Posted on February 29th, 2016
After a bus ride, two trains, an airplane, a metro and many confused minutes of walking and map-reading multitasking, I finally arrived, exhausted, at my hostel in Amsterdam. It was quite a journey but I had made it and was so proud to have figured it all out by myself.
I think I had romanticized my trip so much before I had arrived that I had forgotten that I would be staying in a hostel in Amsterdam. When I went into my dorm room and found a guy in the corner rolling his joint I was quickly reminded of the implications that staying in a hostel in Amsterdam might have. I just had to laugh at myself and see this as another prime example of me stepping out of my comfort zone this year.
The sun had already bid goodnight to the city of Amsterdam when I went out in search of some food that evening. But wandering around the street lamp lit canals and just taking in the absolute beauty of a European city at night, I couldn’t have been happier.
My intentions were purely innocent as I wound in and out of cobbled streets looking for a reasonably priced restaurant to satisfy my grumbling tummy. Turning into a new street I was puzzled by why this street was so lively, bustling with people and featured so many red lights. It wasn’t until I began to look closer at the signs lining the canals and saw that they were advertising ‘Live porn shows’ and erotic museums, that I realised that I had accidentally stumbled upon the infamous Red Light District.
I had obviously heard much about this ‘liberal’ neighborhood before my trip to Amsterdam, otherwise known as the city where prostitution is legal and the smoking of marijuana is overlooked by police (yes, that’s right. Weed isn’t actually legal in Amsterdam. But there are many ‘coffee shops’ where it is sold and smoked and the police just turn a blind eye. Fun fact from my walking tour!) I hadn’t been sure about visiting the area alone at night but when I found myself there by accident I could see that there was absolutely nothing to worry about. Yes, it was rather sad seeing many women market their bodies and put there ‘goods’ on display in shop windows, but there was nothing seedy or threatening about the neighborhood. I just walked around with the other hundreds of people who were just having a look around.
A classmate of mine from high school, Chloe, is au pairing in a town just outside of Amsterdam. We weren’t exactly close in high school but it’s amazing how much it can mean to see a familiar face when you are both completely out of your depth and a million miles away from home. So we had arranged to meet up and oh my goodness what a joy it was to be able to chat and spend time with a fellow South African. We had a coffee and walked through the canals before going to Dam Square to begin our free walking tour of the city.
The tour started in Dam Square which is where the Royal Palace and National Monument is located. Our guide then took us through the history of the Red Light District, the Old Church, the Jewish Quarter, the Dutch East India Company, the widest bridge, the narrowest house, Anne Frank’s house, the canals and we even tasted some Dutch cheese. It was thoroughly informative and something I highly recommend to anyone visiting Amsterdam. It works on a tipping basis and so the tour can fit into anyone’s budget (I will be doing a follow-up post of all the must-sees, must-eats and helpful tips for Amsterdam including helpful websites and apps).
Before Chloe had to catch her train she introduced me to one of Holland’s most typical street foods: frites (slap chips/french fries) slathered in mayonnaise and peanut sauce. It was absolutely decadent and naughty but oh-so delicious! My philosophy on eating for this year is kinda that I need to just experience as much as possible from each of the different cultures and a huge part of that is the food. So I am not going to be eating particularly healthily while I’m here but I’m not going to feel guilty about it either as this is all a part of the experience.
I then had a moment to just go and sit on a bench on the banks of a canal and absorb all that was around me. I have literally fallen in love with this absolutely beautiful city; seduced by the Dutch dollhouse-lined canals, bicycle-filled streets and oh-so-delicious stroopwafels. The air is filled with romance, the sound of church bells, bicycle trings, the whiffs of frying pannekoeke and of course the faint lingering of weed smoke.
In the afternoon I decided to check out the Bloemenmarkt. Unfortunately Spring hasn’t yet sprung in Europe and so I didn’t get to see the tulips that Amsterdam is so famous for. Well, I guess it’s just an excuse to come back here one day! I then went to the Anne Frank House. Thankfully I managed to get last-minute online tickets and so didn’t have to wait in the 2 hour-long queue. It was quite a humbling experience walking through the rooms of the house where Anne and her family lived in silent hiding for two years. The museum is really well set out and takes you through the difficult journey of these people’s lives in a really comprehensive and informative manner. I also had a ‘Fault in our Stars’ moment as I looked down the very top stairs and just pictured Hazel Grace struggling with her breath as Augustus helped her to the top floor.
For supper I really splurged and treated myself to a pancake from the famous Pancake Bakery in Prinsengracht canal. It cost a bomb but was definitely the best pancake I’ve ever had. It was a ‘Dutch’ pancake and so filled with stroopwafel chunks, cinnamon ice cream, whipped cream and chocolate flakes. Heaven on a plate.
Walking along the gently flowing canals straddled by romantically lit bridges and lined with streetlights, I could hear the gentle lap of water against the boat’s bottoms. Navigating the cobbled streets with my very sore feet encased in treacherous high-heeled boots, I saw the radiant full moon. I felt like something out of a Woody Allen movie.
On the way home I decided to pop into the Bulldog bar and lounge. It is one of the most famous ‘coffee shops’ in Amsterdam. Before I even walked through the door I was hit by a wall of weed smoke. I didn’t need to venture too far in order to get the just of it. I saw enough to tick it off my list and gingerly dragged my dead legs back to my hostel.
Safe to say it was an incredible first day in Amsterdam!