Yeah, so I am procrastinating again. Isn’t it just so much easier to get blogging done when you have a million other deadlines looming over your head? I should be practising my French presentation or reviewing for my Zombie Apocalypse midterm (yes, that is a real University course). But, I’m not going to study I am going to write about my second favourite country on our trip at Christmas; Amsterdam!
As I mentioned at the end of my last post, if people made it that far, I am going to be attending Erasmus University Rotterdam in September for a full year exchange. Of course, I didn’t know this at the time I visited Amsterdam so it’s just as well that I thought the Netherlands was absolutely fantastic. I really can’t put my finger on it, maybe it was that by the time we reached Amsterdam Reilly and I had caught up on our sleep or maybe we were just wiser to the way of travelling on our own, but it felt very comfortable and relaxing being there.
Instead of taking the plane and dealing with all the hustle and bustle of yet another airport, we decided to take the train from Gard de Nord in Paris to Amsterdam Centraal. I have to admit, even though it took much longer than taking the plane, it was so relaxing and nice to have the three hours to switch off. This was the only train that we booked for this trip because, believe it or not, for all our other destinations it was much cheaper to fly. We arrived after dark on the evening of the 8th, so we really just hung out at our hostel and went out for dinner. We stayed in the Shelter City Christian Hostel for a very reasonable price, which included breakfast.
Our first full day there we booked a free walking tour. Most major European cities have a variety of free walking tours to chose from, which is a great way to get an overview of the city and find out what sights are worth going back to see. We chose to go with FreeDam Tours and I cannot rave about them enough! If anyone is going to Amsterdam soon and wants to get a tour of the city, this tour company is the way to go. You meet them outside of the Old Church for a three-hour walking tour which takes you through the history of Amsterdam, the Red-Light District, drug use in Amsterdam and the Second World War. Our guide was incredible and engaging and knew so much about every single topic. The only downside was that Reilly and I absolutely froze since Amsterdam was a good 10 degrees colder than Paris. I have included the link to the FreeDam website in case anyone is interested.
After the tour was done, we went for lunch and made our way towards the Iamsterdam sign which seems to appear in just about every Instagram post about Amsterdam. Much to our delight, there was an outdoor skating rink which had been set up for tourists so of course, we had to skate. We ended up skating for four hours taking it upon ourselves, as Canadians, to try and help those tourists who had clearly never stepped foot on ice before. Needless to say, after four hours of skating, and not having skated for quite some time myself, we were exhausted and headed back to a restaurant near our hostel. It was this cute little Italian restaurant. No, it wasn’t as good as the real deal in Italy but we couldn’t get enough of Italian food by this point in the trip. While it was a lovely restaurant, Reilly is extremely allergic to cats. Why does this matter you say, they wouldn’t have a cat in a restaurant…well they did! So we didn’t spend as much time in there as other restaurants throughout the trip.
On our final full day in Amsterdam we had a decision to make; did we want to go to the art museums? I feel like going to the art museums in Amsterdam is an obligatory part of being a tourist but neither Rielly nor I really wanted to go, so we didn’t. Instead, we went to the Anne Frank house. We had booked our tickets in advance online so that we made sure we were going in at a time that worked best for us, and it was just as well that we did. They were redoing the tourist area outside of the Frank house, so their entire system was down and you couldn’t purchase tickets in person even if you wanted to. I am very happy that we went to the house because I think it is a very important part of history, but emotionally, it was pretty tough. Everything inside the house is how it was left after the Nazi’s took the Frank family away, including the drawings and pictures that were on the wall. If we hadn’t gone during renovations, we would have been able to see the diary of Anne Frank as well but they had it put away in safe keeping until the renovations were complete. I will admit, I cried and not over something that most people would cry over. One of the pictures that was still on the wall was of the French coast by the English Channel. Now for my non-History buff readers that is where the allied forces invaded Occupied France during D-Day. So this piece of paper made me sob because the father had been tracking the movement of the allied troops as they made their way through Europe. But they didn’t make it to Amsterdam in time to save the Frank family, which really got to me. The way the Anne Frank Museum is laid out is very tactful and respectful. They have kept everything the way it was left by the Nazi’s, at the request of Otto Frank, Anne’s father. Every guest must use an audio headset for the guided tour which allows the museum itself to remain in total silence while the guests can learn all the information about the house and the people who once lived there.
After leaving the museum, we went and shopped in the gift store for the Van Gogh Museum, so at least we could pretend that we went to one of the art museums. We then arrived at the Heineken Museum, which we were a little hesitant about paying for but we did not regret for a minute. Not only was free beer included in the price of admission, but they also had games and other activities that you could do, including tacky tourist photos, YAY! I will try and phrase this tactfully for my family members who read my blog; we left the Heineken museum after rapidly consuming our free beers and headed to our next cultured and high-class stop; McDonalds Amsterdam. I know it sounds really weird but I love going to McDonalds in other countries. I think its so interesting to see what ethnic food is put on the menu in other countries like, for example, McDonalds in Italy has McSpaghetti! After that pit stop we walked back to our hostel in the pouring rain, but in all fairness, the weather had been almost perfect up to this point in the trip.
We took a quick nap and then headed to the Red-Light District. This is obviously one of the top tourist places to visit in Amsterdam and our tour guide with FreeDam Tours gave us a rundown on what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour as a tourist. I mean, it’s a really cool area. If you don’t know what the Red-Light District is, just google it. I think that the Netherlands is just a great place in terms of letting people go about their business and not caring what they do. It is the same way with their Coffee Shops. Coffee Shops are where you can go and smoke Marijuana in a public place, with friends, on your own, literally however you want, because it is allowed in Amsterdam. Just to clarify, it isn’t actually legal but it has been decriminalized. Amsterdam is just a great carefree place to go which is SO different from North America.
I feel like in terms of things to see, there wasn’t much more to do unless you went to the art museums. If I was to go back to Amsterdam, I would want to stay for a month or so and really immerse myself in the culture. On January 11th we flew home after the most incredible two weeks in Europe. We flew with WowAir which was quite good for a discount airline. The seats are somewhat cramped and they don’t offer free meals on board, but it is more than doable. The Amsterdam airport is lovely, very modern and a lot of fresh and healthy food for sale so we were able to grab some yummy food to take on the plane with us. We had another brief layover in Iceland and landed on the evening of the 11th back in Canada.
P.S. You guys NEED to try Stroopwafels. They are the most delicious and sugary Dutch treat which I just feel the need to share with the world.