So off I went to Europe. Making sure to check off everything on my “ Before You Go” checklist twice. With a 7 hour flight that left at 9pm, I arrived in Amsterdam at 6:45am (EDT) and 12:45 (CEST). After sleeping 6.5/7 hours on the plane, I was ready to go. To me it seemed like just going to sleep at home and waking up the next day, so I was not jet lagged at all
After navigating through Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, which is big but fairly simple. I went through customs to get my bags and off I was!! Taking the train was a little difficult the first time from Schiphol, as there are about 50 platforms and 50 elevators. After a couple of days, its pretty easy to figure out which train number and in which direction you should be going.
I couldn’t have asked for a better way to start my travels!! Amsterdam was simply amazing. The people, the atmosphere, the pubs and coffee shops. You can be so free in Amsterdam-with no judgements from anyone. Amsterdam reminds me of New Orleans, Louisiana. Another one of my favorite places. It’s so free. When I first arrived in Amsterdam I was feeling a little somber. This was my first stop of my travels and the first time I have ever traveled alone. But I got me to thinking about my purpose and why I started this mission. So I got my life together and decided to roam around to look for some food. My host actually stayed in Naarden-Bussum which was about 30 minutes outside the city of Amsterdam. It is a very quite and beautiful place. It was actually quite nice to come back to her home each night or early early morning after all he hustle and bustle in the city. My hostesses name was Erin. Erin and her boyfriend were both very welcoming and very sweet. Her home was an amazing modern space that I absolutely loved. I learned very quickly that steps in Europe are very narrow. And when I say very narrow I mean VERY! I had to learn to walk down sideways without busting my ass, as they just casually ran down 3-4 inch steps like it was nothing.
As I was saying, I roamed around my first night looking for something to eat and I stumbled upon this bar called Murphy’s which had a ton of people outside. My first thought was “why is everybody outside, and the bar is empty inside”. Well I went inside and they didn’t serve any food so I proceeded to leave. A group of people outside casually stopped me and said why are you leaving so soon. I explained that I was looking for food. Of course, in English and they spoke Dutch and English. So they immediately knew I was a foreiner. This lead to about five hours of conversation, questions, and exchanging of information from night life to Belgian Beer to food to politics to geography and scenic landmarks. I met a girl named Mercedes who was moving to Barcelona in few weeks later. We talked about my travels and also drank many beers together. We took shots of Fireman (not Fireball) which taste like cough syrup, yuk!!! We were supposed to go to the club the next day, but both of our plans changed. But we hit it off really great and she offered to host me in Barcelona, which was a blessing because I didn’t have a host their yet…. Well I finally ate some food at about 2am, after many many beers. From Day 1, the vibe of The Netherlands started off really great and so it continued….
The next 4 days I spent in Amsterdam. Late Nights & Early mornings. I woke up the next morning and connected with some other travelers via Hangouts on Couchsurfing. I met Saima, from South Africa and Marie, from Spain at the train station. We immediatedly went on a hunt to get some food. Saima and I found a pretty popular dish of fries and sauce with meat on top called Vlaamse Frites, while Marie found some pasta. I’m waiting until I get to Italy to eat pasta, because I am going to eat a lot of it!!!! Then we stumbled upon 3 more travelers Kitta, from Dallas, TX, Siuteesx, from India, and Ben, from Paris. We went to the bar to have drinks and we added Pierre, from Paris, Johnathan, from Peru, another Ben, from Norway, Nicholi, from Paris, and Alex from Canada. From there we had almost someone from all 7 continents. All we needed was Austraila (we filled that gap as the week went on). We pretty much walked North, South, East and West touring, coffee shop and bar hopping for the rest of the day. We walked to through the Red Light District, Blue Light District to get to the club district and partied at Smokeys until about 4am.
I really hit it off with everyone but especially Kitta. Her host lived pretty far out from the city as well and she was also from the states so we would meet each morning at Amsterdam Centraal Station and then meet the group. We spent the next 2 days soaking in some information on the history and important attributes of Amsterdam and The Netherlands. We took a FREE Walking Tour of Amsterdam, a Canal cruise, The Red Light-Blue Light district tour all with 360 Amsterdam Tours, Anne Frank Huis and biked south to The IAmsterdam sign.
The FREE Walking Tour consisted of the tour around the city to enlighten the tourists of the great golden era, by showing them the magnificent and highly valuable masterpieces of great artists, to taking them around the beautiful canals and bridges and showing them what the city really has to offer. From the historic old districts and discovering how Amsterdam started- from a simple swamp harbour village in the 1200’s, to ‘the Golden Age’ in the 1600’s when Amsterdam became the most important trading city in the world. The tour showcased the Royal Palace, the Old & New Church, the Jewish Quarter, Canals, Bridges, the Red Light District, Art & Architecture, Golden Age, and many hidden treasures. It was amazing! Definitely a must do! My only suggestion is to do the tours on your 1st or 2nd day of arrival. It will give you more information of everything the city has to offer to help you plan what other sites you want to get a deeper perspective of and see more of.
The Canal cruise showed a different perspective of Amsterdam, including a look at The Anne Frank Huis at almost eye level from the water. The Anne Frank Huis is the most visited house in Amsterdam, with well over 1 million visitors per year. Anne Frank was a German-born diarist and writer. One of the most discussed Jewish victims of the Holocaust, she gained fame posthumously following the publication of her diary, The Diary of a Young Girl. which documents her life in hiding from 1942 to 1944, during the German occupation of the Netherlands in World War II. Anne moved to The Netherlands at a very young age and when the Nazi gained control over Germany, having been born a German national, she became stateless. May 1940, the Franks were trapped in Amsterdam by the German occupation of the Netherlands. As persecutions of the Jewish population increased in July 1942, the family went into hiding in some concealed rooms behind a bookcase in the building where Anne’s father worked. From then until the family’s arrest by the Gestapo in August 1944, Anne kept a diary she had received as a birthday present, and wrote in it regularly. Following their arrest, the Franks were transported to concentration camps. In October or November 1944, Anne and her sister, Margot, were transferred to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp from Auschwitz, where they died a few months later and just one month before The Dutch authorities rescued the camps. Anne’s father, Frank’s father, Otto, the only survivor of the family, returned to Amsterdam after the war to find that her diary had been saved by one of the helpers, Miep Gies, and his efforts led to its publication in 1947.
Anne Frank Huis
If you look closely you will see that the houses along the canal and in many more places are leaning. The leaning houses of Amsterdam. The buildings in Amsterdam lean forward slightly. It is not sinking nor a trick of the eye after a day of the smoke. The buildings in Amsterdam are built leaning forward on purpose. Even though it might look strange to our modern eyes, designing a building that leans forward, this way to build was a solution to another problem. The problem with these old buildings is that the stairways are always very narrow and steep. These stairways are impossible to use while trying to get furniture or any other big object to your house.These stairways are a consequence of the very narrow construction used in Holland at the time. Which meant you had to pull your furniture up through your window.If you take a look at most old houses in Amsterdam you will see a hook placed on top their roofs. This is used to hang a wheel and use it with a rope to pull things up. While pulling big object up a building, it helps avoiding hitting the building with these objects if the building tilts forward. You will also see that these houses are leaning to the side which is a result of instability of the land in the 15th century.
The Red Light District tour gave a lot of insight on the history of the red light district and how and why this area exist or came to be what it is today. We learned about the Red Light District and all of its secrets with a professional guide.
I learned about how the sex workers operate in the district and admire the district’s centuries-old churches and architecture at he same time. It was crazy to learn about the history of Amsterdam’s legalized prostitution and it’s church history in the same tour. These two opposites are actually very much intertwined by their locations within the city. Amsterdam and the Red Light District is diverse in so many ways. The red light district being the oldest area in Amsterdam is not only a professional hub for sex clubs with beautiful ladies in their red lit windows, but it is also home to many cafes offering diverse menu options from around the globe to elegant dining spots with great Jazz and salsa music. The red light district showcases the ancient Dutch art and architecture in the form of its museums, monolithic and catholic churches and various beautiful buildings standing strong since the seventeenth century. I toured the Prostitution Information Center, peepshows, Bananabar, and the oldest and best in my opinion, Coffee Shop in the city, Bulldogs. I was able to admire the impressive churches, century old buildings, and canals in addition to learning about how the sex workers operate in the district.
All of my tours were amazing and I would definitely recommend doing them. As I said, try to book them at the beginning of your stay to get the most use out of the information.
During my time in Amsterdam I also rode bikes as much as possible. People ride bikes like we drive cars in the states. There are so many “parking lots” for bikes. Literally parking garages for bikes. I think thats so amazing. I don’t think I saw one obese European since I’ve been traveling. It’s normal to ride your bike 30 minujtes-1 hour-2 hours to get to a destination. I utilized my host bike or renting a bike as much as possible. It really helped to immerse myself in The Netherlands way of life. I loved it!!
Amsterdam, it feels perfect to be imperfect…Chasing The Sun