This past weekend I visited a place high on my bucket list, the beautiful city of Amsterdam. A place known for a number of things including: tulips, housing the happiest people in the world and a supreme number of things that are illegal in the U.S. of A.
I traveled with my flat-mate Katie, whose cousin had a friend living in Amsterdam whom she reached out to for recommendations for us. That man’s name is Chris and he was kind enough to offer us his place for most of our stay, as he is an airline pilot and would be away flying. We could not be more grateful for his generosity and willingness to host people he’s never met. He not only provided a safe and private place for us to stay, but also helped us save money by not staying in a hostel two out of the three nights we stayed. That is truly the best gift you could give two struggling college students. It seemed way too good to be true but it became reality when we boarded our flight at 6:40 in the morning, from London Heathrow.
When we landed, we were realized how exhausted we were and how horrible it really is to try to sleep on a plane. After finding our way to Chris’ apartment we took take a nice, well-deserved nap. We didn’t sleep for too, too long because, well, that would have been a waste of the day. So, when we woke up we spent the remaining hours of daylight exploring the area around the apartment. We also scoped out potential places/things to do come the next few days.
We ended up finding a peddle-boat rental shack, so that was our starting point for day two. There are two ways to really see Amsterdam that were consistently recommended to both me and Katie: by boat and by bike. Amsterdam is FILLED with canals that run throughout the city.
We entirely underestimated just how extensive this journey was going to be when we were shown a small map of the canals we were allowed to chug through. Even though we had the map, we pretty much winged it in terms of which way we should turn and which canals we went down. Being that it was 74 degrees (Fahrenheit) and we were not in clothes made for that type of work out, we ended up struggling for half an hour and taking it back. We tried our best with steering and keeping a solid pace with the water mostly going against us, and mostly got laughed at by locals passing by. But, I still had a blast and all we did was laugh and enjoy ourselves. Looking back, I’d highly recommend having more than two people to peddle the thing. It seated four people and that would’ve been ideal. Also, keep in mind you may sweat so don’t be like us and wear your cutest outfit and expect to get great pictures without dark sweat marks. Nonetheless, I would highly recommend peddle-boating if you want to experience the canals.
Next, we rented bikes. As I’ve mentioned, this is a major mode of transportation for the people of Amsterdam and, boy, was it an experience. There were more bikes on the road than cars and I don’t think you could say that about any other city than this one. The road’s always had designated specific bike lanes that were taken extremely seriously and were also shared with Vespa’s. All bikers had to obey traffic laws and there were even bike lane light signals at intersections. This was my favorite things about our visit because it gave us the opportunity to, not only see the city, but experience it as the locals do every day.
We made our way to Vondelpark, a beautiful park that was a 15 minute ride from where we rented the bikes. The park itself is huge and gorgeous, I swore it smelled like cinnamon but Katie absolutely did not think so (she’s from Arizona, so she used to cacti-I didn’t hold it against her). Either way, the experience was magical. It was fully equipped with bike paths big enough to share with pedestrians and there were people covering almost every inch of the grass laying on blankets and enjoying each other’s company. (Side note: I’ve noticed that when people from this side of the Atlantic go out together they’re are never on their phones. They are always talking to each other and genuinely enjoying each other’s company, it’s incredible.) We ended up taking a little break here to take in our surroundings and cool off.
That evening, Katie and I decided to go to the carnival we stumbled upon on our way to the park earlier that day. It was set in Dam Square, which isn’t very big and I’m impressed with how much carnival activity they fit into that area.
I dragged Katie onto the swing and the giant Ferris Wheel and I have no regrets. The Ferris Wheel was high up enough to see over the entire city, but the swings—they were terrifying and exhilarating. Katie really hated me for that one.
(one view from the top point of the Ferris Wheel)
(extremely tall swing ride that terrified Katie, and delighted me)
We learned that the carnival was not usually there and we just got super lucky to be able to experience that as part of our trip. Seeing the city from the top of a Ferris Wheel and through swinging in circles 12 stories off the ground was a truly unique experience, something I will cherish forever. How they fit as much activity as they did when whoever built that carnival placed it in a square around ½ of a New York city block in size, is a true genius. There was not one person there that didn’t have the biggest smile on their face. We even tried out a bow and arrow shooting game, where you take your shot at a couple balloons and if you get all four or so, you win a giant stuffed-something. But, unfortunately my inner Katniss Everdeen was asleep at the bow so I popped none. Katie did better than I, but not enough to win anything. Nonetheless, the game operator decided we were worthy of two small stuffed animals, and for him I am grateful.
When we ran out of things to do at the carnival, we explored the shops next to the square. We did some walking through there, drooled over things we couldn’t buy then left to get some sleep.
The next morning, we packed up all of our things as our host made his way back to his own home. We met the man whose house we stayed in and he was as delightful and kind as we imagined he would be. He offered to give us a boat tour of the city through the canals after he caught up on some sleep. We could absolutely not pass up on such an opportunity so we agreed to meet at the dock where he kept it later that day. In the mean time, Katie and I went to get some authentic Dutch breakfast. We ended up at a café close by and both ordered Dutch pancakes, or “Poffertjes”. Highly recommend trying them on your next trip to Amsterdam because those little baby pancakes were delicious. Very light and fluffy, overall a 10/10.
When it came time for the boat tour, Katie and I got there before Chris so we sat and waited with our feet swinging over the water until he arrived. A friend of his joined us, so we ended up getting two tour guides instead of one. The woman who joined us was unbelievably sweet and made a point to direct our attention to anything Chris might have missed. I cannot stress enough how much we appreciated seeing the city in this way as opposed to our peddle boat experience. We learned a lot about places we should go back to next time we find ourselves in Amsterdam. Overall another 10/10 experience.
Chris ended up dropping us off, upon request, at the famous Red Light District, which we obviously had to see before we left. It was everything I expected it to be, ladies in windows with red curtains behind them dressed in rhinestone-clad outfits, sex-shops stationed a few steps from one another, places to purchase illegal substances–also situated a few steps from one another, and tourists everywhere. To be honest I was a tad disappointed with it, maybe it was because we went during the daytime or my expectations were over the top, but we ended up being there for around half the time we planned to be there. Once you see one lady in the window, you’ve seen them all. But, I mean you can’t go to Amsterdam and not see what it’s most famous for, you know what I mean. So, no regrets. Unfortunately, I don’t have many, or really any, pictures from that area because there were “no picture” signs everywhere and I don’t think the things I could take pictures of would be very appropriate for a school blog. But, use your imagination or Google and I’m sure you’ll get it.
Overall, my trip to Amsterdam was incredible. Everything fell into place so easily and we got so unbelievably lucky to have had the opportunities we did while we were there. I’m really hoping all of our trips run as smoothly. Until next time, Amsterdam.