Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Bikes on bikes on bikes - Amsterdam

One of the most fun things to do while living abroad is visiting friends who are doing the same thing! For the second year in a row, I arranged a little reunion with two friends from high school. Sofia was a Swedish exchange student at Eden Prairie High School for a year; we became friends and have stayed in touch ever since. Colin was in that same group of friends from high school, and is currently helping lead a university study abroad program in Dublin for the second year in a row. Last year, Sofia and I flew out to visit Colin for a weekend in Ireland. This year, we decided that Colin and I should visit Sofia as she is on a semester abroad in Amsterdam. We have been so fortunate that for the second year in a row, we all managed to find a weekend that worked for us! Not the easiest thing while leading our busy abroad-lifestyles.
Colin arrived a few hours before me on Friday night, so both he and Sofia were there to meet me when I arrived in Amsterdam! Sofia wanted to show us around the Red Light District at night, so that's the first place we went. I have to say, even though I'm very aware of what the neighborhood was known for, I was pretty shocked. As the name promises there are red lights shining down on door after door of legal prostitutes, standing behind glass doors with scandalous clothing on waiting for their next client. Although it was something shocking to see and pretty hard to wrap my head around (legal prostitution), I'm still glad I got to see it. Not surprisingly we passed through the Red Light District quickly, and moved on to a quieter neighborhood and found a small bar where we could get some local beers. We had a lot of catching up to do, and by the time we finished out second round of beers it was after 3am. We got the local's favorite street food (a cone of fries with different sauces on top) for the walk back to Sofia's apartment.

On Saturday Sofia had the whole day planned out for us. After stopping by the local supermarket to grab breakfast, we went to pick up some bikes! As many of you probably already know, Dutch people go EVERYWHERE possible by bike.  Sofia explained that it originated from inflating parking prices in the city, so people rebelled by biking everywhere. The city supported the movement and put bike racks all around the city, including an impressive 3-story biking garage right near Amsterdam Centraal Station. To get the real Dutch experience, Sofia set up a two-day bike rental for Colin and I. A good portion of Amsterdam is walkable, but being on bikes made it a lot more convenient, authentic, and fun to get around (and it was only 12 euros for the two days).  After we picked up out bikes we biked straight to Sofia's favorite flea market in Amsterdam. There, we got to shop around and try some local pastries including Stroopwafles and Oliballens.  A stroopwafle consists of warm gooey caramel stuffed between two thin, crispy, cinnamon waffles.  You can buy them in the grocery store (and I did before I left to take some back to Madrid with me) but they're even better fresh! Oliballens are like doughnut-holes... but they put American doughnut-holes to shame. They're giant (about the size of a tennis ball), warm, fresh and sprinkled with powdered sugar upon request. Messy, but amazing. After the market, we headed to the Heineken Experience... and it was an experience. One of the most interactive brewery tours I've ever been on! After the brewery we went back to Sofia's house and made dinner. That night, Sofia took us ou with her university friends from all over the world and we had a blast.
Coffee on the canal

We spent Sunday biking around Amsterdam and hitting some of the main sights: Begijnhoff, Amsterdam Museum, (going past) Anne Frank's house, Leidseplein, Rembrandt Square, the palace, the flower market, and the seasonal Christmas market. Above everything, the highlight of my afternoon was having a coffee at Sofia's favorite café on a quiet canal in the centre. That night, we went to a well known restaurant called Bazar. Although it's cuisine is Turkish, the restaurant building itself used to be a Jewish Synagogue. Great place, highly recommended if you like middle-eastern cuisine.

Colin left on an early flight on Monday morning, and Sofia had to go to class, so I spent my last morning walking around the centre and soaking up my last few moments in an incredible city. Amsterdam blew my expectations out of the water. I've heard a lot about it, but I never dreamed I would love it so much! I felt like I was living in a postcard for the weekend; every way I looked was a perfectly framed postcard-worthy view. Between the sandwiched buildings and winding canals, it's truly an amazing city. On top of everything, the Dutch are a group of kind and friendly people, and nearly all of them speak English fluently. As Sofia said "Even the homeless people speak English." Dutch may be the language most closely related to English (linguistically speaking), but I still find that impressive.  I'd like to go back someday and visit all the things we didn't have time (or money) for this weekend: the Anne Frank museum, Van Gogh museum, and of course, visiting the blooming tulip fields in the spring. I have no doubt I'll get back on day, but for now I'm satisfied :)

Here's an amazing video Colin made of our weekend in Amsterdam! He's quite talented

No comments:

Post a Comment