For my birthday I planned to do what I thought was impossible. I scheduled a solo trip to Amsterdam. There are a bunch of reasons I never thought this would happen, the biggest being my sometimes crippling anxiety and depression. But, I’ve made so many changes over the past 2 years I figured anything was possible. So I saved for well over a year, consulted with my well-traveled friends, did oodles of research, and #bookedthatish.
I applied kind of last minute for TSA Precheck, but still got my KTN (Known Traveler Number) in under a week. With this, getting through security was a breeze so I arrived at the airport with plenty of time to post up at a power outlet and tweet. During this entire time my anxiety was set at a steady simmer, but I listened to podcasts and talked to friends to try and distract myself. I didn’t want to take part in my Ativan because I was saving it to try and “sleep” on the flight. By sleep, I mean close my eyes and tip toe on the line between asleep and awake, because I can’t sleep with other people around. There was a bit of turbulence, but surprisingly that helped me relax.
Arriving at the Schipol Airport and getting through customs and what not was simple, plenty of signs in many languages. Where I had my first hiccup was catching the train to Amsterdam Centraal Station. I had to buy a transit chip card but, for some reason my credit card wasn’t working in the machines. After umpteen tries, I finally had to reveal how much of a tourist I was and ask someone at the Information desk if there was a place I could buy train tickets in person. Of course I’m not mentally running on all cylinders since it’s midnight back home and I’m usually nestled in bed. So at 6am Amsterdam time I totally missed the HUGE “Tickets” sign in bright lights just to my right *face palm*. So I buy my ticket and run to make the train. This is when I encountered the escalator with no stairs, I rushed down and remembered just as the train was pulling in that I forgot to scan the card upon entering. So I ran back upstairs, scanned the card, and careened back down the no stair escalator and hopped on the train just before the doors closed.
They’re so modest lol
I always knew that public transportation in the states was trash, but coming to Europe you really see how far behind we are. The trains are clean, the rides are smooth and fast, everything was on time, and there are so many different options from buses to trams to trains. All seamlessly integrated into car, bike, and foot traffic. The latter 2 being the most popular. Everyone here seems to have a bike and walking or biking is honestly the best option to get around. I think that’s why I haven’t had so many headaches and why my eyes haven’t bothered me as much while over here. Less exhaust fumes.
Once I got to Centraal Station, I followed the crowds to the exit and Google mapped it to my hotel, The Inntel Hotel, which was a 10 minute walk away. Even with a book bag, big suitcase, and purse it wasn’t hard to get there in the estimated time. I really had to pay attention to the app because I can’t find any rhyme or reason for the layout of the city. There are a million alleyways and you never can tell if that’s where you need to turning or not. I’m still haven’t figure out where the street signs are located. Some were on buildings, but most of the time I felt like I was guessing.
The Inntel Hotel is nice and modern. My room was small compared to what I’m used to, but it was still comfortable, and the location of the hotel more than makes up for the small rooms. Oh, and the people of the Netherlands have found a great way of conserving energy. Not only do you need your key card to operate the elevator and access your room, but you need it to control the electricity in your room. Only took the lights shutting off on me once for me to figure this out.
After showering and catching up on a few hours of sleep, I decided to do a little exploring. I was told about the Spui neighborhood and wanted to check out the bookstores. I came across a huge bookstore, just floors and floors of books. I picked up a copy of a book I had been hearing about for some time and wanted to read. Around this time I also started getting hungry and ducked into a little café. I’m never eating waffles without fresh cream again!
I spent the rest of the afternoon perusing the shopping district and buying stuff I totally didn’t need. One of my favorite parts about the shopping district was the number of cosmetics stores. So, so much makeup. I also stopped by Lush and bought a few products, simply because the instructions and descriptions are in Dutch. For the makeup I bought, I’ll be writing reviews soon.
That evening I went on a guided tour of the Red Light District. Our tour guide was a quirky Scottish guy and he was quite well informed and gave a lot of interesting tid bits about the sex industry in Amsterdam and how it’s been beneficial to securing the safety of sex workers and reducing crime. It would be great if all countries could adopt these views and regulations. After the tour, I went to a coffee shop that a fellow travel group member recommended, The Bulldog. The atmosphere was really chill and downstairs, there was an extensive “bar” with a menu of different strains of weed. One thing I noticed about the coffee shops (since I visited a few) was that they were packed at all times, so finding a seat was always a little difficult. After this “nightcap” I headed back to my hotel and prepared for the next day.
The next day was my birthday. I went to breakfast and realized fries with eggs and toast are delicious. I then headed toward the Anne Frank House. I bought my ticket a little over 2 months in advance because of how popular the museum is and I wasn’t trying to be in line for hours to “possibly” get a ticket. I got there a tad too early so I walked around and checked out a few shops. The first one was a gallery that has photos of popular musical artists. I wish I could have taken pics in there because the portraits of Prince and Amy Winehouse were stunning. I also popped into a thrift shop and found a beautiful trench coat that fit like a glove, and it was 50% off, so had to get it.
Once the time on my ticket for the Anne Frank House hit, I started the tour. It’s self-guided so I was able to go through at my own pace. The one thing that really hit was that in a week we would be swearing in our new “president” and the parallels were stark. After doing something so heavy I decided to go back and walk around the Red Light District. There were a ton of sex shops that I just hadn’t noticed on the tour the night before. I noticed that people there were so relaxed about visiting them and the prostitutes. There is a stark difference to how sex shops and prostitution are just so normal and not shrouded in shame. I also saw why the Lelo vibrator is so damn expensive lol.
That evening I had a ticket for a canal tour to see the Light Festival. It was amazing. Just beautiful. Also, thank goodness they have closed boats because it was quite chilly. After the canal tour I went to dinner at a little restaurant recommended by another travel group friend. I was in need of roughage and ordered a salad. Whooo that salad was ridiculously delicious and it was nothing but a house salad. No meat, no fancy dressing, just pure goodness. That was the end of my second day.
Saturday I had no scheduled activities so this was going to be my day to museum hop. The only thing I hadn’t prepared for was how late they start the day and how early they close down. I made it to the Van Gogh museum, and thankfully got there before the lines got crazy. This was great, however, most museums closed at around 5pm so by the time I finished there and hopped on a tram/bus to the other museums I wanted to visit they would either be closed or near closing time. Needless to say, I’ll have to come back to Amsterdam to finish up lol. So what do you do when your plans are disrupted in Amsterdam? You visit a coffee shop and eat. After eating and partaking in a little herb, then napping I wanted to roam around for a little while. This is when I found The Amsterdam Dungeon. They were serving highschool drama club realness. It was slightly scary, but nothing that will give you a heart attack. This is coming from someone that watches horror movies through her fingers, so you can trust me. They also give you beer at the end, so it’s totes worth it.
Sunday was the day I was most excited about. I went on the Black Heritage Tour. Another gem recommended by members of my travel group. Amsterdam isn’t exactly known for its Black history and it is not too keen on mentioning their involvement in the trans atlantic slave trade. However, due to the diligent research of the tour guide, Jennifer Tosch and her team, she has uncovered a rich Black history that reaches far before the slave trade began.
A short portion of the tour was walking but the majority was on a covered, and thankfully heated, boat maneuvering through the canals. Ms. Tosch not only lectured about the rich history and contributions Blacks have made to the growth and sustainment of Amsterdam, but showed us where their presence can be seen today. From carvings of a Black man in the World War 2 monument to the gable stones above entryways. The rich history of Blacks in Amsterdam was also linked to Curacao, which is definitely on my list of places to visit. The last leg of the tour was at the Rijksmuseum. Ms. Tosch guided us through the museum pointing out and explaining the Black influence in great works of art. If you are planning a trip to Amsterdam, I highly recommend trying to get a spot on this tour.
So that was my vacation in Amsterdam. I’m eternally grateful that I was financially and mentally able to complete this trip. Traveling internationally on my own was something that I never thought I’d be able to do, but now that I have, I can’t wait to do it again. One fear conquered, another million to go lol.