Friday, May 23, 2014

The Netherlands: Amsterdam and Zaanse Schans

After a glorious couple of days in Berlin, Germany, Wyatt and I started our trek to Amsterdam. The two of us decided to pair the cities together in the same weekend because of the easy direct train between Berlin and Amsterdam. Our travel was anything but direct. It consisted of three separate train rides and a bus ride. The railway company in the Netherlands was doing construction during the weekend of our travel. Thus, we had to be rerouted. The trip was tolerable. Each leg ran on time and smoothly. It was the first time either of us had traveled by bus in Europe. I had anxiety that something was going to go awry during our travel, but that didn't come until we arrived in Amsterdam.

The train car we sat in leaving Berlin
The bus we took to get from one train station to the other in the Netherlands
When we walked in the door of our hostel and attempted to check in, we found out the booking had been messed up, and we didn't have beds for the night. The next two hours consisted of us running from hostel to hostel and hotel to hotel desperately trying to find beds. For those of you who haven't visited Amsterdam, I will fill you in on the fact that the city is packed on the weekends and it is nearly impossible to book beds upon arrival. When we were on our last bit of patience and ready to sleep in a corner of the train station for the night, an Eastern hostel owner came to our rescue. After some begging, one open bed magically turned into two open beds, and I slept in a room with nine grown men and myself. It was not the most luxurious accommodations, and it smelled like feet and body odor,  but it had a mattress, a pillow, and clean sheets. I recall not even changing out of my street clothes and waking up very early the next morning to get out of there ASAP. That night after we got the bed and before we went to sleep, Wyatt and I went to a coffeehouse nearby and walked through the Red Light District. I was not incredibly thrilled with Amsterdam at night. My impression consisted of expensive weed and tourists ogling at prostitutes. Luckily, Amsterdam in the daylight was very charming!

The next morning, we checked in at our new hostel (the one we originally booked) and went to go find some breakfast and coffee. I highly recommend The Flying Pig Downtown Hostel. The staff was very friendly, the rooms were nice, and there is a great lobby and smoking room (when in Amsterdam ...) We went to an adorable cafe and had Dutch pancakes and delicious coffee for breakfast. The food in Amsterdam overall was excellent! We walked by the Anne Frank House after breakfast, and the line was incredibly long, so we decided to hit up the Rijksmuseum instead, which is the Dutch national museum dedicated to art and history. It is beautiful and huge. My favourite parts of the museum were the details about the recent remodelling and rebranding of the museum, the costume exhibit, and seeing some Rembrandt. I got to see Rembrandt's The Night Watch. As with many famous paintings, it is very cool to see them in the flesh. This one in particular did not evoke much emotion because I don't have an immense interest in militia portraits or realism. Following the Rijksmuseum, we had lunch at a conveyor belt sushi restaurant, and that was a first for me. It was fun! We headed back to the hostel to relax for a bit, and then we walked back to the Rijksmuseum to visit the I Amsterdam sculpture. That is when I found out that Obama was going to be in Amsterdam the next day, and I was so excited! I tried to convince Wyatt that we should follow Obama around the next day, and then he told me to stop being a fan girl. In the evening we ate street food for dinner and capped the night off at a coffeehouse.

The picturesque canals of Amsterdam
Bicycles everywhere! 
My friend, the black cat in the window
More canals, bicycles, and houses close together
The line in the mid-afternoon outside of the Anne Frank House
The colours on the houses were great!
The window styles were cool
The explanations about the colours used in the Rijksmuseum advertising and print.
The lobby ceiling at the Rijksmuseum
Costume pieces being exhibited at the Rijksmuseum
Beautiful pieces
 Rembrandt's The Night Watch
On Monday, the 24th, our final day in the Netherlands, we started the day at the front of the line for the Anne Frank House. Visiting the house is a must while in Amsterdam, and I am glad I did so. It was eerie to be walking about the house that the Franks and the Van Pels hid in. I had been learning about her since elementary school, and I was still learning new things twelve years later. The visit was well worth it!

The Anne Frank House
The "I" at the I Amsterdam sculpture
Kids playing in and on the sculpture
Wyatt and I each counted our money after the visit and we both had about fifteen euros. We could have spent all fifteen euros on admission to the Van Gogh Museum, or explore another city in the Netherlands for the rest of the day. We chose to take a bus to the adorable town of Zaanse Schans (I ended up seeing The Sunflowers at the National Gallery in London for free!). I had lived in Holland, Michigan the summer after my freshman year of college doing summer stock theatre, and I had my dose of wooden shoes, windmills, and everything Dutch. I couldn't miss out on that when I was actually  IN Holland. We saw windmills, visited a wooden shoes factory, ate cheese, and enjoyed more Dutch pancakes in Zaanse Schans. I was so happy to get my fill of the Dutch culture that I knew and loved. Then, it was back to Vienna. The Netherlands was a great time, and I hope to return soon!

The welcome sign at the bus stop
Wooden shoes galore!
Painted wooden shoes
This town is so quaint.
Stroopwafel, a delicious Dutch treat
Someday I'll grow into those shoes ...

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