📍 amsterdam, netherlands

over the weekend we could turn the world to gold

“some tourists think amsterdam is a city of sin,
but in truth it is a city of freedom.
and in freedom, most people find sin.”
john green, the fault in our stars

friday, july tenth

late in the afternoon, cesar and i flew from the copenhagen airport into amsterdam and waited in the local starbucks for jackie to arrive (i admit to being 100% basic and making my first purchase in euros a frappuccino).

after we three were reunited, we eventually made our way by tram to the hostel we had booked together (A&O amsterdam zuidoost). walking down a dirt path to the door, we were immediately greeted by this amazing view.

so was our introduction to the dream world that is amsterdam, capital city and crown jewel of the netherlands (i’m assuming). *just a disclaimer, if you indeed decide to continue down this absolute monster of a post: i’ve been to a lot of places in the world, but never one that felt like this.*

i think the yik yak jackie read to us on the tram summed it up best: “the netherlands? more like the NEVERlands cause i never want to leave this place!!”

amsterdam is a city that makes it near impossible not to fall in love.

for one thing, it’s absolutely gorgeous at every turn, an intricate network of brick-paved roads, bridges, and river water that turns the whole city into a glittering kaleidoscope of street lights as soon as the sun goes down. the buildings line the canals in neat rows, stretching up toward the sky, tall and thin and in a variety of colors, as if they are toy models arranged in the room of a very orderly child. the city somehow manages to be picturesque without being cliché and clean without losing its signature quirk.

for another thing, it’s delicious. during our first night out, we tried a plate of poffertjes, a local favorite, and were simply overwhelmed. i’d describe them as mini pancakes, but more accurately, they tasted like the best funnel cake you ever had as a child mixed with sunshine and fairy dust. 100% true.

after wolfing down an entire assortment of poffertjes, we spent the rest of the night hunting down the infamous red light district. interestingly enough, the area is not difficult to find, as it is literally marked off by red lights — and also filled with tourists. walking down the streets, it felt strangely liberating to see the sex industry dealt with in such an open and honest manner; there were dozens of shops selling toys and multiple sex museums and shows, each promising a unique experience. scantily clad women were displayed in shop windows just as visibly as clothed mannequins outside of a forever 21.

for me though, the strangest thing about the red light district was how safe i felt within it. even though it was around 10 pm and already quite dark, at no point in our walk did i feel uneasy being there. unlike los angeles or even berkeley, amsterdam has a way of filling even its darkest corners with light.

*random sidenote: for some reason, i walked through the red light district with the opening guitar riff of taylor swift’s “style” on constant loop in my head.*

saturday, july eleventh

the next morning, we woke up at around 6 am in order to get in line for the anne frank house. receiving over a million visitors each year, its no wonder that the museum’s line consistently stretches for blocks if you don’t take the time to get there early. though we arrived 30 minutes before opening, the line was already beginning to form down the street from the building; in total we waited around an hour and a half, but it was definitely worth it.

i first read the diary of a young girl the summer before freshman year of high school, when it acted as an accompaniment to markus zusak’s the book thief (still one of my favorite books of all time). i remember first being confused as to why it was so important and held in such esteem around the world; after all, she was only a thirteen year old girl. but as i learned more about the holocaust both in the classroom and on my own time, i came to realize that the diary was about more than just anne frank. her personal story was tragic, but even more tragic was the fact that her experience was one shared by millions of people, millions of families, and millions of girls just like her.

even years later, i still remember the moment when i realized just how heavy her words felt on the page. they had to be, because they carried the burden of the six million lives we would never get the chance to know.

so i feel extremely blessed and grateful that i had the opportunity to see the special place where those words were born so long ago. i climbed staircase upon steep staircase, crossed the threshold of the hidden bookshelf to the secret annex, and even stared out of the same (and only) window anne used to catch fleeting glimpses of the blue sky at every chance she had.

while i was in there, i tried to take myself back to 1942 and imagine what it would be like to be trapped there while the outside world moved and changed without me. i tried to imagine all the fights i would have with my sister and the scoldings from my mother for eating too many rations. i tried to imagine my father comforting me during bomb raids and telling me to be patient, that it was all going to be okay. i tried to imagine writing about my life while the world seemed to be exploding into pieces all around me.

i tried to imagine it all, but found that i couldn’t. it was all too much.

upon returning from the war and receiving word that all of his family had died, otto frank eventually decided to publish the remnants of anne’s diary and make the secret annex a museum so the world would never forget what had happened. he purposely requested that the rooms forever remained unfurnished to show the emptiness and loss that the holocaust left behind.

i guess what i’m saying is that i went to the anne frank house and saw what was left behind — nothing but the skeleton of rooms that were once lived in and the diary of a young girl — but i’m still struggling to make sense of it.

i imagine i’ll be doing so for the rest of my life.

as long as this exists, this sunshine and this cloudless sky,
and as long as i can enjoy it, how can i be sad?
anne frank, the diary of a young girl

after that profound experience (sorry not sorry that an english major got a little carried away with her feelings on a book), i walked down a few streets to join jackie, cesar, and andrea at pancakes! for a late brunch. on the way there, a young man on the street yelled “GREEN! GREEN!” while smiling and motioning towards my hair, so i smiled back and waved a thank you.

for brunch, i had a sweet nutella and banana dutch pancake and a hot chocolate, which was delicious (but you probably already knew that).

following brunch, we used google maps to pinpoint the exact location of the famed bench used in the fault in our stars (basically the european equivalent of that day in high school when i forced my dad to drive me to angel’s knoll park solely so i could channel my inner summer finn on the (500) days of summer bench). it spoke volumes about amsterdam’s picturesque qualities when it took us a while to find the bench in question, simply because every other bench in town boasted a similarly gorgeous view of the canals. sadly, cesar wasn’t able to find anyone to borrow an unlit metaphor from, but our photos still turned out more than okay (okay?) if you catch my drift.

next on our list was a tour of the heineken beer factory. personally, i’m not the biggest fan of beer; i tend to prefer drinks with fancy names that are 99% fruit juice and sugar (i.e. marshall erikson in himym). still, the tour was supposedly one of the highlights of a visit to amsterdam, so we couldn’t miss it. walking in, we expected nothing more than a basic walk-through of the company’s layout and history and maybe a few free beers to sample.

fortunately, amsterdam had more up its seemingly endless magical sleeves.

the tour started out as normal; there was a brief exhibit on the company’s history, including several examples of early advertisements and awards (shoutout to mad men for piquing my interest in this kind of stuff), and a factory room where we could see how the beer was produced and have a taste of the raw ingredients (no less bitter than the final product). however, there was also a stable housing the official heineken horses who continue to make rounds around the city (albeit for promotional purposes only).

as we were drawn deeper and deeper into the rightfully dubbed heineken “experience,” the fun only continued. we explored a series of rooms that depicted heineken’s prevalence in different social settings, including the DJ/EDM party scene and varied sporting events. there was a station where you could learn how to properly pour the beer (a much more complicated process than i’d ever imagined possible) and one where you could make your own personal heineken bottle. there was even a short motion-ride and film that took you through the entire process as if you were a bottle of beer.

a licensed heineken bartender even poured us our first sample glass and taught us the right way to drink it: first, take a moment to hold it up to the light and admire its golden color and bubbles, and at last, when you finally taste it, make sure to gulp rather than sip (which i learned helps with the whole issue of bitterness). and for the first time, i actually enjoyed beer.

the final stage of our experience took place on the rooftop of the factory (a little tip that cesar picked up from a worker at the beginning of the tour). after grabbing another sample (the first of two that our tour wristbands allowed), we immediately went outside to revel in the sunshine and admire the views of the city over a fresh glass of our new favorite heineken.

while on the rooftop, we also had a nice conversation with a group of uk students from manchester who were also visiting the netherlands. in short, we learned that americans have a reputation for going over the top on everything (not false) and that even brits have a favorite kardashian sister.

after finishing our glasses, we headed back inside the factory to find a live band taking requests for covers. though the band started with modern hits like “raise your glass” and “don’t you worry child,” eventually we found our way back to the 80s (don’t we always) and the entire room joined in to dance to michael jackson’s “thriller.” yup, you heard me correctly. that scene in 13 going on 30 is 100% accurate and applicable to real life.

we even got the band to take our request and perform blondie’s “one way or another,” which you will definitely see when our #studyabroad70 go-pro video goes viral and takes the world by storm. updates on that to come.

a few beers later (and after i’d finished living out most of my dreams of becoming robbie hart from the wedding singer), we found our way out of the factory only to realize that we had somehow spent four hours there. time really does fly when you’re having fun (or more accurately, when you’re deliriously intoxicated on amsterdam atmosphere and ice cold heineken).

coming down from the heineken high, we decided to laze around on a canal cruise. though i probably learned less about amsterdam’s history than i should’ve (halfway through the tour, i removed the provided ear buds to catch the view from the back of the boat), it was still a wonderful experience to see the city from its famed canals. the afternoon sun filtered in warmly through the glass windows and hey, at least i can say i didn’t fall asleep.

after the cruise, we met jackie’s friends for an indonesian dinner at a place called kantjil & de tijger; apparently, exotic foods like this are a thing here because in the past, the city was a center of many eurasian trade routes.

post-dinner, we walked around the city a little more and couldn’t resist grabbing a quick ice cream (stroopwafel and coffee is an amazing combo).

sunday, july twelfth

considering how early we had woken up for anne frank the day before, it was a relief to be able to sleep in a little later before checking out of the hostel.

craving waffles, we ran down a few streets in the city before stumbling upon a small shop called, appropriately, crepes & waffles. they had a variety of mouthwatering topping options, including nutella and fruits, but i decided to go with the tiramisu waffle and another hot chocolate. typical me.

after breakfast, we explored a small market in the middle of the city, where vendors were selling everything from books and movie discs to posters and even vinyl. digging through the piles of wall hangings, jackie even found a vintage map of san jose, california, how fascinating and exotic!

wandering around the city, we eventually came across a café famous for their stroopwafels (a dutch delicacy that, according to wikipedia, is basically a waffle made of two thin layers of baked dough with a gooey caramel-like syrup filling in the middle). it was honestly one of the most satisfyingly sweet desserts i’ve ever had and i’m already trying to figure out if there is some underground stroopwafel market to keep me supplied in america.

after eating our fill of sweet treats, we decided to end our adventures by taking squad pictures on the classic i amsterdam sign. it was a struggle to say the least, but eventually cesar fulfilled his life’s goal of conquering the D (pro tip: use the E) and made us all so proud to witness his achievement.

as we were walking away from the sign, i noticed two men taking pictures in the pool of water in front of the rijksmuseum and quickly decided that if i was ever to possibly break a few laws by playing in a public fountain, there was no location more perfect than this, the city of freedom, to do it in.

so with one casual hop, skip, and jump, there i was, laughing and doing solo stevie nicks-twirls. in a pool. in the middle of amsterdam.

what a time to be alive.

*another (less random) sidenote: i want to try this everywhere.*

we picked up our bags from the hostel and said our goodbyes at the station. then for me, it was back to the literal struggle bus, preparing for a nine-hour overnight commute to london, where i crossed two countries (belgium and france) and went underneath one body of water, but only added one new stamp to my passport (forever angry at this injustice). by the time i arrived back at uni, i had less than twenty minutes to trudge back to my dorm in the rain, drop off my bag, grab my ipad, and make it to my 10 am class.

but amsterdam, you were a thousand percent worth it. you made my heart go boom clap and fall in love and i am forever grateful for our little infinity.

i wouldn’t trade it for the world.

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