I’m not gonna lie, I really liked Amsterdam. Despite finding a love for off-the-beaten-path locales like Venezuela & The Guyanas, North Korea, Iran, and Antarctica, every now and then travel can surprise you.
One of those surprises is how much I actually found myself enjoying the last 24 hours in one of the most travelled, on-the-beaten-path, family-friendly, safest places in Western Europe. Uhm, just 5 days ago I was crossing the border on foot into Kazakhstan. What the hell happened?
After my Turkmen visa was denied the first time around 3 weeks ago, I tried my hand at a second attempt after finding out I would soon be scheduled for another 4-5 days off from work. Mind you, we’re looking at a trip to begin less than 5 days since returning from our recent trip to Central Asia, so you know I would waste no time in trying to exact my vengeance upon the hermit kingdom.
After submitting my second visa application to Turkmenistan on January 3rd, I waited…and waited…and waited until literally the date of departure, January 17th. And with less than 6 hours before my supposed flight to Turkmenistan, there was still no answer (not even a formal rejection like last time). So I scrambled and miraculously found last minute $400 roundtrip flights to Norway, The Netherlands, and Belgium….I haven’t been the to latter 2 countries yet, so why not? I booked the flights and within 3 hours I was on a flight from JFK to Oslo. I’ll get you one day, Turkmenistan!
Since I had already blitzkireged Oslo 5 months prior, there was nothing really I hadn’t seen yet; I walked around a familiar city being all emo and nostalgic, reminiscing old times with the gang that went to Scandinavia and The Baltic States with me.
After returning to Oslo Airport via their fancy direct airport train (took only 20 minutes and costs 1/5 of a cab!), I boarded my 7:30pm flight to Amsterdam.
After arriving at around 9:15pm, I took the 20 minute train into the city and getting off at Amsterdam Centraal, an architectural masterpiece in its own right.
I stayed the night at Ecomama Hostel, one of the best hostels I ever booked. Already impressed, I befriended everyone in my room within a minute of unpacking my stuff; I even took a few of them out into the Red Light District for drinks and hookah 10 minutes later (you can tell Amsterdam was already beginning to grow on me).
The next morning I began my day at 9am with the Verzetsmuseum, aka the Dutch Resistance Museum. It’s an impressive, compact exhibit that detailed the Dutch efforts to fight back against their Nazi occupiers during World War II.
Nearby is Wertheim park and their simple yet elegant memorial to the victims of Auschwitz.
Then walking past the Hortus Botanicus, I stopped by for a photo at the Hermitage Amsterdam:
A bit more walking led me to the FOAM Photography Museum, where the admission fee was was 50% off (2 of their exhibits were still being set up at the time).
I headed up north from the FOAM Museum to stroll along the Bloemenmarkt, Amsterdam’s last (and the world’s only) floating flower market featuring the famous Dutch tulips in a dizzying array of colors.
A bit northwest is Begijnhof, a sheltered residence for the elderly. Its gate is hidden off Spui somewhere; ask around and you’ll be directed to the best preservation of old Amsterdam.
From Spui I headed up more northwest towards Westerkerk Church and The Anne Frank House.
Unless you bought online tickets at least a month ahead (which I definitely didn’t), prepare to wait at least 30min outside in the cold (or up to hours in warmer seasons) to get into Anne Frank’s House.
Once inside, you can visit the 500 square meters of space where Anne Frank and her family hid from the Nazis for nearly 2 years, before they were betrayed, captured, and sent to the Nazi concentration camps.
After about an hour at museum, I proceeded east towards Koninklijk Paleis, the official residence of the Dutch royal family (even though they currently prefer to reside in The Hague).
By the Palace, is the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church), where they feature impressive rotating museum exhibits in its grand hall. This is where King William I took the oath of office in 1814, and where His Majesty King of the Netherlands Willem-Alexander married Argentinian Princess Máxima in 2002.
A few paces more east is Oude Kerk (Old Church), Amsterdam’s oldest building and impressive for its use of natural light for its massive interior.
East of the New Church is De Waag, Amsterdam’s only surviving medieval fortified gate, its oldest secular building, and the site of many public executions.
By now you’ll notice you’re already in Amsterdam’s famous Red Light District. It’s now more of a commercialized family-friendly (at least relatively to what it used to be) tourist trap than the controversial safe haven for sex workers for which it once stood.
With its many many empty booths/window displays, or at least booths in the process of being shut down and converted into gentrified fast food chains, you can tell that the RLD’s days are slowly numbered.
At nightfall my buddy Rik Brinks, who co-led our April trip to Venezuela and the Guianas, had found out I was in his motherland (I had just hosted him in NYC only a month prior and didn’t think I would see him again so soon!).
He was generous enough to have changed his plans last minute to head over from his home in Utrecht and take me to the famous brewery Wynand Fockink for their secret-recipe liquors made on-site.
Then we reunited with Maureen Vlaar, whom we met 8 months ago in Paramaribo, Suriname, nearby at her bar/restaurant Maapa. From there I drank with them and their other Dutch buddies until the wee hours of the morning.
At around 2/3am (I forgot at this point), I stumbled back to Ecomama to catch my morning train to Brugge.
– At time of posting in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, it was 37.4 °F – Humidity: 85% | Wind Speed: 8km/hr | Cloud Cover: partly cloudy