Another trip is on the books! I’m writing this post as I fly back home. The past 10 days have been a whirlwind. Easy and challenging. Rushed and leisurely. It was the perfect blend of a trip. But let’s start at the beginning….
Getting to Seattle was tough. I booked my trip out of Seattle because it saved me $400! Even when I factored in gas and long term parking, it still saved $300. I thought it would definitely be worth it. What’s a quick 2.5 hour drive to Seattle?
My flight from Seattle to Reykjavík to Amsterdam departed at 3pm on Saturday. I woke up and went to an OrangeTheory fitness class at 7:30am (if you aren’t familiar, just imagine 30 yuppie women running 9mph on treadmills while club music plays on full blast in a dark room!) I really pushed myself in class, knowing I wouldn’t have the opportunity to work out for a full week.
Little did I know, pushing myself in that workout would make the drive to Seattle miserable! My arm muscles ached so much and I just wanted to relax them, but I had to keep gripping the steering wheel! The weather was foggy, rainy, and dismal. It made visibility almost impossible. I spent the entire 2.5 hour drive white knuckling the steering wheel and struggling to see the painted lines on the highway.
I made it to the airport and to my gate. I didn’t get to use my TSA Precheck since Icelandair doesn’t participate in it. I didn’t know it was an optional thing! I managed to fit everything into my tiny Swedish backpack. No need for checked bags! I HATE checking bags. It is so time consuming and, unless you’re traveling for more than 14 days, you don’t need that much stuff! For my personal item, I brought a little tote bag that I found in my car. There is a simple but true statement printed on it: “May you always have the confidence of a mediocre white man.”
It made me the most popular person in the airport. Everyone from TSA agents to flight attendants to fellow passengers complimented me on it.
Once I was at my gate, I spent the down time journaling and eating roasted veggies out of a plastic baggie. I brought along a tiny Moleskine journal to record my thoughts on the trip. Best idea ever! I typically don’t journal, but it’s very helpful since I tend to forget little details more often these days.
I got lucky and had my entire row to myself! It was a 6 hour flight to Rekjavik, but I couldn’t sleep. I was too excited! I watched a few movies and read a bit of my book. Icelandair was very nicely equipped with TVs and charging ports for each seat, however, there was no free food! Not even snacks! Everything had to be paid for. Have you ever heard of that on a transatlantic flight? Crazy!
By the time I arrived in Reykjavik, I was starving. It was 9pm Portland time and I had only eaten some eggs for breakfast plus a few protein bars I packed. I try to eat Paleo (no dairy, grains, beans, sugar, or processed foods) so finding food in an airport is pretty difficult.
Imagine my surprise when I glanced at a deli in the gate and saw a refrigerated meal with a giant label that read “PALEO!” It was the last one, so I snatched it up without thinking. It was a salad with beets, lettuce, veggies, chicken, and barley. Technically barley isn’t even Paleo, but my options were salad or parfait or a pastry. I figured the barley wouldn’t kill me.
After waiting in line for 15 minutes, I got to the register and realized it was 1750 Icelandic kroner. That’s $17! For a deli meal! I bit the bullet and figured it was all I was buying for the day, so it was okay. I’ve been to Iceland before but obviously forgot how expensive it was!
My next flight to Amsterdam was uneventful. I still couldn’t sleep, so I read my book and thought about my goals for the trip. I didn’t expect Amsterdam to be culturally challenging. I wouldn’t have to struggle with a language or cultural norm barrier. My true apprehension was whether or not I would get lonely. 10 days is a long time to spend alone. Why was being alone considered a bad thing? When I originally told people I was traveling solo, they were shocked. Not for my safety, but because it is assumed that traveling with a friend is “more fun,” so why would I choose to go alone? I made it my goal for the trip to become comfortable hanging out with myself. There’s no shame in eating dinner alone, going to a concert alone, or being alone! I wanted to learn to be self-reliant and empowered!
I arrived around 12pm Amsterdam time and took the train into the city. The train ticket machines don’t accept US credit cards without a PIN, so I had to wait in line to buy one. Public transportation and finances are always the trickiest part of traveling!
Amsterdam Centraal is the main station in the center of the city. Emerging from its tubes into the hustle and bustle of the city was jarring. It was like traveling directly from JFK to Times Square. There were people everywhere. Trams, busses, cars, bikes, and pedestrians all battled each other for the right of way. I quickly consulted my phone map and took off in the direction of my hostel.
I walked through the heart of Amsterdam, through the red light district, and finally into winding back alleys that led me to my hostel – EcoMama. It was still too early to check in, so I left my bags and hit the streets. I walked around the neighborhood and was awe struck by the beauty of the city.
I knew Amsterdam had canals and skinny townhouses and houseboats, but there’s something that can’t be conveyed through photographs. The city is BEAUTIFUL in a romantic, heartwarming, cuddle by the fire kind of way. The cobblestones, the chimney smoke, the bells of bicycles, the aroma of fresh bread from the corner bakery – it felt like I was transported into a different world. Cities don’t normally elicit an emotional response from me, but this one did.
As I walked, I stumbled upon a street market. I browsed the stalls and sampled homemade ice cream, sausage, and hot chocolate. I was quite hungry, not having eaten since that expensive salad six hours prior, so I consulted my map.
When I went to Cuba in the spring, I made a map on Google maps with a pin showing all the cafes, restaurants, and points of interest I wanted to see. Since I don’t purchase international cell service when I travel, I have to export it to an app called Maps.me that lets you download entire city maps for use when you don’t have service. So before I came to Amsterdam, I made one and saved it to my phone.
I looked at the map and saw there was a salad restaurant called Sla nearby. I ordered an autumn harvest salad that had chicken, egg, roasted parsnip, brussels sprouts, pumpkin, and parmesan. The best part was the black truffle pepper dressing. It was the BEST salad I’ve ever eaten. I was in heaven.
Afterward, I walked a bit more but returned to my hostel at 5pm since I was exhausted. I checked into my room – it was an 8 person dorm room. I met another traveler from Indiana who had been working as an opera singer in Germany. He was also traveling alone for the week. We ended up becoming friends and eating the hostel breakfast together each morning.
I hadn’t slept in 28 hours and it was catching up to me. I fell asleep at 6:30pm and sleeping until 10am!
Day 1 in Amsterdam: Jordaan
I woke up feeling refreshed and ready to spend the day exploring the Jordaan district. The name is said to come from the French word jardin or “garden.” There are many courtyards and picturesque trees in this area that the rest of the city lacks. It is in the northwest quadrant of Amsterdam and is a bit more yuppie and upscale. I wandered the streets, peering into shops and cafes. Everything was so cozy and welcoming. After walking about 5 miles, I settled into a store/cafe called STACH and ordered a coffee and snacks. They sold Paleo protein bars! I also saw these white chocolate peanut butter cups that I made a mental note of. My strategy for treats during the trip was to keep an eye out for anything tasty and keep a mental list. Then I would go back and buy the one I wanted the most on the last day of my trip! It may seem like a control-freak tendency, but I struggle with moderation and didn’t want to go overboard!
I had signed up for a photo tour of Jordaan that afternoon. A local photographer named Jan would show us around his favorite part of the city and teach us how to take photos… as well as take a few photos of us! As a solo traveler, it is hard to get photos of myself. I don’t want to trust a stranger with my iPhone, but I also don’t want all of my photos to be selfies. It’ll take 2 weeks to get his photos back, but hopefully they’re good!
I learned a lot from Jan. Most of the canal houses were valued based on the square footage of their foundation. The wider the house, the more expensive! Most canal houses are also bigger on top. The attics could have a larger square footage for free since it was only the foundation that determined value. This makes the buildings looked a bit warped… like they’re leaning forward and about to fall over!
During the tour, I met another American from DC. She was also traveling alone, but it was her last day in Amsterdam. We planned to get drinks later that night! I had worried about being lonely, but making friends was easier than I expected.
After the tour, I had a reserved ticket to see the Anne Frank House. It was a simple audio tour retelling all the facts we learned in grade school, but it was sobering to be in the same house where it all happened. The exhibit took a look at the strategies Hitler used to create widespread anti-Semitism in the Netherlands. One interesting example is that he singled out and demanded punishment for athletes during the Olympic Games who refused to salute him. Sound familiar to our current leader?
I was a little disappointed to find out that her diaries were removed from the exhibit temporarily to be refurbished. Isn’t that the main draw of the museum?
After the Anne Frank House, I walked to get dinner. I had read about a place that makes the best ribs. I know, I know – you shouldn’t go to Amsterdam for ribs, but it sounded good! I sat at the bar and ordered a simple plate of spare ribs. Oh my god. For 20€ I was given the biggest portion of meat I’ve ever seen. At least 15 ribs plus a salad plus a bread basket. And the ribs were delicious. Fall off the bone and melt in your mouth good. I’ve tried several rib joints in Portland and haven’t found anything this good.
I ended up talking to the person sitting next to me at the bar. He was a Delta pilot and said my stay in Amsterdam was way too long. He suggested I go to Bruges, Belgium. I looked into it, but it would have taken at least two days. I only had 5 in Amsterdam! Plus, I like having “too much” time. It lets me explore the little spots away from the guide books. I finished my meal (well, I ate 4 ribs and took the remaining 11 home) and bid him safe travels.
That evening, I met up with my DC friend at a bar called Hiding in Plain Sight. It was an upscale cocktail bar near my hostel. I don’t drink much anymore, but I got a delicious beet and black pepper cocktail. It was 15€ but worth it! Since it was her last night, my friend wanted to do something memorable. But it was a Monday night, so nothing was really going on. We talked to the bartender for awhile and he suggested a death metal bar in the Red Light district. I was skeptical, but we went and the drinks were very cheap! We met a few Russians and chatted with them for awhile.
During my travels, I’ve found that most people can speak English… even in rural Middle Eastern cities and Cuba, but not in Russia! I’m not saying that English should be the global language or that other nationalities “should” speak English. In fact, traveling reminds me that I am ignorant in regards to not speaking a second language. I have so much respect for all of the cashiers and waiters I’ve encountered who start speaking to me in Dutch but then can automatically switch to English without a second thought.
As we kept drinking, we decided it would be a great idea to go to the “Live Sex Show” going on next door. We stood in line with two moms from California who were on a divorce celebration trip. They were wild and fun and reminded me of Tiffanny! We paid an astounding 55€ for entrance with two drink coupons. Of course, my friend demanded we sit in the front row.
I won’t go into detail, but the show was exactly what it sounds like. Typically each act was 5–10 minutes long and alternated between a solo dance/strip act and a couple doing everything. And I mean everything. Completely naked. Nothing hidden or censored. It was definitely shocking.
The highlight was the solo act where a woman was smoking a cigar with her mouth…. and then changed to smoking it with something else. I didn’t even know that was possible. All I could think was “Good thing you have universal healthcare because your likelihood of cervical cancer is through the roof!”
We left the show and I went back to my hostel. My first full day had been jam packed with excitement. Even if I had to leave the next day, I would have been happy with everything I accomplished! Plus I walked 10.5 miles, so I definitely saw a good portion of the city!
Day 2 in Amsterdam: Vondelpark
I woke up to the same predicament I found myself in the day prior: eat the free hostel breakfast or get better food elsewhere?
I had chosen to eat the breakfast the day before. The hostel is connected to a cute little cafe called The Fix. Each guest is provided a bagel, schmear, and coffee of choice. There were so many choices! Just for the bagel, you could choose between plain, cinnamon raisin, pumpernickel, sesame, and everything. For the schmear, they had original, chive, jalapeño, honey walnut, peanut butter, jam, and marmalade. And then any coffee you could dream of!
I never eat bagels, but I got an everything bagel with chive schmear. It wasn’t anything to write home about. However, I’m cheap as hell. If the hostel has a free breakfast, you bet I’m participating! So on my second morning, I devised a plan. I got a pumpernickel bagel with peanut butter, but then snagged a free apple from reception. I transferred the peanut butter into a baggie with the apple and saved it as a snack and threw the bagel away. Healthier free hostel food!
I set out on another 10 mile day. First, I walked through the university area to Vondelpark. It is a GIANT park that is popular in the summer, but still filled with dog walkers and cyclists in the winter. I also walked through FoodHallen, a large cafeteria style food hall with many different vendors. I didn’t eat anything, but I appreciated the concept!
I made my way to Dignita, a hipster cafe. I sat on the second floor balcony overlooking the main level. I got a coffee (served with a tasty biscuit!) and their autumn salad. The salads in Amsterdam are next level. So many tasty goodies!
I sat in my cozy corner spot and wrote in my journal. I reflected upon the previous day and how I felt challenged by the strangers I had met and whether or not I had let myself be vulnerable to new experiences. I found this act really soothing. I felt more connected to my life. Most of the time during traveling, I am rushing through the day and gorging myself with new experiences and emotions and thoughts without giving myself to digest. Journaling let me reflect on what these moments could teach me.
The idea of “being present” has taken center stage in the media recently. What does it mean? Pay attention? Stop worrying? These two word mantras are catchy, but how can you apply it to your actual life? I like to think of it as being present with your feelings. Each time I feel anxiety or nervousness or shame, I sit down with myself and examine why. Many of us have the habit of pushing uncomfortable feelings away. “Okay, I’m feeling jealousy. That’s bad. Stop feeling that way. Focus on something else,” but this only avoids the issue as well as building shame.
Taking the time to slow down and journal about my experiences let me dig into my emotions and become familiar with them. I’ve been reading a lot about self-compassion and self-love. Allowing space for how you’re feeling instead of rejecting it is the first step. By giving my emotions literal space on a page, I feel like I’ve made a lot of progress!
I spent the morning journaling at Dignita before continuing my walk around the canals and through De Pijp. I walked through the famous Albert Cuyp market and was honestly disappointed. Everyone had said this was the best market in Amsterdam, but I found it was mostly junk. There were vendors lining the streets selling clothes, shoes, appliances, etc. It all seemed to be poor quality. There were a few food vendors there, but they also sold the same type of things – waffles, fish, nuts, cheese, or olives. The market is certainly something different to see, but I wouldn’t plan on focusing an entire day around it.
I went back to my hostel and napped before going to the Hoodie Allen concert. He is one of my favorite rappers, so I was thrilled when I found out he would be in Amsterdam at the same time!
Waking up from my nap was tough. My body was still tired. The concert venue was miles away and my body ached and it was cold outside. I debated skipping it. I almost did. But then I remembered that I didn’t come halfway across the globe just to nap. So I put my coat on and ventured out.
I arrived just as Hoodie was going on stage. It was a small venue – maybe 200 or 300 people. Even though I was in the back row, I was only 10 rows back! It was so much fun to dance and sing along with other fans. At first, I felt self conscious. I wasn’t drinking so dancing in public felt weird. Then, I remembered everything I read about vulnerability. Sometimes you have to do uncomfortable things to make yourself happy! So I danced and sang loundly. No one laughed. No one stared. We were all having fun! I walked back to my hostel, proud of myself for simply showing up.
Day 3 in Amsterdam: Hoorn/Wieringerwerf
On my final morning at EcoMama hostel (thank god, because one of my dormmates was a snorer!) I skipped breakfast and went to Bakers and Roasters. It is a New Zealand inspired cafe, but I desperately wanted one thing on their menu: Aubergine Pancakes.
I am a sucker for any food fusion. If you take two unexpected flavors or cuisines and turn them into a dish I’ve never had before, I’ll be ecstatic. Maybe it’s because I rarely eat out. I make 99% of my meals in my own kitchen, so when I do treat myself to a restaurant meal, I want it to be new and exciting. I already know what steak and mashed potatoes tastes like. Why would I order it when I can easily make it at home? But if there’s something on the menu that’s exotic or sounds impossible to recreate, I’m ordering it!
The aubergine pancakes are basically the result of turning the Middle Eastern baba ghanoush dip into a breakfast meal. The pancakes are made from eggplant and topped with whipped feta, cumin chickpeas, fresh herbs, an egg, pita chips and roasted cashews. It wasn’t mindblowingly amazing, but it was tasty and was a unique flavor combination.
I journaled some more before heading out. I explored the little neighborhood surrounding my hostel. At one point, I was walking along a canal when I looked to my left and saw an elephant. Yep. An elephant. Smack dab in the middle of residential Amsterdam. Turns out the Amsterdam Zoo was across the canal – but I had no idea. It was a moment of surprise and mystery and definitely brought out a sense of childlike joy. I laughed with myself about the absurdity of that elephant for awhile. Sometimes it’s the simple things.
I checked out of my hostel and hopped on a train to Hoorn. I had to transfer there to a bus that would take me to Wieringerwerf. No matter how much I travel, public transportation will always stress me out. I try to research as much as possible, but nothing gives me a straight answer. Do I need cash? Do I specifically need coins and not bills? Will it accept my credit card (a surprising number of places in Amsterdam refuse to take American credit cards, even my Chase Sapphire travel card, because they have to be equipped with a PIN number… and most American cards don’t have that. If you use a debit card with a PIN, you get slammed with fees. There’s really no winning.)
I got to Hoorn and decided to take a quick break and get coffee along the coast. I love water. I’ve always loved water. It’s my favorite place to be, no matter if I’m swimming, wading, or just sitting next to it. It has the ultimate calming effect on me. You know the feeling you get after a hard day when you get home and your partner wraps you up in his arms? That sense of calm and security and safety that washes over you? It’s like that. Suddenly my earthly problems like bus fare don’t matter in comparison to the vast power of the water. I can just exhale.
It’s a life goal to someday live on the water. Expert level would be in the Faroe Islands, but maybe that’s a reach!
I arrived in Wieringerwerf unscathed. I turned on my phone’s data and texted my host. We had arranged that she would pick me up from the bus stop when I arrived, since their farm was another 5 miles away and it was too cold to walk. I waited. And waited. I decided to pop into the grocery store to kill time. I got some fresh veggies for dinner. Still no text.
I walked back to the bus stop and sent her an email message via the Airbnb app. Then I waited some more. Another 30 minutes passed and I was still waiting. The temperature was dropping and I was getting cold.
Suddenly my phone buzzed with her reply, “Got held up at work! My husband Rudolf and the kids are going to pick you up!”
My thought process: “Okay. I am in a rural town at dusk. A man I don’t know is going to pick me up and take me somewhere I’m unfamiliar with. Sounds like a really bad idea…. but there are no other options, so let’s see what happens!”
Old control-freak Kate would have been panicking that things weren’t going to plan. One of my goals for this trip was to go with the flow, so I sat back down on the bus bench and went with the flow. I didn’t get stressed or anxious or mad. I just waited patiently until Rudolf pulled up in a cargo van and I hopped in. He had his two adorable toddlers in the back seat. We barreled down the gravel road to their farm as he explained that his family has lived on this potato farm for 3 generations. The entire area used to be underwater, but then the government created all of this manmade farming land for “sea potatoes.” Recently, they installed a turbine and sell that electric back to the power company. They power 600 homes alone!
Rudolf showed me to my cabin (which was more of a trailer) and said his wife, Sasja, would be by shortly. She soon knocked on my door and introduced herself and showed me around the cabin. It was tiny! Maybe 6 ft x 11ft. The bed was a Murphy bed that pulled out of the wall and almost took up the entire room. It also had a little mini fridge, induction stove, heater, table and chairs, and sink (without running water.) The bathroom was located a stones throw away and had a shower, but was also shared with the other cabin occupant.v
Just as I was getting settled in for the evening, it started raining. Then hailing! The weather was taking a turn for the worse. I fell asleep listening to the sound of the wind turbine and hail pelt against the roof.
Day 4 in Wieringerwerf
My plan for the farm was to have the ultimate relaxation day. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to bike into the city to explore, so luckily the weather made that decision for me. The high winds and heavy rains continued all day, keeping me inside. I woke up and did some yoga and meditation. At 10am, Sasja brought me a breakfast basket with fresh bread (still warm), butter, jam, meat, cheese, a fresh egg, yogurt, milk, and a dessert roll. It was way too much for one person, so I stuck to the bread, egg, meat and cheese. I wish I would have taken a photo of the basket. It was so cute!v
After breakfast, I wanted a change of scenery, so I walked to the greenhouse and spent awhile reading and journaling. It was very cozy and well decorated, but there was no heat! There was an old wood burning stove, but I couldn’t figure it out. I even googled and tried to watch videos, but this stove was older than the ones online with far more compartments and doors. I didn’t want to break anything, so I wrapped myself up in blankets.
Imagine my surprise when a few farm workers came into the greenhouse for a break and immediately flipped a switch to the electric space heaters. HA! I had suffered for two hours when the solution was so easy. Sometimes the answer is right in front of you.
The book I chose to read was “Present Over Perfect” and it is about slowing down your life so you can enjoy it. It is easy to get caught up in success or fall onto the “typical” path with each promotion pushing you farther away from why actually brings you happiness. It was definitely more for women nearing a midlife crisis, but I learned a lot from it. The biggest takeaway was that it’s never too late to re-evaluate and change your life. That’s the beautiful thing about individuality. We all have different strengths and passions, so why is it expected that we all follow the same path? The book challenged me to evaluate which fears are keeping me from living the life I want. For most people, it boils down to vulnerability. “What will people think?” “What if it inconveniences them?” WHO CARES? If you go through life being a people-pleaser and always saying yes, that will be your legacy. Do you want to be known as the person who was always responsible and dependable? Or do you want to be known for being brave and following your heart and having meaningful connections? I know these are all buzzwords and the book was admittedly pretty fluffy and inspirational, but it helped me brainstorm where I want the next part of my life to lead.
One of the most interesting questions from the book was, “If you had an open calendar and an unlimited bank account, how would you spend that time?”
Of course, my gut reaction is “travel!” I feel pretty proud that I’ve stuck to my goal of traveling internationally twice per year. I want travel to have a bigger role in my life, but I haven’t quite figured out how to implement that yet.
I read a different quote that said, “If you want to feel confident, you need to create something,” and it stuck with me. What do I create? What do I contribute to this world? My blog isn’t very active. I don’t have any other creative outlets.
Then it hit me. Maybe you caught onto before I did… but I love to cook and eat. I’m good at it, too. However, simply following recipes and eating meals isn’t very rewarding to me. So instead, I’ve decided I’m going to start experimenting and creating my own recipes. I know, I know, the food blogger world is overpopulated with mommies trying to stay busy. I don’t want to make this a job. I don’t even want to make any money. I want to create unique recipes that inspire the same excitement I get when I discover a recipe for “Pad Thai chicken wings” or “Paleo chili pie with cornbread crust.” Anything unique and unheard of. I want to contribute to something to the world!
I’m excited to return home and dive into this new hobby. Of course, everything will be Paleo and healthy, so I don’t expect my family to be avid followers, but I’ll share my creations here!
I fell asleep on the farm brainstorming ideas. I have a few good ones. Let’s see if I can actually execute them!
Day 5 in Wieringerwerf and Amsterdam
The next morning, I had another delicious morning breakfast basket. It’s dangerous how much bread I ate on this trip. I started off eating very well, but after my time on the farm when I was trapped in a cabin with loaves of bread, it went downhill.
A side note – Since January 2017, I’ve lost 40lbs. The majority of that has been since August. I’m finally at a healthy weight and my strength and cardio endurance is at the best it’s ever been. I can truly say I feel proud and confident when I look in the mirror, but finding the balance between dieting and living life is still a challenge. This vacation was hard. I still have 10ish lbs I want to lose and it’s the most difficult time of the year for weight loss. I really don’t want to backslide, but I also don’t want to pass up on unique Amsterdam food for the sake of counting calories. (Edit: Once I got back to America, I weighed myself and I actually lost 2lbs on vacation! Must have been all the walking!) After breakfast, I left the farm. The family’s nanny gave me a ride into town and made sure I got on the right bus. She didn’t speak much English, but she was my age and very sweet. Once I got to Hoorn, I had to change to the train. I bought my ticket and hopped on the train displaying “Amsterdam Centraal” on the side. Once we departed, the conductor came around the check tickets. He scanned mine and said something in Dutch. I asked if he spoke English and he said, “You’re on the slow train. You should have gotten on the fast one. You’re in for a long trip….” I was worried. I couldn’t find any concrete info on how long it would take. It ended up taking 2 hours instead of the ‘fast’ 45 minutes. Oh well!
Once I arrived back in Amsterdam, I was antsy. I walked the 4 miles to the hotel – perk of only having a backpack and not having to haul luggage! My room wasn’t ready for check-in until 4pm so I explored the Oosterpark neighborhood. It is known as being the working class/diverse neighborhood. There were many Arab restaurants and stores. Honestly, it reminded me a lot of Amman, Jordan. The aroma of freshly baked bread with za’atar, the fragrant spice shops, the juicy schwarma meat. It all make me nostalgic for Amman!
I walked through the Dappermarkt and it was the same as the Albert Cuyp market. A bunch of junk! Maybe that is insensitive, but I hate how these markets are the “tourist destination for local culture” when it’s really just a flea market.
After a 4 mile walk, I checked into my hotel. It was definitely… pretentious. My dad would have hated it. The little details were creative, but a little annoying. The room cards said “Keep me. I unlock doors for you,” and the “Do not disturb” door cards said “Writing the next great novel, don’t bother me.”
The entire time I was checking in, the receptionist was telling me about their yoga class and organic breakfast and in-house haircuts. Never once did she mention the trick to getting the lights in my room to work. Imagine my frustration when I got to my room and none of the light switches worked. It was pitch dark and I was using my iPhone light to find a master switch or something. Next to the switches, there’s an illuminated “No smoking” sign. I tried pressing it. It didn’t budge. Finally, I asked the cleaning lady in the hallway if there was a trick to make it work. She barked, “You gotta talk to reception.” Okay….
So I went back down and explained the issue and she said, “Did you put your key in the slot?” I asked, “What slot?” She said, “There should be a slot next to the light switches that you put your keycard in.” I knew what she was talking about. The hotels in Amman had the same thing. I should have known. But I played along, “There’s no slot, there’s a no smoking sign.” She said, “Yes that’s it!”
How on earth was I supposed to know to put my card into the no smoking sign? I looked at my card and there were no instructions. I told her, “That would have been helpful information when I was checking in.”
That was the only time on my trip I felt defeated. It’s a pretty uncomfortable feeling. Like running up a mountain but you keep sliding down. Nothing makes sense, yet you’re doing all the right things.
Luckily, the feeling passed as soon as I turned on the lights and took a dip in the rooftop hot tub! The Volkshotel has 3 tubs on the roof and a sauna that is open for guests. I brought my bathing suit and planned to make full use of them. But when I got to the roof, it was pouring rain/hail. I was hungry, but couldn’t decide what I wanted to eat. Nothing sounded good. I also didn’t want to venture out into the bad weather, so I decided to eat at the hotel restaurant, Canvas.
I ordered the stemppot – a common Dutch food that’s basically a mash of meat, veggies, and potatoes. Perfect. One funny observation about Dutch dining: the waiter always disappears. After they attentively take your order and pour water and deliver your food, they disappear. I can only assume I’m supposed to walk up to the register to pay, because that’s what I did each time.
After dinner, I went back up to the roof. It was still raining, but I figured why the hell not. I sat on the hot tub for a full 2 hours in the hail storm. It felt incredible and was the perfect ending to a busy day.
Day 6 in Amsterdam: De Pijp and Museums
I had planned to wake up and go to 10am yoga, but I wasn’t feeling it and I didn’t want to pay 12€ for yoga led by the pretentious hotel staff. Instead, I walked to a cafe called Cottoncake.
Getting out the door was a struggle. The redundancy of the day was challenging me. Did I really want to spend another 24 hours walking around a city, avoiding rain, paying for coffee, and shoulder checking tourists on the sidewalk who didn’t learn how to share it? I told myself it was the last day. Just show up.
So I did. And I was rewarded with the tastiest omelette of all time! It was a Brie and sage omelette and it was stellar. I stayed at Cottoncake for awhile, journaling, but soon it got busy and I had to give up my table. Just my luck, as soon as I left, it went from sunny to torrential downpour. My jacket is fairly waterproof, but it was starting to seep through, so I popped into another cafe for a coffee and to wait out the storm. One thing I love/hate about Amsterdam: each black coffee is served with a small cookie or biscuit. Far too tempting to avoid.
I continued on my way to the Ons Lieve en Solder. It is a museum inside a canal house that hides a secret Catholic Church. I would have NEVER chosen to visit this museum, but it was a gift. Each year, I participate in an online Secret Santa exchange. Everyone is matched with someone randomly in the world. This year, my secret Santa saw that I was going to Amsterdam and bought me a ticket to his favorite museum.vIt was certainly interesting and a fun rainy day activity. The history behind it is that Amsterdam used to be a Catholic City, but then “The Alteration” occurred and it became Protestant. The Protestants converted all Catholic Churches, but still allowed other religions to practice as long as it wasn’t openly displayed. This led to the creation of homechurches where followers would gather to practice. It might not sound impressive, but they hollowed out the top 3 floors of a home to create a giant altar. Given the tools of the time, it was no easy feat!
After that tour, I continued walking. I had heard about Van Stemple and how they make the best cookies in Amsterdam. I’m not a big cookie fan, but I gotta try anything that is the “best!” So I stood in line for a single cookie.
It is a chocolate cookie with melted white chocolate inside. So many reviews said they brought home 50 of these cookies because they couldn’t get enough. The bar was set pretty high. Unfortunately, the cookies didn’t live up to the hype. They tasted like boxed brownie batter around bland Hershey’s white chocolate. I ate it still warm from the oven and it was still a disappointment. I took two bites and threw the rest away!
The weather began hailing again, so I headed to the Moco to see the Banksy exhibit. I honestly didn’t know much about his work so I was excited to learn more, but the museum didn’t have much to offer other than a few placards about how famous he is.
One funny life lesson: Earlier in the day I realized I never saw the famous “Iamsterdam” sign that EVERYONE has their photo with. I thought about where it might be and figured it was at Dam Square, the tourist epicenter. On my way to the Moco, I walked through the square looking for it. I never found it. It wasn’t something I necessarily wanted to see, so I chalked it up to a loss and kept walking. I also couldn’t google it since I didn’t have data or WiFi available. After my visit at the Moco, I walked out onto the plaza to find the famous sign staring me in the face! Turns out it’s next to the Rijksmuseum! Sometimes you find things as soon as you stop looking.
On my way back to my hotel, I stopped for dinner at Sla. I was still dreaming about that salad I had the first night in Amsterdam! I ordered a different one this time – an Indian spiced tempeh salad. It was just as amazing as the first one.
I’m not a big fan of souvenirs but I decided to treat myself to the Sla Cookbook. It is entirely in Dutch, so I plan to use Google Translate to help me make the recipes, but I am so excited! Such a great way to remember the trip.
I returned to the hotel and had another evening on the rooftop in the hot tubs. It was more crowded this time, so I talked to a few new people. Surprisingly there were very few Americans staying at the hotel. Most were Dutch!
Day 7 in Amsterdam: Saying Goodbye
I woke up on my final morning to find it snowing! It was supposed to keep falling all day and I hoped my flight wouldn’t be cancelled. I ate the hotel breakfast (omg I forgot how tasty eggs on a croissant is!) and took the train to Schiphol.
Getting through the Schiphol TSA was a nightmare! I was behind a family from Spain and their toddler wouldn’t stop throwing himself on the floor and licking it while screaming. Luckily the agent took pity on me and let me cut them while they unpacked their million bags. I try to be compassionate in stressful situations, especially when the parent is clearly doing their best, but I was glad to get away from them!
While waiting for my flight, I ended up talking to a guy who went to the University of Colorado! Then, as soon as I said I went to DU, a different person said he sometimes teaches there! It is such a small world. I half expected to run into someone I knew on the streets of Amsterdam.
Well, we are landing in Reykjavik now. This flight was delayed, so I hope I can make my connection. Writing this post took exactly 3 hours! I feel like I’ve already woven enough heartfelt life realizations through this post. I don’t need to wrap up my trip in a tidy summarized box. Overall, it was a fun little vacation that gave me the space to evaluate the direction I want my life to head. Traveling alone is no longer a big scary challenge. It’s so easy. I might actually prefer it! I get to do whatever I want without the consideration of anyone else. There are no “What do you wanna do? I don’t care, what do you want to do?” conversations. There was virtually no harassment which was actually surprising!
I’m not saying I feel “ready to conquer the world!” or any feel good mumbo jumbo. But if you want to travel and the only obstacle stopping you is finding someone else who can go with you…. just do it. Just show up. That’s the hardest part. The rest will figure itself out.