As a Brit transplanted to the confines of faraway America at the age of twelve, I’ve always felt awfully lacking in what should have been significant exposure to my European brethren’s lands. On my visits back to London, we would sometimes take short trips as a family to a European destination, but I felt the growing urge to plan my own trip on my own terms. So before winter break, a friend and I decided to head to Europe. My friend Rosie and I booked our tickets two weeks before our departure as a last minute, spontaneous move, and due to Europe’s freezing conditions, our tickets were startlingly cheap. We traveled to Budapest, Hungary for the weekend and then made way by train to the elegant, richly historical Vienna. We ended up in Hamburg as a stop over and managed to book ourselves a last minute night bus to our final destination; Amsterdam.
Although the bus was cramped, my excitement was bubbling as people of all walks of life filed in. Seven hours passed fairly quickly as temperatures were warm and sleep came and left. We stepped off the bus into a rather large train station, contemplating whether or not we should walk to our hostel. The sky was dark and we were energized, although faintly tired from our long bus travels. We discovered a convenient tram system, and by this point the horizon line was illuminated. While waiting for our tram, a kind lady told us which train to take that would take us almost directly to Leidseplein, where our hostel was. I asked what brought her to Amsterdam, as she was evidently American, and she replied that she fell in love with a Dutch man and had three kids with him. Welcome to the land of love.
The sky slowly evolved, crystallizing with yellows and dark blues with a majestic church standing proudly before it. Upon arriving at our hostel though, we were told that we could not check in until two in the afternoon. So we decided: coffee and more coffee and let’s begin exploring.
Out in the open, cyclist were everywhere and near death experiences were a common occurrence. I was impressed by their clear avid athleticism though, and avowed to bike more when I returned to the US. The beauty was evident as the sun gleamed proudly in the sky across beautiful bodies of water that sat in between colorful, brownstone-like houses which each possessed a unique character. We crossed bridges and experienced a lovely replenishing breakfast special at the Rijks Museum café, which was located in the Museum-plein. After two fluffy, warm croissants and unlimited tea and coffee, we explored the majestic and breathtaking artwork. The Anne Frank museum was another highlight, as we walked through the attic that Anne and her family hid in during the war. The emotion was palpable and message of human resilience, innocence and hope consumed the air. I just had to purchase Anne’s diary at the end.
Our journey along random streets and unexpected sidewalks were the most enlivening and surprising experiences. We walked into a soap shop to admire the different shapes and design. We spoke for close to an hour with the owners a former grocery store (in the early 1900’s) now an antique shop. We walked into thrift stores crammed with racks and racks of denim jackets and buckets full of leather gloves. What surprised me the most was the friendly nature of most locals we encountered. I asked one lady in a thrift shop what she recommended we do during our few day stay and she proceeded to write out a long list of all the prime locations and nightlife we should check out.
The most blissful moment, second to our conveniently prearranged bike ride through Vondelpark on Saturday, was sitting outside a corner bar, with the outdoor heaters on behind us and a beer in our hands, an hour before the start of Shabbat. We sat, peacefully watching the streams of people and bikers with dogs in their baskets, the ducks floating along the river, and the sun shining down on the entire scene. Amsterdam is a historical beauty with a pleasant friendliness that was all the more enhanced by the gleaming rivers at every turn of the head.