Oh, Amsterdam. I love you. Our two very short days in Amsterdam were some of the best days of my life.
In my previous post, I mentioned how hungover we all were when we first arrived, so as soon as we could check into our hostel we did to have a much needed shower and a nap.
After that, I went out to explore Amsterdam. This city is absolutely gorgeous. Full of narrow townhouses, canals, boathouses, and bikes!
I'm pretty sure there were more cyclists commuting than cars. The streets in Amsterdam are pretty narrow, so you didn't see much on-street parking, but everywhere you looked you saw rows and rows of parked bikes. Everyone decorates their bikes which was really cute to see all the different designs, and it was great to see all different people biking; young, old, men in business suits, women in dresses and heels, people biking with small dogs or children on their laps, I even saw a young woman biking while holding three chairs.
Amsterdam is loaded with cafes (not just the coffee shops where you can buy weed), and it was so relaxing to just sit outside with a cappuccino and watch all the activity. It seems as though the cyclists have the right of way over the cars, they have their own road, similar to a bike lane, but it's separate to the road for drivers and cars nor pedestrians are allowed to be on it. It was a bit hectic when we first arrived because you have to remember that when you are crossing the street to look for oncoming traffic from both the cyclists and the drivers.
It seems as though everyone in Amsterdam speaks in English, and they had no hesitation to speak English to us when we were out and about. Everyone I encountered, from the tram drivers, to servers, were incredibly accommodating, patient, and kind to me.
It was such a weird and surreal experience to see people selling and smoking weed in the coffee shops. There were some really nice upscale coffee shops that had a neat vibe (Buffalonians, almost like Mothers restaurant), and also some that were more casual and dive bar-like (like Brick Bar on Allen). The funniest thing was you were allowed to smoke weed in the coffee shops, but most definitely NOT cigarettes, and they were very strict about it.
We also explored the Red Light District, which was another culture shock. The cool thing is that these areas aren't sketchy or seedy at all, still a beautiful part of town, it just happens to be a part of town where you can look at naked girls standing in windows (and maybe do a little more than just staring...)
The next day, I went to a few museums with one of my roommates, Jenna. We first went to the Van Gogh Museum which was incredible. Van Gogh is my favorite painter, and I've seen some of his work already at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, MoMA in NYC, and at the National Portrait Gallery in London. It was funny, when I was at the National Portrait Gallery a few days prior, I saw that two of Van Gogh's famous sunflower paintings were temporarily off display...because they were being loaned to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. "No big deal," I thought, "I'll see them in a few days!" And I did!
After the Van Gogh Museum, we went to the Anne Frank House. The line was very long, but so worth it. It was very humbling and moving to be walking around in the house where Anne wrote her famous diary, and also hid with her family for two years before ultimately being betrayed and meeting her death at a concentration camp. I learned at the museum, that when Anne's father (the only survivor from the Frank family) decided to turn the house into a museum, he wanted to keep the rooms completely bare to remind everyone of the void and emptiness that the Holocaust left on so many people.
The rooms all had photos of what the rooms looked like when they were in hiding, and the windows were completely blacked out, to recreate the darkness the families had to live in for two years when they were in hiding. Anne's quotes were written on many of the walls, and it's hard to believe what a brilliant and thoughtful person she was at such a young age.
Visiting her room was the most powerful, because even though it was empty, the pictures that she plastered on the walls still remained. She had photos of movie stars of the time, and also pictures of public figures and artists like Leonardo da Vinci. It was an experience I'll never forget and I hope if you ever have the opportunity to visit the museum, please do.
After the museum, Jenna and I met up with our other two roommates, Megan and Ashlee, and we went to get something to eat. We found some other people from our group, and Megan decided to head back, while a girl named Lauren from our group decided to head with us to get dinner. The night before, our tour guide Darren told us about a really good Indonesian restaurant, and we were intrigued because none of us have had Indonesian before. Thanks for the suggestion, Darren, because it was all sooo good! The location was great too, right near a busy square so we were able to eat delicious Indonesian and do some more people watching.
We were all in agreement that Amsterdam was lovely, and the lifestyle and attitude was so refreshing. We all wished we could have spent at least one more day there. I talked to some people from my group who said they weren't too keen on coming to Amsterdam because they didn't care about the Red Light District or smoking weed, but Amsterdam is so, so much more than that. Yes, those things can be fun, but the city has so much more to offer and it's a place that I know I will have to come back to.
I'm currently on a bus on my way to Switzerland. We just spent four days in Paris (I'll write about that later), and I can't believe we are already more than halfway through the trip. It's been so amazing that I don't want to think about coming home. I'm trying really hard to live in the moment because things are happening so fast and I know these memories and moments, big and small, can never be recreated.
Switzerland is probably the country/area I know the least about on my trip, but Darren said it's his favorite place on our trip, and that's saying something considering all the places he's been! I'll try to write soon, the wi-fi in Paris was god awful, hopefully Switzerland will be better!