I Can Laugh Now: Reminiscing About Roadblocks in Amsterdam

It’s coming up one year (10 months really) since I travelled solo to Amsterdam and I find myself reminiscing about the roadblocks, albeit small ones, that I hit during my trip.   I can’t believe I still remember these things.  They must have left quite an impact on me.  At the time I felt embarrassed, confused and the like, but I can laugh now…

Truthfully, one of the things I was most anxious about was getting to my hotel from the airport.  I knew I had to take a train before getting on the Metro and I knew what station to get off at, but that was about it.  Coen assured me Schiphol was well-marked with signs for transportation, but still, I was envisioning myself lugging around all my belongings looking totally lost.  After picking up my luggage I looked for those signs…they were everywhere!  I was SAFE!  Right!?! Perhaps…until I encountered the machine I was supposed to use to use to buy my train ticket.  As I approached the machine I looked at it blankly.  I didn’t know what any of it meant!  I looked at the map of all the train lines. Yeah, that wasn’t very helpful.  I was totally clueless.  “I know,” I thought, “If I press some buttons for the line I THINK I’m supposed to take I’ll be able to figure it out!”  A few presses in I realized that wasn’t going to work.  So, with no ticket in hand, I looked around to see if anyone was watching me and slipped away, hopefully unnoticed, in search of help!  Fortunately after a few minutes I found actual people that I could purchase my ticket from!  Needless to say I bought my return train ticket from a person as well.

So I’m a few hours into my first full day in Amsterdam and I’m looking for somewhere to get coffee when I spot McDonalds!  Yes, I was 7700km from home and went to McDonalds. Well, almost.  I walked into the doorway.  Does that count?  So, what stopped me?  The SELF-SERVE KIOSKS!  I’d never used one.  What if I couldn’t figure it out?  Would there be an English option?  Or would I have to attempt to read Dutch?  At that point my Dutch food and drink vocabulary was pretty much limited to water (water), appel (apple), boterham (sandwich), sap (juice), brood (bread) and melk (milk.)  I high tailed it out of there and pulled out my phone to text Coen asking whether I had to use a kiosk or if I could still order at the counter!  I ended up going to a different café that day, but did visit a different McDonalds another day…and went straight to the counter!

That same day I had taken the tram to Dam Square and managed just fine.  I got off and made note of the stop (not the same one) where I would catch the tram back.  I could do it!  After wandering around for hours I headed back to the tram stop.  I was pretty sure I was in the right place but the driver was standing at the door so I thought I would ask him just in case.  “Excuse me, is the correct tram to take me to Jan van Galenstraat?” I asked.  He looked at me with what I thought was a slightly odd expression.  “Crap!” I thought.  “Maybe he doesn’t speak English.” I tried again and pointed to Jan van Galenstraat on my little map.  He started laughing at me!  “Ahh, Jan van Galenstraat!  Yes, this is right,” he said.  His pronunciation of Jan van Galenstraat was quite different than mine.  Let’s just say some of their letter sounds are quite different from English!  He ended up being super helpful.  In the end I don’t think his laugh was meant to embarrass me.  I think he appreciated that I at least tried to say it.

Google Maps!  Yes!  Thank Goodness!  Or so I thought…One morning I was off to Anne Frank House.  Online tickets sell out way in advance and I wasn’t prepared to wait in line for ours for general admission so I was lucky to find tickets released earlier that morning.  I had a general idea of where it was; I had seen it on the walking tour I went on and I knew which tram stop to get off at.  While on Wi-Fi I found the walking directions from the Westermarkt tram stop to Anne Frank House.  It looked easy peasy so off I went.  I followed the directions and walked down the street enjoying the scenery; gorgeous old buildings and canals.  After what felt like forever I realized the time I had to arrive was approaching.  I thought Anne Frank House was much closer to the tram stop.  To be honest, I wasn’t even 100% sure what street I was on.  Keep in mind that most street signs are pretty small and on the side of buildings.  Anyway, I pulled out my phone (I had a travel plan for emergencies) and found the directions to Anne Frank House from where I was.  Turned out I had walked in the complete opposite direction!  I think the original directions were from the tram stop on the other side of the road.  I turned around and prepared to speed walk to my destination.  In about 10 minutes I was back where I started.  In TWO MINUTES I was at Anne Frank House.  OOPS! I learned my lesson about double checking directions!

At the time I was embarrassed to share these little stories, but I can laugh now…

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Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Known for being one of the most, if not THE most liberal city in the world, Amsterdam has much more to offer than the Red Light District and easy access to marijuana.  With its seemingly endless maze of canals, cobblestone streets lined with buildings dating back to the 17th century, blooming flowers and bicycles galore, Amsterdam is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited.

Being a 30-something solo female traveller for the first time in August 2016 I was nervous when I embarked on my journey.  However I quickly found that I had nothing to worry about.  Amsterdam was filled with tourists and locals alike.  I remained aware of my surroundings and never felt unsafe.  The city is easily walkable (wear comfy shoes) and the transit system is incredible.  I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Amsterdam to other females travelling alone.

I stayed at The Student Hotel Amsterdam West, which was easy to access via the train from Schiphol.  There isn’t much within walking distance but the Jan van Galenstraat Metro and Tram stations are just steps away.  The hotel had an upscale hostel-like vibe (private bedrooms and bathrooms with several common areas) and was filled with travellers of all ages as well as University students studying in Amsterdam.  I was there for two weeks so I qualified as a Short Stay Guest, which gave me access to a shared kitchen with other guests in my block of rooms.  The staff was friendly and helpful and the price was very reasonable.  I would definitely stay there again.  Note: There is a second location, The Student Hotel Amsterdam City.

Before You Go

I recommend deciding what you really want to see and do during your visit.  There are four “discount” options available: Amsterdam Holland Pass, I Amsterdam City Card, Combination Deal and Museumkaart. You might find that one will suit your needs and save you a little money.  I opted for the I Amsterdam City Card.  This card is available for 24, 48, 72 or 96 hours and includes a public transit pass.  It includes entry or discounts to most of the popular tourist attractions.  I found that because I had the pass I actually visited some cool places I would have missed out on if I didn’t have it.  BEWARE: although there are separate lines for pass holders at some locations, such as the Van Gogh Museum, you may still have to wait awhile.

My Top 3 Tourist Attractions
(in no particular order)

Anne Frank House
www.annefrankhouse.org

I had heard from fellow travelers that visiting the house was depressing, but I was surprised at just how much of a somber and moving experience it was.  The tour of the house, which includes the “Secret Annexe”, where Anne and her family, as well as four other Jews, hid from the Nazis (1942-1944), brought to life the story I remembered from reading the Diary of Anne Frank in school. The house is filled with displays and information about Anne’s family and their experience.  Anne’s original diaries as well as other writings are on display.

Note: Admission is not included with the I Amsterdam City Card.  I recommend booking online otherwise you risk waiting in line for hours later in the day.  When I checked prior to my trip there were no tickets available during my stay however I checked again the morning I wanted to visit and it seemed tickets had been released so I was able to book a time.FB_IMG_1491683018570

The Van Gogh Museum
www.vangoghmuseum.nl

I am the first to admit that I do not appreciate art to the extent that I probably should.  But visiting this museum, WOW!  Located in Museumplein, a beautiful area that houses several museums, a gorgeous grassy area and the famous iAmsterdam sign, the Van Gogh Museum houses works (paintings, sketches and letters) by Van Gogh as well as works by his Impressionist and Post-impressionist contemporaries.  In addition to the permanent exhibitions which are organized by years or themes, there is typically a temporary exhibit, so be sure to check that out.

Note: I recommend the Multimedia (audio) Guide.  The information kept me more engaged and interested in the works and was worth the €5.FB_IMG_1491682910323

Verzetsmuseum (Dutch Resistance Museum)
https://www.verzetsmuseum.org/museum/en/museum

I’m a bit of World War II buff, so this was right up my alley.  The Netherlands in World War II Exhibition focuses on the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands between 1940 and 1945.  It includes a voluminous display of information, sound clips, photographs and artifacts that help visitors to understand the Dutch experience during this time.  There is also a smaller exhibit dedicated to the Dutch East Indies which was also quite interesting.

Note: There is also a Junior Resistance Museum which I did not check outFB_IMG_1491682963820

Food, Glorious Food!

Moeders Restaurant
http://www.moeders.com/en/home

While the Dutch aren’t typically known for their cuisine this restaurant offers home-cooked dishes.  There were four of us in our party and we had to wait a little while for a table since the restaurant is quite small. Two of us ordered Hotpotch – mashed potatoes mixed with spinach and served with a sausage, meatball and bacon.  It was delicious!  The men ordered spare-ribs served with fries and cabbage salad, as well as Suddervlees (stewed beef) served with boiled potatoes and red cabbage, both which got rave reviews!  Moeders is worth checking out if you’re looking for a meal just like your Moeder (mother) may have made if you were raised in the Netherlands.FB_IMG_1491682857283

The Pancake Bakery
http://www.pancake.nl/en/

If you’re looking for an extensive menu of pancakes, this place is for you!  From International Pancakes to their own specialties, The Pancake Bakery seemed to have everything I could imagine.  How would I decide?  Initially I felt like something sweet, but then I saw a pancake with cheese, bacon and mushrooms…how could I go wrong!?!  This pancake was massive and bursting with flavour.  After the first couple bites I vowed to look up savory Dutch pancake recipes as soon as I got home! I’ve yet to do this…I may just have to return!

Note: The Pancake Bakery is very popular, so be prepared to wait outside.  I was on my own and still had to wait for about 30 minutes in the rain.  But let me tell you, it was so worth it! FB_IMG_1491683091249

Mannekin Pis and Chipsy King
http://www.mannekenpis.nl/

http://chipsyking.nl/

Equally delicious, you will be in Heaven at either of these places if you love fries with dipping sauce!  Both cooked fries to perfection – golden crisp on the outside and soft potato inside.  Each establishment boasts an alarmingly wide variety of sauces to choose from.  At Mannekin Pis I went with ketchup and mayo – YUM!  After a recommendation from a friend I tried Oorlog (mayo, peanut satay sauce and onions) – AMAZING!

What Else?

I spent large periods of time walking around just to see what I came across, but here are a few other things I really enjoyed:

Free Walking Tour – I chose SANDEMANs New Amsterdam  http://www.neweuropetours.eu/amsterdam/en/home

Foodhallen – Large food hall with a bar in the middle http://www.foodhallen.nl/

Canal Cruise – I chose to go with Lovers and it was included with my I Amsterdam Card https://www.lovers.nl/en/

Royal Palace of Amsterdam – https://www.paleisamsterdam.nl/en

Hermitage Amsterdam – Portrait Gallery of the Golden Age http://www.hermitage.nl/en/

Dam Square – Tons of eateries and shopping in this area http://www.amsterdam.info/sights/dam_square/