WOW! What can I say about Amsterdam. One thing is for sure……I NEED to go back!
I’m sure much has been written about this fabulous city, honestly, none of which I’ve read. My perceptions were all based on stories of Marijuana being smoked in the street, and served in coffee shops, The Red Light District alight with seductresses on every corner offering sex on a whim, Bicycles, tons of Bicycles, and of course, the incredible Tulip fields only in bloom in the spring.
I really had no concept of what we were getting ourselves into, I just knew we had 23.5 hours there, and I didn’t want to miss a thing!!
We arrived at about 10:30 in the morning and hopped the train into the city. We had decided, the night before, that we should probably book a hostel so we would have a place to rest our weary bones if need be. We had thrown around the idea of just sleeping in the airport after running ourselves to the point of utter exhaustion, but thankfully, we realized that this probably wasn’t a good idea.
Immediately out of the Central Train Station we were in awe of the architecture, the canals, the trams running every which way, and well…..just about everything. As we had only had a tiny bit of sleep on the plane, we were pretty much just walking around in a daze, staring open jawed at everything as we staggered along the sidewalk. We came across a restaurant that had eggs on the menu, so we decided first things first, we NEED to eat.
After breakfast, a beer, and some advice on how to get to our hostel, we caught a tram to Leidseplein. This is an area of the city that is, unbeknownst to us, a very popular night club spot. But it also borders a very quaint Dutch neighbourhood that meanders quietly along the edges of the canals.
We found our hostel easily, found our beds in a dorm room with 12 others, and sat down for a minute in our respective bunks. Chris went to the bathroom and by the time he came out, I was crawling under the sheets. We decided that maybe it was a good idea to get a couple hours of sleep, so that we would have a better chance to view the nightlife later on.
True to our word, we set the alarm for 4:00pm and both drifted off into a deep sleep.
Somehow we got ourselves back up and headed out into the street. It was just starting to get dark and the Christmas lights were sparkling off the canals, all over the city. We felt like we we’re in a magical dream. The cutest little corridors of row houses, lined the canals, mixed with cobblestones and tiny cars everywhere. Oh! And don’t forget the bikes! Those bikes whizzed in and out of everything and the worst part was that you couldn’t hear them coming.
We would find ourselves lazily meandering along a “street” (bear in mind they are like 10 feet wide between buildings, definitely sidewalk standards in Canada), not paying attention at all, when a bike would go flashing by, reminding us that we we were in deed walking right down the middle of the street. Ack! Stupid tourists!!
We lazily glided in and out of tiny little alleyways, without much of a care of where we were going, other than in the general direction of The Red Light District. Around every corner was the cutest (Yes! Somehow cuter than the last!) little alleyway that we just had to go down. I must have said “oooohhhhhh look how cute that is” at least 109 times through the night! We took pictures, oogled at the Architecture, gazed at the canals, and just stood in pure amazement of what an incredibly awesome city it truly is.
We finally found ourselves approaching the Red Light District, and with that came “coffee shops”. Now, we were in AMSTERDAM after all! How does that saying go…..When in Rome……(sorry mom haha!!). We poked in and out of a few that didn’t have seating space, then found a bar that only served alcohol and had a drink. Then we stumbled across the cutest little place possible. From the outside it didn’t look like anything special, but once inside, we realized that we were in an incredibly cool mushroom cave. The ceiling above the bar was sculpted to look like we were sitting under the protective cover of Red Amanita mushrooms (think Smurfs) and the rest of the place looked like a tiny little burrow that we had crawled into, complete with light sconces on the walls that looked like spiders running around. The creativity was astounding.
We found a couple stools along the bar and sidled up. I won’t go into extreme detail here, I think the rest is obvious. We hung out there for about an hour and then hit the streets once again.
We wandered up and down the canal of the main Red Light District. It’s hard to really explain what is going on here. There were women clad in sultry outfits waiting at doors for their perspective clients to come along. There were bill boards announcing that live porn was taking place inside. And there were just lots of people walking along taking it all in.
Now, I am a self-proclaimed professional people watcher. Watching people’s faces as they read billboards or caught a glimpse of someone through a door, was entertaining to say the least. Some took a good hard look and others just took a sideways glance. Either way, it was definitely pushing peoples comfort boundaries.
I have heard that the Dutch in general are very conservative and generally not at all represented as a population, by what goes on in Amsterdam. I found it astounding that this city, known internationally for all of its “taboo” activities, can exist in a conservative society. I also realized that this city, is where the world comes to do all the things that are illegal back in their home countries. We met people from Japan, France and beyond, coming to experience Amsterdam, doing whatever it was that they weren’t allowed to do at home. I also took note of how patient the workers and citizens in this city must be to be able to put up with all of those just coming to get crazy on whatever drug they can, or whatever it is they want to do. But, I also realized that it is an industry, just like any other, and many people are making a living (likely a good living) off of the rest of the worlds dreamed up shenanigans. What a place!!
After we felt like we had seen what we needed to see, we started off again wandering down every little teeny tiny alleyway that we could find, this time heading back to our hostel. We stumbled across large monuments and brightly lit up Squares, decorated alleyways, crooked buildings, cute little bridges, and a Vietnamese noodle shop.
We stopped to nourish our bodies with some food and it was here that so many emotions came pouring out of me. As I stared out the door watching people go by, I realized how happy I was to be sitting exactly where I was in that moment. I realized how much of who I am has been tucked away for too many years, I realized that travelling is what I am meant to do in my life, and I cried huge crocodile tears in my noodles at the pure joy of having found myself again.
Poor Chris just sat there and watched me blubber, and the waitresses didn’t know what to do with me. I was crying one minute and laughing the next. ALL of it really, REALLY good. In that moment, that one speck in time, I released so much hurt and heartache that I didn’t even know existed. It felt like my body was being cleansed and reinvigorated to openly accept and experience everything that this trip has to offer. And in that moment, I think it REALLY hit me that we are on an incredible adventure! We are both at pivotal points in our lives where we are really realizing who we are and what we want to be in the world. I became giddy with excitement with it all, and by the time we left the restaurant, I was laughing and smiling like nothing had happened at all (I’m sure confusing the heck out of every waitress and patron in the establishment.) THIS is what travelling does to us! Seeing new cultures, exploring new places! It opens our hearts and minds to what is really possible in the world. It brings people together. It allows for us all to just be. And most of all, we, as travellers TRULY realize that we are all just in this together. It’s a beautiful thing!
We were back to our Hostel by 10:00, wanting to get a good sleep in before our 7:00am journey to the airport. We both climbed into our bunks and tossed and turned back and forth. Below our window was a wild party scene and all I could hear over and over again from the guy trying to entice customers into his establishment was “Happy hour all night long!”
I was still giddy with the excitement of my new revelations, and it was only 1:00pm in BC. My body was exhausted but my mind was a buzz. I played music in my head phones, tried to count sheep, focused on my breathing but nothing seemed to work.
Needless to say, I felt like I was missing something. (I should mention here that my fear of “missing” something has been a constant in my life and goes all the way back to childhood when I was scared to go to bed for fear of missing something.) Here we were in Amsterdam, and we were in bed at 10:00. I thought about going back out but knew that Chris would become worried if he didn’t know where I was, and I wasn’t sure if he was asleep. Finally at 3:00am he was up to go to the bathroom. I asked him if he wanted to go for a walk. He did. He hadn’t been sleeping well either.
We donned our gear and headed back into the night. Unfortunately, all the bars were emptying and nothing was really open. We ended up chatting in the street with some very intoxicated fellow travellers from France, with whom we shared information about Canada. The hot topic being about whether or not Marijuana was legalized there or not. We also chatted briefly about the Paris attacks, and they are just as confused as the rest of the world as to why it is happening and why they are targeted repeatedly.
Finally at 5:00 we crawled back in our bunks to catch a few z’s before our 6:00 alarm clock. The alarm went off, and again I just felt like I was tossing and turning and not really sleeping.
Instead of having to catch the bus to the airport as planned, a man from Isreal offered to let us ride in his taxi. Our flight was uneventful and after arriving safe and sound in Bulgaria, and checking out our very cool Art Hostel (with our own room), we pretty much hit the pillow and slept solid for the first time in days.
Now we have been up since about 2:00am (4:00pm yesterday in BC) and are pretty much just waiting for the day to come alive. Tomorrow (or today) we explore Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital. Can’t wait!!
Thanks for reading, and thanks to everyone for your enthusiasm of my writing and the many likes and comments on Facebook. I am so happy to share our journey with you, and LOOK, we are just getting started.