Amsterdam

I’ve always loved Amsterdam. The city has long since been one of my favorites within Europe, holding a special place in my heart throughout my life. Since it had been at least four years since my last visit, I decided rather quickly after moving to Heidelberg that I would book an overnight trip and let myself experience the city with a fresh perspective. The last time that I was here, it was during the summer of my Sophomore year at Hanford High School, and I’m now nearing graduation from University. It’s simply unbelievable how quickly time flies.

Amsterdam is a city that is truly unlike any others in the world, guaranteeing a unique experience with every visit. There is a palpable energy to be felt throughout the city, especially within the Dutch citizens who live here. Most are at the very least bilingual, fluent in both English and Dutch, but it is not uncommon to meet people who are competent in German and French as well. They are a friendly and open people, perfectly willing to strike up a conversation with a random traveler and share stories/ give advice. Being here as I am now, nearly 23 years old and with a much different outlook on life than my 17 year old self, I have immensely enjoyed my short period of exploration, relaxation, excellent meals, and wonderful discoveries.

After having made plans for the trip long in advance, the FlixBus threw a last minute curveball at me. On the night of my departure from Heidelberg, the bus was supposed to leave the Hauptbahnhof at 5 p.m., getting me into Amsterdam by midnight. I received notice early in the day that the bus was delayed on its way to Heidelberg and wouldn’t be leaving until 9 p.m., meaning that the trip would be an over-nighter, and I would arrive in Amsterdam at dawn. This was enough for my travel buddy to back out of his plans for coming along, but I was no so easily discouraged. I knew that I could meet people once I arrived and had some time to explore, and I challenged myself to make the trip solo. It would be a great experience, and although I only knew the basics of the city layout/ transit systems, etc., I knew I could figure it out in the end. I find that adaptivity and flexibility are among the most critical skills to have while traveling abroad. Being able to go with the flow and change plans at the last minute without racking stress on yourself will make for the best possible use of your time abroad. You’ll thank yourself later.

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My Amsterdam-bound FlixBus pulls into the Heidelberg Hauptbahnhof after hours of delays
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Crossing the border from Germany into The Netherlands

 

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FlixBus arriving at Sloterdijk (train terminal) at dawn

I finally arrived in Sloterdijk on the west end of Amsterdam just as the sun had fully revealed itself for the day. I made my way through the quiet, empty morning streets and to my hotel where I would check in for a few more hours of sleep (I managed to sleep quite a bit on the bus, although it was not the most comfortable situation). I had booked a stay at CityHub Amsterdam, a hostel/hotel for the tech-savvy traveller. This place was more interesting than I could have imagined, but I was too tired at the moment to soak it all in, so I climbed up into the bed and went back to sleep until 8 a.m.

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The front of my hotel, CityHub
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Interior hallway of CityHub
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The layout of a ‘pod’ with a separate room on each side

I felt a joy when my alarm went off (possibly the first time that sentence has been written), as it meant I was ready to begin my day in this amazing city. I got ready and packed my backpack for the trip, then left the hotel and jumped on a tram to Amsterdam Centraal.

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Arriving at Amsterdam Centraal
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Amsterdam Centraal is the gateway to the city for the majority of visitors
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Sint-Nicolaaskerk (Church of St. Nicholas) from Stationsplein
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The Park Plaza Victoria Hotel from Stationsplein

I was finally back in the heart of the city. This famous square outside of Amsterdam Centraal is called Stationsplein, and has been featured in countless films and television shows. It was also the first time on the trip that I knew exactly where I was. My ‘sense of place’ was forming rapidly, and I became even more excited to see all that I could see during my day here. There seemed no better way to head than south on Damrak Straat (toward Dam Square, the historical center of the city). Amsterdam is a lot like the Las Vegas of Europe, although with a much richer history, more inspiring architecture, better food, and cooler climate. Essentially, it’s my kind of town.

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Casino on Damrak Straat
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Architectural style of Amsterdam
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Damrak Straat
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Crooked buildings (an Amsterdam staple) on Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal
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Magna Plaza on Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal
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Typical Amsterdam apartments

This area which I explored first is known as the Centrum, which is the center of a spiderweb-like series of streets which form the inner city. This district is among the most well known of all within the city, and is home to some of the most famous attractions in Amsterdam, such as the Anne Frank house. The buildings and streets here are off-kilter, giving the district an extremely unique and bizarre feel.

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Map of Amsterdam (blue dot is me at my hotel)
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Everything is tilted here in the Centrum
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Young boy rides a wooden bike in the Centrum
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Heineken is brewed in Amsterdam, and the Dutch are very proud of it
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Cats and people alike enjoy sitting on the window sills in Amsterdam
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A canal lined with boat houses (very common) near the Anne Frank House
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Locals ride by the massive queue at the Anne Frank House

By this point, I had been walking for some time, and was growing hungrier by the moment. I knew that I needed to find something to eat, and the famous Amsterdam pancakes seemed like a good place to begin the search. I stumbled across The Pancake Bakery in the centrum, which had a line forming out the door for brunch, which I took to be a good sign. I chatted with a few of the locals while waiting in the queue, asking if this was a good place to have breakfast. They simply laughed and said that I had stumbled upon one of the best breakfasts in the city, which I would go on to confirm by ordering far too much food and watching  as the lobby filled to the brim with people waiting to be seated.

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Exterior of The Pancake Bakery
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Breakfast of champions in The Pancake Bakery
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Classic interior with a great view

After I had sufficiently stuffed myself to the point of near-immobility, I decided it would be a good time to take a long, draining walk to the south side of town, toward the famous museums and parks. The weather was starting to warm up, and I had to shed my jacket. The locals were outside, taking full advantage of the beautiful day.

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Tour boat getting ready to leave in a canal
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A tour boat passes beneath the bridge that I’m standing on in the Centrum
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Boats, bikes, cars, and trams

Amsterdam is nicknamed The Venice of the North, and with its maze-like system of canals and narrow corridors, its not difficult to see why.

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Public urinals are very popular in Amsterdam

When taking this picture, an older Dutch couple walked behind me. The woman asked me something in Dutch, to which I replied with an “I’m sorry?”

She switched to English, “Did you just take a picture of that urinal?”

“Yeah.”

She laughed. “Why?”

I then realized how absurd it must look to see tourists snapping pictures of such things, when you’ve grown up with them and they are commonplace in Amsterdam.

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De Krijtberg church in south central Amsterdam
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Another view of De Krijtberg – I was having a blast shooting it from different angles
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Street advertisements
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Angled streets make this photo appear skewed
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Locals riding along a canal, enjoying the warm weather
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Leidsestraat
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FEBO automat food

FEBO is amazing for when you don’t want any human interaction whatsoever, but have an appetite for something savory. The food options are perfect for late night snacking. You simply decide which item you want, put in the exact amount of coins, and press the button to the right of the window. It pops the cover open, and you can remove your delicious, warm treat from inside. There is a counter where you can purchase fries and drinks, but most of the main courses are found in the automats. I’m going to miss FEBO in Germany and the U.S.

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Locals deciding on a snack
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Restaurants/bars in Leidseplein, one of my favorite city squares
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Can’t escape the King
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Local man relaxes on his window sill

At this point, I entered one of the most amazing places in all of Amsterdam. It’s called Vondelpark, and its essentially its own city within the city itself. You could spend an entire day exploring the park, finding new hidden gems throughout. I took a few hours and allowed myself to wander, which turned out to be an excellent way to experience the park. It seemed as though every five minutes I would come across a new, interesting cafe, restaurant, venue, lake, or market. I cannot recommend this park enough.

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The southernmost entrance to Vondelpark
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Crane in Vondelpark
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‘t Blauwe Theehuis in Vondelpark
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Locals relaxing by a gazebo in Vondelpark
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Different angle on the gazebo
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Vondelpark Openluchttheater preparing for a live music show
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BBQ master at work
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Beautiful scenery just outside Vondelpark

After leaving Vondelpark, I headed toward Museumplein, where some of the most famous museums in the city are located. This is another excellent place to relax and have a picnic or possibly a nap.

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Slanted grass area in Museumplein
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The Stedelijk Museum from Museumplein
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The world-famous Rijksmuseum from Museumplein
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Famous I Amsterdam sign with the Rijksmuseum in the background
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Typical street corner in Amsterdam West
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Floating houses near my hotel

Before I knew it, my time in the city had come and gone, and it was time for me to head to Sloterdijk to get on the FlixBus and head back to Heidelberg. Amsterdam is such a wonderful city, and it pained me to leave, but I know that I will be back one day. It’s a difficult place not to love, and I am very happy that I took a day to have fun in the city.

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Sunset over a canal
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Nightfall in Amsterdam gives way to a world of neon signs
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Nightlife options in Leidseplein
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Accidental shot with long shutter rate
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Started having fun with long shutter rate
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The famous American Hotel

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