed and they get right down to business. When the deed is done, he steps back out, and she goes back to the window, waiting for her next customer.
Oh, and I learned something else. There are some purple lights too, indicating a transgender is in the window.
Crazy stuff, I know. What’s crazier is some of my friends decided to actually go to a sex show–watching exactly what you think they’d be watching. But I wasn’t really about that. Thanks anyway.
I did go to the prostitute museum though, and that was rather interesting. It was actually very informative and helped me understand the industry that is prostitution in the Netherlands.
Oh and I got another waffle right next door… hello, red lights in the background.
It was no stroop waffle, but it was still delicious.
Amsterdam is one unique the city.
Quite unique indeed.
your corrupted little expLaurer