It’s been quite a long weekend, but I’m [kind of] glad to say I’m now back at school in France with my souvenirs unpacked and my wallet a bit lighter! Here’s a somewhat brief account of my latest travels.
I left Tours on Thursday afternoon and made it to Amsterdam without incident late that night. The next morning, my friend Teresa flew in from Italy and we immediately headed out for a day of exploration. It wasn’t too difficult; our hostel was perfectly located at the edge of the Red Light District, near the gare and all the fun spots in town. Amsterdam is much smaller than other cities I’ve visited; we had no trouble finding anything or walking around all day. We made quick work of finding pretzels, something neither of us has found in France or Italy, and then hit up the Van Gogh Museum.
The Van Gogh Museum houses (obviously) some of Vincent Van Gogh’s greatest paintings, as well as the work of his closest friends and contemporaries. While Van Gogh is not my favorite painter, and impressionism is not my favorite style, I appreciate what he tried to accomplish as a person. Did you know that he simply decided one day to become an artist and got down to work? He had no extensive formal training, but he borrowed some supplies and taught himself. From oils to watercolors, self-portraits to Starry Night, he tried anything and everything to learn how to paint. That’s determination. Unfortunately, cameras weren’t allowed in the museum, but check out this link to see more of what the museum has on display in its permanent collection.
Walking around the city, Teresa and I were super excited to see french fry vendors everywhere! These thick-cut fries come in a paper cone, and you can choose from any of about twenty different sauces to go on top. We tried “American” sauce the first time, which we decided was some mixture of ketchup, mayonnaise, spices, and pickle juice. …yum?
On Saturday, having resolved to wake up early, Teresa and I had a big breakfast at a nearby restaurant and then hopped on a canal cruise! Don’t tell me you thought that Venice was the only European city with a vast network of intra-city waterways! Amsterdam is home to a beautiful system of canals and bridges that connect all of the neighborhoods to the harbor and beyond. Our cruise took us through quaint residential areas and past monuments including the Anne Frank House, ancient churches, and the largest public library in Europe. Many people take small boats through the canals every day, and others even live in houseboats right on the water.
After our lovely ride, Teresa and I trekked back to find that library. If you know me, you know that the prospect of seeing the largest library in Europe got me more worked up than anything else during this trip, and it certainly lived up to all of my hopes and dreams and more! The Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam serves more than 2.5 million people annually and includes entire floors of reading rooms, cafés, ancient book collections, and deliciously comfortable couches. Needless to say, we were in heaven. I think I could have lived there for quite some time without being discovered.
That night, we found a take-out stirfry restaurant, Wok to Walk (or was it Walk to Wok?) that was paradise to our rice-deprived bodies. I miss Asian food almost as much as I miss Mexican food, so I was very glad to get my teriyaki chicken fix!
While our food digested, Teresa and I ventured into the main drag of the Red Light District. For those who may not know, consensual prostitution is perfectly legal in Amsterdam, and the “workers” present their wares from lit windows facing the street. I was somewhat hesitant to visit this area of Amsterdam, but it was actually quite tame and we had no problems with any trouble makers. All the people are too busy “window-shopping” to pay much attention to anyone on the street! All in all, a very interesting experience.
Sunday was a bit cold and grey, but Teresa and I made the best of walking around the city by ducking in as many vintage shops as we could find. Thankfully (though not for our wallets), there were quite a few. I bought a pretty silk scarf and continued my tradition of collecting a ring from every city I visit. That evening, we visited the Anne Frank House, the actual building where the young girl spent two years in hiding with her Jewish family from the Nazis. Anne Frank’s diary spurred my fascination with the Holocaust as a kid, and I was amazed to stand in the same tiny rooms where she lived her final years before dying in a concentration camp in 1945. It was heartbreaking. I really can say no more than to encourage you to read (or re-read) her story.
We ended the evening with another stroll around the Red Light and more Wok to Walk (if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it), and then headed back to the hostel for a quick drink and an early bedtime.
Teresa and I parted ways at the Amsterdam train station early Monday morning, and I made my way back to Paris and eventually Tours. Strikes and technical difficulties made it a long day with lots of delays, but I was happy to spend a few hours relaxing in a Parisian café before making it home!
All in all, it was a wonderful trip. I was so happy to see my friend from home and catch up on things. We spoke English the whole time and simply relaxed with each other-sometimes you just need a break from the giant classroom that is the world of study abroad. For now, though, it’s back to the daily grind of French classes, baguettes, and three-day workweeks! Life is so tough.