Random Europe Thoughts

Alternatively titled, “All the Things That Somehow Didn’t Fit Into Daily Recaps.”

1. I was (pleasantly) surprised by how friendly the Euro to U.S. Dollar conversion rate was while we were in Europe. One Euro was worth about $1.12 or $1.13, which was much nicer than the British Pound to U.S. Dollar conversion rate (closer to one pound equaling roughly $1.30). Based on that, I’m glad we opted to spend most of our time in Euro-using countries!

2. I reconfigured my budget after we got home to eliminate my Europe Trip line item, and it made me really sad. I’ve been saving for this trip pretty much since I started working “real” jobs, and it’s weird to not have to save for it anymore. I’m tempted to keep putting my usual amount per paycheck into my Europe fund even though I don’t have one in mind right now, because I really, really want there to be a next time. Though that money could go to better use over the next few months, as I have some gigantic, much less exciting expenses coming up.

3. We stayed in four hotels in two different countries, and not a single one of those hotels had 1) washcloths or 2) clocks in the room. Not having a clock wasn’t the end of the world, since my Fitbit and phone were more than capable of quickly telling me the time, but not having washcloths drove me nuts! How was I supposed to shower?! I already feel like I’m slumming it in hotels when I use washcloths (I use a loofah at home), but to not have anything made me long for American hotels and their washcloths.

4. I was way too pampered on those transatlantic flights. Both trips were on 757s, and apparently spending 15.5ish hours on a 757 (between the flight to London and the flight home from Amsterdam) was enough for me to get used to that kind of space, because when I traveled this past weekend via 737s, I was like, “What IS this poor excuse for an airplane?!?” Ha. I flew economy both ways on the Europe trip, but the economy cabin was set up in a 2-3-2 configuration, so if you weren’t in that middle aisle, you either had a window or an aisle seat: no middle seats. I was all about that 2-3-2 arrangement! I was legitimately surprised when I got up to go to the bathroom during the flight at 1) how short of a walk it was to the back of the plane and 2) how few bathrooms there were. I cannot believe how much two flights on a 757 skewed my size expectations!

I was also all about all of that food service. On both flights, us peons in economy got one hot meal, dessert after said hot meal (lemon sorbet on the way to London, honey ginger ice cream (it was…weird) on the way home), a pretty generous snack 90 minutes or so before arrival (croissant and yogurt on the way there, a sandwich and pathetic stroopwafel on the way home – though obviously any pre-packaged, refrigerated stroopwafel was going to be pathetic after the fresh-off-the-griddle ones I was treated to in Nederland), plus the mid-flight drinks/little snacks you get on your run-of-the-mill domestic flight. I suppose we didn’t get that much attention during the middle of the flights, but overall, it felt like the flight attendants came by a lot more often than I’m used to. So when I flew domestically this past weekend and it took like an hour and a half to get my usual in-flight Sprite, I was, once again, all, “What IS this poor excuse for in-flight service?!?” Get over yourself, Bethany.

5. While in England, I got a very unexpected text from…my brother? Sister? Someone in my family…that we had upgraded our family cellular plan to unlimited data (this, after years of fighting over our 15 gigs spread out among five people!), and got a six-month trial of Apple Music as a result. I had no idea why this was happening (I have since discovered it was due to my brother’s bonkers use of data), but I was happy to give Apple Music a try, so I signed up after I got home.

In poking around Apple Music, I discovered that they have Top 100 radio stations from just about any country you can think of, including Nederland! I don’t need to listen to the Top 100 songs in the U.S. on my phone–I can get those just by walking into my office building’s lobby, which pipes in pop music every day–but I certainly don’t have routine access to popular music in the Netherlands, so I gave it a listen. A lot of the music is the same stuff you’d hear on the radio here: not a surprise, since plenty of songs I knew came up on the radio when we were driving around in our rental car. But there were also, of course, some songs in Dutch, which really didn’t do anything to alleviate my newfound and ongoing desire to be Dutch (in more than just heritage), but I really enjoyed listening to! This is my current favorite:

I…have like no idea what most of it means, though there’s an English translation in the comments that I assume is accurate.

Listening to Top 100: Nederland regularly also enabled me to correctly answer the question about the winner of Eurovision in the New York Times weekly news quiz a couple of weeks ago (it wanted to know where Duncan Laurence was from. I knew it was the Netherlands, because the song he apparently won Eurovision with what has been the top song for a few weeks now.), and when I correctly answered it, only 39 percent of respondents had gotten it right, so *hair flip*

 

Europe Trip Days 10 (Part II) and 11: Amsterdam

You can find all my Europe Trip posts here.

Picking up where I left off…

We exited the begijnhof into the Spui:

amsterdam-spui

and walked from there to P.C.J. Hajenius, a tobacco shop. I don’t smoke, nor do I have any interest in smoking, but Rick Steves assured us that one does not have to smoke to appreciate P.C.J. Hajenius, and he was right. The store’s interior is reminiscent of those from the 1910s, and being inside felt like stepping back in time. It was worth the detour to see!

A little down the road was the Munttoren, or mint tower:

amsterdam-munttoren

and just beyond that was my favorite part of our Amsterdam walking tour: the bloemenmarkt, or flower market.

amsterdam-bloemenmarkt

The bloemenmarkt is made up of stalls floating in the Singel canal. At these stalls, you can buy all sorts of flower-related things: bulbs, garden decorations, etc. I really enjoyed wandering through the different stalls and seeing everything they had to offer. I bought a couple tulip bulbs for my mom and grandma, though who knows if they’ll ever grow into anything. If they don’t, I only spent about a euro each on them, so it won’t be the end of the world. We also popped into a souvenir shop on the other side of the road from the bloemenmarkt where someone was making fresh stroopwafels, so we got one of those as well, obviously 🙂

We walked through the koningsplein to get to Leidsestraat and Leidseplein, and from there returned to our hotel to relax for a moment until it was time for our final activity of Day 10: the Anne Frank House.

amsterdam-annefrankhouseexterior

(Taken from loading onto the canal tour boat the next day. The Anne Frank House is the one on the center right, without the shutters.)

I don’t remember ever reading The Diary of Anne Frank (so I assume I haven’t – it seems like a book you wouldn’t forget you’ve read), but going to the Anne Frank House seemed like one of those things you’re Supposed to Do when in Amsterdam, so we got tickets as soon as they became available two months before we planned to visit (which was actually a little trickier than you might expect, given that we visited on April 29, and two months before April 29 is February 29! In case you ever plan to visit on April 29 on a non-leap year, April 29 tickets are on sale on February 28.).

We added a 30-minute pre-tour talk onto our visit as well, which was 100 percent worth it, particularly if you haven’t read the book. The “30 minute” talk lasted close to an hour and covered both the people who lived and worked in the building (before, during, and after World War II) as well as world events happening at that time. As I continually realized during this trip, my knowledge of European history aside from the most basic, basic facts is embarrassingly nonexistent (particularly for someone who fancies herself a history buff), so even though I was aware of why Hitler rose to power and the consequences of that, I didn’t realize, for example, that the Frank family moved to the Netherlands from Germany because the Netherlands was neutral in World War I. Since I haven’t read The Diary of Anne Frank (yet – it’s definitely on my To Read list now), I also didn’t know anything about the other people who lived in the house–honestly, I’m not sure I even knew there were other people living in the house–so I learned a ton during the talk and am really glad we decided to add that on.

After the talk, we began our tour of the house. Otto Frank, Anne’s father, wanted the house left empty after it was turned into a museum, so there’s no furniture in any of the rooms. That doesn’t make the experience any less powerful, however. An audio tour guided us through all the spaces other than the areas where the family actually lived while in hiding. For that, you only had plaques on the walls to read.

I don’t think I can accurately put into words how powerful it was to visit the Anne Frank House, particularly the annex in the back where she and the other families lived for two years. World War II in general felt much more real and recent in Europe than it’s ever felt to me before, but being in the actual rooms where the Frank family lived, seeing the actual pictures Anne hung on the wall of her room and the actual lines Otto and Edith drew on the walls to track the growth of Margot and Anne really drove home the point that these aren’t made-up characters in a fictional book: they were all very real people with very real lives who experienced very real trauma and death. It was quite moving, and I think visiting should be a high priority for anyone spending time in Amsterdam.

We got dinner at Georgio’s Cafe, and then went to bed to rest up for our last day of the trip.

The last day of the trip was a bit more low-key than the others (not that that would take much, ha) and mostly involved eating, which is not the worst way to spend your last day of vacation in my opinion. We had breakfast at the hotel, and then left to go get cookies (at 10 a.m. 😛 ) from Van Stapele Koekmakerij. I have a friend who went to Amsterdam a few years ago, and when she posted about it on Facebook, someone recommended–nay, insisted–that she go to Van Stapele Koekmakerij while there. I made a note of it at the time and figured with such glowing reviews that I should go as well, and boy, was it worth it! It was one of the richest, most delicious cookies I’ve ever had.

amsterdam-boat

Big fan of the name of this boat, spotted on our walk to get cookies 😀

We wandered through the Nine Little Streets shopping district again before settling on Toos & Roos for lunch, and then walked over to the Anne Frank House again to board our canal cruise through Flagship Amsterdam. There are plenty of canal cruise companies in Amsterdam, and this was the only one I tried, so I can’t really compare it to others. It felt very casual: a Chicago River architecture tour this was not. Sometimes our guides would point out highlights along the canals, but other times we’d just float on in relative quiet. The guides were all very friendly, and just based on how other boats looked, I’d imagine we had a more intimate tour than you might get with a bigger company (but I don’t really know, since I haven’t been on any other tours). Regardless, I really enjoyed the cruise (and the blankets on the boat, as I, in a fit of optimism, left my fleece back in the U.S. and only brought a light sweatshirt and rain jacket with me to Europe. That was a bad call.). One thing I especially liked is that we all went around the boat before we launched saying where we were from, and every group was from a different place! There was people from England, from Wales, from Germany, and from Switzerland on our boat (plus us, from the U.S.). I thought that was really cool 🙂

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amsterdam-canaltour2

amsterdam-canaltour3

One thing I was VERY curious about was the hooks I noticed at the top of seemingly every building in Amsterdam. I spent most of Monday wondering what they were about and hoping we’d find out on our canal tour, and we did! Many of the buildings along the canals were once warehouses. In Amsterdam, buildings were taxed based on their width, so many are as narrow as they can be. They build up rather than out, and consequently, staircases in buildings in Amsterdam are extremely narrow and steep (why would you waste what little width you have on a wide staircase?), as I noticed immediately in our hotel, and in the Anne Frank House as well. In both instances, the staircases were just this side of basically being a ladder. Those steep staircases are not conducive to moving anything other than humans (though I would argue they’re barely conducive to doing that), so instead of using stairs to move goods in and out of warehouses, people would rig a pulley up with the hooks in those pictures and use that pulley to hoist the goods up to a window, where they would be pulled in. While these buildings are mostly residences now, according to our canal guides, people still use these hooks and pulleys for moving in and out of houses–there’s no chance you’re going to get a piano up any of those stairs, for instance. This is also why most of the buildings are intentionally built to lean forward: to prevent goods being hoisted from hitting and breaking your windows/house. I thought that was super interesting!

After our hour-long canal tour ended, we walked to the Rijksmuseum, which, as I learned on our boat tour, was no longer home to the famous I amsterdam sign you’ve undoubtedly seen in pictures from anyone who’s visited Amsterdam since it was installed in 2004. It was removed in December of last year, which was a huge bummer to learn, because how was I supposed to post an I amsterdam picture on Facebook if the sign wasn’t there anymore?!?!?! WHY EVEN BOTHER GOING?! (I’m kidding, obviously. I was slightly disappointed, but it was far from being the biggest disappointment of the trip (that was not buying cheese in Gouda), and I got over it pretty quickly.)

amsterdam-rijksmuseum

Though the Rijksmuseum no longer hosts an I amsterdam sign, it does still house oodles of artwork from Dutch masters. I’ll be honest with you guys: I know even less about art than I know about European history, and that makes the experience of visiting an art museum something that is mostly wasted on me. I don’t “get it” and therefore don’t appreciate it as much as I’m suspect I’m supposed to. Like, I could not comprehend why everyone is so into Vermeer’s The Milkmaid, when there were plenty of other Vermeer paintings right next to The Milkmaid that looked just as good to me as The Milkmaid did. I’m sure there’s a reason why The Milkmaid is so important, but I don’t know it or understand it, so instead of appreciating The Milkmaid, I was mostly just annoyed at how hard it was to see this painting I was supposed to be very interested in seeing because…the museum told me I was supposed to be interested in seeing it?

Anyway, the point of all that is to say that I’m neither educated nor interested in art in general enough to fully appreciate something like the Rijksmuseum. If I were to go back to Amsterdam, I’d rather go to the Van Gogh Museum, because I actually am interested in Van Gogh and his paintings. If you’re more cultured than I am, you’ll probably enjoy the Rijksmuseum a lot more than I did. We did go to the special exhibit, All the Rembrandts, featuring a ton of Rembrandt’s work. That was cool to see.

We got dinner at Heinekenhoek after the Rijksmuseum, where I had my first and only Heineken of the trip. We had seen bitterballen on menus all over the country, so we decided to try those at dinner that night, and I will say that’s the one Dutch food I definitely don’t need to have again. I’d seen them translated on menus as meatballs, and that’s accurate, in the sense that it was meat in a spherical shape, but they were NOT at ALL like the meatballs I’m used to. The best way I can describe them is “deep fried warm meat pudding,” and if you think that sounds unappetizing, you are correct! You can find a recipe here for a better description of what they’re like from a person who enjoys them, but they were 100 percent not my cup of tea. (That being said, I’ll happily eat pickled herring, another Dutch food that skeeves some people (i.e.: my travel buddy) out. Everyone has their own tastes!)

And that’s that! Eleven days of European travel. While it felt like a once-in-a-lifetime trip, I very much hope it wasn’t. I’ve been back in the U.S. for almost a full month now, and I still wish every day that I could be back in Europe. I only saw a very small slice of the continent, but I absolutely fell in love and sincerely hope that I’ll have the chance to go back some day.

amsterdam-bike

AMSTERDAM SUMMARY

Accommodations

Food

Sights Seen

  • Nine Little Streets shopping district
  • Amsterdam Centraal
  • Damrak
  • Beurs van Berlage
  • Dam Square
  • Royal Palace
  • Nieuwe Kerk
  • Kalverstraat
  • De Papegaai
  • Amsterdam Museum
  • Amsterdam Gallery
  • Begijnhof
  • English Reformed Church
  • Spui
  • P.C.J. Hajenius
  • Munttoren
  • Bloemenmarkt
  • Koningsplein
  • Leidsestraat
  • Leidesplein
  • Anne Frank House
  • Canal tour (Flagship Amsterdam)
  • Rijksmuseum

 

 

Europe Trip Day 10 (Part I): Amsterdam

You can find all my Europe Trip posts here.

The final stop of our Europe Trip was Amsterdam. I was a little nervous about how I’d feel about the city. I have a friend who went last year and didn’t like it at all, so I had low expectations.

Spoiler: to my great delight, I LOVED Amsterdam from the moment we got off the train.

We took a tram from Amsterdam Centraal to the Leidseplein area and walked the rest of the way to Hotel D’Amsterdam, where we stayed for our three nights in the city. It was definitely the most European of the hotels we stayed in during this trip, with the steepest, narrowest staircase I’ve ever climbed and a bathroom small enough that I could stand in the middle and touch both walls at the same time. Novotel Brainpark this was not! But it got the job done.

We went to Thrill Grill, a burger place a couple blocks away from the hotel, for dinner Sunday night. Our waiter asked where we were from, which made me wonder: do all English speakers sound the same to non-native English speakers? Personally, I have a really hard time distinguishing between any non-American English accents. British, South African, Australian: they all sound close enough to the same to me that I can’t tell the difference. I thought it was obvious that we were from the U.S. based on our English, but maybe if English isn’t your first language, all the accents sound the same? Anyway, we told him we were from the U.S., and he wanted to know if we liked their burgers better than the ones back home. We did (truly. We didn’t say that just to be nice.), and he was shocked! Perhaps he was unaware of the superiority of Dutch cheese to U.S. cheese, and how that instantly makes a cheeseburger 10 times better.

The next day (Day 10 of the trip) was our first full day in Amsterdam, and we kicked it off with a two-ish mile run to/in Vondelpark. It was really pretty and perfectly suited for running, though, this being the Netherlands, you had to be much more prepared for bike encounters than you need to be in the U.S. We refueled with breakfast at the hotel, cleaned up, and then walked through the Nine Little Streets shopping district en route to Amsterdam Centraal to undertake our last Rick Steves walking tour of the trip.

amsterdam-amsterdamcentraal

The walk started at Amsterdam Centraal and continued down the Damrak. The Damrak is one of the main ways into the city from the train station, so it’s filled with things that appeal to tourists: restaurants, souvenir shops, and the like. We hadn’t done much souvenir shopping up to that point on the trip, aside from Delft, so we stopped in several stores to see what we could find. At first, I was all, “Souvenirs are for chumps! Who needs chintzy Dutch tchotchkes?” and very soon after I was like, “*I* need all the chintzy Dutch tchotchkes!!!!” and ended up with a bunch of things that will likely collect dust on a shelf. But will also remind me of my trip! So, worth it!

Anyway, as we walked down the Damrak we passed the Beurs van Berlage, the former stock exchange building:

amsterdam-beurs

and ended up in Dam Square, probably the most prominent square in the city. The Royal Palace presides over the square. We decided to pay the entrance fee to see it, and holy cow, WORTH IT. It was stunning.

amsterdam-royalpalace

The Royal Palace has served multiple purposes since its construction in the mid-1600s, but today is an active palace, hosting state functions and other official events. When no one is using the palace for such activities, though, you can pay 10 Euro to see it.

amsterdam-royalpalaceinterior1

A really great audio tour was included with the price of admission. I learned a lot about the building, its construction, and its history. The whole building was just so beautiful, and the artwork (the sculptures in particular) were out of control.

amsterdam-royalpalaceinterior2

amsterdam-royalpalaceinterior3

We spent way longer at the Royal Palace than we intended and were starving by the time we finished walking around, so we went across the square to de Bijenkorf Kitchen for lunch. de Bijenkorf is a fancy department store, and the top floor is a cafeteria-style restaurant (the Kitchen). The whole experience reminded me a lot of Seven on State at Macy’s on State Street, though based on the designer names I saw on the way up to the Kitchen, I think de Bijenkorf is more along the lines of Barneys than Macy’s in terms of fanciness.

After eating, we tried to follow Rick Steves’ sneaky way of seeing the Nieuwe Kerk without paying the entrance fee (enter through the gift shop and go up a flight of stairs), but clearly the gift shop had caught on that people were doing this, and the flight of stairs was blocked. The Nieuwe Kerk is primarily used as an exhibition space these days–it isn’t used as a church at all, and even if it were, it wouldn’t be all that interesting to see (in my opinion) from a pretty-interiors-of-churches standpoint because it’s been a Dutch Reformed church since the 1500s–and I wasn’t interested in seeing the art exhibit they had on while we were there. So we saw the gift shop and then continued on our walking tour.

The next part of the tour took us down Kalverstraat, a big shopping street. On that street, we saw De Papegaai (officially, The Church of Sts. Peter and Paul). It’s also known as the Hidden Church, because that’s exactly what it originally was: hidden. The ever-tolerant Dutch didn’t outlaw Roman Catholicism after the Reformation, but they didn’t want to see it. If Catholics wanted to worship in their normal style, they couldn’t do it publicly, hence why this church was hidden.

After stopping in De Papegaai, we continued walking down Kalverstraat to the Amsterdam Museum. The museum is housed in a building that started off as a monastery and became an orphanage that operated from 1580-1960 (!). We didn’t go into the museum, but you can access the courtyard outside the entrance for free. Here, they still display the cupboards children living in the orphanage used to store their things, which was really interesting to see.

amsterdam-amsterdammuseum

You can also walk through the Amsterdam Gallery for free, so we did that.

Exiting out the other side of the gallery brought us to the begijnhof, a word you may recognize from my Brugge post. Since I didn’t explain what a begijnhof is then, I’ll do it now! Begijnhofs were dwelling places for religious lay (i.e.: non-clergy) women who lived a lifestyle similar to that of a nun, but weren’t actually nuns. All the houses face a center courtyard, like the hofjes in Leiden (though this was much bigger than the hofjes we saw there).

While the begijnhof itself was interesting, I was much more interested in the English Reformed Church inside it.

amsterdam-englishreformedchurch

The church, originally built to serve as a chapel for the begjinhof, was taken away from the Beguines (the women who lived there) after the Reformation and given to English-speaking Protestants. Some of those English-speaking Protestants eventually moved to Leiden, and eventually became the Pilgrims. That alone was interesting to me, but things got even more interesting as we wandered around the sanctuary and found a plaque on the wall.

amsterdam-englishreformedchurchplaquechicago

City of Chicago! That’s not something I expected to see in Amsterdam!

Apparently the Chicago Congregational Club gave this plaque to the church in the 1900s in honor of the Pilgrims (the Congregational church traced its lineage back to the Pilgrims, hence their interest). I thought that was so cool!

Since this post is already plenty long, I’ll leave it at this for today and wrap up Amsterdam later this week 🙂