After a quick nap, I woke up in The Netherlands. A bit groggy and slightly disoriented, I grabbed my bag and dragged myself off of the train. Due to the lack of sunlight remaining, I eagerly checked in to my precious hostel and begin exploring immediately. I walked straight to the Museum Square and patiently strolled through the gardens outside of the Rijksmuseum. I was captivated by the meticulously manicured terrace, extraordinary architecture, and the naturally gorgeous locals surrounding me. I continued onward to the Van Gogh Museum across the courtyard. As a child, I attempted to replicate Van Gogh in my art class, unfortunately I was never remotely successful. Nevertheless, being able to see his work in person was inspiring and quite nostalgic. I stayed until the museum closed and then hopped on the tram line to the Jordaan district. I hesitated for a moment outside of the Anne Frank house and my mood immediately shifted. I’ve been to Yad Vashem in Israel and the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, but standing outside of Anne Frank’s house and knowing that so much had happened in the immediate spot that I stood, was utterly bone chilling. Once inside, there aren’t words to describe the emotions felt within those dark and narrow walls. I quietly left, brushed away my tears, and walked back to the nearest tram.
At that point, I was emotionally drained, frozen from the windchill, and quite lost. I glanced down at my phone for directions only to find that my battery was depleted. So I began walking. I followed the tram tracks until I found the last tram heading in the direction of my hostel. My physical map was completely useless, so I kept an eye out for familiar landmarks and simply hopped off when I thought I was close enough. I quickly discovered that I had no idea where I was. I walked to a corner and scanned the surrounding roads for any indication of familiar direction. Frustrated, I grabbed my map and attempted to decipher the Dutch signs, but to no avail. I stood there hopelessly and began flagging down passing cars. Eventually a girl on a bike stopped for me. Hesitant of my flailing arms and spastic composure, she kept her distance and in perfect English, asked me what I needed. I thanked her for stopping, apologized for the taboo nature of my actions, and proceeded to explain that I had no idea where I was. She looked at my map and quickly recognized the area I was staying in. She laughed and said, “Well, you’re pretty far from there, it’s going to be a way down this road” as she pointed at my map. I sighed and slipped out a word or two of profanity. She warmly laughed and added that she was heading that way and then offered to give me a ride. I glanced at her bicycle and without skipping a beat, graciously accepted. She started peddling and with a running start, I jumped on the back of her bike and held on tight. We cruised along the canals and she shouted back to me, “Ohh, by the way I’m Lisa, what’s your name?” At that moment I couldn’t help but to laugh, this complete stranger had picked up a random tourist and before we even exchanged names, was willing to peddle me across town. We finally arrived to my stop and I could see my hostel just one block down. I thanked her profusely and ran inside. In the lobby I was greeted by an assembly of tourists getting ready for the local pub crawl. Being rather outnumbered by males, they were eager to recruit a female to join. Wanting nothing but a hot shower and a phone charger, I immediately declined. Unfortunately, my rejection didn’t go over well. I was given ten minutes to change, fix my smeared mascara, and meet back in the lobby. Before I could even catch my breath, I was chugging a beer and inhaling McDonalds french fries between bars.
The next morning, I dragged a few of my hungover roommates to Omelegg for breakfast. We sipped on freshly squeezed orange juice and scarfed down f**king delicious omelettes. In the midst of a crippling food coma, we continued onward toward the center of town to the Heineken Experience. We spent over three hours educating ourselves on the history of Heineken and drinking copious amounts of golden perfection. I stirred barley, customized my own bottle, learned how to pour the perfect pint, and shamelessly skipped and danced throughout the exhibit. Slightly intoxicated, we managed to find a nearby cheese shop offering samples of the various flavors of gouda. As if the day couldn’t get any better, we then discovered locals setting up for the Kerstmarkt in Rembrandtplein (Rembrandt Square). So we stuffed our faces with freshly made oliebollen and stroopwafels, before proceeding to tour the red light district. To be honest, I was a bit nervous to go (to say the least), but the district was surprisingly quite casual. As long as you respect the women’s privacy in the windows (i.e. no photographs), then they’ll just smile at you and wave. Just like a prepubescent teen, I awkwardly avoided eye contact and marked that whole experience off the to-do list. It began to rain so without missing a beat, we quickly took shelter in a small cafe. A large cloud of smoke engulfed us as I opened the door, we were greeted by a waitress and promptly guided to their freshly harvested marijuana selection. I felt like a toddler reviewing various 401k packages, I still don’t understand why there were so many choices. After some awkward blank stares, I sheepishly headed for the door.
For my last full day in The Netherlands, I woke up early and decided to take the first train to the south of Holland. A close family friend of mine semi-jokingly suggested that I check out his home town of Vlaardingen. If I was to make the trek down there, I was instructed to go directly to Jan Boer and get Ijzerkoekjes (iron cookies). I exited the seemingly abandoned train station and began walking down a residential road toward town. For the first time in ages, I didn’t see a single soul for nearly a mile. As isolated as I was, the similarities of the quaint suburban cottages somewhat reminded me of home and thus put me at ease. Located on the main canal, I immediately located Jan Boer. I bought a few different treats and of course a box of the infamous Ijzerkoekjes. These sugary, buttery delicacies are a Vlaardingse tradition, so it was only right that I eat as many as humanly possible. I continued exploring the quaint town up to the Aeolus Windmill and back down to the harbor. Before leaving Vlaardingen, I reluctantly stopped for a traditional pickled herring doused in raw onion on my way back to the train station. I grabbed my fish to-go and searched for utensils. The fisherman that prepared the plate for me smiled, shook his head, and pointed to a sign of a cartoon girl tilting her head back while dangling a whole fish into her mouth. Utterly mortified, I begged for a fork and knife. He laughed (most likely didn’t speak English) and just shrugged his shoulders. I then proceeded to dangle a whole fish above my mouth and gnaw away at the potent snack in true Vlaardingse-style. Feeling culturally accomplished, I rushed back to the train station to return to Amsterdam. Upon my arrival, I rented a bike and peddled all over town. I rode through colorful parks, up and down the picturesque canals, and got lost deep into the quaint neighborhoods. Renting a bike in Amsterdam is an absolute must during any time of the year. Even though the weather was a bit chilly, I was having a glorious time gliding through town. My only regret was not renting a bike sooner, but of course, there’s always next time. The following day, I packed up my stuffed suitcase, said my goodbyes to Jopie (the hostel cat), and was off to the airport for my next adventure.
22 November 2014 – 25 November 2014