For one of our last weekends here, Kelly and I took a trip to Amsterdam! Neither of us really realized how close the Netherlands is to England until we got here- again, showing my geographic ignorance. But, after a 45 minute plane ride, we were there! So crazy!
The plane ride itself was actually really beautiful. We left East Midlands Airport at 3:40, and the sun sets here around 4:00. But, there’s a one hour time difference and the sun sets in Amsterdam at 4:30, so we basically just followed the sunset most of the flight! It was SO pretty and we were sitting right on top of the clouds, so it looked like a whole different world. I mean, everyone already knows how much I love sunsets, but seeing them from the sky is even better.
Also, we got on the plane climbing up stairs from outside so I felt like a celebrity.
It was actually dark when we arrived, though, so we could see all the city lights sparkling as we were landing… it looked like one of those nets of Christmas lights you put over bushes was over the whole city! So pretty!
Schiphol Airport is about a 30 minute train ride to Amsterdam Centraal Station, which is right at the top/center of the city center. The way the city seemed laid out to me was sort of in semi-circle rings going down from Centraal Station. There was really no organization of the streets or canals, though.
Kelly and I spent a little time wandering around before going to our airbnb for the night. We didn’t actually go far from the station, but went down Damrak street along a canal. There were really nice Christmas lights everywhere and cute little shops with touristy things, cheese shops and museums, and restaurants. We had pasta and pizza for dinner (not sure how Dutch that is but oh well), bought some souvenirs, and took in the city.
Eventually, we headed back to the airbnb with helpful guidance of the transportation by our host! It was all super easy actually once we figured out what we had to do, but was really confusing at first because we couldn’t look up anything ourselves. While everyone spoke at least a little English, all the public transport was listed in Dutch. And those words are NOT possible to pronounce if you don’t speak it.
The next day, we bundled up (it was FREEZING) and took a tram to Centraal Station again. (PS: the word centraal is supposed to have two a’s. I think that’s just the Dutch spelling of central.) We got to finally see the station in the daylight- the building was so huge and beautiful! The inside was actually really cool too (but we didn’t go inside that day).
Then, we walked down Damrak street again and got to see all the cute little houses in the daylight! I honestly didn’t realize the picturesque little narrow buildings were everywhere like they were- I assumed they were just a classic image and we’d sort of have to go looking, but they were seriously EVERYWHERE. All the buildings along the canals (which were also everywhere) looked like this. Also, I learned later in the day from a canal cruise, that when rich people were building them originally, they wanted them to look as tall as possible, so they made big windows at the bottom and small at the top as an illusion. In certain buildings if you were looking for it you could really tell, which was pretty interesting!
We sat and had waffles and tea in the square outside this big building. Notice the guy in the bottom right taking pictures of the pigeons. Litereally just the pigeons, nothing else. He kept following them around and getting really close. They were all really fat pigeons though honestly so maybe he thought that was weird.
Then, we walked to the Oude Kerk, or the Old Church (well named, I suppose). It was the oldest building in the city, built in 1306. Inside, they apparently show lots of contemporary art, and there was an exhibit by Marinus Boezem which honestly I thought was pretty weird. There were broken mirrors all over the floor, and we were warned that there might be spontaneous music, performances, or spoken word. Basically, it was just this big open church that had beautiful ceilings and stained glass, and then all the artist’s random stuff lying around.
These TV screens were literally just showing fuzz. And nearby there was a speaker playing forest sounds. According to a pamphlet we were given, they “unite the language of the sound and the identity of the sky… it’s the artist’s attempt to portray heaven.” Who knew.
The glass was really cool to look at, but I guess I just didn’t understand it at all.
There was also a scale showing different measures of wind (calm to gusty to hurricane), giant white opaque curtains hanging in a circle from the ceiling with fans inside blowing them around (which reminded me creepily of the veil in the Department of Mysteries from Harry Potter 6), and a crane in the middle that lifted you up to apparently see a hidden message from the artist? We didn’t realize that it was part of the exhibit honestly so were super confused when a guy asked us if we wanted to ride it. I only am finding this out now reading the pamphlet we were given on the art. You can see the white curtain on the left of the picture 3 up, and the crane thing on the left in the above picture. It was a beautiful building with confusing art, but I guess it made me feel something? Isn’t that what art is supposed to do? We left feeling a little creeped out though so not sure if that’s good.
We walked around a while then, exploring the streets and canals. I took SO many pictures of all the cute canals and buildings, so my apologies if they all look the same. It was just crazy to me that this is what the city looked like all over!!
I think the Amstel canal is the biggest one (?) and where Amsterdam got it’s name, if I remember correctly from the canal tour!
The bike stereotype about Amsterdam is also TOTALLY true. I guess it’s not even a stereotype then, but just a fact. They are ridden everywhere, there are bike roads everywhere, and they are locked to anything and everything. I definitely had to look both ways in order to avoid bikes instead of cars!
Also, the cars here drive on the same side of the road they do in the US. I literally got confused just now trying to figure out which side that is. The right I think?? The point I was going to make here is how it really threw me off that it was opposite of the British side which is what I’m now used to… but I guess it proves my point even more now that I really can’t remember. Wow now I’m confused.
We also walked through a big tulip market at the edge of a canal. I feel like it has a name but I just don’t know it. I guess you can’t see the flowers in the picture, but all the stalls on the right side of the canal are filled with tulips and tulip paraphernalia!
We then walked to the Jewish District, where we went in the Joods Historisch Museum (Jewish Historical Museum). The building was made up of old synagogues, all connected, so was really cool. It was so interesting learning about the history, as well… This was sort of our first taste of the Holocaust history we were expecting to see a lot of.
Next, we were headed to the opposite side of town to see the Anne Frank House. Luckily we had prebooked (highly recommend if you ever go there, the line is ridiculous) so walked right in. It was a really powerful experience and so incredible to see the actual house. It was pretty hard to conceptualize that the house we were walking in was really where they lived and walked. We even walked through the bookcase, that’s been preserved, that hid the door to the secret annex. Seeing all of the story laid out as we walked through was just crazy… I can’t even believe how hard it was for all of them living there, with curtains they were never allowed to open, only aloud to whisper, and having to muffle their footsteps all the time- and then for Otto Frank, Anne’s dad and only survivor of the 8 people living there, to relive it all. He had requested that all the furniture be removed, but there was a scaled down basically dollhouse that showed what everything looked like from his memory. The only things left were the counters and sink in the bathroom and the kitchen/bedroom, and all the postcards and pictures Anne had glued to the wall of the bedroom she shared. It made me think of all the pictures I have hanging on my wall… so strange thinking about the little things that tie us, two teenage girls, together, but how many things separate us even more.
I actually learned a ton about Anne as well. I didn’t realize she wanted to be an author, and had actually started rewriting some of her diary into a novel called “The Secret Annex.” There were lots of quotes from the diary, and honestly, I didn’t know she was that prolific of a writer as well. I thought the diary was just famous because it was a primary source, but actually, it is deep, thoughtful, and much too serious for such a young girl. I’ve never read it all the way because I knew it will just make me sad- but now I am inspired to and really want to hear more of what Anne had to say!
There was a short documentary at the end showing some famous people discussing the significance of the Anne Frank house to them. This one by John Green, a young adult author, really stuck with me because he eloquently explained what I had been wrestling with… “The book was turned to the page with Anne Frank’s name, but what got me about it was the fact that right beneath her name there were four Aron Franks. FOUR. Four Aron Franks without museums, without historical markers, without anyone to mourn them.” Anne Frank has so much, for lack of a better word, publicity; but really, she was only one of thousands living in similar or even worse conditions in hiding. And that doesn’t even begin to include the millions in concentration camps or ghettos, and those killed. Like I said, it was really hard to conceptualize every horrific thing that did happen… but seeing the house was an important start!
I don’t really know how to transition from such a somber topic so I think I’ll just move on…
Next, we went to a late lunch across the canal. I had a yummy apple and bacon pancake, and we had real Dutch apple pie!
Then, we went on a canal cruise! It was really lovely and had headphones that explained some cool things as we went around. Most of my pictures are pretty bad since I wasn’t sitting in the window seat but there’s still some noteworthy stuff. It started at 3:45, which ended up being perfect timing! It meant we got to see some things in the light, then got to watch the sunset, then got to see some things all lit up. It was all really beautiful!
There is also a Light Festival in Amsterdam that started early December I think- we weren’t on the cruise that took us on the actual path, called “Water Colors” which I thought was quite witty, but we still passed a lot of the large installations. This one is obviously a super bad picture but you can sort of get the idea.
After the cruise, we went into the Tulip Museum which was right next to where we got off. I felt kind of bad but it was honestly pretty humorous. For the material they had, it was quite a well put together museum! But in my opinion there just wasn’t enough interesting stuff to require a museum about it. There were TWO documentaries about the origins of tulips (they’re not actually native to Amsterdam! Wow!) and how they’re grown. It might have been really interesting to some people but I just could not handle watching a tractor dramatically roll by the camera in slow motion.
This one was in the room called “Tulipmania!” which I don’t think is really a thing.
Tulips are really beautiful and there was some lovely art and cool things in the gift shop- but the ancient history of tulips is not something I personally feel I need to learn much about.
Lastly, Kelly and I walked to De Negen Straatjes, or the Nine Streets, which are three main streets broken up by three canals, full of nice shops and restaurants. Unfortunately, a lot of the shops were closed, but we still managed to go into a few that were wayyy too posh for us and feel really uncomfortable. It was fun to walk around there though, because it was a really nice part of town and there were Christmas lights everywhere! It took us a while to realize why there were giant “9”s all lit up though but we eventually figured it out.
That just about wrapped up Saturday!
Sunday morning, we packed everything into our backpacks (aren’t you proud of me for taking ONLY A BACKPACK! This serial overpacker has been learning!) and headed out for our last day. We got off the tram a little earlier than Centraal Station, and walked through a huge and lovely park towards the Museum District. The park, Vondelpark, is 116 acres! So massive! We just walked through part of it obviously, but passed SO many people walking dogs or running. Seriously so many people running. For how absolutely freezing it was that day, something like 30 degrees F at that time, we were shocked at the number of runners. It looked like a really lovely place though!
After a breakfast at Starbucks- maybe not super adventurous, I know, but they serve a stack of pancakes which is adorable and delicious- we went to the Van Gogh Museum! We luckily beat the queue there as we were early enough, and they had a coat check for our bags which was ideal. The building was really modern and cool. There were four floors- starting at the bottom and going up, the paintings were chronological with the exception being one room of loads of his self-portraits. Honestly, I liked the museum wayyy more than I thought I would! This might sound really ignorant and uncultured, but I really didn’t realize how incredible his paintings actually were. I didn’t know if his work was just famous because it was his, or actually really special art, of which it was the latter. We couldn’t take pictures of the work in order to preserve it, but I wrote down the names of some of my favorites to include pictures (I looked up) of just because.
I did think his naming of the paintings was a little boring though,
In this next one with flowers in the vase, the picture quality is really good and you can see the thickness of his brush strokes and the layers of the paint. That’s what was so cool about seeing them all- a lot of them were really 3D and the paint was so thick!
This seascape one was one of my absolute favorites and I bought it in a large postcard!
The cool thing about all his art is that he really had a lot of different styles through the years and you could see how much he changed and grew as an artist. The original work he did was all of peasants in fields- dark, moody, grungy. It got progressively lighter, more detailed, and his brushstrokes changed. I really enjoyed the whole museum and also learned a lot there!
Since we were in the Museum District, the Rijksmuseum was also right next to us. We didn’t go in there as well but it’s on my list for next time I’m in Amsterdam! We did see it from the outside, and also the super famous/touristy “I AMSTERDAM” sign. I didn’t even try and get in that picture. It was craziness.
Also, we learned on the canal cruise the architect for the Rijksmuseum was the same as the train station! If you notice they are super similar and apparently sometimes tourists get confused.
Also there was this weird/cool hill behind the Van Gogh museum. And, in that big grassy field, there was a soccer practice going on!!! Can you even imagine? Like oh where’s soccer practice today? Just behind the WORLD FAMOUS Van Gogh museum.
We then walked to ice cream (a tradition for me now) at a place that’s supposed to be one of the best in Amsterdam. I got hazelnut and cookies and cream in case you were interested.
Then, we walked through the Red Light District! It was clearly not a prime time (noon on a Sunday) but was still pretty crazy. There was a museum of prostitution there too which honestly seems a little gross to me. Not sure about how I feel about it all, because the fact that prostitution is legal means there’s tons of government protection for the women which is pretty interesting. It was just a weird experience seeing some women sitting in the windows and tapping on the glass as we walked by!
Lastly, before leaving, we went to a relatively new museum called the National Holocaust Museum or something. It was pretty small because it’s only been around 6 months, but it was also really impactful. There was a registry of the names of every person that was killed, and what information there was about them including pictures, addresses, and family history. Apparently the information keeps growing too as people find pictures they had saved or information. Also, there were artifacts like toys and clothes of children that left them in the possessions of neighbors or friends when they went to camps, and never came back. It was all really sad and awful. I don’t really know how to express in words what I felt and how crazy it was to see all of it but it sure made me feel stuff.
To be honest, we meant to go to a different museum- the Dutch Resistance Museum- but turns out it was around the corner and we wouldn’t have had enough time to see it all anyway. It’s also on my list of things to do next time though!
We headed to Centraal Station after that. I took my last pictures of adorable little canals. Believe it or not, the ones on here are pictures I specifically chose, not even all of them.
Here’s the inside of the train station that I said was pretty cool:
There were lovely lights and decorations everywhere.
So, our trip home was actually pretty lengthy for being only an hour flight. We took a train to the airport, then went through security and such there and waited a little bit. That airport is HUGE though and had a million shops and weird things to see and do.
This was a random installation of things from the science museum, NEMO, which we didn’t manage to go to. It reminded me of OMSI in Portland.
Also, the animation of the guy inside the clock cleaning it really threw me off. Still convinced it could’ve been real.
So eventually we flew to Doncaster Sheffield airport, which is like the worst and smallest airport EVER. We were the only flight of people there so by the time they let us Americans through passport control the whole place was basically empty. Then, we took a 30 minute bus to Doncaster station, then a 45 minute train to Sheffield station, a 1 hour train ride to Nottingham station, and 20 minute bus ride back to University Park Campus. Including all the waiting, it was over 6 hours of traveling which was pretty ridiculous. We figured all of that stuff out on the fly, too, which made me feel really adventurous and grown up- then I realized it probably wasn’t very adventurous considering I had a bag full of money and food, it was just about 8:00pm, and I was in major cities in England. So it was maybe not super adventurous but I was still proud of the way we figured things out, asked people for help when we needed, understood the transportation, and got everywhere on time! I feel I’ve come a long way in being able to independently solve these kinds of situations, which I basically just had never done before, and not get stressed out. I definitely still stress about time- just ask Kelly- but I’ve also learned to go with the flow a little more and not panic which I’m proud of.
I realized on the plane that the next time I leave Nottingham, it will be my last (at least for now), and I’ll be with my mom! Ah! I have such mixed emotions about leaving and going home. It seems like such a short time until I’m home, but there’s still so many cool things that take place before I’m there. I don’t know if I want time to speed up or slow down! I guess I’m also learning to live in the moment…
I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the Living.