Amsterdam, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Seriously though, I’m having a lot of trouble getting my thoughts about my week in Amsterdam out onto paper. It was kind of overwhelming, to the point where I don’t even know where to begin. Bottom line? I LOVE AMSTERDAM. I don’t think I’ve had such a soul-crushing love for a city since I went to New York City for the first time. It’s hard to describe what it is I love so much about it. The canals, the bikes, the cobbled streets, the people, the lifestyle, the houses, the history. I loved every second of it. I went with my two Canadian pals that are also studying at Exeter, Kate and Kathleen. We booked our trip as a kind of spur-of-the-moment thing, packed, and flew over in the same week. Day 1 – Anne Frank House, Tulip Museum, Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, Stedelijk Museum Our first stops were the museums. I’ll be the first person to admit that I am a total museum junkie. Give me a museum (especially art museums) and I’m happy. Thankfully, Amsterdam was happy to oblige my museum obsession. By the end of the day I was on a full sensory overload and my brain was stuffed. Biggest highlights:
- The Anne Frank House was moving, humbling, and incredibly unsettling, especially when thinking of how recent in our history her family lived out their tragic story.
- The Van Gogh Museum was almost overwhelming, mainly because he is one of my favourite artists, and to be able to see so many of his works in one place had me over the moon.
- Non-museum highlight – the time we spent sitting in the park in the Museum Plaza, enjoying the sunshine, listening to Coldplay and pretending we could pass for locals.
Day 2 – The National Maritime Museum, Rembrandt House, De Hortus Botanical Gardens, Artis Royal Zoo The highlight of this day was by far the Maritime Museum. I was completely blown away by the quality and details of the exhibits. This was probably the best museum I’ve ever been to in my life. My favourite part was the to-scale replica of a ship from the 1700’s they had anchored outside that you could go aboard and explore (I also sang the Pirates of the Caribbean theme song while trying to steer the ship. Clearly necessary).
I guess my highlights are all water-related, because the Zoo had a fantastic aquarium. For someone who is terrified of oceans and fish I just love aquariums. I got very excited because the aquarium logo is a shark and was slightly disappointed at the only shark being about the length of my arm. Either way, still pretty great! Day 3 – Hang like a local day This day I met up with a friend-of-a-friend back in Canada who is doing a study abroad term in Amsterdam. She took us around to some markets, where we sampled as much cheese as we possibly could, and spent some time sitting by the canals watching the boats go by. We also tried the infamous Raw Herring, served with pickles and onion.
The afternoon took an interesting turn when we made our way to the main square outside the government buildings for a massive pillow-fight involving hundreds of people. Feathers were flying, the sun was shining, and it was a weird, happy little reminder of how great strangers can be. Day 4 – Keukenhof Gardens By this day, we had moved out of our city-centre based hostel, and into the airbnb place we had found. It ended up being a little cabin right on the river, surrounded by house boats, about 20 minutes outside of the downtown core. It was great, and the very definition of ‘cottage-country.’ One of my favourite parts of staying here was the view we got of the river and fields as we walked across the bridge to catch the Metro into town.
As I’m sure you know, Holland is famous for its flowers (mainly tulips), and I have to say, there’s a reason. I didn’t know what I was expecting from Keukenhof, but as Kathleen put it, it’s basically Disneyland except with tulips. The flowers were out of this world beautiful, sprawling over huge areas to create some of the most beautiful gardens I’ve ever seen. It was very Dutch, with windmills, fresh made Stroopwaffels (basically sweet caramel crunchy waffles – a highlight of my time in Amsterdam), and lots of people in traditional costumes. I think what amazed me most is that we weren’t even in the middle of the tulip season and they were still so impressive.
You don’t really expect flowers to be all that exciting, but for some reason they just were. I ran out of space on my camera’s memory card, and thought that was very strange until I looked and realized I had taken over 200 photos of flowers alone. Day 5 – The most misguided cycling trip in history At the beginning of the week, we had this great idea that we wanted to go to Haarlem, the next city over from Amsterdam. Google maps and someone at our hostel confirmed that to cycle there, it would only take over an hour. Sounds completely do-able, right? So we rented our bikes and set out for our ride. Kate and I had some grand ideas, mainly taken from Sound of Music that involved us leisurely cycling, taking in the countryside, and perhaps singing some show tunes. The ride out of the city was nice enough, and we even did a quick rendition of “Do, a deer” as we were cycling through the park.
Fairly soon though, we realized that Haarlem was A LOT further than we thought it was. I think this realization hit as we cycled along the highway past Schipol airport and were only half-way there. Some wrong turns coupled with the fact that none of us had actually cycled in years meant it took us 2.5 hours to get to Haarlem. The town itself was actually lovely, we had a nice lunch and fantastic ice-cream and took a look inside the Sint-Bavokerk church. The issue was that now we actually had to cycle BACK to Amsterdam.
Getting back on our bikes was the hardest thing I think I’ve ever done, and nothing kept us going but sheer willpower and knowing that we could either cycle back into town or spend the night on the side of the highway. The ride back is kind of a blur of hysterical laughter at what we’d gotten ourselves into, a quick stop at a road-side flower shop to refill our water bottles, and the massive storm clouds gathering behind us that we were trying to beat home.
We overshot our route in the park, got caught in the rainstorm, and ended up shopping for dinner, dripping wet at a supermarket, waiting for the rain to stop so we could get home. We made it, promptly collapsed, and asked ourselves “Why did we think this would be a good idea?” We cycled a total of 60km (into the devastatingly strong wind both ways) and had the adventure of a lifetime. Oh, and 2 days later my butt still hasn’t recovered from 5 hours on a plastic bike seat. All in all, this was a fantastic trip. I am completely in love with this city. I was swept up in the romance of it all, decided I could fully live in a houseboat on the canals and spend my days cycling around town. My week was permeated by moments of perfect happiness that I found cycling by the river first thing in the morning, having a beer outside a café watching life go by, soaking up the rich history and the sunshine of this pulsing, vibrant city. Vaarwel Amsterdam. Until we meet again.