The last stop on my European holiday tour was Amsterdam, where my friend Miles is studying abroad. People absolutely rave about Amsterdam, so I was excited but also a bit hesitant, worrying it may be overhyped. But I’m pleased to report that the Dutch capital lived up to all my expectations. Here’s how. . . .
Miles picked me up at the central train station (with lunch in hand, how considerate!) and we walked into the heart of the city, sampling Christmas market cookies and popping into every cheese shop to munch. I didn’t know that Holland was famous for its cheese (should I bury my head now?) but I can say with relative certainty that we sampled almost as much as the country exports yearly. My god, pesto Gouda. I would buy so much of you if every wheel weren’t 15 euros.
During our walk around the city I was absolutely transfixed by the architecture—in some twisted silver lining, the Nazi’s incredibly fast takeover of the city meant that most of it was well-preserved. Amsterdam was like an unpretentious Venice with its many canals, and the thousands of bikers only added to its charm. I preferred to avoid the central shopping district in turn for the quieter side streets with more authentic shops and restaurants. I will say that my one qualm with Amsterdam was its overabundance of fast food chains—the legalization of marijuana has produced a grand-scale munchies market.
Miles was a great host, and over four days he showed me all the city had to offer. Here’s what we did:
Drank so much tea.
Are you catching onto a theme throughout my blog? I. love. tea. Spain is a coffee culture, and a stand-up-at-the-bar one at that. There is a distinct shortage of cozy cafes, so whenever I travel outside of my adopted country, tea houses always call my name. Especially when Dutch apple pie is also on the menu.
Canal boat cruise.
This 75-minute tour was a great way to see the city by water. They supplied earbuds to listen to a (somewhat cheesy) recording that explained the history and layout of the city. Only problem was, being on a warm boat was so relaxing that I kept nodding off.
The Van Gogh museum.
I’ve mentioned several times that I’m not one for museums (I skipped the Lourve in Paris, the Met in NY, and only entered the Guggenheim when they were serving gin and tonics), but I do actually like impressionist paintings. Plus, Van Gogh is sort of famous. So we went, and we fully appreciated his nice brushstrokes and the pleasing reality that a museum centered around just one artist can only be so large. A win for everyone.
The Anne Frank House.
I remember reading The Diary of Anne Frank in middle school, and since then I’ve been mildly fascinated by the Holocaust (isn’t everyone, admittedly?). The inside of the house isn’t much to see, honestly, because Anne’s father Frank requested that it remain entirely unfurnished, as it was after the Nazis were through with it. But it was deeply moving to be in such a location, and made history seem eerily present. (Tip: go to this one on a weekday. Since the house is small inside, not many people can enter at once, and the line can be really long on weekends.)
The Red Light District.
I was excited to see this spectacle at night, but it turned out to be entirely uncomfortable and depressing. I actually have no idea what I was expecting, but nearly naked women rubbing up against glass doors and beckoning passersby into their shabby rooms wasn’t it. Another slap to the forehead. Did I think legalizing prostitution would suddenly make the whole affair classy? That women wearing full-length dresses and bonnets would be solicited for sex? But in all seriousness, the hordes of tourists walking through these streets was disconcerting, and I felt guilty for partaking. People were gawking at such an open display of nudity and sex, yet this is a day-to-day reality for these women! Many were behind their glass doors either smoking or drinking, which I can only think would be a way to alleviate the immense pressure of their jobs. Legalizing prostitution may be really progressive and admittedly safer, but it doesn’t eliminate the horrifying truth that these girls are a product. After walking a few streets and seeing one too many boob jobs, we headed out of there and got a beer.
When in Holland, you have to see a windmill; even I know that. We walked about half an hour from Miles’ house to a beautiful stretch of countryside along a canal, and took the obligatory windmill picture. It was on the clearest morning the Dutch had probably every seen in January, and I loved seeing another side of the country, outside the bustling city.
Amsterdam was a fantastic end to my winter trip, and I had so much fun seeing Miles again. I know I say this about (almost) every city in Europe, but seriously this time, Amsterdam has to be one of my favorites. Some places are so talked about for good reason—when can I move there?
P.S. We actually did not smoke in a cafe/buy magic mushrooms/eat weed brownies in Amsterdam, much to the disbelief of some (and I’ve just come out as the most square traveler on the internet). But while I was there, Colorado and Washington were busy dispensing it, so next time I feel like buying some legal drugs, I can do it in my home country.