As you may or may not know, I just got back to Glasgow from a short trip to Amsterdam. I went with four other girls who are studying abroad at Glasgow (three Americans, one Canadian). We left Sunday and got back Wednesday. Taking into account travel time, we had two half days and two full days in Amsterdam. Initially, I wasn’t going to go to Amsterdam at all, but I changed my mind at the last minute and bought a ticket. It was kind of a rash (and expensive) decision on my part, but it turned out well. I’m glad I went, for a variety of reasons which I will hopefully touch on throughout this post.
I’ll start from the beginning. We left Sunday morning around 10:00 to get to the airport for our 12:45 flight. Europe, in particular Scotland, has been experiencing some crazy winter weather lately, so we left praying that our flight would not be delayed as many other flights have been. Luckily, we got to the airport with plenty of time to spare and our flight left right on time. It was a pleasant flight made pleasanter due to the fact that we flew with KLM, not RyanAir.
If you’ve been following my blog, you probably know that I’ve flown with RyanAir on all of my trips this semester. I appreciate RyanAir very much and would recommend it to anyone who wishes to explore Europe on a budget. It flies to places I want to go, it’s relatively dependable, and most importantly its fares are dirt cheap. But there are some annoying elements to flying with RyanAir, such as the baggage restrictions and the fact that they try to sell you everything under the sun during the flight (lottery tickets, cigarettes, etc.). So you can see why I enjoyed flying with a ‘real’ airline to Amsterdam. They even gave us sandwiches, delicious!
Anyway, the flight was a nice way to start out the trip. We made it to Amsterdam and grabbed a taxi to the hostel. Our hostel was in a great location, close to the museums and not too far from city center. We checked in and after dropping off our bags in our room, we set off to explore and find some dinner. (Sidenote: I wish I had taken a picture of the hostel, because it was pretty cool. Our room was located on the top floor of the hostel. To get to it, we had to walk up four very narrow and steep staircases. Also, our room had slanted ceilings with wooden beams which for some reason reminded me of my first bedroom/closet at home. I really enjoyed staying there.)
Anyway, one of the first things we saw when we went out to wander was a Winter Wonderland. Though we didn’t know it at the time, there were several Winter Wonderlands set up in squares across the city. They usually had an ice skating rink, several pastry and food vendors, and Christmas decorations. I read somewhere that the Dutch exchange gifts on St. Nicholas Day (which was Sunday, the day we flew in), so maybe that explains all the Winter Wonderlands. Anyway, we found some relatively cheap dinner, wandered around some more, and called it a night.
The next day, we woke up early and headed over to the Van Gogh Museum. Wow. I never realized just how cool Van Gogh’s work is. I knew about Sunflowers and The Starry Night and the whole ear fiasco, but I’d never given his work much thought. One of the most interesting things I learned at the Van Gogh Museum was that Van Gogh just up and decided to be an artist. He decided that was what he wanted to do, and without knowing if he would be any good at it, he dedicated himself to his art. Overall, the museum was very interesting and well-organized. It was just the right size, too. I felt like I was able to see all of the paintings, read most of the descriptions, and leave without feeling like I was going to fall over (as is often the case with larger museums).
The Van Gogh Museum made me realize that one of my favorite parts of this whole study abroad experience has been the opportunity to visit art museums. I’m really grateful to have been able to see so many interesting pieces of art this semester. With every museum I visit, I find myself wanting more and more to create things: writing, drawing, film, etc. Simply put, it’s refreshing and inspiring to be able to see such magnificent art. It makes me want to be a smarter, better, more dedicated artist myself.
After the Van Gogh Museum, we wandered our way down to city center. I must say, Amsterdam is unlike anywhere I’ve ever been. It’s a beautiful city filled with canals, houses crammed in rows, brick streets, and millions of bicycles. Walking around is a little scary because things aren’t marked very clearly. You’re never sure if you are walking in a street or a bike lane or on the sidewalk, so you’ve got to keep a sharp eye out or you’ll get hit. And you’ve got to watch out for the trams, too.
Anyway, after browsing several souvenir shops, wandering around an outdoor plant market, and generally soaking up the Amsterdam ambiance, we were pretty hungry. So we found a little restaurant and ordered a very Dutch lunch: pancakes! Pancakes and waffles are everywhere. I had an apple pancake, which was delicious but so big I couldn’t finish it. The other options for pancakes included banana, pineapple, chocolate, ham and cheese, rum, and more.
After lunch, we found our way to the Anne Frank House. Though I’ve never actually read her diary, I know the general story. It was a pretty powerful experience to see the actual rooms where she hid from the Nazis, especially knowing how things ended for her. Throughout the house (which is also a museum), there are displays about Anne and her family. Reading some of the excerpts from her diary and seeing some actual pages from rewrites she did really made me want to read her diary. I resisted buying a copy in the giftshop, since I’m pretty sure we’ve got a copy at home (if not two or three, knowing the Carroll library).
One of the things that stuck with me about my visit to the Anne Frank House was Otto Frank’s (her father) desire to make the house not only a monument to remember the horror of the Holocaust but also a reminder that the fight against racism and prejudice is not finished. It is still something we must fight against. One point that came up in my discussion with my friends after leaving the house was the unbelievable fact that the Holocaust even happened. How could the rest of the world let such a terrible thing go on for so long, we wondered. That, in turn, made me think about modern atrocities we so often turn a blind eye to: the war in the Congo, child soldiers in Burma, the invisible children of Uganda, etc. How many Anne Franks live in the world today? What will be the Anne Frank House of the future? Maybe it’s a depressing thought, but it makes Otto Frank’s vision all the more relevant.
Moving on from that heavy subject… After the Anne Frank House, we found a grocery store and bought some supplies for dinner. We went back to the hostel, where we used the incredibly-slow-heating hot plate to make a delicious meal of spaghetti. Pasta: the food of the poor traveler. We spent most of the rest of the night hanging out in the hostel, playing cards and watching bad American television. We did pop over to the Winter Wonderland to pick up some Dutch donuts (exactly like beignets) for dessert. Delicious!
On Tuesday, we got up, had breakfast, and headed over to the Rijksmuseum. The Rijksmuseum is a large museum dedicated to Dutch art. It’s housed in a pretty impressive building, but unfortunately most of it is currently under construction. There was still a lot to see, however, so we spent a couple of hours wandering through the rooms soaking up the art. Lots of Rembrandt, a few Vermeers, things of that nature. The level of detail in some of the still lifes was astonishing, and it was neat to see Rembrandt and Vermeer’s techniques with light up close.
After the Rijksmuseum, we headed back to the hostel for a spaghetti lunch and then went to a flea market. It was nice to see more of Amsterdam, but the flea market wasn’t really anything special. Just the usual mix of knick knacks and knockoffs. Plus, it was freezing. We wandered around a bit and then ducked into a coffeeshop to warm up. We ordered hot chocolate, which came as a mug of hot milk with a side of chocolate chips to mix in. It was delicious.
We spent the rest of our trip just sort of wandering around Amsterdam, taking in the sights. Even though it was cold, and I sometimes couldn’t feel my toes, I really enjoyed the trip. It was great to experience a city so different from the American and British cities I know so well. It was also great to travel with my new friends Jess, Maija, Ellie, and Silvana. I enjoyed the laid back nature of the trip, but I was also happy that we got to do as much as we did in the little time we had in Amsterdam. All in all, it was a great experience. I can’t wait to go back sometime when it’s warmer!
Well, that’s all I’ve got for you right now. Tomorrow afternoon I leave for Barcelona. Hopefully, I’ll be able to write a post about that trip sometime next week in between all my studying and last-minute exploring. Thanks for reading! Until next time…
P.S.- Random sidenote: we spent quite a bit of time in the hostel common room (hanging out, eating meals, etc.) and every time we were there, there was this one group of guys glued to their computers. Seriously, they did not move for the three and a half days we were there. Why would you go to a foreign country just to sit on your computer and play World of Warcraft? Why? People like that make me lose faith in the human race.