Amsterdam was my first ever solo trip.
Technically, I’d travelled alone before. But this was the first trip I’d ever booked myself.
Before, my mom would send a list of flights to choose from. She’d work some sort of magic and bam! I had a plane ticket.
Now, I was responsible for choosing hotels and flights, examining a myriad of online booking engines, and watching the dollars drain from my bank account.
I felt like a grown up. I felt like a traveler. I felt so, so scared.
Planning My Trip to Amsterdam
I booked the trip to Amsterdam only a week in advance due, in part, to a lack of familiarity with my school schedule. It gave me less time to freak out about my choice, but it also gave me less time to prepare an itinerary.
A few days of researching Amsterdam left me more confused than before. Suddenly, I couldn’t remember if I liked museums, or art, or even food! It become a blur of experiences I couldn’t possibly fit into three days – especially on a budget.
I wanted to do everything and nothing all at once.
Eventually, I chose to fly EastJet, a budget airline. The flight was cheaper, but the workers were definitely meaner! I brought two carry-ons (a suitcase and a small backpack), only to find out that you are only allowed one (which was not displayed online). Luckily, I was able to shove the backpack in the small suitcase. But having an EasyJet employee scream in my face to start off my trip was not boosting my confidence.
I was not prepared for this adventure.
First Day in Amsterdam
I had planned to be productive my first day in Amsterdam and take a bus tour of the city. But, after getting lost in the airport, I threw myself in a cab and retreated to hide in my hotel for the rest of the night.
Everyone I knew to call was busy, leaving me scared and alone in a foreign country where (I had forgotten) English was not the first language.
I barely made it down to the hotel bar for dinner.
Jordaan Food Tour
My second day in Amsterdam began with a food tour of the Jordaan district run by Eating Europe.
Having a reason to start my day was probably the only reason I left the hotel.
However, I quickly learned not to skimp on the price of a hotel or trust GoogleMaps when it turned out my hotel was further from downtown than I expected. I shelled out an atrocious amount of money for an hour-long cab ride to Jordaan. It ended up costing more than if I’d paid the extra $10/night for a hotel in the city core.
The food tour more than made up for the bad start to the day.
We feasted on dutch apple pie, herrings with pickles, mini pancakes with maple syrup, cheese and fried balls of veal. The tour introduced me to fresh mint tea, which may very well be the nectar of the gods. I think I drank at least three cups a day for the rest of my stay in Amsterdam.
A food tour is one of the best ways to learn about an area. You learn about the history while devouring delicious treats. It feels like a true cultural immersion.
Anne Frank House
After the tour, I went to the Anne Frank House.
Typically, I shy away from war-related sites. But everyone told me this was a must do.
I had to stand in line for an hour because I hadn’t bought a ticket online. Going inside the house was an incredible experience. It was bigger than I expected, with dauntingly thin stairs. While I didn’t feel any ghostly presences or waves of nostalgia, I did find myself drawn to the story.
It’s not the kind of museum you can spend hours in. However, while there’s plenty of information, the flow of people through narrow rooms forces you to keep moving. The whole process probably took 40 minutes.
Red Light District
To end the day, I wandered through Amsterdam’s famous Red Light District.
The area wasn’t as exciting as I’d expected. There were women in windows advertising services, but very few were actually lit with red lights. Weed shops dominated the streets, the smell hanging heavily in the air.
I spent a grand total of ten minutes walking down the street before I decided to abandon the idea.
The Time I Almost Slept in a Train Station
It turned out my transportation mishaps weren’t over for the day.
I got to the train station, determined to catch a cheap streetcar to my hotel. The moment I arrived, my phone died. In an instant the address of my hotel, the name of the streetcar I needed and my map were gone.
No streetcar stand had the number I thought I remembered needing. The drivers didn’t understand me when I asked for the stop I needed. The tourism office was closed. My hotel had recently changed its name and wasn’t in the Information Desk’s guide book. The woman at the Information Desk refused to Google the hotel.
My heart was racing. My blood sugar was dangerously low. I was certain I’d be sleeping in the train station overnight.
I trudged back to the streetcar area after my third loop of the train station in a last ditch effort to avoid sleeping on the station floor. By some sort of miracle a driver finally understood the stop I needed (once he got me to spell it out). It was his streetcar I needed. He would tell me when to get off. I was saved!
A 40 minute streetcar ride and walk through a pitch black park later, I was at my hotel.
While the entire experience probably took two hours, it felt like it had been five years. Once again, I was left too drained to go out for food and ended up eating dinner at the hotel bar.
Albert Cuyp Markt
On my second day in Amsterdam, I went to the city’s biggest market: Albert Cuyp Markt.
I had planned to spend hours wandering through the market, but my Toronto pace made it only last an hour. So, logically, I decided to fill the extra hours by consuming as much food as humanly possible.
I bought a paper cone filled with fries that were somehow thick and crispy all at once. They were slathered in mayo and perfectly salty. I drank gluwein that warmed me up a little bit too much. Finally, I found stoopwafels. There may not be a dessert in this world as delicious as a fresh stoopwafel on a cold day.
Stroopwafels are two thin wafers with gooey caramel in between. I got one plain and one that was half dipped in hot dark chocolate. They were warm and wonderful and so sugary I was trembling for an hour.
I still dream about those stroopwafels.
Van Gogh Museum
I followed the market with a visit to the Van Gogh Museum.
Once again, I should have bought tickets online. I spent about 45 mins in the freezing cold of a winter day in Amsterdam waiting to enter the museum.
I got in with only an hour to rush through the museum before they closed. I picked up an audio guide and set off, determined to see every exhibit if it killed me. The guide detailed Van Gogh’s history, his mental illness and his need to use his own reflection as a model. It was fascinating. I spent half my time in the room of his self-portraits, entranced by his artistic style.
It didn’t even matter that the gallery’s most iconic painting – the one of sunflowers – was out for restoration.
I conquered the museum before it closed. That gave me enough confidence to eat at a nearby restaurant before heading back to my hotel – without any transportation trouble.
It’s funny how little victories can be so vital in overcoming anxiety.
Hop On Hop Off Bus
I had half a day left before my flight home, so I decided to try the hop on hop off bus tour of Amsterdam that I’d intended to do on my first day.
It was a nice way to see more of the city. The crackling audio and window glare weren’t ideal, but it let me rest my aching feet.
The bus ticket included free tour of a diamond factory. They let us stack our fingers with expensive rings for quick photos.
I preferred the Delft Blue gallery beside the factory, with its walls
littered with blue and white plates. I bought a small tea bag holder that I’ve never used as more than a decoration. But seeing the painted teapot on the ceramic reminds me of the potentially dangerous amount of fresh mint tea I drank in Amsterdam.
I rode the bus past the Heineken tour and straight to a tulip market (which had very few tulips). We did pass a Dutch windmill on the way there, which almost made up for the lack of tulips.
The Transport Terrors Continue
Even when you do everything right, things can go wrong.
I got back to my hotel half an hour early, only for my airport shuttle to be an hour late. I basically ran through security, forgetting that I needed to consolidate my luggage in the process. This prompted the EasyJet staffer to yell at me and pull me out of the boarding line until everyone else had gone through.
At that point, I just wanted to get out of Amsterdam.
The success of my trip didn’t fully hit me until a few days later, when the stress of the whole event had dissipated. I could see how much I’d accomplished.
All of the trials and anxious moments were learning experiences that I have used to grow in my solo travel. After that, I’m pretty sure I can conquer anything.