We left Antwerp by train on Friday and were on our way to Rotterdam for a weekend trip. It is a very modern city that happens to be very close to Kinderdijk, home of 19 windmills that have withstood the test of time.
We arrived in The Netherlands and took the metro to our home for the weekend, an Air B&B owned by an older Asian man from Shanghai. It was much cheaper than the hostels in town, so we went for the bargain rather than luxury. He was very kind and tried his best to make us feel like home, even though there was very little English spoken between us. As soon as we walked in, he had a line of sandals of about every size that we were supposed to switch to and wear throughout the house (gotta love Asian culture!). He was even nice enough to offer us his car. We declined, as people drive crazy over here, and almost every car is manual. Since we declined the car, he insisted he would drive one of us to the ATM. Abby offered but I’m sure she’ll tell you we elected her. 😛 It was a long 15 minutes for all of us but she made it back in one piece and he honestly was one of the nicest people. He was so concerned for our safety and well being the whole stay.
The night we arrived we went out on the town, checking out the stores, bars, beers, coffee shops and finally sat down for dinner at Panenka’s sports bar. There we had one of our favorite foods of our trip to date, a deep fried soft shell crab. You eat it shell and all, and oh man, was it great! We wished we would have ordered one for each of us!
On Saturday, Emily’s birthday, we caught a bus to Kinderdijk to walk around and explore the windmills. They were built in the early 1700s and some are even in use today, mostly for houses. The area is almost like a nature preserve and park, full of wildlife and beautiful scenery. After having a little picnic and walking around for a few hours, we headed back to Rotterdam to begin celebrating Emily’s birthday.
We decided to eat sushi for Emily’s birthday dinner. We found a place with all-you-can-eat sushi, 5 dishes per person at a time and up to 5 rounds (thats 15 rolls per round!). It was fantastic. They made them to order, so after a couple rounds, thinking we were all done and filled to the limit, more and more would keep coming. Most of the time we forgot what we had ordered or didn’t exactly know what or how much! We were stuffed when we left, to say the least.
While exploring the bars later on, we found an old, darker bar with no one there except a few nicely dressed women sitting together at the end of the bar. Low lights, carpet on the walls, and cheap beer. Perfect! Somewhere quiet where we could hang out and have some birthday drinks. It isn’t uncommon, just like in the States, that bars will put out snacks, chips, peanuts, etc for the drinkers. This bar had a bowl of chips, and being in Amsterdam after some beers and a coffee shop, we could use a snack. We began eating the chips, but the ladies kept looking at us like they were for someone else. We pushed the bowl of chips back and forth between us, laughing, unsure if they were for guests when the barmaid finally came over and said, “eat, eat.” Our faces, actions, and hesitance must have given her the clue that we had no idea what we were doing. I was sitting there with Emily and Abby on each side, when we began to notice as gentlemen walked in, those nicely dressed ladies would immediately sit by them…and uh, possibly enticed them a little bit? When we left we began to laugh and laugh. I told the girls, “I wonder what would have happened to me if you two weren’t along?!” Quite the story, accidentally sitting in, um, a possible brothel?
We left Rotterdam on Sunday and headed north to Amsterdam for 4 or 5 days. We checked in to our hostel and immediately hit the town to explore our area. We were staying directly across from the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and a tram stop. It was a perfect location. Abby and I went to the Rijksmuseum one day and the Van Gogh Museum on the next. I had never been so moved or amazed as I was at the Van Gogh Museum. A smaller museum that only allowed certain amounts of people in at a time, it was an absolutely moving experience, something I will never forget (arguably my favorite “tourist” moment of my trip).
Amsterdam is a city you must experience if you can make a trip to Europe. We all had our crazy experiences. We met up with our friend Tom in Amsterdam as he was biking his way across Europe. After a night of drinking, a coffee shop and an awesome karaoke bar called Bulldogs (our waitress had a phenomenal voice!) I had troubles walking home. Holding on to walls, Abby, Emily, and even crawling up the stairs to our room, we made it home!
The first two days we used trams to navigate the city, but when in Amsterdam, you must rent bikes! We rented bicycles for two days and used them to explore the city. It was the most terrifying experience of our trip when we started (bikes rule the road and learning the rules took some time, but after a day we were much more comfortable). Again, we had some funny memories. Abby’s bicycle tire got caught in the tram rails, causing her to catapult forward and wipe out. Later that night (after some partying, of course), Emily tried riding up some small stairs towards our hostel when the last stair, about 8 inches higher than the rest, bucked her off her bike and back down the stairs. To say the least, the girls’ legs were pretty bruised and battered but nothing too serious, only some serious laughs!
We took the bikes through Vondel Park, a huge gorgeous park where Amsterdammers would spend the day having a picnic and relaxing under the sun. It was one of our favorite lunch dates, simply relaxing, having a picnic and hanging out. Later that day we were also able to meet up with Meta’s niece and nephew for a couple drinks. It is always great meeting up with new friends!
We were able to have a couple traditional Dutch meals at St. Paul’s Cafe. Baked mussels and hutspot (mashed potatoes mixed with carrots and onions and topped with sausage). However, after ordering an appetizer we wanted to try, we realized we ordered something that we did not like and had had before: bitterballen. Its a deep fried ball (looks like a hushpuppy or cheese balls) filled with gravy, veal, onions and spices. Something about the slimy texture and gooey insides was just not very appetizing.
When people think of Amsterdam, usually the Red Light District comes to mind. And oh man, how crazy Americans would think this area is. Located nearly in the center of the city, it is a huge spot for tourists: adults and children alike. Filled with foods, shops and, of course, prostitutes, it was so fun to wander around. Prostitution is legal in the area and is comparable to window shopping. Off the main streets of the Red Light District, in the alleys, are glass doors with red lights above that signify if a lady is present. If the curtain is pulled, she’s busy! If not, there she is, flaunting her goods in lingerie or topless. Most would think, ugh how gross. Yes, of course it is, but the women (and sometimes men) were not what you would picture. Most were very, very good looking (no, mom, I did not visit one, even though their rates aren’t too high hahaha). Emily got yelled at for trying to sneak a video, of course, no photos are allowed.
The highlight (or low point, depending on how you look at it) was our last night in Amsterdam. We were leaving for Germany the following morning on a 6+ hour bus ride so we planned on going out early and getting to bed earlier. We were ready to head to our hostel around 9 pm when we realized: we had no idea where we parked our bikes. Finding a lost bike in Amsterdam is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. We walked for miles, and miles, and miles retracing our steps and going back to all the places we were at. Still no luck. Abby and Emily gave up around 1 am, about 4 hours later. I told them I was staying out another hour. At $150 per bike, I wasn’t going to take that loss. My pride broken, I began walking back to our hostel to pay the fee when I recognized a building we hadn’t seen. I wandered around it for about 30 minutes when there, around the corner, like a beam of light from the Heavens (nah, it was a streetlight) were three bright orange bikes. Delirious from walking around for nearly 4-5 hours, I texted the girls and they came running to the Rijksmuseum to meet me and grab our bikes. WE FOUND THEM!!! It’ll be a story for the ages.
Amsterdam treated us well and gave us plenty of stories to share for a lifetime. We all look forward to going back some day and hopefully, sharing these experiences first hand with many others.