Monday, October 5, 2015


Despite the history and literary lustre of London, Amsterdam was the highlight of this trip for me. Perhaps it was because I got to adventure a little bit on my own during this portion of our vacation, while Paul attending a two day conference (the entire reason for our trip in the first place.)  Our hotel was quite a distance from the city of Amsterdam, in Noordwijk, a beach town on the coast.  Therefore I had to take the city bus to Leiden, a larger city, and then take the train to Amsterdam.  I don't mean to sound like a diva, but I personally have never had to take a city bus by myself.  Anywhere.  Much less in an unfamiliar European country.  Other big cities I've visited I've been with someone who knew the ropes and was with me.  I've never lived in a city where it was the norm to commute that way, and have always had a vehicle to get places.  So this was all new to me!  A bit scary - and awesome.

So both days that I had to myself went a little like this.  Get up slowly (a luxury I rarely never get) then head to the hotel gym for a workout, shower and get ready in a leisurely fashion, then muster up the courage to go out into the unknown - on my own.  Obviously, the first day was the most daunting.  You should have seen me trying to look like a local at the bus stop.  Inwardly I was geeking over the whole concept.  "I don't have to deal with traffic!  I can read my book while I get where I am going!  I can enjoy the scenery!  Look!  They have cool screens to tell me exactly when the bus will get here!"  Yes, ridiculous, but I was really pumped.  Then I got on the bus and almost shouted to the driver with joy, "I need a ticket to Leiden Centraal!" He humored me by not outwardly rolling his eyes, and helping me find the correct amount of Euros in my palm.

My first bus experience was good - meaning uneventful.  Got to Leiden and went to a coffee shop for sustenance, since I had been too nervous to eat any breakfast.  Then it was off to buy my train ticket, and after determining I was not tech savvy enough to work the electronic ticket kiosk (actually, a helpful local told me I'd be better off finding the info booth and buying it there - doh) I got the ticket and headed to my platform.  To make sure it was perfectly obvious I was a tourist I took a "train station selfie" :
adventuring solo - train platform selfie with coffee
When I arrived at Amsterdam central station and headed out of the train station it was love at first sight.  I don't know exactly what it was, but I think there are some places you just know you are going to have a connection with.  The bicycles (I don't ride a bike) and the fragrant aroma of marijuana (I've never smoked it) overtook me in quite a positive way.  Kind of made me want a cute old bicycle to ride around on and partake in some weed!

I did neither 'quintessential Amsterdam' activity, but enjoyed walking all around the city all the same.  I stopped and shopped wherever I wanted to.  Spent an hour in a bookstore.  Walked through the Tulip Museum.  Walked past the two-hour long line at the Anne Frank house and decided to pass on that.  Enjoyed the artsy vibe on Spui Straat.
I found this city so interesting.  Chic, a bit gothic, edgy, pretty, clean, fun! 
just one of the many shopping areas - teeming with tourists and 'coffee shops' - which I learned means 'places to smoke weed' 
a massive array of bicycles greets you outside the train station
  Love the buildings here!  
pretty canals.
geeked over all the brick herringbone streets. 
old gothic church.
I didn't really care to do my hair that day, so...hello forehead!  
The second day on my own went pretty much like the first.  Except after getting ready I walked down by the sea for a while, despite the wind and the drizzle.  None of my crazy selfies turned out, as trying to hold an umbrella in the wind while taking a selfie is a recipe for disaster, but I love the shots I got of the other brave souls on the beach, dogs and a their people.
our hotel by the sea, where hubby's training was held. so imposing in this shot!
I went walking by the "Zuider Zee" as one of our children's books refers to it.  I wasn't the only one!  Dogs and other folks with umbrellas.
yes, I obviously filtered these.  but the pinkish glow captures the feel of the morning.
After walking along the shore a bit and collecting some shells for the kiddos, I headed to the bus stop for day two of Amsterdam adventuring.  Somehow I managed to miss my bus, so I ran to the next one and actually stood in the correct place.  This started off a much less smooth day of public transit - I missed my bus, took the wrong train once, sat in first class accidentally and got booted back to second, etc, etc.  Literally, I made any mistake that can be made, but only because I felt more comfortable and spent more of my time reading my book than paying attention.  So since I had no real agenda and had already walked Amsterdam I wasn't too stressed!  

That night at dinner, when Hubby was finally done with his conference, we went to a little Mexican by the beach and recapped our very different experiences over beer and margaritas.  We ate inside, away from the cold and drizzle, with the heaters...but it sorta gave us a reminder of Mexico!

Morning had us packed up sharing a car into the city with one of Hubby's co-horts at the conference.  After two days on the bus, I have to say that a car suddenly seemed like a luxury.  We enjoyed the first sunny day we had on our trip, whirling past tulip fields and windmills.

After dropping off our bags at our hotel near the airport, we rode the train to Amsterdam and got to have a full day together seeing everything...which, independent as I am, is just more fun.  We didn't really "do" much, just walked around, stopped for beers when thirsty at cafes by the canals, soaking in the sunshine, fresh air, and vibe of the city.  
I decided to go with an "authentic Dutch lunch" - ummmm...whatever this was, it was not my favorite.  Inside this fried thing was what I can only describe as "weird pudding with meat chunks in it."  This trip was not a "foodie dream" but at least we drank plenty of delicious beer. :)
the goat cheese salad was good, though!

adventuring solo was exciting, but adventuring with hubby is most fun of all.
The highlight of that day, and perhaps the whole trip, was walking through the Van Gogh Museum.  I am one of those people who could not paint a decent painting to save my life, but have always loved art.  Like so many, I've felt a deep connection with van Gogh's iconic paintings and bold, unique brushstroke style since taking art history, art writing and various other humanities courses in college, and having prints of his famous images all over my apartments during my single days.  I have connected with his work in that his story involves his struggle with depression, which I can intimately relate to, and find so beautifully and hauntingly captured in his work.

Seeing his masterpiece 'Sunflowers' up close and personal was beyond moving.  Obviously I highly recommend going through this museum if ever in Amsterdam!

Anyway, we bought some (cheap) art in the museum district to remember the day by, and then, feet aching, headed to find a cafe for dinner.  It just so happened my dinner came with potatoes, which I found really nerdy-cool after viewing van Gogh's collection.  Also ironic because we are pretty much the opposite of "the potato eaters."

Early the next morning we headed home to the US, to our babies, and some warmth and sunshine...all of which I couldn't help feeling deeply grateful for.

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Soooo...have you been one place this year that you've never been before?   Where would you go if you could choose any one place in the world to take a trip?