Amsterdam and Cologne

Something I never thought I would say is that I would be going to Amsterdam for the weekend to meet my mom, like it is just so casual or something. Traveling here is so cheap and easy compared to the states, and everything is so close together it really is just something you can nonchalantly do. After being away from home and any sort of comfort zone for about 2 months at that point, seeing my mom was absolutely amazing. This was my first time since I’ve been here that I was no longer in a primarily English speaking country and I’m glad I got to experience that with her.

Thursday night she picked me up from the airport and I was so relived to not have to worry about how to navigate to the accommodation by myself. We still somehow managed to get on the wrong train though but it took us right into the city center so it was just a slight detour (; This may have also happened one or two more times again later… but eventually we got the hang of it together and it was also good practice for before I left on my Europe tour with my friends the next weekend!

Friday we went into town and I was blown away by just how different Amsterdam is from any city I’ve ever seen. When I imagined Amsterdam I of course thought of the famous canals and biking, but I didn’t realize just how relevant they would be. The city is entirely built on wood stalks over the marshland, and being hundreds of years old some of the buildings are even visibly leaning. There are hundreds of beautiful stone bridges, and canals between almost every street that go far beyond just the city center. What was crazy to me was how an old city can have such an organized transportation system. Their streets were wide enough to have two lanes on each side, tram tracks, huge bike lanes, and then obviously side walks as well. The bike lanes were entirely separated from the street and there was almost more traffic in the bike lanes than in the streets themselves. Also there weren’t just bikes driving in these lanes but also Vespa’s and the tiniest cars I’ve ever seen. I only saw old people driving them and they could fit one, maybe two people and they would even drive them up on the sidewalks! It was adorable (and slightly scary) but I love that it gives the elderly such a convenient way to still get around. When I got there Amsterdam was also just starting to bloom making me love it that much more.

That day my mom and I went to Vondelpark, the Museumkwaiter where they have the IamAmsterdam sign, went to the Van Gogh Museum where they have hundreds of his painting from his mere decade as an artist, and went on a boat tour through the main canals during sunset which was perfect. We learned a lot about Van Gogh’s life including more about his infamous incident of cutting off his own ear and saw some of his most famous works but the only disappointment was that they did not have my favorite Van Gogh, A Starry Night (apparently this one is in New York). The boat tour also told us a lot of interesting facts about the city and it was a great way of seeing it all because I could not imagine my mom and I being skilled enough to bike around the city as well as the locals do. That night we went closer to the nightlife area and had dinner and although I really wanted to see the Red Light District just to say I have, that probably wouldn’t have been the best suited place for a mother-daughter trip. So we avoided that area, but from what I saw it looked like Amsterdam would be a really cool place for a night out with a large young population around the city (also tons of gorgeous people too btw).

Saturday was a dream come true. We didn’t even realize that when we would be there would be the opening weekend of the famous Keukenhof Tulip Gardens in Lisse so it was totally unplanned to go but I feel so lucky we did! Since it only opened the day before the tulips had not all bloomed yet, especially in the fields surrounding but there were still strips of hundreds of yellow and red tulips sprouting and the Keukenhof gardens themselves were massive and absolutely stunning. I didn’t realize there are actually thousands of varieties of tulips and pictures don’t do justice of the feeling of being surrounded by them. I wish I could also have a way of saving the smell of this place, its indescribable and something I never want to forget. I could have probably spent days wandering around the gardens but with only a couple of hours we got to see most of the main exhibitions along with the real Dutch windmill.

That evening my mom had to leave to head back home and saying goodbye was probably harder than when I left back in January. Even though we only had a short time together I loved being back with family and being silly together, it was really just what I needed. There are times I miss home and the everyday routine but studying abroad is honestly the best decision I’ve ever made for myself and I feel lucky every day I’m here.

After my mom left I went to the Anne Frank Haus. We looked a month in advance and there were no longer two tickets at any time together to reserve, so rather than waste our time together in line I went after on my own and waited for a good 2 and a half, maybe 3 hours. The line went down the street from the house, down the side of the giant church next to it, around the back, and wrapped around the other side. (So word of advice book 2 months in advance when they open reservations!) Besides the fact that I was dressed for sunny gardens and not a chilly night, the wait really was not all that bad. There was a group of Italians in line in front of me that noticed I was alone and were incredibly nice feeding me snacks, holding my spot in the line so I could go warm up inside, and even though only one really spoke English they tried to include my in their conversations, which ended up kinda like a big game of charades. Once we finally got in and through the house it made the wait completely worth it. It really is such an eerie feeling knowing 8 people were trapped in such a tiny living space for 2 years, not even being able to look out the window in fear of being seen. Ducking through the hidden doorway behind the bookcase just as Anne and her family would have, seeing the height markings and pictures glued on the walls, looking at the WWII maps of Amsterdam that used dots to represent Jew populations of 10 and knowing the families hiding in the secret annex wouldn’t even make up one of those dots were all very influential parts of the museum for me. I think seeing the house is something everyone that gets the chance should do to feel a connection to what happened and aware of what went on so it can never happen again.

On a lighter note, things that are also a must for if you ever visit Amsterdam is to try stroopwaffels and their cheese, which is a contender for the best I’ve ever had. Since I don’t have class Monday or until late Tuesdays I decided to use this time as an opportunity to see my friend Laura who lives in Germany close to the border of the Netherlands. Back in high school she did an exchange and lived in KC with me for about 3 weeks and we’ve stayed in touch since, visiting each other in NYC this past summer as well! However, traveling is almost never a completely smooth, stress free process… I booked my train tickets late one night in Dublin (completely sober, but just tired) and ended up somehow booking them for the wrong date. Since they were cheap train tickets they were nonrefundable or exchangeable. That meant I would either have to find accommodation in Amsterdam until my flight Tuesday morning or bite the bullet and buy new, more expensive train tickets. So lesson learned, triple check the date and time whenever you make travel plans, have family check it, send it to a friend and have them check it, then check it again. Even though I had some stress with getting to Cologone to see where Laura studies it was so great to see not only family but an old friend both in the same weekend! She was an amazing host and we probably walked the entirety of the city when I was there. Taking 4 years of German in high school I thought I would be able to somewhat still follow some conversations but I was so wrong. On top of forgetting more than I had hoped, they talked so much faster and with a different dialect than I was used to. I think for some reason I also imagined cologne to be more old-fashioned but it actually had more of a modern big city feel. The Dom there was incredible, and the view from the top (500+ steps) was even more amazing. While I was there I tried weinerschnitzel, ein Berliner (a jelly donut), German beer and chocolate, and a Turkish Kebab –all sooo good. The Rhein river was beautiful and I loved seeing all the speciality shops for meats, cheese, bread, fruit and veg, etc. just as I had learned about back in school. There was also a celebration of the EU while I was there, which was really cool to stumble across. Everyone also walked around the city with a beer in hand which was awesome, and apparently Köln has a huge celebration called Carnival that lasts for weeks where everyone runs around the city dressed up and drinking. Germany was incredible and I can’t wait to go back and also for the next time I will see Laura again!!

As you can see I’m getting caught up on my travels finally! Hopefully will post some soon about the first part of my Europe Tour (:

Vaarwel!

Meg

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