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The Singel Bridge at the Paleisstraat by Breitner, Rijksmuseum

If Paris was frenzied and beautiful, Amsterdam has been calming and quaint. I think Amsterdam’s reputation in the USA as a wild party city, given its red light district and “coffee shops,” is undeserved. Amsterdam is extremely chill, and I think these things exist here because people are so tolerant because they are so chill. I instantly felt more relaxed given the slower pace and cheaper prices (30-50 percent lower than Paris already!) here. Also, my dad reminded me we have some Dutch heritage, so I was excited to see another place my ancestors are from!

After the 8 hour bus ride from Paris, I was excited to arrive at Sloterjdik station in Amsterdam. On the ride from Belgium to Amsterdam, I shared my seat with a belly dancer from Amsterdam currently living in Istanbul, and she graciously filled me in on the history and sites to see in the city. In addition to discovering the city, I would be spending the next few days with Sjors and Wendel, two friends I met in Africa back in December who live in Amsterdam! I was so excited to see Wendel at the bus stop, and we took the 15 minute train train ride together into the city to Sjors’ apartment.

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It was so good to see Wendel at the bus station!

Once we got off the train, our first task was to visit a bike rental shop. Everyone in Amsterdam gets around by bicycle, and there are more bikes than cars on the road it seems, so I would need this to get around for the weekend. We visited the shop, picked out a bike, and were shocked when the manager offered it to me for the weekend for free!! This saved me close to 25 euros! I was so excited and knew at that moment I would love Amsterdam and the people here.

We then walked to Sjors’ apartment with my bike, and then we continued on together to a nearby rooftop bar with a great view of the city. There were 3 of us and only 2 bikes, so I rode on the back of one while Wendel drove. Apparently, this is the real “Dutch way!”13619943_10207949812755699_6202679943874757891_n Here, we had Dutch beer and bitterballen, a Dutch delicacy. We then continued on to a nearby restaurant for dinner, and then to Rembrandt Square to watch France and Germany play in the Eurocup semifinals. Although the Netherlands were out, the atmosphere was still electric!! I cheered on France, one of my new favorite countries (allez les bleus!), and Wendel and I were excited when France won (Sjors was for Germany!)

The next morning, the three of us visited the Rijksmuseum, which is the national art museum of the Netherlands. I was very excited to see the Rembrandt collection here, but was also very impressed with their total collection of Dutch art, as well as the exhibits with ship models and instruments. I enjoyed learning about Jan Steen, a Dutch painter who often depicted everyday “peasant” life, including hilarious scenes (like a drunken couple or misbehaving children) in his work.

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The Milk Maid by Vermeer
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A self-portrait by Rembrandt
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A Jan Steen painting

13599813_10207949797755324_6924443745220603961_nAfter lunch (I had a traditional Dutch pancake!), Wendel left for her own trip to Milan, and Sjors and I rode our bikes to Oost Park, where we had a nice afternoon of reading, catching up, and napping. I am realizing how important it is to slow down during long-term traveling…it is so easy to burn out by trying to fit something into every minute.

The next morning, I visited the Van Gogh Museum, which houses the largest collection of Van Gogh art in the world, as well as hundreds of his personal letters. I was surprised to learn that he did the majority of his work in the last few years of his life, before he tragically committed suicide. Also, it seems that Van Gogh is often characterized as a crazy, emotional, reactionary artist who chopped off his own ear in a fit. While this did happen, I learned his approach to his art was actually very measured and calculated, and he was a diligent student of the craft. Sadly, his work was not recognized on a wide scale until 2 years after his 1890 suicide, and he is now one of the best loved artists of all times.

After my morning at the museum, I hopped on my bike with the intention of getting lost in Amsterdam, stopping at a few cafes along the way to write. I loved riding my bike around the city, and I really want to get one now when I move to Brooklyn in the fall! I then met up with Sjors to visit the Heineken Experience, which is a tour of the brewery complete with a full history of the company, demonstrations and tastings,video games and a Disneyworld-like ride where they “turn you into the beer” and brew you! Afterwards, we took a ferry across the North Sea channel to enjoy the skyline before biking home.13599910_10207949790635146_3658631312419820696_n

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13567380_10207945477407318_7632282861631892131_nThis morning, I ran a few errands and then struck out on my bike to explore the city a bit more. I enjoyed biking through the canals on my own instead of on an organized tour.13567498_10207949786835051_5640788401119301127_n I then headed back to Sjors’ place, where we watched the end of the Formula 1 race (I had no idea this sport really existed, but it’s huge here! I am learning new things everyday) I then packed my bags, had a nice homemade dinner with Sjors, and set off for the bus station to leave for Munich.

Amsterdam has been lovely, and my time here made me realize that people are what make traveling so special. I am so grateful to have friends like Wendel and Sjors, who met me at the bus station, took time to show me some of the amazing sites in their city, and made sure I made it to the bus station well-fed, well-rested, and on time. I can’t wait to show them the same hospitality when they visit NYC (or the southern USA for that matter, if I’m home!) Next stop…Munich!

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Trying to climb the “D” with Wendel’s help…it didn’t quite work out!
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