From East Europe and now to West Europe, Rebecca took us on a ride this summer through beautiful and unforgettable cities. As we say goodbye to summer break, enjoy this last stop on her long adventure.
Another long train ride awaited us when leaving the luxurious Prague. This time, my brothers and I were fully aware of what we’d face on night trains like the small, cramped beds and the missing showers, and the ride was a little easier. We woke with a view of Amsterdam through our window.
The word Amsterdam is derived from two separate Dutch words: “Amstel,” which is the river this city lies on, and “dam,” which symbolizes how the city acts as a dam over the Amstel river. The dam structure of the city caused the Amstel river to split into many canals, which to this day slither through the city’s many streets.
Disembarking from the train, we stepped into the hurly burly of Amsterdam’s central station and started walking to the hotel with heavy suitcases behind us. Across from the train station, I started to get nauseous from a horrific smell emanating from a nearby cafe, which I later found out was second-hand smoke from marijuana.
In Amsterdam, marijuana is legal. It is sold in cafes called Coffeeshops in its natural form, in brownies and in other desserts. (I began to wonder if they even sell coffee in these shops.) The product is sold in Amsterdam’s gift shops in the form of cookies, lollipops and new flavors of marijuana ice cream. Gift shops also sell hallucinogenic mushrooms, which also happen to be legal in the city. This frustrated me because little kids were going into the gift shop, wondering why there are pictures of green Canadian flag leaves and happy dancing mushrooms everywhere. While walking down the city streets, you are bound to smell marijuana’s harsh smell every 10 feet, which left me sick to the stomach for days.
Another unique area in Amsterdam is the Red Light District, a famed area for prostitution, which is legal in Holland. While strolling through the streets, a tourist is bound to see an erotic shop on many blocks. Another disquieting thing is that in many gift shops, you are prone to find some adult toys displayed in the corner. This particular characteristic of the city adds to the fact that it is not a very appropriate place for children, in my opinion.
All of these legal things in Amsterdam were quite a shock to me since the only exclamations I’d heard about the city were astonishing phrases about its beauty. I admit, the city’s beauty outweighed its flaws. Walking through my favorite cobblestoned streets I never felt a rush of heat because there was always some canal running right beside me.
Since everything is so close together in this compact city, the residents ride bikes everywhere, and the streets are lined with parked bikes. For the first couple of days, it was a bit frightening trying to deal with the bicycle traffic. It is impossible to get a photo without getting photobombed by a Mongoose bicycle. There is a separate bike lane parallel to the pedestrian one, but the lanes are the same color and it is very hard to tell them apart. I was almost run over by a bike about five times before I got the hang of which side of the street I should be walking on.
On our first day in the city, my mom and I decided to go to the famous Rijksmuseum, the Dutch national museum dedicated to the city’s arts and history. Its two floors are divided based on the time period of the art and artifacts. Each room brought a new adventure. One had huge paintings by Rembrandt (since Amsterdam was the city where he was born), where tons of tourists were crowded around each painting, speculating the intention behind the brush strokes of the artist.
Another room held different types of royal furniture, crowns, and — surprisingly — doll houses, all lined with prized jewels. The museum did not have as extensive a collection as the National Art Gallery in Washington D.C that we saw earlier on our trip, but it was still a joy to see different pieces in the Rijksmuseum by painters my mother lectured about on our previous museum trip.
Our visit was cut short by my little brother calling to complain that he was hungry. While sitting on the square just outside the museum — the only place in the city where I did not smell marijuana — while my brothers gulped sugary cookies, I noticed a bunch of tourists huddled around and standing on huge red and white letters. I realized they were in front of the famous “I amsterdam” sign. I did not understand how some people get a picture with the whole sign with nobody in the background and with all of the letters in the shot. The individual letters were so big you could probably only fit about one in your picture, and there will most likely be a middle-aged man with a fannypack standing behind the letter waiting for his turn with the camera.
After a few more days of averting bicycles, sitting by the many canals and getting used to the smell of the “green Canadian leaf,” my mother and I were able to escape for another mother/daughter date to the famous Van Gogh Museum. This museum is a must-see tourist destination even for people who do not enjoy walking around and pondering about paintings.
Starting on the first floor and going up to the third, the museum tells the chronological story of Van Gogh and his paintings. I felt like I was on the Dr. Seuss Cat in the Hat ride at Universal Studios, but instead of the story of the silly cat making a mess, I was witnessing the story of Van Gogh, told through his paintings. From happy, light moments to melancholy ones, the museum’s collection covers them all.
The only thing I was bummed out about was that “Starry Night,” one of Van Gogh’s most famous paintings, was not hanging on any of the walls. (I found out in New York City a week later that the painting actually lives in the Museum of Modern Art on 53rd Street — a lot closer to home than I thought!)
A lot of Van Gogh’s other famous painting were on display in the museum, so we got to see “Almond Blossoms” as well as “Sunflowers.” A fun fact about the artist is that he liked to paint a lot of self portraits. The museum’s ground floor has a whole room filled with Van Gogh’s serious, ecstatic and quizzical faces.
Everyone knows about the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam, and that is why there is always a long line outside the doors. One day, my brother and I were able to make it through the line and go into the famous tourist destination. It was a lot smaller than I expected. Strolling through and looking at the tattered pictures from magazines that Anne had on her wall, I thought back to my time in Prague when I was witnessing the pictures by children in the Holocaust. The story of Anne Frank is probably not any different: How could she understand the terrible things occurring to her? How could her parents explain to her why they were living in fear and in a crowded backroom of a factory for many years? They couldn’t.
My favorite part of Amsterdam was the canal boat ride. My family decided to rent a private little motor boat and drive through the many winding canals of the city. The view of Amsterdam was so different from the water. You look up and you see huge buildings towering over you and people sitting on the edge of docks dangling their feet and eating a huge sandwich (or smoking pot).
The temperature near the water seemed to drop, and if you closed your eyes, you could feel a cool breeze sweeping through your hair. Although the city is really quite noisy, on the canals you can barely hear a bird chirping from its nest along the water. It started to sprinkle a little bit of rain just in time for lunch, so we docked the boat under a huge tree and ate our sandwiches to the rhythm of the pattering raindrops on the water.
This relaxing part of the Amsterdam adventure gave me time to think about how successful my trip had been. From east to west Europe, we traveled by car, train, boat and on foot through some of the most beautiful cities in the world. If you ever take a trip to Europe in the future, I recommend focusing on one specific section (either East Europe or West Europe) for one trip. It was a bit hard to shift from Prague to Amsterdam, since the cultures are completely different in those two parts of Europe, and you do not want the cultures and traditions of the countries you will travel in to mix.
I hope my blogs this summer have inspired you to see the world and all of its beauties. Buying a plane ticket is not the only opportunity to travel across the globe. You can always participate in student exchange programs. This not only gives you a chance to experience the marvels of a different country, but it also lets you live the culture of the people since you usually stay with exchange families.
I certainly intend to keep traveling however I can throughout the rest of my life, for every time I go, I learn more about myself as a person and I learn to appreciate all of the diversity interwoven into our earth today. I sincerely wish that you find yourself a way to adventure abroad and absorb all of the different cultures different places of the planet have to offer. As Hans Christian Andersen said, “To Travel is to Live.”
Rebecca, 16, took VOX along an amazing travel adventure this summer before starting her junior year at Milton High School.