After 7 hours of traveling which involved a layover with an airport change in Paris (as in having to get from one airport in Paris, Paris Orly, to another airport across the city, Charles De Gaulle) in addition to a 2 hour weather delay, Conner and I actually made it to the Netherlands. We arrived in Amsterdam to what felt like a five star hostel complete with a gym and library that doubled as student housing for study abroad students.
The grocery store across the street from the hostel was closed since we got in so late at night, and we went to the nearest convenience store a few blocks away and bought digestives and peanut butter for our dinner (we ate a LOT of digestives on this trip) from a place that had a kitty cat sitting on the boxes of cereal. Mhmm a cat like the pet animal… It was a cute cat, though. #healthcodes
The next morning, we rented bikes to explore the city. Biking is the easiest way to get around Amsterdam, and a huge part of Dutch culture. In fact, Amsterdam has been rated the most bicycle-friendly city in the world and there is an amazing amount of infrastructure in this city surrounding bicycle safety.
This includes colored bike paths on most streets and special traffic signals dedicated to this popular form of transportation. You’ll see all different types of people on bikes, ranging from families on their way to drop the kiddos off at school, to businessmen and women commuting to their jobs in suits.
We biked along the the canals and wandered into every shop that was giving out samples of cheese and admired all of the famous Amsterdam souvenir paraphernalia.
Upon realizing that this was not the French Riviera anymore, and that the temperature actually averages lower than 80 degrees in this city, I had to buy myself a real coat. 🙁 We biked to the nearest Forever 21 in Dam Square which is a popular shopping area, and Conner stood around patiently while I hunted for a reasonably priced coat. I finally settling on one which was only 12 euros which is really cheap for a jacket, and I would soon find out why…
It was only when Conner tried it on later that night (because it didn’t actually keep me warm at all, so swapped coats with me) that we realized it was in fact not a coat but a men’s dress shirt. It fit him a lot better than me, which is no surprise because I am not a man, and it was not in any way made with the intention to keep someone warm. Because it was a men’s dress shirt. Not a coat. Oops.
Anyway, even though I don’t know how to buy a real coat, I was dead set on eating a Dutch waffle in the Netherlands, so just as the sun broke through the clouds for the first time that day (yay!) we stumbled upon a really famous open air market (classic Monner) called the Albert Cuyp Market where this particular wonderful man made me a waffle with Nutella, stroopwafel (it was WAFFLE SQUARED!) and bananas on it for only a few euros. YUM.
Street food is great when you’re looking for something cheap and authentic. The market was located in a really cute and picturesque artsy neighborhood called De Pijp.
We ate our food in Sarphatipark which was adjacent to the market, and then biked to the Heineken factory to take a tour. We learned about the production of Heineken from start to finish, its history, and enjoyed many tastings of their product on the rooftop bar. Well done, Heineken.
When I bought the Heineken brewery tour passes, I went for the complete bundle package offered on the Heineken website which is called “Rock the City.” It was only 25 euros for a tour of the factory, a canal cruise of Amsterdam, and entry to the A’dam tower’s lookout deck included. It was a really great deal.
So, after the Heineken factory we did our canal cruise. The houses along the canals are so beautiful, they look like real life gingerbread houses. I enjoyed watching the locals sitting on the riverbank and the residents on their apartment balconies enjoying the Friday afternoon’s pleasant weather.
The canal houses have an interesting history. They were built in the 17th century when Amsterdam’s population and wealth were rapidly increasing with trade. They are built high, slim, and deep and featuring a steps to an elevated first floor to protect from potential flooding of the canals. You can read more about the history of the canal houses, here!
The canal cruise dropped us off on the other side of the city at the A’dam tower, and we went to the top floor of the building for a 360 degree view of the whole city just as the sun was setting. On a whim, we decided to also go for a ride on the “highest swing in Europe” at the top of the A’dam tower, which propelled us over the whole city! Talk about facing your fear of heights…
That night, we took the Amsterdam metro train to the Red Light District to explore. The red colored lights lit up the cobblestone streets and reflected off the water in the canal. The district has faced a significant amount of change and political and social controversy in the last ten years.
In 2007 the 1012 project was implemented in efforts to gentrify the area, including reducing the amount of window prostitution and “coffee shops” present in the area. It will be interesting to see how the project changes the atmosphere of the city and how it has an effect on tourism, in the upcoming decades.
Nevertheless, around the area there were so many choices for good food and good drink everywhere it was a lot of fun. I really wish we had more time to explore in this city. We will just have to come back sometime soon to enjoy it even more. Until next time, Amsterdam, stay lit… with your red lights. Next up on the adventure is the first English speaking city of our backpacking trip: London England!