The other weekend I had the chance to visit the Nederlands, my first European country outside of France. It’s funny that I went from smelling cigarette smoke in Paris, to already getting whiffs of marijuana as I stepped out of Grand Central station in Amsterdam. Fresh Canadian air suddenly seemed very far away.
I set off to join my friend Nicole and her group of friends who had arrived at Shelter City, a hostel in the middle of the red light district. I was ecstatic to see my friend that I haven’t seen in 7 months, impressed by the friendly Christian hostel, and enamoured with their resident cat Oliver.
The red light district lived up to its reputation. Weed paraphernalia, pornographic images, scantily clad women on display in booths, everywhere. My friends and I noticed that the crowd was mostly men. Would it be different if there were male strippers/sex workers? Our curiosity satisfied from a quick stroll and some hasty photographs, we headed back to our hostel.
The next morning while Nicole’s friends went on a group tour, we planned a visit to the Van Gogh museum. On the half hour walk there, aside from catching up we’d stop to take photos and avoid getting in local bicyclists way. I loved how it’s so well integrated into their lives- quirky bike accessories, how parents ride on with their kids somehow sitting or standing and staying on part of the bikes frames, people just going grocery shopping with bags balanced on different sides.
Afterwards, the rest of the day was dedicated to the Kekenhov gardens south of Amsterdam. Flowers, flowers, flowers- need I say more? I also enjoyed how there were also many creative, interactive exhibits.
Day two began with the Anne Frank Museum. Although Anne never survived the war, her diary has lived on and really does serve as a caution to humanity. I couldn’t help but leave the museum wanting to read her diary on a deeper level, and feeling more appreciative of my freedom.
Afternoon onward, we were hungry and on the hunt for authentic Dutch snacks. Armed with my friend’s friend’s local friend from Rotterdam, who stayed clear of the red light district, we walked all over Amsterdam until we found local eateries with the following goodies:
The relaxed lifestyle of Amsterdam, bright flowers, and hearing the happy sounding Dutch language was a welcome break from the city life of Paris. I was especially blessed to spend it with my best friend. I’ll come back for you Holland, hopefully next time exploring you like the locals by bike!