With the vacances d’avril (aka “Easter holidays”) just about to start this year, it’s time for me to recount my travels around this time last year, during my first year as an assistante in France. Similar to what I’d done during the vacances de Noël that year with the ambitious trip to the UK and Ireland, I hopped through many countries that April, sampling bits and pieces of the different countries I visited, but all the same feeling more satisfied with it all than before.
That said, I’m starting it off with the first destination that I visited during last year’s April vacances, in no other than the beautiful city of Amsterdam!
Filled with endless picturesque canals and a hipster-touristy kind of atmosphere, Amsterdam is a popular destination for many people, from families to college students who want to party hard over the weekends. The city had been high on my bucket list for quite some time, and I was excited to be starting off my holidays there.
As soon as my last class on Friday ended, I bused myself over to Paris where I would be taking an overnight bus to Amsterdam. The bus left around 23h55 and arrived around 6h30 at Sloterdijk station. Considering that the station was a bit out of the city and that it would take over an hour to reach my hostel (located in the center), I took the train, then the metro over.
I arrived at my hostel around 8h00; it was still too early to check in (normally, one can start doing so in the afternoon), but the staff was kind enough to let me drop off some of my belongings in the locker rentals. Mind you, I brought one of the two suitcases that I’d originally brought over from home back in September when I moved to France. The reason why I brought it with me to Amsterdam was that I would be meeting up with my parents later during les vacances, since they were coming to Europe to travel, as well as visit me. We thought it would be a good idea for me to give them one of my suitcases, filled with stuff that I accumulated throughout the year, so that when it came time for me to return home shortly after the vacances ended, I wouldn’t have to struggle with the suitcases to the airport. Smart planning, am I right?
Tangent aside, I dropped off my suitcase and proceeded to set off for the Anne Frank House, since that was the first thing that I’d planned to do on my itinerary. Considering that it’s notorious for its long lines (especially in April, during the start of peak season), I knew that I had to hustle if I wanted to avoid waiting for two, even three hours.
I arrived at the Anne Frank House around 8h30 and by then, there was already a noticeable line forming down and around the corner of the entrance. Kind of sucked, but all the same, I waited it out in the cold, finally entering the doors at 10h00. I paid about 9 euros, and although a bit pricey, it was worth the one-hour visit through the unassuming office building that once housed Anne Frank herself. We weren’t allowed photos inside, and considering that it’s such a sacred space during what was probably the most devastating periods in modern history, it made sense not to do so. Walking up the super-narrow steps and touring the now-barren rooms where the Frank family and their acquaintances lived, it was extremely touching, to say the very least. I admit, I teared up a bit passing through the photo exhibitions of children whom, like Anne Frank, were sent to concentration camps before eventually being gassed. It was a difficult visit, but an important one nonetheless.
After finishing up the tour of the Anne Frank House, I crossed the canal bridge just right outside and made my way to the Jordaan district, which is known for historically being a working-class neighborhood. Along the way, I came across a cheese shop; you might be surprised to know that the Dutch are quite known for their cheeses, so of course, I had to pop inside to sample the dozens of different ones. Basically ate my way through the shop, trying everything from the smoked Gouda to the truffle-infused wedges (the latter was to die for). It was around lunchtime when I visited, so the samples served as part of my meal!
I finally had to tear myself from the Dutch cheese to make it to the Jordaan district, where I lined up at Winkel 43, a famous pastry-cafe which is reputed to serve one of the best Dutch apple pies. Personally, I’m not a huge apple pie fan, but all the same I wanted to give it a try. I received my slice (accompanied by a generous dollop of whipped cream) and ate it at one of the booths inside the cafe. I have to say, the crust was thick and hearty, the apple filling was tender and well-spiced, and in its entirety, I could tell that it was made with love. ❤
Happily polished off my slice of Dutch apple pie, I headed back in the direction of the Anne Frank House, passing by it to check out the Westerkerk Church and the Homomonument, the latter commemorating the LGBTQ+ individuals who have been condemned, even punished for their sexuality. The monument is meant to symbolize the struggles of the community and as someone who identifies with it, I have say that it was a nice, albeit small, touch to the city.
I headed back towards the direction of my hostel before turning and going south of the city center. Passed by the Flower Market, which is essentially a *very crowded* street of open-air shops selling brightly-colored flowers. Tulip season was just about beginning, so of course I saw plenty of them in each stall!
Continuing south, I eventually arrived at the Rijksmuseum, the national museum of the Netherlands which houses tons of artwork from Dutch and international artists (including that of the country’s own Rembrandt). I would be visiting the museum the following day; what I was more interested in was the “I Amsterdam” sign located just outside of it. Granted, it’s such a touristy thing to do, but all the same, I wanted a photo with it. It was impossible to get a photo alone with it, though, since there were just so many tourists crowding in front, trying to get their photo in, too. Settled for what I could, though!
Near the Rijksmueum was the van Gogh museum, which greatly interested me since I’m a huge fan of Impressionist/post-Impressionist works, so I decided to visit it. I paid a hefty 17 euros to enter, and spent about an hour to 90 minutes going through all of van Gogh’s works, erratic and eccentric, but also terribly beautiful. I wish that the museum were larger, though, since I felt that the 17 euros wasn’t quite worth it, but I’m glad to have checked out the van Gogh museum anyway.
It was starting to get a bit late (well, 17h00, but I’d been up-and-about since 6h30 after an overnight bus, so I was quite tired), so I decided to head back to my hostel and call it a day. Along the way, I came across apparently one of the best Dutch fries shop in Amsterdam, called Vlaams Friteshuis Vleminckx. For about 2,50 euros, I got medium-sized fries with curry sauce and onions, and I would have to say that they were some of the best fries I’ve ever had! Crispy, firey, and just plain goodness.
Before making my way back to the hostel, I took a quick gander through the Red Light District, with its bright, neon-light signs and girls in bikinis teasing passerby behind window screens. I had expectations that it would be a “scandalous” district, but in the end, it proved underwhelming. It felt too touristy, and I wasn’t so impressed with it. At least I can say that I’ve been there!
Finally made it back to my hostel, where I knocked back a couple of drinks at the bar before heading to my room to turn in for the night. Unfortunately, there was a group of British girls there, who were pre-gaming to go out for the night and were being quite loud. It wasn’t too bad, though, as they left shortly afterwards and I was finally able to sleep in peace, after a long day of traveling and exploring the city.
More on Amsterdam to come soon! Stay tuned.