I just asked my grandma if she knew what YOLO meant. She said yes. When did my grandma become cooler than me?! Apparently quite some time ago. Well, for those of you who don’t know (Mom, Dad, I’m looking at you guys), it stands for You Only Live Once. Drake wrote a song about it, but don’t listen to it. I’ll tell you right now you’ll hate it. Especially you, Dad.
Anyways, in embracing all that is YOLO, I decided to take a last-minute trip by myself to Amsterdam. It’s been on my travel list for a while, but my roommate, Sarah, has already been twice and didn’t have any interest. So I figured, if I want to go so badly, I’ll just go by myself. And I am so glad that I did! Seeing as it was my first time flying solo, I didn’t quite yet feel comfortable staying the night, so I spent all of today in Amsterdam, and got back around 9PM. It was the perfect amount of time!
I took a night bus from Paris, and I knew from the start that this was going to be a good trip. Now, you might be asking yourself how someone could know this far in advance that a solo trip to a new place would go so well. And here is my answer: first of all, I became instant BFFs with the bus driver. I took IDBus, which is a great service, and although not the most convenient compared to the train, it’s much cheaper. Second of all, and probably the most important part of the trip: I put my iPod on shuffle and immediately got, like, 7 *NSYNC songs in a row. If that’s not a good omen, then I don’t know what is.
We arrived in Amsterdam around 6AM, and I was a little nervous about being there alone in the dark, but I soon discovered that I had nothing to worry about. The only other people out were either opening shops or heading to work, and I felt safe the entire time. Side note: Amsterdam has a very efficient public transportation system, and I was able to quickly get from my bus to the center of the city. Also noteworthy – at 5:45AM, I encountered probably the most helpful bus driver of all time. Most of us on the bus were first-timers to Amsterdam, and she answered everyone’s questions with thorough information and a smile. Again, all signs were pointing to a good trip.
I had a list of things I wanted to do, and since Amsterdam is such a tourist attraction, I took advantage of the fact that I was there early. I headed to Museumplein, which consists of a large park surrounded by the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum, and the Stedelijk Museum. My goal, however, was to find the famous “I amsterdam” letters, and luckily they were not hard to find at all. It was incredibly calm, and besides a few construction workers and a woman walking her dog, I was the only person there. The sun had just risen, and it was already warming up. Again, all good signs. I was able to snap this pic, and it was a great way to start the day. (Side note: on my way back out of the city to catch my bus home, this area was packed with people – it would have been absolutely impossible to get a picture without at least 10 strangers in it, which is a pet peeve of mine. I lucked out!)
After completing this essential task, I didn’t have any commitments until my 10AM walking tour. I wandered around a bit more and took pictures of anything that piqued my interest, and eventually found myself in the Jordaan neighborhood, which has become very chic. The apartment buildings in Amsterdam are so beautiful and classic, especially in the Jordaan area, and I noticed that many of them had “Te Koop” signs. I don’t know if “Te Koop” means for rent or for sale, but there were an awful lot of cute places Te Koop and I was ready to Te Koop all of them. After convincing myself not to Te Koop an apartment in Amsterdam (like I could feasibly do that), I walked a bit along Amsterdam’s famous canals. My goodness, they are so gorgeous. I stopped probably every 100 feet or so to take a picture. One of the canals even has swans in it! I was in tourist heaven.
Canal without swans
Canal with swans!
Finally, I settled in at a Starbucks – by this time it was around 8:00AM, and I hadn’t gotten much sleep on the bus, so coffee was a must. While there, I finally was able to do a little bit of people-watching, and, in this case, eavesdropping (not that I could even understand anything anyone was saying). Dutch is such a unique language – I did not hear much that resembled words I know in French or English, and I could probably count on one hand the amount of times I saw signs in a language I understood. Luckily, most people in Amsterdam also speak fluent English, but in the tram and on the bus, drivers would frequently make announcements on the loudspeaker, and all I could do was just sit there like an idiot. I still don’t even know how to say “hello” in Dutch. Or “thank you,” for that matter, which probably made me look like a huge jerk. Anyways, back to the Starbucks. I played my cards right, and managed to order the biggest coffee in the one Starbucks that does not have a restroom. This was not going to bode well for my upcoming 3-hour walking tour. Luckily, I had seen signs in the train station for a bathroom (thank god there’s a universal symbol for restrooms, otherwise I really would have been S.O.L.) and quickly made my way towards them. Normally I would stay as far away as possible from public restrooms, especially at train stations, but I knew this was a do-or-die moment. I paid my 50 centime fee and felt like I had entered that episode of S Club 7 where they have to pay $50 to use a bathroom in the middle of nowhere but then it turns out to be a luxury suite of sorts. Also, if you’re not familiar with S Club 7 and their television show, then we need to reevaluate our friendship. Anyways, I’ll be darned if that was not one of the nicest public bathrooms I’ve ever been in.
Like I mentioned earlier, I had reserved a 3-hour walking tour at 10AM. It was a good tour, but I would have preferred to have learned a little more about the history of the city. We mostly just walked around and our guide pointed out monuments to us, but I didn’t leave feeling like I knew the city any more than I did before. A highlight of the tour was when I met a French brother and sister who happened to also be from Lille! I swear, the world is only getting smaller. We got coffee together during a break in the tour, and I’m hoping to see them again before I leave.
After the tour, I had pre-purchased a ticket to tour the Anne Frank house. This was something that I absolutely knew I had to do – there was no way I was going to go to Amsterdam and not see the Anne Frank house. There aren’t guided tours of the house, but there is a free pamphlet that gives information on each room in the house and provides a good backstory. I can say in complete certainty that touring Anne Frank’s house was one of the most moving experiences of my entire life. I wish I could sufficiently describe the experience, but my words would never do it justice. Walking through the entire house and secret annex, knowing that Anne Frank and her family stood where you are standing, is one of the most surreal and emotional experiences I have ever lived; I cried through much of the tour, as did most of the people around me. I would say that the second most emotional part, after the annex, of course, is a video of Otto Frank, Anne’s father, after he survived the Holocaust (of the two families in hiding, he was the only one to survive the concentration camps). He describes his decision to publish Anne’s diary, saying he did so after realizing his children were not coming back. Even thinking about it now makes me tear up. If you have the chance to visit the Anne Frank House, do it. You will not regret it.
After leaving the Anne Frank House, I stopped for lunch and to pull myself together. I got a sandwich from a shop that Sarah had recommended to me, and she did not steer me wrong. After spending some time refueling and people-watching, I was ready for my next activity, which I decided would be to see the flower market. Amsterdam is known for its flowers, specifically tulips, and since tulips happen to be my favorite flower, the flower market was also high on my list. To be honest, it was a little underwhelming, but I’m still glad that I went. I would have regretted not going, and the weather was too nice not to (we did have about an hour of rain, including some torrential downpour, during our tour, but other than that it was an absolutely gorgeous day).
A small preview of the flowers for sale at the market
Tulips, my favorite!
By the time I was done at the flower market, it was time to head back to my awaiting chariot (the bus). It was about a 3.5 hour bus ride back to Lille, which gave me a lot of time to reflect on my day trip. All in all, I am really content with my time in Amsterdam. I got to see everything I wanted to see, and I survived out there by myself! Well, barely survived – bikers are not very accommodating to pedestrians in Amsterdam! I almost got hit a few times, and I witnessed people eating, texting, talking on the phone, and holding umbrellas while riding and simultaneously steering a flimsy two-wheeled metal contraption through busy city streets. Yeesh!
Now I’ve got some down time, and I’m going to (begrudgingly) start to pack some stuff up and ship home so that I can pretend that my suitcase will weigh under 50 pounds. But really, who am I kidding? Sarah and I are headed to Dublin next week, so I’ve got much more to look forward to!
À bientôt, mes chéris!
P.S. A reason my mother would love Amsterdam: