A College Student Abroad: What to Do in Amsterdam

Theres more than weed in the city of canals.

Things I'm proud of from our trip to Amsterdam:

1. I stayed in my first hostel and only cried one and a half times
2. I had frites with mayonnaise (I replaced the mayonnaise part with hot cheese, but I think it still counts)
3. I was never struck by a bike**
4. I didn't caption an Instagram photo "AmsterDAMN"
5. I never fell in a canal or pushed anyone else into one (close calls on both accounts)
6. I figured out the tram system and only took one unintentional 45-minute detour
7. I did not enthusiastically approach and consequently frighten EVERY Dutch person with a dog in the basket of their bike (just most)
8. Despite their presence on the feet of every pretty Dutch woman, I did not buy heeled sneakers
9. I paid attention to each tour at least 40% of the time
10. I only poked one precious work of Dutch art

**This is due entirely to the prowess of Dutch bike riders. I was a hazard.

Walking Tours

The best way to see Amsterdam is on foot!

Amsterdam is beautiful and strange. We spent our first afternoon on walking tours. We had had the opportunity to wake up early one of the previous mornings to sign up for these groups. When a friend came and informed me of this on that morning, I answered something like "ITS 8 O'CLOCK IN THE MORNING GET OUT OF MY ROOM I'LL KILL YOU IM SLEEPING GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT" and then rolled back over. So I ended up in a group of strangers. This turned out to be a blessing.

I found myself wandering a city that didn't know me, with people that didn't know me; I could have been any soul at all passing in and out of the shade along the canals on that sunny Friday. I could be anyone, and Amsterdam could be anything. It became a city of possibilities to me that day. I passed every race and creed of person and looked them in the face, trying to see who they were, where they've been and where they're going.

I got a lot of dirty looks.

Perhaps Amsterdam wasn't feeling as Romantic as I was, but it was lovely all the same.

The Rijks Museum

We explored the Rijks museum on Saturday. By "explored," I mean a friend and I supported each other's exhausted bodies until we could find a place to sit down. (The clubs in Amsterdam are VERY fun, and the 8:00 wake up time Saturday morning was CRUEL.) We explored for about 45 minutes, trying to inundate our aching heads with culture.

We found our heads uncooperative. Few people were interested in the "Early Medieval landscape sketch" wing (shocking I know), and we found an incredible bench.

I mean this bench was special.

About the size of a twin bed and as soft as a bed of roses, we curled up like the little hung-over kittens we were and drifted into a lovely, guilty, museum nap.

I awoke to the sound of shoes on the marble floor. A security guard passed. He didn't acknowledge our sad scene so I was unperturbed. He passed again.
And again. Each time he looked increasingly uncomfortable.
My friend snoozed on.
I pretended to be fascinated by a 3 by 5 sketch of a hill with one tree growing from the top.
He passed again.
Finally, our friend approached us with another, apparently more bold security guard.
I hit my friend. She snorted but didn't awake.
"Ma'am," the bold defender of Dutch culture said, clearly uncomfortable.
I smacked her again.
"You just…you just can't sleep in here."
Finally, my friend awoke and looked bleary-eyed at our new pals.
We were escorted from the medieval landscape sketch wing.

We saw some Rembrandt too. I was asked to please not poke "Night Watch," despite that everyone had made SUCH a big deal about Rembrandt's use of texture.

The Dutch are very strict about museum protocol it turns out.

Look Out for Bikes!

Next, we wandered around looking at the fairytale buildings and canals. The Dutch merchants who built the city spared no expense. I love the number of trees. That's something we've lost in our American concrete jungles. There's space in Amsterdam, you're aware of being in a city, certainly, but greenery is never entirely out of sight, and the cobblestone streets are wide and you can see the sky at all times.

Mostly what we did while taking this all in, was dodge bikes. There are more bikes in the Netherlands than people.
That's a fact.
There are more bikes in Amsterdam than there MOTHERF*CKING NEEDS TO BE. That's an observation.

Bikes are holy there. Bikers can go in the bike lane, on the sidewalk, on the road; frankly, I think a person would be allowed into the royal bathroom while the king was taking a shit if they were on a bike.

I imagine that a jungle full of snipers is similar to the streets of Amsterdam.

You are walking along, minding your own business, enjoying the day, when suddenly you hear, "ANN JE LINKERKANT!!" You dodge wildly, you hear the spinning of wheels, you smell the hair gel, you question your underwear choice because you aren't sure these are the pair you want to die in, and then they're past. You lived. Another bike went by. Your heartbeat begins to slow you start to relax again and then suddenly,


I think I aged 10 years in Amsterdam.

Coffee Shops

Amsterdam has been known since the 1700s as a city of acceptance. The Dutch are also notoriously shrewd businessmen. This combination eventually lead to the legalization and consequential distribution of products and services illegal in most of the world. John Green said, "Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth, it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin."(I'm sorry I quoted John Green like every other white nineteen-year-old girl in the world but that is a bomb quote okay?)

So, young and curious, we went out to explore what this freedom meant. Here are my observations on two of Amsterdam's biggest draws for a lot of people:

Coffee shops sell coffee and all kinds of bizarre juices and sodas. They also sell marijuana
i.e ganja, kush, dat loud, yay-yay, sticky-icky, the dankest broccoli in all of Nazo, wacky tobacky, hippie cabbage, jazz cigarettes, cosmic shrub, God's pubes, etc.

Coffee shops have a strange vibe. They were very, very, very quiet. All that could be heard was soft funky music occasionally punctuated by me excitedly announcing the newest clever name I had thought of for cannabis. It was dark and no one really talked to each other. The other thing I noticed was how few Dutch people were actually in the coffee shops. In fact, according to all the locals we spoke to, most Dutch people don't smoke pot at all. According to Rick Steve's travel blog "..most have never tried it or even set foot in a coffee shop." Summarily, coffee shops seemed like havens for tourists trying to feel a little wild. I had a really good latte at one, but beyond that, I found them underwhelming.

The Redlight District

With a large group of friends, I headed into the Redlight district around 1 a.m. (when Amsterdam starts to get going.) I was excited. The red light district is world famous for its glitz and scandal. I had started to love the idea that these women were sexually liberated goddesses, protected by the law and under no man's control. I was expecting to find a nighttime world of sparkling lights and bold beautiful women.

Honestly, it didn't live up to its reputation. Mostly, it was full of ogling tourists.

Maybe worth seeing, but also maybe worth skipping,

All in all, I adored Amsterdam, and its houses that glinted of wealth and a golden age who's splendor is hard to imagine. I loved the sidewalk café's along the canals, I loved the wide streets and the art and the music and the feeling of life.

If you have a chance to go to Amsterdam, go.

Go and introduce yourself to that strange smirking lady of canals, in figuring her out, you may just figure out a little about yourself.


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