Post 1 of 3 about Amsterdam: My misadventures
My first real solo travel experience was a bumpy one. I had a free weekend, and for my first visit to the European continent, I chose Amsterdam. All the posts I found online while I was doing research said things like “Don’t worry, you can tell your parents you’re going for the museums, we all know you’re going for the coffee shops.” Well, I really was going for the museums! In fact, I may have overdone it, cramming things in to my limited time there ( 2 days, 3 nights).
When I was standing in the most touristy shops I’ve ever seen (and that’s counting Disneyland), surrounded by red light district t-shirts, smoking accessories, little white and blue clogs, tulip magnets, and more, I suddenly realized I’d decided to go to Amsterdam during Lent! If ever a city was given to fasting and denying material pleasures, Amsterdam is not it. I got some chuckles out of that, let me tell you.
In retrospect, it’s hilarious that a girl who gets lost in her own home town planned a solo weekend trip to a foreign country. I even got lost in Manchester (England) on the way back, while looking for the Church of St. Mary’s “the Hidden Gem” to go to Sunday Mass. In my defense, the difficulty of finding it is apparent in its very name. That is one well-hidden gem!
A huge aspect of travel is flexibility.
1. I got carsick for the first time. Thank you, winding Welsh roads. And a more sincere thank you to Ziplock bags. ‘Nuff said.
2. My plane needed a tire change and was delayed 2 hours. Luckily my only tight connection was bus to plane (which worked perfectly), and I didn’t have anything scheduled for my first evening there.
I got lost. I got lost a lot. But I always knew more or less where I was, and I never felt unsafe. I had two maps, written directions, and wasn’t afraid to verify where I was headed with tram drivers. The first time I tried to buy a ticket, I asked the guy at the counter if I could catch a bus.
“No,” he replied, “Don’t do that, it’s dangerous! Just hop on.”
I felt suitably chastened for using English.
That was weird: Dutch was everywhere, but there were usually English translations as well (and plenty of times I played at deductions, Sherlock-style). Hearing Dutch spoken and seeing it written everywhere, from the tram stops to the explanatory plaques at the zoo, was almost less of a shock than walking up to anyone and being able to speak in English. Obviously, not every conversation was 100% clear, but it was still incredibly convenient (and humbling) to be able to use English.
I felt guilty for going up to people in their own country and expecting them to speak English to me. I felt very privileged. It is very useful to have English as a sort of universal language– I know it helped me, and I heard tourists from all over the world using English to communicate– but it’s scary to have such a dominant language when smaller cultures’ languages (like Welsh!) are endangered.
Despite my penchant for getting turned around, I figured out the transit system very quickly and had no problem at all with that.
I bought an iAmsterdam card to get around & visit museums, and I found it helpful. Finding vegetarian options for dinner was interesting– the first night, a waiter was translating the menu for me, and when I asked to see the vegetarian options– meatless, I clarified, no meat!– he kept showing me chicken! Finally I realized that there was a meat section and a chicken section on the menu, and he genuinely thought chicken meant no meat. I’m still laughing about that! I found a place that served falafel and it was no problem.
Oh my gosh, the snack food though- fantastic! Fries in a cone, a delicious hot waffle covered in Nutella, a “room croissant”, stroopwafel… Delicious!