There are 6 things you need to know about Amsterdam.
1. Marijuana is everywhere and anywhere.
Yes, weed is legal. There’s a coffeeshop pretty much on every street. And no, they don’t sell coffee there. Just “coffee.” And as someone who absolutely loves actual coffee, it was a hard thing to take. Souvenir shops sell cannabis tea and candy, rolling paper, and colorful glass pipes. You can buy weed and smoke it in the coffeeshop, but pretty much anywhere in Amsterdam is free game.
Want to smoke on the canals? Sure. In the park? Why not. Outside the train station? Who’s stopping you?
No one. That’s who.
2. What? You saw a hooker?
Prostitution is also very legal.
My friend and I decided to take a quick tour of the Red Light District during the day, which is indicated by the red porch lights on every building. It wasn’t very busy around 12 pm, which was expected. But it was still very interesting.
A lot of the walk went like “Oh, that mannequin in the window is really realistic. Do you think that’s a real person? No, it can’t be. Oh my, she moved. Don’t make eye contact, please don’t make eye contact.”
It’s really weird. Really, really weird.
It’s sex shops and brothels galore. We ended up taking what looked like quaint little streets until we saw the red lights more than once. I would make eye contact before I realized they were hookers every time. We did end up finding an infamous condom shop during our walk. Truthfully, their display of hand painted condoms is a more impressive than the inside.
Amsterdam even has its own sex museum and it’s only 4 euros for one admission ticket. I’ll admit I was more interested in budgeting my money towards seeing Van Gogh’s paintings, so I can’t tell you much about that.
3. Amsterdam is one of the safest cities in the world.
As a young woman traveling, safety is one of my top priorities. If I don’t feel safe, I leave, even if I’m just overreacting. I tell my friends I’m the reverse of a vampire; whenever the sun sets, I go indoors. I didn’t feel the same way in Amsterdam.
My friend and I stayed out until midnight most nights and I never once felt unsafe. Sure, I was still watching, but it was sadly revealing to be in a city I didn’t have to be frightened of. We took the metro, trains, and just walked the alleyways. Either everyone was in the Red Lights District or too high to care, whatever, I didn’t mind. It was great.
4. Dutch is so freakin’ cool.
First it sounds like German, then English, and then gibberish. What is this wonderful language?! As a foreigner, I’ve heard this is one of the hardest languages to learn as a second language. But I’d love to learn it. I got approached more times in Dutch than in English. I’ll take that as a compliment.
5. Unless you want your death to be by bike, watch where you’re going.
I almost got ran over by a bus once (the intersections are kinda confusing, in my defense) but being hit by a bike is actually very real. There are so many bikes. I don’t actually think I’ve seen so many bikes in one place. They have their own road system. And pedestrians do NOT have the right away. Just remember that.
6. There’s so much more to Amsterdam than sex and drugs.
If nature is your thing, Amsterdam has many beautiful parks to choose from. Visit Vondelpark in the museum district or even take the free ferry from Centraal Amsterdam to Noord. Rent bikes or just stroll through the streets. None of the houses are straight, so don’t feel bad if your pictures seem crooked.
We saw the Anne Frank House and Van Gogh Museum on Day 1. We didn’t have much time to do anything else truly. Yes, you can buy both of these tickets in advance. If you are know you are headed to Amsterdam in enough time, it’s actually the better way to go.
Heads up! The Starry Night, Van Gogh’s most famous painting, is actually in New York City. But you can see over 300 other painting, sketches, and letters to his brother Theo, including the other famous painting, Sunflowers. Tickets are 17 euros for adults, with no student discounts. We ended up going around 8pm, after the Anne Frank House, and didn’t have to wait at all.
The other main tourist attraction is the Anne Frank House, which is usually sold out a few weeks, maybe even a month, in advance. I found this out the hard way when I went to buy tickets 2 weeks before my trip. Nope, sold out. But don’t lose all hope. The tickets only go until around 3 pm. After that, anyone can by tickets at the door at 15:30 for 9 euros.
Be prepared to wait.
I knew the Anne Frank House was the one thing I had to see, so I was ready to stand in line for a while. Around 2 hours to be exact. Kind of like waiting for a roller coaster. (We actually ended up behind two American girls. Small world.) The tour itself takes around an hour. First, you walk through the warehouse that was next door, which houses pictures, videos, and mementos of the families. Then there is a glass floor that shows you the exact staircase the Frank family climbed to go into hiding. Finally, you walk through their hiding place.
It was amazing. I don’t know how else to describe it.
I feel so much empathy, so much connection, to this girl who was no more than 15 when she wrote, but so much wiser than her age. I first read her diary in middle school, around 7th grade. Seeing her original writing, her journals, her edits, was absolutely stunning. I walked through her home of two years, her Secret Annex. I saw her bedroom, the kitchen, the stairs she climbed to see Peter in the attic. In her parent’s room, pencil markings guarded by glass still preserve her and Margot’s heights over those 2 years in hiding. Her father’s Charles Dicken’s book is above where his bed would have been. Remnants of the original pictures she plastered onto the walls are still there. The Monopoly game Peter got for Christmas is too pristine. Even a grocery list written by his mother is still there. Her journals are displayed after the descent from her hiding place. Pages upon pages of her edits are displayed. I saw that checkered journal with the meticulous handwriting. It was so small, but held so much.
The windows are blacked out and the rooms were left empty. Even though the rooms themselves are relatively large, it’s difficult to imagine the eight people who lived with her and her family in secret. In a place so big, it’s still hard not to feel claustrophobic. The attic, unlike how it is perceived in The Fault In Our Stars, is off limits. But you can still catch a glimpse of it through the glass mirror and imagine Peter sleeping on that tiny cot, his unused bicycle hanging from the ceiling, collecting dust.
Photographs were forbidden throughout the entire museum. I wish I had photos to share, but photo’s wouldn’t do it any justice. Walking through the bookcase that hid the doorway, walking up the narrow staircase they had to use every day to the kitchen, it’s just . . . even as a writer, words can’t describe exactly what I was feeling. But, I guess, if I had to put it . . .loss, hopelessness, but surprisingly, even hope.
“I want to be remembered, even after my death.”
These words, written by Anne Frank herself, are shown at least 3 times throughout the museum. She intended to write. She wanted to be a journalist. She wrote original short stories and essays. She had a reason, and she believed in that reason, so much so that the red pen markings of her edits are only constant reminders of how her dreams were cut short by a genocide she couldn’t control. Red pen markings don’t represent end. They represent change.
At the end of the museum, there is a book you can write in. Even after it all, I said, you did it.
Even after it all, even after the arrest, the terror, the war, her death, she was remembered.
And no one will ever forget you.