A couple of weeks ago now I took my second weekend excursion – this time to Amsterdam! Amsterdam is a beautiful town in Holland, which is a part of the Netherlands. (One of the interesting things we learned during our trip is that we’d been incorrectly using Holland and the Netherlands interchangeably! Oops. Although Holland used to be its own country, North and South Holland are now two states in the Netherlands. The more you know…)
Brianna – my friend, fellow student, and travel buddy here at Bossey – and I set out on a Thursday evening for Amsterdam, having learned from our whirlwind weekend in Paris that leaving Friday morning and trying to squeeze it all in was too tough! We found our cute little AirBnB and settled in. Just like in Paris, we really wanted to stay in a place that felt authentic and neighborhoody, not full of tourists. We sure picked the right place, because when we headed out on Friday morning we found ourselves surrounded by parents and young children all biking to the neighborhood school. Everyone (no, really, EVERYONE…) travels by bike in Amsterdam. It’s incredible! Check out the picture of the bicycle parking garage in the Pictures page.
We started the morning off with a breakfast of apple pie and a cup of coffee. Apparently, apple pie is a common breakfast option in Amsterdam. I’m totally OK with that! Our morning plans got a little thrown off by visiting hours being different than we expected, so we regrouped and visited the Koninklijk Palace and De Nieuwe Kerk (The New Church), a medieval church that has been transformed into an exhibition hall. It was surreal and very sad this beautiful old church stripped bare and currently housing an exhibit dedicated to Marilyn Monroe for what would have been her 90th birthday. Brianna and I had a moment, thinking of what might happen to other gorgeous churches around the world in post-Christendom society. For me, it was a stark contrast to the experience we had walking in and worshipping at Notre Dame in Paris.
We then visited another church, Westerkerk, with a gorgeous clock tower outside and an equally gorgeous organ inside. This church too, is creative in the use of its space. Although it still houses a congregation on Sunday mornings, it’s used for different activities throughout the week to pay the bills. When we were there, they were setting up for a chorale and orchestra concert later that evening!
Afterwards, we spent a great hour and a half cruising through the canals of Amsterdam, seeing the sights and learning about the history of the city. Brianna found us the BEST boat tour – not one of the kitschy popular tourist companies, but a small boat company run by a group called “Those Dam Boat Guys.” Between being BYOB, led by a guide with a fantastic sense of humor, and being a couple of the only hours the whole weekend where it wasn’t raining, we had SO much fun!
The highlight of the day was a visit to the Anne Frank House. Unable to purchase tickets in advance, we spent an hour or so waiting in line to get in. Some people told us that it wasn’t worth the wait in the cold, but they were WRONG. It was such a profound experience to walk through the moving bookcase and walk through the rooms where Anne Frank and her family hid. I remembered reading her diary for the first time as a middle schooler and being in awe of Anne’s bravery and maturity. I wanted to be the kind of young woman Anne never got to be when I grew up. The House is filled with fascinating exhibits, sobering stories from the Holocaust, and testimonials about the ways in which Anne’s story has shaped history. There really aren’t enough to words to tell you what an honor it was to be there. I would have flown to Amsterdam just to spend an hour in that attic!
We went to dinner that evening at a place recommended to us by our boat guide called FoodHallen – basically it’s a giant food court with a bar in the middle. (What a brilliant idea!) I tried some yummy sushi hand rolls and a gin and tonic flavored with mango and red pepper. The space is so cool and the food is delicious, but good luck finding a place to sit! It’s a popular spot on a Friday night… Afterwards, we took a stroll through the Red Light District. We couldn’t go to Amsterdam and not check out one of the most well-known parts of the city! It was fascinating, after having learned earlier in the day about the history of prostitution and sex work in Amsterdam, to see it firsthand. Obviously I have some serious issues with women selling their bodies to strangers from inside glass windows (or to anyone from anywhere, to be clear…), and it was so strange to see. But it was kind of like visiting the Moulin Rouge when we went to Paris – it’s one of the things that makes the city what it is!
Day two we got out of the city and went to explore the villages of Holland’s countryside! We spent the morning in Zaanse Schans, an old village that has been turned into a living museum. You can visit the clog factory and see how they make clogs, and the cheese factory to see how they make different types of Dutch cheese! The coolest part is walking along the shoreline and seeing all the still-functional windmills – saw, oil, and the only remaining wind-powered paint mill in the world!
At a brief stop back in the city before catching our next bus, we visited one more church – Oude Kerk (the Old Church). It’s a beautiful church with a fascinating history – built by seafaring peoples, the roof is made up wooden ships’ hulls joined together! There was an informative (even though it was super cheesy…) audio tour that taught us all about this church that’s smack dab in the middle of the Red Light District. Can you tell we like churches?! 🙂
Then we headed back out of the city to another village on the water called Volendam. It had rained all the way out there, but we arrived at the perfect time and caught one of the most brilliant rainbows I’ve ever seen in my life! You can check out the pictures, but they don’t do it justice. Things were already starting to shut down for the day in Voledam by the time we got there, so we just briefly walked through the quaint old village, checking out some of the shops and enjoying the sunset on the water before heading back to Amsterdam.
We were pretty exhausted from a day of traveling, so we enjoyed a nice dinner in a fun and trendy part of the city called Leidsplein and then headed back to our AirBnb. All in all, even though it was pretty rainy the whole time, we had a fantastic weekend in Amsterdam! Who knows where the next chapter of our European Adventure will head next?!