Dear Amsterdam,

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Left to Right: Kiana, Victoria, ME!, Katie (Not pictured, Jacob! who kindly took the picture…)

Three weeks ago, I spent four days in Amsterdam with four people that I had quite literally only known for ten days. Weeks later, that thought has still not sunk in. Life has been moving so fast lately. So many things have been happening and free time is a distant dream. Thus, this blog post is weeks late, but nevertheless, here it is!

While in the magical city of Amsterdam, I had a brief moment of regret that I didn’t choose the Netherlands to study abroad in, but that was quickly pushed away when I spent 15 euros for my crepe with five slices of banana and a sprinkling of Nutella and 8 euro for a sandwich I could have made blindfolded. (insert upside down smiley face). Nevertheless, I still had a blast exploring the city with four of the most wonderful girls.

Amsterdam was a spur of the moment kind of trip, something I had never experienced before. If you’ve been keeping up with my blog posts, especially since Maui, you will know that I spend much of the weeks, or even months, prior to a trip planning out places to eat, things to do and sights to see. However, this weekend trip was booked at 11PM on a Monday, with my flight at 10AM of Thursday that week. I worried for 72 hours straight about what was going to happen once we got there. Was there going to be a good dynamic between us four? Were we interested in the same attractions? Did they want to go out at night like I did? Would we be able to agree on what to eat? There were so many questions running through my mind, but as soon as I felt my worries carrying me away, I quickly shut them down. I wasn’t going to be a victim of my own tendencies to fret over everything anymore.

I grew to realize that though this is my first time in Europe, it will definitely not be my last. It is such a simple revelation that may be so obvious to some people, but to me, it wasn’t. Previously, I felt like I had to live every day in Europe to the absolute most. I had to check off at least three things on my bucket list a day. I had to make sure that I tried that restaurant that I’ve always wanted to try. I had to make sure that I went to as many countries as possible because I won’t ever be 20 and responsibility-less ever again. With so many things to do, I forgot that I had to actually live through every moment instead of just planning for it. The abruptness of the trip threw me into a situation where I had no choice but to let life unfold itself before me. And this will be the first time that I’ve ever felt okay with not knowing what was going to happen next. That being said, see below for a sample itinerary of what our days turned out to be like.

Sample Itinerary:

Friday:

3:00 PM- Hostel Check-In
6:00 PM- Anne Frank Museum
8:30 PM- Il Panorama

Saturday

10:00 AM- The Pancake Bakery
1:00 PM- Van Gogh Museum
4:00 PM- Mannekenpis (Fries)
6:30 PM- Canal Tour
9:30 PM- Volkshotel

Sunday

11:00 AM- Van Wonderen Stroopwafels
12:00 PM- Cheese Museum
1:00 PM- Explored around the Canals
6:00 PM- KFC Dinner…why not?
8:00 PM- Waterkant

Monday

9:00 AM- Rijkmuseum
12:00 PM- Flight home

Throughout this trip, there were brief moments of slight disappointment. I had done research on Amsterdam previously and had a list of things I found interesting. However, because we were traveling in a group, it was a bit harder to get things up and running some days. Yet, I wouldn’t change any minute of the trip. Perhaps, I would have liked to have done more things. Or for our crepes to come out faster than they did or maybe I would have liked more time in the Rijksmuseum. But especially after the Anne Frank museum, I learned to savor in every single minute that I spent in the company of my friends and in the open air of the beautiful city of Amsterdam. I’ve repeated the saying “You can do anything you want, but not everything you want” so often during the last couple of years but I never really understood the meaning and the impact that saying could have until now.

A Lesson on Perspective

My first thought upon landing in Amsterdam was “Hopefully, I will never have to go through the annoyance of flying from Edinburgh again.” To make my flight at 10AM, I had to wake up at 4 AM, leave the house by 5 AM, uber to the train station, take the 40 minute train to Edinburgh and then take the 30 minute bus to the airport. Victoria and I were on the same flight and I’m pretty sure the guy we were talking to on the train thought we were both on something because we were pretty delirious at 5:00AM.

After those nightmare transfers, we had to take two more trains to make it to our hostel. I hate to sound ungrateful and spoiled, but the hostel absolutely abhorrent. Becs, my best friend, was on a trip to Berlin while I was in Amsterdam and she raved about how the showers in her hostel were even better than the ones in our building in Glasgow. Meanwhile, I was lugging my carry on suitcase up four flights of steepest stairs I’d even seen. I slept on my towel because I didn’t trust the sheets and though I’m used to hearing the sound of snoring at night, I didn’t anticipate that an orchestra would to come and do a piece using only teeth grinding, snoring and tossing and turning. Given that our trip was so hastily planned, it was quite difficult to book a hostel within our price range. Let me tell you…never again! In this case, advanced planning is absolutely necessary so you can get the best deals and living conditions as possible.

Thankfully, things started to look up as soon as the other girls got there. We made our way to the Anne Frank Museum, where we were all fed a bit of perspective. We were tired from the traveling, annoyed by the hostel, and famished from the walking but we were slapped with the realization that we were in Amsterdam. We all had the privilege of booking a trip to Amsterdam as soon as the idea popped into our head. We could pay for the fare and hostel. We could allocate time in our schedule to travel. We could choose to complain about a bed, shower and toilet that were clean but not clean enough. Those are luxuries that so many people cannot say that they have. With a renewed sense of gratitude, we approached the rest of the trip with a bit more awareness.

During our walk through of the museum, it was stressed that though this museum is primarily about Anne Frank, it is also about the millions and millions of other victims of the Holocaust. There was a book on display with all the names of Dutch people who were taken from their homes and placed into the concentration camps. There were four Aaron Franks, all around the same age as Anne Frank. None of them have a museum dedicated to their life. The loss of a wonderful soul like Anne Frank is such a tragedy but so is the loss of every single one of the lives that the Nazi Regime took away. I think the museum did a very good job of reminding visitors of this. While I was crying my eyes out, I was also filled with so much hope and love. The line that snakes out the door, the women, men and children that solemnly walk the cramped quarters, the silent tears that stream down all of our faces – they are a reflection of our capability as humans to empathize and reflect upon ourselves. How much of a difference could we make in each other’s lives if we showed more compassion towards each other? I reckon a lot.

Food

Maybe I’m just eating at the wrong places, but Europe needs to up their food game! I didn’t realize how absolutely spoiled I was in Southern California where there’s an abundance of delicious foods from across various cultures. I hate to admit it but I’ve become somewhat of a food snob within the past few years so it takes a lot of ‘wow’ me.

Mannekenpis

The line was quite intense. Though it moved quickly, it stretched down the sidewalk and past many storefronts. To my hungry stomach, I thought this would be the perfect remedy. The smell invaded my senses, filling it with anticipation that could only be attributed to a significant amount of carbs. Yet, I genuinely only ate about 1/8 of this portion. Perhaps I got the wrong sauce, or put too much of the cajun-type powder on it. The starchy potatoes and fatty sauce and salty powder was way too overwhelming after the third bite.

Van Wonderen Stroopwafels

Stroopwaffles are good, don’t get me wrong. I’m just not a very big dessert person. The thin and crispy sweet waffle, the thick molasses like syrup, the chocolate dipping and then the dutch cookie crumble on top was an explosion of sweetness. It makes for a fabulous picture, but I only enjoyed about half of it before my sweet tooth felt a little too indulged.

The Pancake Bakery

The same feelings apply to this delicious pancake/crepe concoction. The texture of the pancake was incredible and the bananas added so much flavor and natural sweetness, but it was quite overwhelming for 11AM. In addition to that, our service at this restaurant was horrible! Working in a restaurant for the past year, I’ve grown a sense of empathy for the servers that have to deal with full tables for the majority of their shift. Yet, it was of putting to see the blatant disregard the server had for us when we reminded her that our food had not come out for 45 minutes. I don’t want to be that person, but in this situation, I think I have a right to be! Aside from that, the pancake was a solid breakfast.

This was most definitely my favorite meal of the entire trip. It was our first night in Amsterdam. After the fiascos with the bus/tram/metro transfers, then the hostel situation, then the Anne Frank emotions, pasta was necessary. Since moving to Europe, I’ve grown to really enjoy a beer with my meal. My body protests every time, but nonetheless, I think it’s worth it. The pasta was cooked with a lemon-tomato-basil sort of sauce, so it was comfort food without all the cream and fat that can weigh you down. I chose salmon as my protein – an admittedly odd choice – but it was incredible. In fact, it was so good that I’m going to try to recreate this dish for dinner next week!

My other favorite meal was completely unexpected. We were walking around, tired after a full day of activities and stumbled upon a dim sum place. Before my trip, I stuffed myself with as many vegetarian xiu mai, shrimp rice cake, and har gow as possible, thinking that I would never be able to find authentic asian food over here. For once, I’m glad that I’m wrong. My experience at Full Moon Garden is comparable to Dragon Beaux in San Francisco. The chicken black truffle xiu mai was mind-blowing. After being wow-ed by scallop xiu mai in SF, I didn’t think it was possible to have something even better than that. Disappointedly, I forgot to take pictures, but I’ll forever remember my first taste of home from so far away.

Highlights

Simply walking around the city was a wonder in itself. No matter where we were, we were never far from the canals. Every once in a while, we would find ourselves on a bridge, looking left and right, marveling at the way the sun peaks through the trees and how the canal seemed to have a life itself. The water sways a bit with the wind and the boats cut through it steadily, creating a smooth current. Each time we passed by a bridge, it seemed impossibly prettier than the next. See below for a plethora of canal-side pictures.

Fortunately, we were able to sit on an open boat tour where our two lovely guides told us all about the city. From Magere Brug (the love bridge), to the horse hooks on the underside of the canal to the misshapen buildings, the stories brought life to the streets of Amsterdam. We didn’t go on the boat tour until the last leg of the trip so I didn’t realize how much history there was on the streets that I walked. I didn’t know that you could measure the wealth of a family by how many steps they had leading up to their house. I couldn’t imagine being taxed based on the width of my home. If only all of my classes had a view like this one…

My favorite part of the trip had to be our nights out in town. We went to a hotel which had everything from a basement cocktail bar, ground level retro bar, and a rooftop terrace bar. Each bar had such a different vibe that us four girls had a wonderful time moving from one bar to another at our leisure. In an effort to spend as much time outside of the hostel as possible, we dressed ourselves up and mingled with others (shout out to Jack Sparrow and the Australians!) and while nursing a few drinks. Volkshotel definitely left an impression on us. Here’s to hoping that we find a bar with a similar vibe in Glasgow!

Another bar that I wish we had more time at is Waterkant. Canal-side, trendy, with absolutely amazing cocktails (highly recommend the Dutch Mule) – it was the perfect last hurrah for my Amsterdam trip. Because I was feeling a bit sick, I didn’t spend too much time there, but I could have sat there and watched the water for the whole night.

One of the most unique things about Europe is that drinking is so incredibly social. I’ve met some of the most interesting people at bars/pubs/clubs. I suppose drinking is social in America too, but there is a different vibe over here. I found myself looking around and seeing couples ranging from young to old, having casual drinks at 8PM without a rush in the world. I saw large groups, boisterous and rowdy, toasting to a good week. I saw individuals, a drink in hand, standing by the bar, introducing themselves to other people, ready to ask questions about their life and simultaneously share about their own. For the first time, I had the thought that I could see myself coming here not just on vacation, but after work or during the weekends.

It’s always been a romantic thought for me – moving to Europe and building a life over here. Yet, the more time I spend on the continent, the more in love I grow with the people I meet and the things to see.

I’m a big sucker for museums. Especially art museums. Imagine my excitement that not only was there a Van Gogh museum, but in the same plaza, also the Rijksmuseum, which houses Dutch artists like Rembrandt, Vermeer and Peter Paul Rubens! We took our time wandering around the Van Gogh Museum, opting to do the audio tour. Art is beautiful to look at but even more fascinating to learn about. Seeing my favorite Van Gogh works, Almond Blossoms and the Wheat Fields Series, and then hearing his thinking behind each brush stroke helped contextualize the significance of this piece during the time.

The photo does not do The Night Watch justice. It is a massive piece of art.

I wandered the Rijksmuseum by myself and almost cried when I saw the restoration of The Night Watch by Rembrandt. For those that don’t know, the piece is significantly damaged. Art historians and restorationists decided that something drastic needed to be done. Thus, the introduction of Operation Night Watch. The goal is to use highly advanced imaging techniques and scans to restore the painting to its true glory. Each scan takes 24 hours and they need 56 scans. Each one details the painting on an almost atomic level, taking into account the elements that make up the pigments and strokes. It’s an incredible sight. Everyone has the same awe-struck face when they see the painting but the wonder is heightened even more when you see the machines that are meticulously exploring what the Night Watch is truly made of.

For Next Time…

Even though I spent about three full days in Amsterdam, I still have so much left that I want to see.


I want to walk through the gardens at Castle De Haar.
I want to try everything at the Seafood Bar.
I want to layer up and do shots at the Ice Bar.
I want to bike through the country side and pass by the windmills.
I want to see the tulips blossoming and waving along with the spring wind.
I want to visit the castles, run my hands along the walls and hear the stories that they tell.
I want to see all of Mondrian’s work at Gemeentemuseum Den Haag and perhaps grow a larger appreciation for shapes and colors.

Though there’s still so much of this country left to explore, I am so happy to have done the things that I have done. Thank you, Amsterdam, for such a wonderful weekend trip! I can’t wait to come back and see what else your culture and people have to offer. Let me know if there’s anything else I should add to my to-do list in regards to the Netherlands!

Until Next Time!

Rosa x

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