The first thing I do when I get to a new country is scope out the bathrooms in the airport. I must say, my favorite to this day is Barcelona. I got to Barcelona and was pleasantly surprised by the chicness of their airport bathrooms. Amsterdam wasn’t bad though, maybe my second favorite. Hey, I know it’s weird but I have to go after an 8 hour flight, okay?
Arriving in Amsterdam was rough for me. I don’t think anyone is ever fully ready to travel to a new continent all by themselves for the first time, but I was exceptionally not ready. I didn’t know what to expect and spent my flight trying to start writing a novel rather than mentally getting my head ready for something completely new and strange. When I got to the airport, I had printed out the address of where I was going and was really hoping to be able to take a train and save some euro from the get go, but I forgot that of course, nothing would be in English at the darling Schipol Airport.
The Dutch are nice enough to make cute iconic signs for just about everything, but I still couldn’t work up the bravery right after stepping off the plane to try and ask for help. What’s worse is that I actually got too overwhelmed to even find a cab at 6:45 am. So I kinda sat around for a little bit… In the pouring rain. I took some iPhone photos, which proved to be the theme of my whole Amsterdam experience (I came home with 50 photos on my camera, uh woops) and after watching a line of people shrink down I mustered the bravery to get into a taxi.
The rain worsened on our drive to my hostel, but it couldn’t be more appropriate. I guess I should tell you that my trip to Europe wasn’t exactly a pleasant time in my life. I loved Europe a lot, but didn’t really like traveling alone and was under A LOT of emotional stress at the time. I look back and think “I should just do that all over again.” Lesson learned, don’t travel alone if you can avoid it when you’re going through serious turmoil. You will spend too many days in bed when you should be exploring and things that normally excite you won’t be so cool when you’re depressed. Oh well.
Getting into Amsterdam was so perfect though. My phone was nearly dead and I got to my hostel but couldn’t check in for several hours so I was forced to begin getting cozy with the city right from the start. I walked up the canals and saw some beautiful birds diving toward the water in the rain. I stopped to take some photos and some guy came out and asked me some questions in Dutch. I quickly signaled no and said “Don’t have any money,” when he grabbed my hand and put a chunk of bread in it and smiled.
Right. You want to feed the birds together. Assumptions do not a friendly Rachel make.
So we took turns throwing the bread and he tried to toss it really high so I could capture photos of the bird diving. My first Amsterdam friend.
I kept walking up the canal, looking at the beautiful swans that floated right up to people’s doorsteps. I got to a little coffee shop that was open early and scrambled to order something without looking like a tourist and fiddled with the silly international charger I bought.
If you’re one of my closest friends, you probably got an email. I sat looking out the window of the coffee shop and wrote about heartache and new places and not feeling adventurous and being scared and lonely and how handsome Dutch men are with their perfect haircuts and how all the women on their bikes had brightly colored jeans.
After getting up from my post at the coffee shop, I walked a bit away from the canals into the main plaza. I watched Madame Tussauds and wondered how I’d gotten here. I remembered when I traveled to Peru, my professor at the time told me “don’t process it now, just be in the moment, experience it, write about it, capture it, process it later when you get home.” So I wandered around the narrow cobbled streets until my feet were swollen and got pleasantly surprised when I walked past a shop and a scantily dressed mannequin blew me a kiss from the window. The typical first experience in Amsterdam’s red light district.
– Stay at the Bulldog Hotel (it’s actually a hostel) if you want to be in the downtown Red Light. I really do recommend seeing this part of the city at least once. Check out the condom shops, prostitutes in windows and the beautiful historic canals and “coffee shops”. It’s got a party vibe, but I’m so happy I did this at least once.
– Find a cute coffee shop to sit at and enjoy the people watching. The Dutch are like no one else and are beautiful, happy and fun to watch.