I had high hopes for Amsterdam. I admit it. I expected beautiful canals in between winding streets filled with quaint fairy-tale houses occupied by tall Dutch men. I should have known when booking a hostel called the “Bull Dog,” that this was not the Amsterdam I was going to get. You see, here’s the thing,
every most college kids dream of going to Amsterdam, the city where everything is legal. The city where you can do whatever you want and not have to worry about being caught. So I went along with it. I figured why not stay in the Red Light District, why not book a room with 12 beds, why not stay at a hostel called, I repeat, “The Bulldog.” News flash Carley, that has never been and will never be your scene. The constant smell of weed/hash/ganja/pot … whatever you want to call it … not pleasant. It’s not pleasant at 8am, 12pm, 4pm or 8pm … it just ain’t pleasant. People too stoned to function like normal human beings, also not pleasant. Although it is kind of funny to see a middle-aged couple getting high in the coffee shop of “The Bulldog,” multiple times.
So two main things went wrong with our trip to Amsterdam.
1) Our hostel.
2) The weather.
I can positively say that I will never step foot in the Red Light District ever again. It felt dirty, a bit unsafe and just downright weird. I am however, glad that I experienced it for what it was. And I’m sure the prostitutes along the narrow road we somehow managed to walk down at least 8 times enjoyed seeing our nervous, scared faces oh so many times. And the guy who called us “nasty girls” for walking down this same alley probably enjoyed our presence as well.
Our hostel was right in the middle of this charming little area. Now, it would have been better if our hostel was a lovely escape or even a safe retreat from the neighborhood around us; unfortunately, it was not. The man at the front desk was not friendly. The only thing he told us about were the best coffee shops to smoke marijuana. Thank you sir. And his partner, the lady at the front desk, was not friendly either. When Sarah was locked in the bathroom and about to have a minor panic attack and I asked the lady for help, she looked at me as if I asked her to kill a lion with her own bare hands.
Once we got to our room, we thought, this isn’t so bad. That was until we met our roommate. While Steph, Meg, Mal and Sarah had their bunk beds on one side of the room, the bed I was assigned was across the room, with a random person sleeping above me. Turns out this person was a man who was perpetually high, traveling alone, and the carrier of some virus, maybe SARs, that kept him, and the rest of us, up the whole night due to his coughing attacks that legitimately sounded like he was losing a lung and felt like a magnitude 6 earthquake to me, on the lower bunk. He was also deaf, and we could not communicate in any way because of this. He may or may not have had other problems seeing as one morning (early) he continued to put in and take out a loud empty plastic bag from his suitcase at least twenty times. Bless his heart but it was a very uncomfortable situation.
I was introduced to my new bunkmate in the middle of the night when her water bottle fell on my head. And then that morning she decided to blow-dry her hair 10 inches from my bed, while I was soundly sleeping. And the next night she ran out of bed straight for the bathroom to vomit. The Bulldog just didn’t want me to be a happy camper … or hosteler.
Besides the hostel, the weather was a drag. Apparently a cold front swept over all of Europe that week. I was not prepared. In MI, I am prepared for the weather, with earmuffs and down coats and leg warmers and mittens. In Amsterdam, we simply weren’t equipped. It was cold, windy, grey and dreary. And as I walked along the canal streets, flashbacks of my dad getting into a fight with the ice cream man in Venice, Italy kept popping up in my brain. Apparently canal cities do not like the Johnsons.
Despite the drawbacks we encountered, we managed to have a good time and I would happily go back later in life to experience the beautiful Amsterdam I wanted to experience (and did for a couple of hours!) and never step foot near The Bulldog or the Red Light District ever again. And yes, there are actual red lights serving as warnings to leave … walk away … DANGER DANGER DANGER … should have listened.
So I mainly put all of the above stuff in an attempt to humor you all, and not continuously complain. I really think the whole experience was downright hilarious.
Luckily, my very dear friends the Potters used to live in Amsterdam, so I went to the city equipped with restaurants to frequent and places to visit! And every recommendation was wonderful. Our favorite was Morlang, where we ate the best tomato soup I may have ever had. After our action packed London visit, Amsterdam was a lot more relaxed. We ended up spending long periods of time in our favorite little bakery/gourmet food place called De Laatste Kruimel to try to get warm. And eat as many things as possible from this adorable little place that was started by a cute young couple and has already been written up in the 3 months they’ve been open!
We arrived on Tuesday and went straight to Morlang for lunch.
The rest of the afternoon was very cultural as we went to both the Rijks Museum and the Van Gogh Museum. I loved both! The day brought me back to my Art History AP class and my goofy professor who always made us laugh. The Rijks Museum housed beautiful works from the Dutch Golden Age of painting, a period that was characterized by lack of religious art and a focus on realism, in the form of landscapes, portraits, and scenes of everyday life, among other things. Two of my favorite painters had works at the museum: Vermeer and Rembrandt. Vermeer is known for allowing natural light into his frame from left to right and Rembrandt is known for contrasting light and dark.
Although I enjoyed many paintings, my favorite was Vermeer’s “The Milkmaid.” The vibrant colors, 3D milk pouring out of the pitcher, natural sunlight and simplicity all intrigue me.
There was also a lovely Andy Warhol of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands.
How could you not love the pink!
The Van Gogh Museum was a gem. I have a copy of “Irises” in my bedroom, so it was a treat to actually see it. One phrase from Van Gogh I love is that he “tried not to see bleak things bleakly.” He also tried to capture the spirit in common people and everyday things, for instance his paintings of flowers. Unfortunately pictures were not allowed in this museum, although the couple next to me didn’t seem to understand that and almost got kicked out after the third picture they sneakily (or not) snapped. Some of my favorite paintings I saw were, “Seascape Near Les Saintes Maries de La Mer,” “Boulevard de Clichy,” and “Wheat fields Under Thunderclouds.”
After the museums we hopped on over to the I Amsterdam sign to snap a picture.
Can you spot me?
The restaurant we went to later that night was phenomenal. We had to remember that normal countries don’t eat at 10pm. Although, I must say the days seem so much shorter when you have to eat around 6pm or 7pm. We strolled up to our restaurant, The CousCous Club, and it was completely full. But have no fear, the owner (who reminded me of the owner of Turquoise who my dad just loves to talk to … for hours … so much so that my mom refuses to go there with him) took us through the kitchen to a separate room for us to eat in. There was no menu, simply three different types of couscous. I had the vegetable one with lentil sauce and it was delicious. The restaurant’s key concept is healthy food; everything is steamed and grilled. The small quaint restaurant was filled with regulars and the owner couldn’t believe how we’d found it. It was a wonderful meal and evening.
Notice we’re all bundled up … it took a while to heat up the empty room.
The main activity for Wednesday was the Anne Frank House. The exhibit was really wonderful and I feel very fortunate to have seen it. Luckily we bought our tickets online and did not have to wait in the absurdly long line. The exhibit took us through the different rooms of the house. The rooms were left empty, something Otto Frank wanted, as a sort of remembrance to what had happened. There were miniature models in each room showing what furniture used to be in them, and all of the decorations on the walls (paintings, posters, photos) were left untouched. It was unreal to imagine being held up in the small space, to live your life in constant fear, and to not be able to step outside for such a long period of time. The saddest moment for me was a life-size photograph of Otto Frank, the sole survivor, staring into his empty house.
We continued on to an adorable shopping street, where I bought a pretty ring from a store called, Pretty Rings.
Then we found our favorite cafe and Mal and I stayed for hours.
That night we went to Chinese for dinner. The restaurant was in the Red Light District. The owner of the restaurant checked to see if the door was bolted at one point. The food was good.
Our last day, Thursday, began with an attempt at a walking tour with New Europe, a company that offers free walking tours and relies solely on tips. We made it through half of the tour, before our fingers were about to fall off, and abandoned it. It was nice to be guided through the city. Some of the highlights of the tour included walking down the “Big Mama” alley in the Red Light District, seeing the Old Church, once again in the middle of the Red Light District (ironic? I think yes) and seeing the original building for the Dutch East India Company, one of the companies established in the 17th century that helped contribute to the rise of the Dutch Republic, when the Dutch merchant fleet became the most powerful fleet in the world. This was the same century of Rembrandt and Vermeer.
VOC is the symbol for the Dutch East India Company.
We then headed to our favorite cafe, yet again. Let me just tell you some of the best things everyone got from this place: potato and leek soup, goat cheese and leek quiche, sandwich on chewy wheat bread with Dutch cheese, arugala, tomato, lettuce and homemade walnut pesto, and of course, a delicious brownie and homemade carrot cake. This was truly my favorite afternoon.
The sun decided to peak its way through the dreary clouds and the city suddenly came to life.
We walked by my friend’s flat and then continued to the cute part of town and went inside beautiful boutique after beautiful boutique. I bought a scarf that I absolutely love but I really had to restrain myself from buying everything in site.
After our shopping excursion, we had a lovely walk through Vondle Park, a gorgeous open park with canals running through it. We saw many willow trees, my favorite tree since I was young when I thought they only existed in fairy tales.
That evening we had dinner at an Indonesian Restaurant and then we went to a gourmet chocolate shop where I indulged in a chocolate covered banana. Let me just tell you how delicious it was. I hadn’t had a banana since being abroad, and it was so delectable, the perfect ripeness, not too sweet, and the warm chocolate on top was mouth-watering.
Also, if you don’t know the Dutch language, try pronouncing this.
We went home and went to bed because we had to wake up at 4am the next morning in order to catch our flight. So, walking through the Red Light District at 4am is quite an experience. And so is the train station. Either Amsterdam attracts sketchy people or I do. Either way, they were sketchy. And the ticket machine at the train station was not working so we had a moment of panic where we thought we were stuck. And for all of you that don’t know me, I am not a morning person. In fact, I do not function in the morning. So the fact that I made it out of there alive is solely credited to my dear friends who accept this major fault of mine.