Amsterdam is one of those cities famous in American cinema mainly for its unique architectural and liberal perspective. A city rich in history, you can see the Anne Frank house, serene canals, sex workers, and coffee shops all in one day. I never thought it to be a city I would go to, save to see the Anne Frank House, but I found myself there this New Years with my German partner-in-crime and boyfriend Silas. We spent five days exploring what makes Amsterdam so famous, and this blog post will attempt to efficiently show you around everything we saw. This blog post has so many photos that I could genuinely make a post just with photos, but I think a bit of narrative helps the cohesion of this story. So without further ado, let’s start our story on December 29th, 2018.
The Travel to Amsterdam
Our first train left early, and was to be one of three that would carry us to Amsterdam. Still feeling the stress of Christmas, we were both reluctant to leave our bed at about 5:30 to walk 15 minutes hauling our luggage to the train station, knowing that we had a full day of train changes and long walks ahead of us. Somehow, however, we did it though.
The train ride provided us with an ever-changing landscape as Northern Germany slowly transitioned to the Netherlands, but I just as easily found a supply of reading material and sleep.
Our AirBnb and First Impressions
We finally made it to Amsterdam, where we had to take a final train to Diemen, where our AirBnbwas. Luckily for us, we had a greeting committee to welcome us once we were in walking distance of where we were staying!
The pictures don’t do it justice, but this cat was FAT. She meowed and waddled over us as soon as we called to her, and we quickly noticed she was pregnant. She had a very sweet demeanor and I repeatedly tried to convince Silas we should take her, but when we left we saw her go to a home, which of course was a relief for me knowing she was taken care of. Our AirBnb was fantastic! We had our own master suite and bathroom and high quality breakfast every morning. Our hosts told us a lot of good tips about Amsterdam and had answers for all of our questions. A great place to stay if you want to see Amsterdam! The link to their listings is here:
We first got to adventure in the city in the evening, and it did not disappoint. The architecture was beautiful, the whole city feeling like a hipster’s instagram playground. The While it was fast New Years, the city was packed with people and activities. We simply just picked a direction and starting walking and found ourselves in the Red Light District, the center of Amsterdam’s legal prostitution and sex museums. Probably not the best place to start your Amsterdam tour, but it was a shock.
We obviously were not interested in the goods in the Red Light District, but we walked through and looked around anyway. There were countless windows with women displaying themselves and everyone acted as though that was normal. Coming from rural Pennsylvania, this experience was something I was never exposed to or even imagined existing. We left the many bachelors to enjoy their Amsterdam and found the quickest way out of the district possible.
My boyfriend is kind of obsessed with food. Asian food in particular. Ever since we decided we were going to Amsterdam, every day he would say, “In Amsterdam we need to go eat Ramen! Abby can we go eat ramen?” So, I took him to the ramen restaurant, “Ramen Ya!” and saw a very happy boy.
The Adventures Begin!
In the next days we walked around some of the tamer parts of Amsterdam, viewing the beautiful architecture and unique house boats:
Although the house boats in Amsterdam are unique and beautiful, I don’t think living in one would be my idea of a dream house.
Amsterdam’s Anne Frank House and the Anxiety that Came with it
There was one place in Amsterdam I had my focus on: the Anne Frank House. I’ve read portions of The Diary of Anne Frank, seen the play, and seen the movie “The Fault in Our Stars” which shows the characters going in the house, so I’ve always wanted to see the house in real life. It was a literal point in my bucket list. The only issue was, however, tickets can be extremely hard to come by. My mom found this out and told me several days before my trip, “Abby you better get tickets now or you won’t be able to go”. What I learned from this experience was always to listen to your mother. On the train to Amsterdam, I looked online for tickets to the house, only to find out that everything, for the entirety of our trip, was sold out. Luckily, a small percentage of tickets are reserved for the day in which they are released, which is precisely at 9 AM. That meant I had a definite chance of getting tickets! All I had to do was check online at about 9 AM and get two tickets. Right?
Wrong. Every morning of our trip, I would go on the Anne Frank website and be shoved into a que with about 200 people in front of me. I would wait for up to 30 minutes on this site, then only find that the tickets for that day were once again sold out. This happened 3 times before we decided to go see the house anyway, even if we couldn’t get inside.
I basically just mentally gave up on my hopes of seeing the Anne Frank House. I woke up early, was on my phone during breakfast, and tried every method to get early in the queue and I still didn’t have tickets. On the last day of our trip, I was sitting at breakfast, lamenting over my loss with Silas and our hostess, who was also trying to get me tickets. I got on the Anne Frank website a few minutes before 9am, so when they uploaded tickets I would be early in the quoe, but not so early that I got access to the buying page, which would mean refreshing the page and getting back in the quoe. I tried to access the buying page as soon as the clock struck 9, and to my astonishment, I was given access to the tickets for that day. I screamed, “I got tickets!” and Silas was dumbfounded. I picked the only time slot available and filled in my credit card information so fast I forgot all about breakfast or our other plans for that day. Silas said he wouldn’t believe it until we got a confirmation email, and I did a few minutes later. I simply couldn’t believe it.
Taking photos in the Anne Frank House is forbidden, but I can tell you that visiting the house was one of the most profound experiences of my life. The enormity of its history and social impact is baffling and the experience left me speechless.
What We Found to Eat
An experience in Amsterdam that did not leave me speechless, however, was one of our dinners. I wanted to go to a nice vegan restaurant, and found one that required us to take an extra train and walk about 20 minutes. I assumed that it would be worth it, but the whole event turned out to be a disaster. First, we ordered the matcha lattes, which were double the price of a normal latte and half the size. They were delicious, but not worth the price. Next, they were doing a special holiday menu which meant that there were only three main menu options. I got the vegan cashew fondue, which ended up tasting exactly like fondue and was so delicious that when Silas tried to take some from me I almost fought him. Even though it was an impressive dish, it was small and 15 euros. Silas got a seitan remoulade and (not stated in the menu) his favorite puree, carrots! In reality he hates carrots and that put him off of the whole dish. His meal was snack sized as well and we left the restaurant feeling defeated and much poorer.
Luckily enough, Silas and I found a tiny corner restaurant called Maoz Vegetarian in short walking distance from the bahnhof. It was more of a fast food joint, actually, and we got our food very quickly for about 5 euros. They offer three main dishes: falafel doner, falafel with salad, and french fries. after you get your food, they had a salad bar with a large number of vegetables and extras (and all of the sauces, including mayonnaise for the fries, were vegan!). After our first delicious visit to Moaz, we went there once or twice a day in our trip. We didn’t really explore the food scene of Amsterdam much… I would literally go back to Amsterdam just for this food:
The Stereotypical, yet Necessary, Canal Tour
We knew we couldn’t leave Amsterdam without doing a canal tour, and our trip to the city coincided with the yearly Amsterdam Light Festival, where various artists create light displays along and above the canals of the city. This turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip, and if you are in Amsterdam during a light festival I encourage you to take a boat tour to see it (it takes several hours of walking to see it all and only about 2 hours by boat).
During our cruise, we were provided with 5 free alcoholic drinks, including Heineken beer and hot gluhwein. Like in Germany, the legal drinking age of the Netherlands is 18. After this trip I started to like Heineken a whole lot more. Although we sadly didn’t tour the Heineken factory, the beer’s prevalence in the city could be seen in every bar and restaurant. Heineken lovers rejoice!
An Exploration of Amsterdam’s Marijuana Culture
Drugs are of course forbidden for many student exchange programs, including mine, so even though we could not participate in the marijuana culture in Amsterdam, we visited the Hash, marijuana, and Hemp Museum to find out why and how the Netherlands came to have such a liberal attitude towards drugs.
What we found out through talking to staff and reading information at the museum is that it is legal for “coffee shops” to distribute weed to their customers, but it is ILLEGAL, however, to grow cannabis and buy it in bulk. This means that many coffeeshops, if not all, buy their goods illegally through illegal sources, even if they are legally allowed to sell those goods. So in order to legally sell marijuana, you must buy it illegally from illegal sources. It’s a paradox that very few people understand, including myself, and I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject. Throughout our time learning about the marijuana culture in Amsterdam, we were told different things by different people. If you want to learn more about this paradox, I suggest doing some research of your own or even going to Amsterdam to see it for yourself.
The museum itself was extremely informative and housed historical marijuana related documents and objects as well as a wealth of information on the subject. Here are few of the exhibitions in the museum:
Not a part of the museum or weed culture but a cool representation of the liberal attitude in Amsterdam.
A Firework Show that Put the 4th of July to Shame
On December 31st, Silas and I planned to spend the beginning of the new year in Amsterdam itself, as the locals promised the firework show would be spectacular. Fireworks are a big thing in the Netherlands, with almost every family legally buying and setting off fireworks almost wherever they like, in the canals or in front of the train station for example, which gave me several small heart attacks. The fireworks were going the entire day and grew in intensity as the clock grew closer to midnight. At about 8pm, we decided to go back to our AirBnb to eat something, warm up, and rest a little before the show. In the train station, however, we heard an announcer clearly state, “The last train to Diemen until 2am leaves in five minutes.” WHAT????
So, we had a snap decision to make. Stay in the freezing city until 2am, a total of 6 more hours outside, or go to Diemen and try to get a taxi into the city. Not wanting to be trapped, we decided to go back to Diemen. We got Indian takeout and sat in our room, contemplating our options. We could walk of course, but that would take over an hour. We could call a taxi, but they told us the taxi prices would be about 70 euros for 15 minutes. Nope. We had a discount code from our hosts for a taxi service kind of like Uber, Vivovan, but no taxis were available. I’m glad Amsterdam doesn’t want people to be working during the change of the year, but we didn’t expect this to happen. I reluctantly made the decision to stay in Diemen, even though I wanted so badly to go into the city. On our walk to our AirBnb, fireworks were already being set off, so at least we could have a small show.
I was wrong.
About two minutes before midnight, we grabbed our jackets and headed outside. The clock striked twelve, we kissed and were instantly greeted by what could only be described as a firework war zone. Another strange thing accepted and embraced in the Netherlands, on every single side of us, fireworks were in a nonstop competition to outdo each other. In Silas’s words, we were inside of a firework. This was no 4th of July display, this was a true spectacle. No exaggeration, on this one night I saw more fireworks than I have in my entire life. We were simply dumbstruck, holding our heads high and simply taking it all in. This went on for about an hour. I can only imagine how expensive that was.
Although I don’t have WordPress premium and can’t upload the video, I do have some photos of that night.
All in all, our trip to Amsterdam was as educational as it was beautiful. I’ll never forget the cold canals, the insane fireworks, and my loving partner who I experienced it all with.