On the first day of August, I took a morning train to Amsterdam. I was excited for the energy and the vibrancy Amsterdam has to offer, and it just so happened that I was there during the weekend of Amsterdam Pride. I knew the city would be alive with tourists and locals alike, partying and enjoying the freedom that Amsterdam is known for. As soon as the announcer told us we’d crossed into the Netherlands, the guy next to me on the train started rolling joints. I knew I was in for an interesting time.
I had some trouble, though, getting out of the train station. I hadn’t printed out my QR code for my train, but the staff was able to scan it when I boarded, so I thought everything would be peachy. Then I headed through the exit gates, which also needed to scan my ticket in order to let me out. My mobile code didn’t work. I tried it over and over again with no luck. Lots of other people had similar problems. We found another exit where a security guard opened the gates for us and then I was set loose in Amsterdam.
My hostel for the next four nights was ClinkNoord – a big, modern place with friendly staff and a huge common area. The building used to be some kind of chemical factory and was set on the opposite side of the Amstel River from the main part of town. I was able to check in a little early because my bed was made up, but the rest of the room had yet to be cleaned. I put my heavy backpack in my locker and left the room again to explore.
To get to and from the hostel, me and about a hundred or so other people boarded a free ferry which runs every three minutes. It’s a quick ride across the river, but for some reason, it was always really fun. I never got tired of taking the ferry across. When I was searching for a hostel, I thought maybe the constant ferrying into town would be annoying or time consuming, but I got a kick out of it.
Once again, I was in a country where the main language was completely foreign to me. The Netherlands’ primary language is Dutch, but English is also an official language, so I wasn’t too worried. Flemish – the language of northern Belgium – and Dutch are actually in the same language group and are incredibly similar. So going from Belgium to the Netherlands, I saw many of the same words. Also, German is closely related to both of them, so some of my German came in handy there, too.
I decided to take the metro to the Rijksmuseum and I was amazed at the cleanliness and beauty of the underground system. Everything was so shiny and massive. Actually, the metro in Amsterdam was, in my opinion, the cleanest and nicest system I saw on my entire trip. And I only used it a few times.
I got out of the station and began walking to the museum, in awe of how cozy and romantic the city was. The tiny bridges over the serene canals and the blue sky overhead, the Pride flags waving everywhere – it made my heart swell. I felt so safe and inquisitive. In Belgium, I’d felt a little cautious being on my own and not knowing anything, but I guess I’d done a lot more research about Amsterdam because I felt way more in my element.
Right inside the massive Rijksmuseum building, in the covered pedestrian tunnel, was a live band. A crowd of people stood around them, clapping, throwing bills into their cases, and filming on their phones. There were violinists, accordion players, a tuba player, and a guy strumming an enormous triangle-shaped guitar-like instrument. They were playing Vivaldi – my favorite – but as much as I wanted to stay there and listen to them, I had bigger fish to fry inside the museum itself.
While I was researching my trip, I realized that I’d bee seeing tons of paintings and lots of famous works of art. I did a fair bit of research on the history and significance of some of the artists and pieces, but I found that my favorites were all by Dutch artists. Vermeer being my favorite of all. The Girl with the Pearl Earring and The Milkmaid were my two favorites. I knew I’d have to visit the museum dedicated to Dutch artists on my first day in Amsterdam.
The Rijksmuseum was stunning inside. Not only was the art breathtaking, but the building itself was also a work of art. The app for the museum had a GPS and told you whenever you walked into a room so you could get oriented. It also had an audioguide full of information on each painting and the building’s interior. I headed straight for the Vermeer section but took my time gazing upon each painting I came across.
Finally, I saw it. Surrounded by people: The Milkmaid by Vermeer. It’s so delicate and the lighting effects Vermeer achieved astounded me. I’m not much of an artist at all. I can’t draw well unless I’m looking off of something. So maybe it’s utter disbelief I feel when I see realistic paintings by Dutch masters. I can’t fathom how they’re able to construct such things in their heads, let alone bring them to life on canvas or through other means.
I had an amazing time in the museum. I spent hours looking at Vermeer and Rembrandt and so many other Dutch works of art. Then I headed outside to the garden area where kids played in a fountain and people sat at tables sipping coffee. I found the I Amsterdam sign and strolled about some more before heading back to the hostel.
The hostel had a solo traveler’s event that night, so I stayed in the common room and waited for it to start. I played a giant version of Connect Four with a fellow solo traveler before getting some pizza at the bar. The solo traveler’s event was basically just a meet-up point at the bar for other people who were traveling alone.
There were about six or seven of us in total who showed up and we sat around talking for a while before deciding to go out on the town. We went to a pub for some beers (I barely drank mine because I’m not a beer person) and then we walked through the red-light district just to see what it was like. It was pretty weird seeing women wearing lingerie in glass windows, waiting for customers, so we scooted right out of there. But the good thing about Amsterdam is that, since everything is taxed and legalized, workers have a lot of rights.
We went back to the hostel and I still hadn’t met my roommates because they were sleeping when I got back, but the next morning we all finally met. They were really nice and one of the girls even had similar plans to me for the following day so we decided to hang out together. But that morning, I had to run because I was hankering for some pancakes.
I stood in a long line at one of the most popular pancake places in Amsterdam, The Pancake Bakery. I ordered off their funky menu but stayed pretty safe with their English pancakes – topped with pears, ice cream, chocolate sauce and whipped cream. They were thin, like crepes, and really sweet and delicious.
After that, I went to Anne Frank’s House and waited on the curb for my entry time to come up. A few ladies from Sweden politely asked me to buy tickets and I let them know that tickets went on sale two months in advance online and that they were pretty much impossible to buy the day of. I’d planned for this and the tickets were one of the first things I reserved when planning, along with my Cursed Child tickets.
The newly renovated museum dedicated to the Frank family was a really unique experience. I read The Diary of a Young Girl in high school, but going through the actual rooms the Frank family slept in as they hid from the Nazis was surreal. The visit made me want to read the diary all over again. It was a somber experience but one I think everyone should have if they get the chance.
Then I hopped on a ferry for a tour of Amsterdam along the canals. The ferry had an audioguide in 25 languages and I learned a lot about the history of Amsterdam and some of the more famous buildings. Then I walked around, just enjoying the atmosphere of the city. I found the bench from The Fault in Our Stars movie and waited (impatiently) for a couple to get off it so I could get my picture on it. Tons of people lined up behind it, waiting for their turn. After that, I wandered around in a few bookstores and got Japanese food for dinner.
The next day, my roommate Campbell and I became fast friends as we took the train out to The Hague. We headed straight for The Mauritshaus, the museum that holds The Girl with the Pearl Earring and many famous works by Rembrandt, Vermeer, etc. Also there is the famous painting of the Goldfinch, the one that inspired the book. We were awed at how beautiful the house was and remarked that all museums should be as pretty as that one. When we bought our tickets, we used the ticket machine and realized that patrons under 20 could get in free. She “bought” her ticket and it just popped out of the machine. I did the same and decided to try my luck getting past the ticket taker since I have a baby face. It worked.
We then went to lunch in the square and I had the most amazing goat-cheese and spinach ravioli. We made our way to the Peace Palace after lunch, but they weren’t letting anyone else inside that day because the tours were all full. We were able to go through the short museum exhibit right outside the palace, and it was really cool to learn about, but we were both bummed we couldn’t see the inside. The Peace Palace was built as a place where country representatives can go to discuss international matters, land ownership disputes, etc. It’s a place that promotes peace and discourages war. It was inspiring and uplifting, as I’m someone who believes in the power of words and discussion over gunfire.
Campbell went back to Amsterdam and I went to Delft, the hometown of Vermeer and the cutest place I’ve ever seen in my entire life. Delft is small and quiet, an idyllic place with open sidewalks and tiny houses lined side by side along canals lined with lily pads and algae. I had a little time and managed to go through the Vermeer museum, but it wasn’t nearly as good as the Rijksmuseum or the Mauritshaus. The people there were friendly and kind and I instantly wished I could just live there forever.
I ate dinner on the square in Delft, next to a church and the town hall, where a group of kids played in a string quartet to set the mood. I ate croquettes on bread with mustard and ice tea and lamented the fact that I had to leave.
The next day, I went to the Van Gogh museum, which I hadn’t planned on going to at first. I actually hate when anyone mentions Starry Night because it reminds me of a horrible song written about the painting my band director in high school made us listen to over and over and over again. As a high schooler, I couldn’t care less about Van Gogh or his art, but in Amsterdam, in the Van Gogh museum, I learned to appreciate him a lot more. The museum was really informative and they even had a seminar about his life and works.
Then I went to the grocery story nearby and got some snacks to eat on the grass outside the museum. The parks in Amsterdam are huge and so many people just sit around talking together, throwing frisbees, chasing after toddlers, and it felt really calm and peaceful.
Immediately after that peacefulness, I threw myself into the party that was Amsterdam Pride. I found a spot along the canal where I could sit with my legs hanging over the water as the boats cruised by. I’d never been to a Pride parade before, but this one was awesome. Every few seconds, a new boat would pass by, people waving, blaring music and dancing, and then they’d have to duck to get under the bridge. I kept waiting to see who would hit their heads on the bridge.
Even though I was there alone, I wasn’t lonely at all because there were thousands of people lining the streets, on the bridges, and on board the boats, dancing and laughing and having a good time. It was a great way to end my trip to Amsterdam. Before heading back to the hostel, though, I went in search of some windmills and then I had Wagamama (selfish in Japanese) for dinner. Wagamama is a British chain that serves Asian food. It was pretty good and I had a view of the Amstel and my hostel as I ate.
The next day I was headed to Germany.
(To be continued)