Amsterdam: “I want to struggle….sort of….kind of….maybe….?”

My two week traveling adventures started in the ever so intriguing city of Amsterdam. This city both solidified and broke the stereotypes I had in mind before traveling a few days throughout the city. This is both wonderful and rather agitating.

Stephanie and I arrived by overnight bus very early in the morning, around 6am. The bus stop was, of course, in the suburbs of the city. So, we had to take the tram into the city center. Now, we were both exhausted (having not slept very well on the bus), cold, and rather confused, not really fully understanding the Amsterdam tram system nor any Dutch. So, I believe I ended up paying twice as much as I should have for two tram tickets into the city center, which, of course, neither of us can really be sure of because neither of us speak Dutch!

However, pushed forward we did, because we weren’t going to let that ruin our trip that just started. No, sir! Besides, we were strong, independent travelers. We could figure it out (and technically did) despite the little frustrations.

Anyways, we arrived at the main tram/train station in Amsterdam and upon exiting, what else do we do but indeed smell the marijuana. See, I have been told things, things regarding the legal and completely acceptable use of this drug. However, it was a completely different experience smelling it and smelling it heavily in a public place and then seeing that no one cared. Of course, I had come to Amsterdam knowing that cannabis is completely legal, but I was quite overwhelmed by the prospect of that legality (as well as the smell) of it. First solidified stereotype: check. However, the Dutch don’t seem to go crazy about it either, something that I came to pick up on throughout our time there. It just tended to be the tourists who were all crazy about it. First stereotype broken: check.

Now, I had written down directions from google maps from our bus stop to our hostel. Or course though, the streets were wildly confusing, and of course, it was 6am! So, it was still dark, and we were, like I said, very exhausted. Something that greatly surprised me were the amount of humans still walking about at 6am, on a Sunday morning nonetheless. Apparently they were not done partying….? If that’s the case then the Dutch really have no shame and do whatever they absolutely please. There was also trash strewn about completely everywhere, with street cleaners dodging wandering folk as if it were not a big deal and was actually quite routine. First completely new reality of what Amsterdam is actually like: check.

After walking around for a bit, we finally found our hostel, but since it was 7:30 am we were not yet able to check into our room (which was a 20 person mixed dorm, which wasn’t completely terrible, but it definitely was not ideal. Oh well, such is the traveler’s life when you are trying to travel as much as possible on the smallest budget ever). Thankfully though, we were able to store our bags in the hostel so that we could go explore the city for a bit.

Unfortunately, it was cold and rainy, and the fatigue was starting to get to me. However, I was in Amsterdam for crying out loud, so I sucked it up and dealt with it. Stephanie and I just went sightseeing for the most part that first day, and what a sight it was. How beautiful is that Amsterdam canal?! Gloriously beautiful I tell you. Second stereotype solidified: check. I was completely amazed at how much the canal is completely a part of the city itself and the city life. I absolutely loved it. I loved walking over the bridges, seeing all of the different boats, and just generally standing by the water. That definitely outweighed the irritation from the fatigue a little bit.

By the time the afternoon rolled around we were able to check into our hostel, and I had one of the most epic naps that I have ever encountered. Having been able to change, get warm, and sleep for a couple of hours was absolutely glorious. All of that also made me a much better person, not to say that I was being a horrible person because I wasn’t, but I do know that I was a little agitated and not very interesting to be around at all.

After our nap, we were both ready to continue sightseeing and making the most of our day. It just so happens that our hostel was very close to the Red Light District. Now, I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t at least a little interested in seeing the Red Light District because the whole idea of prostitution being legal is quite bizarre to me. Again, the Dutch apparently have no shame because there we were, just walking, and we just happened to walk by a window that had a mostly naked lady in it. It was actually quite awkward, and I wasn’t sure how to react other than to look away and keep walking. The further we walked though, the more pornographic shops, mostly naked ladies, and lingerie stores we happened by. Again, the Dutch have no shame because all of this was not only completely legal but also completely legal on a Sunday. Third stereotype solidified: check.

To be honest, the whole prospect of the Red Light District kind of appalls me as well. (It’s an odd feeling, feeling both intrigue and disgust at the same time.) Anyways, it kind of breaks my heart that the sex industry in Amsterdam is treated just like any other job. Sex workers are not only viewed just like other workers, but they are also paid and treated like other workers. There is even a sex workers union in Amsterdam! Don’t get me wrong. Worker equality is fantastic and should be that way, however, it normalizes the whole of it. This to me is absolutely insane! I think that sex should be a private thing between two persons that love each other very deeply, so of course, prostitution being legal kind of frustrates me and kind of disgusts me too. However, wanting to be a true traveler and expand my horizons as well, I can’t help but to question. Why is prostitution legal in Amsterdam? What is it about prostitution that, for the Dutch, has become a publicly acceptable way of life that does not have any shame tied to it, or rather does not necessarily need to be a private matter between two persons? Does it indicate anything further about the Dutch culture itself, not just the culture of Amsterdam? To be honest, I actually don’t know that much about the history of Holland or the Dutch people. That is definitely, perhaps, something that I should do research on. I really want to understand this thing that I find to be so appalling and slightly frustrating and disgusting. I want to understand where the Dutch are coming from. Unfortunately, I do not have any answers to the questions that I am asking right now. Perhaps, when I’m home from traveling and when I have some free time, I will investigate, because I do truly want to understand. I think the only way I’m going to become a true traveler and the only way that I’m going to become a true global citizen is to try to understand cultures and cultural values that differ from mine, whether or not I agree with them.

Moving forward, I won’t share every single thing that Stephanie and I did, but I do feel I need to share the important things, especially because I know that this particular blog post is already going to be on the long side (sorry!).

Anyways, the second day, Stephanie and I decided to go to the Anne Frank house. Stephanie and I both being huge history buffs really enjoyed the Anne Frank house. Even though we learn about Anne Frank in school in the United States, we don’t really learn that much about her or her life, just the impact she had on history. Not only was it absolutely fascinating to learn about who she was and about what her life was like while in hiding in this house in Amsterdam, but it was extremely powerful and moving as well. It must have been super terrifying to be living as a Jewish person during Hitler’s regime, and it must have been extremely difficult to remain in hiding for two years straight with 7 other people, always being short on food, never being able to bath all the time or necessarily with hot water, and to have to share your space and your time with those 7 other people. I cannot even begin to comprehend such a life. I was almost brought to tears knowing what her life was like and then having it be put through even more suffering and eventually death in a concentration camp, at the mere age of 15 nonetheless. I cannot even begin to comprehend. This house made me appreciate my life, as lame as it might seem from time to time, so much more. It has made me grow as a person, even if that growth was ever so slight. It makes all my travel whining seem quite obsolete, don’t you think?

After the Anne Frank house, we did some more sightseeing, spent some time in some parks, and even went to the Tulip Museum, which I was not so keen on going to in the first place but am very thankful that I did. I always used to think that the tulip was an ugly flower, but now that I know the history of it and the different types of tulips, I find that I appreciate it so much more and even find it beautiful. Fun fact: it turns out that tulips are not originally from Holland at all but rather are from western Asia/central Asia/where the Ottoman Empire used to be. I’m learning new things every day. I also discovered that there are quite a good amount of churches in Amsterdam. Second completely new reality of what Amsterdam is actually like: check, and they were quite beautiful churches too.

As for other stereotypes, yes, there are bikes literally everywhere! Hundreds of bikes everywhere! There were more people riding bikes than there were people driving cars or riding the trams! Though I was not surprised at that, it was still completely different seeing it all in person.

Overall, my time in Amsterdam was quite rewarding and terrific. I definitely enjoyed my time there, despite some frustrations, one of which included that apparently using my French bank card was extremely difficult. There was either an extremely high minimum for card usage or places just didn’t take it at all. Our last night in Amsterdam, I tried to use my card at a grocery store, and once again, they didn’t take it. I was beyond frustrated about the whole thing at this point, and on our walk back to the hostel, this frustration spurred a conversation with Stephanie about the struggles of traveling and being an expatriate. On the one hand, I do kind of want to struggle, with the language, with the culture, with communicating with other people, etc. because the struggle is what makes you grow, makes you a better person. It’s the struggle while traveling that pushes you to be more flexible, to have better problem solving skills, to budget your money wiser, to endure discomfort and pain with less outbursts of anger and frustration, etc. However, on the other hand, it’s like, no one likes struggling or being uncomfortable because it’s really not fun and makes things quite less enjoyable. Just like being a native English speaker brings both good and positive things. It is great because it makes traveling slightly easier because in most places they speak English well enough to communicate what needs to be communicated (Amsterdam is absolutely no exception. We found that we did not have any trouble at all), but also, being a native English speaker means that I have to try less when I’m traveling. I don’t have to push myself as much to understand the local language or culture (not that I’m going to learn Dutch in 3 days because I’m definitely not), but I didn’t even think to look up some Dutch phrases before we went because I knew that being an English speaker, I’d be fine. This is the exact mindset that I’m trying to beat out of other people, especially other Americans, and here I was, reverting to that mindset while I’m traveling. I feel so ashamed of myself. I wonder what it’s like being someone who has to learn English as a second language. I’m sure it’s frustrating and extremely difficult, but I believe it’s probably also rewarding, being able to speak at least two languages if not more.

So, moral of the story is this: “I want to struggle….sort of….kind of….maybe….?’’ (with a question mark because I don’t think I’ll ever out right say that I want to struggle) because even though struggling is extremely uncomfortable and sometimes the absolute worse, the struggle makes me and is making me a better traveler and a better person. I need the struggle. I really absolutely do.

So, there lie the thoughts of a struggling expatriate struggling (I mean, traveling) across Europe

Until more struggle stories next time…

A plus mes amis