Photo courtesy of Lauren Kirby

Analyzing Amsterdam

January 29, 2018

Over winter break, I had the pleasure of traveling to the Netherlands to help my sister move into her new apartment. My dad and I went a few days ahead of her, and despite the cold temperature, wind, and rain, it was a lot of fun.

The first thing I noticed when I stepped off the plane in Amsterdam, as any native US citizen would, was the different language. I had known that they speak Dutch in the Netherlands, but knowing it is a completely different thing than experiencing it, and I was surprised by how much the language barrier was evident throughout the trip. Signs were all foreign to me, and my father and I had to use matching letters from the ticket and the signs to find where the driver would be picking us up. Luckily, the navigational signs had a bit of English to accommodate tourists.

Upon finding the driver and arriving at our hotel, we learned that there is a Dutch tradition to make oliebollen (a pastry with raisins baked into the dough) and beignets (similar to donuts) for the New Year. The hotel we were staying at provided free oliebollen and apple beignets in their dining room on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day for free. My father enjoyed the oliebollen, but I preferred the beignets, although both were delicious.

When it was time for dinner, we were feeling jet lagged, so we decided to eat in the dining room rather than trying to find a restaurant. My father stuck with more American foods during our trip, claiming that he wasn’t going to order something he didn’t like, so he got an omelette with a coffee. I, on the other hand, decided to try new things in a new place, so I got mango juice and kaassoufflé, which was cheese inside deep-fried dough. The coffee everywhere we went was quite strong, but other than that, both of our meals were very good.

Throughout the several days on our own before my sister arrived, we slept a lot. I assume this happens for everyone who travels far from home due to the extreme jet lag, but we tried to make the most of every day. It was especially hard because the sun rises around eight or nine and sets before five there, though. Most of our days were very unfulfilling, but at the end of some we felt quite accomplished.

On our second day in the Netherlands, we went on a one hour and 15 minute boat tour through the canals. It was raining all day, but the boat was covered, so that wasn’t a problem. This activity was surprisingly enjoyable because it gives you a new view of the city. It was like we were seeing Amsterdam from the inside out because the canals and ports led into the middle of the city.

For the boat tour prices, “children” are considered to be anyone under 18, so I got to go for only €8.50 (in euros, which is about $10.50). My father was charged as an adult, so it was €33.50 (or about $41) for him.

Possibly one of my favorite things that we did was visit Amsterdam’s Central Station. There is a Central Station in most big cities, but this one was particularly interesting. The metros were on the top floor, and the bottom floor was filled with shops. It was similar to the airport, but with few souvenirs. Instead, it was more like an American mall.

When you first walk in to the mall, you see clothing shops by the entrance. After passing the steps that lead to the metros, you come across a map that shows the layout of the stores along with a “You Are Here” arrow. It isn’t until you see the map that you realize just how big Central Station really is, with five or six rows of just shops, ranging from more clothing to food and electronics.

My sister arrived several days after we did and we took the metro and train to Rotterdam to see her apartment. The further into the Netherlands you get, the less English you will see, and as we got to Rotterdam we found that some of the restaurant menus were purely Dutch and we had to use Google Translate to decipher them.

There were still lights up everywhere even though it was no longer Christmas, and this gave the city a very aesthetic look. It was probably obvious that we were tourists because my sister and I would stop to take pictures every time there was something photogenic, which seemed to be every couple of steps.

Surprisingly, there were not many tourist shops in Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Usually in places that are big on tourist attractions, there are a lot of souvenir shops, but there were few to none there. So we bought most of our souvenirs in the airport, which had trinkets from all over the Netherlands. The airport also doubled as a mall, and it is one of the main hangout areas in Amsterdam, even if you are not catching a flight.

The Netherlands is generally an exciting place to visit. The majority of people there know English, but by the end of the trip you will be missing hearing side conversations in your own language. The cuisine is very unique, but it’s actually quite good. The lifestyle there is different and much healthier than in America. Part of the reason is that most of Amsterdam’s people walk, ride bikes, or take the metro to work or the grocery store.

I would like to go to the Netherlands again someday now that I have an idea of what to do and where to go. It’s an exciting place to go to on vacation, and I would recommend it to anyone wanting a change of scenery and wanting to try the city life for a while. I don’t regret this trip, and you won’t, either.

 

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