After warming up and getting clean, I went to explore the city. (I was so glad I brought my raincoat!) I walked for nearly four hours down street after street, by canal after canal, and by shop after shop. I got myself a coffee at a tucked away café in the city center before wandering through the Christmas markets. I admired the lights through the rain and in the chilly night, I looked at the reflections of the Christmas lights in the canals and thought about how lucky I was to be there.
Once my roommates, Jena and Morgan, arrived a bit after eight, we went and got some dinner. We went to a local restaurant where I got a traditional Dutch meal from their menu. It was a delicious combination of mashed potatoes with kale and a meatball. It was served with a smoked mackerel salad and lemon pie for dessert. It was a great start to an awesome couple of days together.
On Tuesday, after having a big breakfast at our hostel, we wandered through the streets looking down all the canals at the lopsided houses and buildings while managing to dodge bikes and cars from all angles. The streets there don’t really have rules! We made our way to Dame Square for a three-hour walking tour. We learned all about the Red Light District and the church that is at the center of it. Both of these are over 700 years old and were built together purposefully. Axel took us through the Jewish quarters, past the old Weighing building for shipping goods, and by one of the oldest wooden houses in Amsterdam that was built in 1528. We walked over many of the canals where he pointed out important historical buildings like hidden catholic churches that were put in place when Catholicism was made illegal, Coffeeshops (which have whole different meaning here of course), and the East India Trading Company. We learned all sorts of facts, like that there are 100km of canals throughout the city, there are 1.7 bikes per person with 1.5 million people living in Amsterdam, and that every 7 days the canals are replenished with new water. The canals are actually a World Heritage Site, making it the largest open-air museum in the world.
Lastly, he talked to us about the story of Auto Frank and his family. Following the tour, we continued to learn about the story by visiting the Anne Frank Museum. I was able to go through what used to be Auto Frank’s factory and into the secret annex that the Frank’s hid in for two years from Nazi soldiers. It was an experience that can’t really be explained. As I walked through and looked at pictures, watched videos, and read quotes and clips from Anne’s diary, I questioned so much. The holocaust was such a horrible tragedy, and it wasn’t that long ago. It is such an important part of history that should never be forgotten. I hope that the human race has learned from past mistakes and that nothing like it happens again. Anne was such an optimist and she is truly somebody to learn from. She said that “In spite of everything, I still believe people are really good at heart.”
It was a very full day of learning and experiencing the Dutch culture! We were able to eat Dutch pancakes, oliebollens, and kalfsvleeskrokets. I love trying new food in each country, I think it’s one of the best ways to learn the culture!
This morning, we got up early and walked down to find the “I Amsterdam” sign before we stopped and got some coffee at a little restaurant that was built around an old carousal. We went to the Heineken Experience at the brewery and it was one of the coolest tours I’ve done so far in Europe. We had a blast and spent the majority of the early afternoon there before I had to head to the airport to come back “home” to Dublin.
I had the best trip and loved the city of Amsterdam. I’m again so grateful for the beautiful places that have touched me throughout my time here. So I say proost (cheers in Dutch) to you Amsterdam!