Pt. 4 – Amsterdam

Again, Italics indicate that it was written on the train back to Montpellier after break.

Stepping off the bus into Amsterdam, I looked to find Julie and Casee in the train station. The first thought in my mind was IT IS [insert profanity of choice] COLD. Honestly, it wasn’t that bad, but it was about 35C in Paris and here it was probably just above freezing. Seeing as how it was 5am (the bus arrived one hour early), the only people in the station were from our two buses. We gathered our affairs and headed for the tram to try to follow the hostelworld.com directions. We were supposed to be able to take one line basically all the way to the hostel, but for some reason the car wasn’t running the full route. When the driver told us to get off, he gave us directions to take another tram (in remarkably good English I might add – perhaps due to the impact of Dutch immigrant in the Midwest, I couldn’t help but notice, the Dutch accent is pretty close to mine).  We tried to follow the driver’s directions, however only having heard the street names orally, we were never quite sure if the streets we saw were correct. Knowing what it sounds like, having no idea if it’s what you see; this is what it must be like to be illiterate. 

We found the hostel after wandering for a while but it was too early to check in. We still had to wait for Lauren and her boyfriend, Mark, so we went to the common area and promptly passed out on the couches from exhaustion. Granted, sleeping on a couch is never comfortable, it was infinitely more comfortable than the bus.  I can only imagine what Lauren thought when she saw the three of us unconscious in the common room. 

Amsterdam is probably best known for 6 things:

  1. Bikes
  2. Tulips
  3. Van Gogh
  4. Anne Frank
  5. the Red Light district
  6. Weed

By the end of the trip, we felt like we had really seen exactly what Amsterdam had to offer.

Bikes – When most people think of Amsterdam, they think of the pot-culture. Perhaps this speaks to my naivety, but I always thought of bikes. In Minneapolis when I volunteered at the FreeBikesForKids event, someone was telling me it was a bit of a cyclist Mecca. It’s easy to see why. There have to be more bikes than cars in the city. Yes – that is a three story bike parking garage.


Tulips – Casee ended up making a substantial pottery purchase at the tulip museum so the shop keeper gave us five tickets to Keukenhof, about 40 km SW of Amsterdam. After a 45ish min bus ride, we arrived in Kukenhof, the Garden of Europe. There are over 7 million bulbs planted every year and the effect is breathtaking. When we got the tickets, the shop keeper apologized that we were two weeks too late for the full bloom. The garden was incredible nonetheless. Walking among a sea of flowers gives the impression of walking into a painting. The garden is so large, it’s impossible not to get lost (which we did finding our way back to the bus). Simply incredible.

Even Nature loves Maroon and Gold

Van Gogh – It seems like Easter break has been a bit of an homage to Van Gogh. Between St. Remy, Paris, and Amsterdam, I have seen a lot of Van Gogh. The Van Gogh museum is home to his largest collection in the world. Admission is a little steep (14€) and there’s no student discount. I had to coax my friends to go in with me using the “when-is-the-next-time-you’re-going-to-be-in-Amsterdam-with-the-largest-collection-of-Van-Gogh-in-the-world-?” argument (and even then, two decided to just walk around the city).

The museum itself was very well organized separating his works according to where he was (literally and emotionally) in his life. Some of the pieces included sketches or letters from the artist himself. It seems that whenever I go into a museum dedicated to a single artist, I am always amazed by the breadth of their work. Four years ago in Paris’ Picasso museum, I learned he was so much more than his cubism. Here, I discovered Van Gogh’s Japanese woodblock phase.

Anne Frank – As an American of my generation, it is often easy to forget that the second world war consumed virtually all of Europe. The first countries I think of being affected are France and Germany. In reality, no country was left unmarked by the horrors of war. Despite having read the Diary of Anne Frank in middle school, I had completely forgotten that she was in hiding in Amsterdam. Visiting the small workshop facing a canal where 13 year old Anne was trapped for two years was a truly moving experience. They restored the rooms to how they were when the Franks and the van Pels were there with the help of Otto Frank (Anne’s father) and provided information and interviews with people who knew the Franks about Holland at the time.  Despite all that she endured, I am amazed at Anne’s optimism. “Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy.” ~ Anne Frank

The Red Light district – Yes, I did end up in the Red Light district at night in Amsterdam, but I assure you it was completely by accident. The hostel has a board with restaurant recommendations in the lobby. We read about one, De Keuken van, that was a former soup kitchen and was supposedly still for budget conscious travelers. We went to dinner (which really wasn’t that cheap nor that great) when it was still light out and came back as the sun was setting. However Mark forgot his water bottle at the restaurant. I hadn’t noticed before in the light, but in the night, it was impossible to miss. The street between our hostel and the restaurant was lined with small red lights. Perhaps due to the Puritan America in which I was raised, it is shocking to pass by a full-wall window and see a pair of legs open for business (literally). Needless to say, we detoured as soon as we realized what was going on and took a different route back. However, with the canals and lack of a map, we got a little lost.

Weed – No, I didn’t smoke. However, on my train from Bruges to Paris (which started in Amsterdam), I saw the full force of French customs sweep the train with drug dogs and someone get arrested.

Next entry: Brussells & Bruges

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