In a number of ways, the experiences I had during my study abroad year in Sevilla have closely paralleled this year in Madrid. One of my biggest déjà vu events was my recent trip to Amsterdam to visit some extended family. It’s always nice to know that I have relatives on this side of the pond while I’m in Spain.
After ten days of introducing Madrid to my parents and brother, I flew to The Netherlands to celebrate el año nuevo! I thought Madrid had gotten cold for the winter, but it was nothing compared to the sharp northern winds of Amsterdam and St. Maartensbrug. I am a friolera as they say in Spain (someone who is sensitive to the cold), so all of the essential winter clothing plus mentally preparing myself to step outside into a refrigerator became the norm.
New Years consisted of making resolutions I probably won’t stick to, drinking champagne, and watching neighborhood fireworks with my cousins. It was great fun!
One of the highlights of exploring the city included a two hour tour with Free Walking Tours Amsterdam. My cousin invited me to join her as she was assigned to write a review about them. Our guide was a masters student originally from Scotland who had been living in Amsterdam for five years. He hilariously tried to make the tour light-hearted, as well as informative. He addressed the famous stereotypes of Amsterdam such as the prostitutes of the Red Light District (an eye-opening experience) and the coffeeshop culture that draws tourists from all corners of the globe. Don’t confuse a coffeeshop with a café; The coffeeshops of Amsterdam are marijuana shops for adults 18 or older with an ID. There are over 200 of these around the city, so if you are a cannabis enthusiast this might be a stop for you.
In addition to modern life, our guide was well-informed on hundreds of years of Dutch history and how Amsterdam has grown into one of the most famous cities in the world. Even my cousin, who is a local, found the tour to be very interesting and worthwhile. Free Walking Tours Amsterdam is a tip-based company, so you pay your guide what you think the tour was worth.
This is the narrowest home in Amsterdam (the red): only a meter across! The hooks at the top of the buildings are used as pulleys to move furniture in through the windows, rather than lugging them up multiple flights of stairs.
I bounced back and forth between the country and the city during my stay. The difference an hour train ride can make is remarkable when you look out on never-ending flat landscapes with essentially no people, compared to crowded museums and making sure you don’t get run over by bicycles. These are some shots of St. Maartensbrug:
I’ve never had as much fun grocery shopping as I did in Amsterdam. You can checkout like any normal grocery store, or you can take the self checkout concept to a whole new level. After swiping your card, you scan your items as you go and checkout with your list at the end~rather than taking everything out of the cart and packing it up again. To me, it makes grocery shopping less robotic. Plus, it’s always fun to push buttons, right?
One of my cousin’s purchases included De Ruijter hagelslag (sprinkles) which the Dutch put on toast rather than ice cream. It’s actually very good!
Another wintery city activity included the annual Amsterdam Light Festival. The theme changes every year (this year’s was ‘friendship’), and you can admire the various light structures at canal level designed by international artists.
Some other views of Amsterdam I enjoyed included: An amazing bathroom in the Bazar restaurant
6 bajillion bicycles
Delicious Dutch cheese
And enough wooden shoes for an army
One of my final days in the city included ice skating with my cousin in front of the Rijksmuseum (I’ll write about Amsterdam’s art museums in another post) and going out for a night of drinks and dancing. It was nerve-wracking to return to the ice at first, but like riding a bike, you never truly lose your muscle memory.
Ten days in the Netherlands absolutely flew by! My trip ended with a lovely sea of clouds on the way back to Madrid.
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