An Aquatic Labyrinth and a Shopping Mall

If I had to pick one word to describe Venice, it would be CHAOTIC.

For starters, it’s the most confusing city I’ve ever visited. The big streets with the canals are connected by a maze of tiny alleyways without street signs that are constantly congested and overwhelming. I have a pretty poor sense of direction to begin with, and it didn’t help being in a place where I could have sworn everything moves around, Hogwarts-style. To make things even more complicated, we were forced to take the ferries to get from Venice to our hostel, which are not clearly labeled or priced at all. 

Now, the reason we needed to take a boat to our hostel was because we stayed on an island called Fusina, giving us a new addition to our list of crazy places we’ve slept during our trip. I thought Camping Fusina, which was strangely reminiscent of the island in the Scooby-Doo movie, was a nice place to stay despite the inconvenience. To future travelers, pay attention to the “location” rating when you’re picking a hostel–unless you don’t mind running around looking for ferries, waiting hours for said ferry, and paying out the ass because the system makes no sense. 

But back to the actual city. Due to poor luck and timing, Dylan and I spent most of our time in Venice lugging our bugs around in the rain, which for me, made an unimpressive city a whole lot worse. The aforementioned chaos, the claustrophobic atmosphere, the dilapidated buildings–it didn’t do it for me. I was also disappointed with the food; perhaps it was the particular restaurants we went to, but I had nothing close to the incredible Italian meals I’ve been hearing about. The one thing that did live up to hype, however, was the gelato. The things I would do for more…

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I kid you not, some prostitutes cost less than a gondola ride.

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Baskin-Robbins, this ain't.

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Check out that form

That’s all I really have to say about Venice. To be fair, we didn’t do much here except walk around and take pictures. I was pretty glad to leave, but once I split up with Dylan and went to Milan, I would’ve gone back to Venice in a heartbeat. 

If I had to pick one word to describe how I felt about Milan, it would be UGLY.

Again, my perception of the city may be tainted by the fact that I spent my time here carrying around all my luggage in miserable weather. But I found Milan gross and uninviting nonetheless. It’s essentially a shopping mall for the elite, with Gucci, Prada, Saks Fifth Avenue, and the like on every block. But for such a wealthy, hoity-toity city, it’s drab and depressing…the qualities you want in an Elliot Smith song, but not a city. 

The only interesting thing I saw there was the Duomo, which I’m sure you smart readers know, is simply a word for cathedral. I’ll admit, it was pretty damn impressive and it’s the only thing that made Milan somewhat worthwhile. But even if you find a diamond in a pile of shit, you’re still standing in a pile of shit. 

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And just like that, the trip was over. After taking a bus to the airport, attempting (and failing) to sleep in the frigid airport, finding friends and hanging out all night, boarding the plane, fearing a man was going to die next to me, and trying not to smell the vomit of the woman in front of me, I was back in Copenhagen. 

 

I suppose now, I have to give you my profound reflections about traveling and seeing the world and how enriched as I am as an individual. While I can’t promise anything groundbreaking, here are some of my big takeaways and lessons learned from this experience:

  • I am capable of (and actually enjoy) planning long, ambitious trips.
  • Cultures are different, but people are more or less the same.
  • The world is small…especially when all of your classmates go traveling through Europe at the same time. 
  • I am fairly decent at picking up languages and should definitely work on becoming fluent in at least one. If nearly everyone I talked to under the age of 30 could have a casual conversation with me in English, I should be able to do the same in another language. 
  • Don’t spend more money than you need to just because a country’s prices are cheap. #prague #budapest
  • Variety is the key to enjoying traveling. What’s the point of going somewhere new if you don’t do anything new? Make sure to go to the bars, but also the museums. Spend time walking around but also sitting down and relaxing. Take planes, but also do buses and trains to see the areas you wouldn’t normally get to see. 
  • I enjoy alone time a lot more than I thought I did, and I want to try traveling alone sometime in the future.
  • Traveling never has to end. I met a family who had been traveling for 7 months straight (and had hit every continent but Africa and Antarctica), an elderly couple biking around Europe, and plenty of others who had been around the world and had no intentions of stopping. 
  • If you obtain an injury from an embarrassing accident, tell people you got in a fight. 

Thanks for reading the novel I’ve posted this past week (that is, if anyone actually did). Stay tuned for future posts about my last month in Copenhagen, Paris, Poland, and whatever other shenanigans I get myself into. 

All You Need is sLOVE(nia)

If I had to pick one word to describe how I felt about Ljubljana, it would be SURPRISING.

You might be asking yourself, “Why the hell did these clowns decide to go Slovenia in the first place? I wish I could offer a legitimate reason, like a deep secret love for Slovenian culture. The truth is, when researching places to see, Dylan and I couldn’t stop laughing at the name of the capital, Ljubljana. While the real pronunciation is something along the lines of “lee-yoob-lee-ahn-ahh”, the two of us spent a half hour upon reading the name screaming “LA-JOOB-AHH-LA-JOHN-AHH!!!” 

So that’s how we ended up in Slovenia, a country which a waitress informed us is the only country with the word “love” in the title. I didn’t have too many preconceived notions going in, but everything we saw in the one full day we spent there completely shattered my expectations. 

For starters, the locals’ English was much better than expected. Although Slovenia is much more advanced than a country like Bosnia and its Balkan neighbors, I operated under the naive assumption that Slovenia wasn’t as “advanced” as other European countries. I was proven wrong again in an exhibit on Slovenian history; after the country gained independence in 1991 following the breakup of Yugoslavia, it managed to quickly establish itself as a modern nation to join the EU and NATO in 2004 and switching over to the Euro in 2007. In 13 years (a short amount of time when it comes to international politics), this small country somehow went from drafting a brand-new constitution to joining Europe’s most elite club. Slovenia…a true underdog story.

I was also surprised at the actual city of Ljubljana. It’s simultaneously quaint and majestic…at least, as majestic as a city with a small village atmosphere can be. I expected to walk around, say “Oh, that’s neat”, and snap a few pictures, but nothing prepared me for the Ljubljana Castle. Like most castles, you have to climb a hellish hill to get to it but once you do, you get a spectacular view of the entire city unrivaled by most. If I had to give award for Best View, Ljubljana would take the prize.

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Another shocker of Ljubljana can be found in a neighborhood in the northeast of the city called Metelkova. Formerly a military barrack, the area has now turned into something of a hippie town. It was somewhat similar to Christiania in Copenhagen, but less isolated and without people selling drugs on the street. I would have never expected a place like this to be here, but as a fan of weird street art, I could have spent hours here. 

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What other surprises did Slovenia have in store? One was elaborate and high-tech waste/recycling receptacles that most places in the U.S. don’t even have. Another was the relatively cheap prices; despite using the Euro, I didn’t have a heart attack every time I paid for food here. The most pleasant surprise was the quality of the food  along with the fact that for the first time in Europe, I could get free water and bread at any restaurant. Overall, the biggest surprise was that a place like this even exists and that I might have completely missed it. My time in Ljubljana has taught me that (a) the road less traveled is sometimes worth taking and (b) going to a place because you think the name is funny can lead to fantastic results. 

Hungary for More

If I had to pick one word to describe how I felt about Budapest, it would be AWESOME.

Now, I don’t mean the type of “awesome” used in sentences like “Dude, that motorcross trick was awesome!” or “Thomas Cheng is the most awesome person in the world” or “Did you have an awesome time? Did you drink awesome shooters, listen to awesome music, and then just sit around and soak up each other’s awesomeness?”

No, the “awesome” I’m referring to is more along the lines of the dictionary definition of the word–“characterized by [an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, fear, etc. produced by that which is grand, sublime, extremely powerful, or the like]”. The fear part isn’t too relevant; the only time I felt scared was looking at the beds in the sketchy apartment building that had been haphazardly turned into a hostel. Everything else in the definition is relevant though. Budapest, my newfound obsession, contains jaw-dropping sights and attractions everywhere you go. Lots of cities have beautiful buildings and scenery; not only does Budapest rank highly in these categories, it also tops the list when it comes to some more unconventional things such as bars and bath houses. Here are a few reasons why Budapest became my favorite city of my trip:

1. The Sights

Budapest is a city of two halves. On the flat side, you have the more residential area of Pest, which contains many impressive locations, such as St. Stephan’s Basilica, Parliament, the Heroes Square, the last remaining Soviet Memorial, etc. Cross the Chain Bridge and you have the more hilly Buda side which is even more beautiful and gives you the most breathtaking views of the Pest side and the surrounding mountains. If I had to choose a favorite side, I’d go with Buda, but it’s honestly like picking your favorite child (assuming you actually like your children).

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St. Stephan's Basilica, pre-jumping picture photoshoot

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The only purple Parliament I've ever seen

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Heroes Square, one of my favorite climb-able monuments

What’s nice about Budapest is that for such a small city, everything is spread apart. This means that no one area is ever too crowded and that you actually have room to breathe. Even though Budapest is starting to attract more tourists, it doesn’t feel packed or congested at all. The city also contains lots of open spaces, trees, plants, parks, and playgrounds, which add to the laid-back environment I’m realizing I love.

2. The House of Terror

Although the name makes it sounds like a straight-to-DVD horror movie, the House of Terror is actually a museum and memorial to Hungarian citizens who lost their lives to communist and fascist regimes. It’s not an easy on the emotions; the first thing you see when you walk inside is a giant tank in front of a wall, covered in thousands (I counted at least 1,200) of victims’ faces. Walking through and reading about the atrocities committed, I felt a great sense of admiration and respect for the people brave enough to speak out against injustice, including my grandmother who spent ten years in a labor camp for rebelling against Mao during the Cultural Revolution. Makes me wonder, will I ever be able courageous to follow in her footsteps?

Once you make it to the basement, the museum gets even heavier. Since the House was used as the Nazi headquarters (who were not the nicest people), you can still see prisoners’ cells, interrogation rooms, and even torture instruments. The eerieness is amplified by the museum’s expert use of lighting and music; the House of Terror is one of the most effective museums I’ve seen when it comes to setting a mood/atmosphere. Since at this point I still had images of my grandmother covered in sweat, blisters, and blood in the hot Chinese sun, all I could think about here was how upsetting it is to think that horrifying things like this are happening around the world today.

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ImageOne of the most thought-provoking and well put-together museums I’ve been to. Plus, THEY HAVE WATER FOUNTAINS!!!

3. The Thermal Bath
Once upon a time, someone found natural hot springs in Budapest and decided to build a bath house around it. I didn’t get a chance to take any pictures here, but imagine both indoor and outdoor pools and saunas in an ornate building that couldn’t be more eastern European if it tried. Now imagine that the water is the perfect level of warm. I don’t believe the stories about the water’s magical healing powers since my eye was still black as night afterwards, but for the rest of the day, I had a smile as big as Carlton Banks’ during the Carlton dance.
4. The Food/Prices
You know that feeling you get when you’re eating a meal that’s either really cheap or free and no matter what you’re eating it tastes like a gourmet restaurant? I’m pretty sure that’s what happened for me in Budapest. The conversion between the Hungarian forint (Hungary’s currency) and the US dollar is about 226 to 1, which (a) is a really hard number to divide by and (b) makes everything ridiculously cheap. You know you’re starting to get spoiled when you start debating whether you want to shell out the equivalent of $2.50 for a beer.
But even if the prices were high, it would have been worth it for the delicious meals we stumbled across. Apparently, Hungary is not well known for their cuisine, but we must have gotten lucky with the restaurants we chose. While I was disappointed with the goulash in Prague, the Hungarian stew was a rave for my taste buds. The fact that I ordered the goulash, garlic bread, chicken, and multiple drinks (which confirmed our waitresses’ beliefs that Americans are gluttonous garbage disposals) for a little over $10 was enough reason for me to return to Budapest in the future.
On a completely unrelated note, we managed to find a Chipotle-style burrito joint (with free soda refills!) that was a nice taste of home. So much for not being a tourist.
5. The Ruin Pubs
I honestly can’t describe the ruin pubs in words in a way that can do them justice. Most of them are large abandoned buildings that have been turned into funky bars with vegetation, graffiti, bathtubs, bikes, cars, and everything in between. Most have an outdoor seating area, where you can enjoy a drink or slice of pizza (yes, they sell pizza in the actual bar) under the stars.
One of the ruin pubs we went to (whose name I don’t know) was near-empty, save for a handful of Hungarian hipsters whose “dancing” could be best described as rigid gyrations that even robots would consider awkward. We quickly moved beyond the robot corner to the back room to find a group of older Hungarian men playing ping-pong, which of course we had to join. I didn’t use my camera much at this pub, which is unfortunate because I would have loved to document some of the ping-pong and the hipster tribal dance.
I did take a ton of pictures at Szimpla Pub, which is undoubtedly the best of the best. Take a look for yourself (although I don’t even think my photos can do it justice):
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6. Sorozo Pub/The Green Beer
Continuing our streak of randomly finding awesome things in Hungary, we somehow ended up in a bar called Sorozo Pub next to our hostel that was all locals. The place had been packed all day and didn’t look like it was dying down anytime soon, so we decided to have a look and see what all the fuss was about. This was no normal bar; instead of normal tables, they had long cafeteria-style tables which made it much easier to meet and talk to new people. And while they had the usual drinks, we soon found out that they served green beer, fittingly called “Shrek Beer”.
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The beer was approximately $1.50, so you bet we returned to Sorozo a couple more times before we left. During the hours we spent there, we met an interesting group of individuals. You had your usual drunk guy ranting about politics and your usual drunk guy asking you for weed for ten straight minutes even after you’ve told him you don’t have anything. We finally met a normal guy though, and proceeded to have an absolutely abnormal conversation about Jewish day camps, prostitution, the exploitation of women, and relationships. Somehow, I, of all people, ended up consoling him about how it’s fine that he hasn’t settled down at 24. I’m going to tell myself that I changed his life and offered him a fresh outlook on life, but I’m not sure he remembers any of the conversation. Oh well.
No matter what definition you use, Budapest was unbelievably awesome. I will hopefully be back in the near future, because as the title of this post so eloquently states, I am desperately hungary for more.

White Easter

If I had to pick one word to describe how I felt about Vienna, it would be CHARMING.

This charm was most obvious at the Schönbrunn Palace, which Wikipedia tells me is a “former imperial 1,411-room Rococo summer residence”. It’s one of Vienna’s most notable landmarks; the palace is surrounded by seemingly never-ending gardens, parks, and statues. Dylan and I, along with my friend Matt who we picked up on the road, spent most of Easter Sunday at Schönbrunn which is surprisingly serene for a place that’s always crowded. Jesus Christ himself must have been inside the palace considering how long the line was; we decided to walk around instead.

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As you can tell from the pictures, the weather wasn’t too great that day. To make things even better, it started SNOWING. On EASTER. In APRIL. As much as it sucked to be shivering during spring break, I will say that it added to the cozy atmosphere. The snow, along with the extensive market in front of the palace, reminded me of Christmas…despite the fact that we were in the wrong season. After a while, the cold didn’t bother me (I am completely convinced I am a mutant who feels temperature differently from most people anyways) and I became enamored with the pretzels, stilts, Easter eggs, live music, the whole shebang. I don’t know if any Easter can be better than participating in the Easter Egg hunt on the White House lawn, but this comes pretty damn close.

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Aside from this, we didn’t see too many other things I’d consider distinctly Austrian. Yes, we saw Parliament and the Mozart/Beethoven houses and such, but it was in Vienna when I realized that so much of so many big cities are interchangeable. We did get a chance, however, to see St. Peter’s Church (geez Europe, come up with some original names!). I’ve seen approximately 5 million churches in the past 3 months, but this was one of the most impressive and memorable.

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Aside from strolling around the city, we didn’t too much else. We did spend a few hours at the Mumak Museum of Modern Art, which I didn’t find particularly special or interesting, save for some neat pop art exhibits and a dark room with two videos of a woman talking to herself from one end of the room to the other. We mostly wandered aimlessly through the many markets of Vienna, which I truly believe give the city its distinct charm. You can’t be sad after drinking a glass of hot wine and watching adorable old people dance. It’s impossible. 

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I saw a lot of comparisons between Vienna and Berlin; the large size (although Berlin is nearly twice the size of Vienna), the language, the mix of regal older buildings with the more modern ones, the open spaces, the abundance of green everywhere, etc. Both cities run very smoothly and efficiently as well, unlike certain other places in Europe. Vienna’s public transportation system was one of the easiest, cleanest, and fastest ones I’ve used, and our hostel was by far the most professional and organized (plus they had free breakfast!). 

Despite all this, I still left Vienna a tad underwhelmed. Maybe it had to do with my mental image of Austria (the hills and mountains Julie Andrews goes on HAM on in The Sound of Music) and that clearly wasn’t Vienna. Maybe it was the fact that I didn’t get a chance to learn much about the place; while walking around and taking pictures is enjoyable, I don’t find it as fulfilling as actually learning something about the country you’re visiting. Maybe it was because we didn’t get to meet any locals here. Honestly, I think it had to do with the short amount of time we had in Vienna. I wish we had been able to stay for longer; we didn’t get to see the Treasury, the Ferris Wheel, the Jewish area/museum, or one of the classical music concerts where the performers dress up in 18th century clothing. The awful weather that can be only explained by the gods getting belligerently drunk and tormenting us humans for fun didn’t help either. 

But am I glad I went? Yes. Would I go back? Most likely (I’d try to return around Easter time again). Would I ever go back to Austria so I can spin on a mountain and scream Sound of Music at the top of my lungs? Absolutely. 

Czech Mates

If I had to pick one word to describe how I felt about Prague, it would be BEAUTIFUL.

Let me clarify. Although most of the cities I visited had incredible sights and scenery, I was immediately struck by the grandness and magnificence of every inch (I’m sorry…centimeter) of Prague. Yes, the tourist-covered areas like the Old Town Square, Charles Bridge, and Prague Castle are stunning to look at, but even the less crowded neighborhoods are a feast for the eyes. 

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My adventure in the Czech Republic began when Dylan and I took another 15-hour train ride from Amsterdam, which thankfully was less torturous than the first one. I somehow managed to find an empty bed again and with the help of some friendly Germans, managed to get away with sleeping there without a ticket. After arriving, we dragged our luggage up a trillion hills through southeast Prague and arrived at our hostel, a place called Clown and Bard. This was definitely the most communal of the hostels we stayed at; a smokey hole-in-the-wall with a bar next to the reception where the staff hangs out and plays dice games with the guests every night. Dylan and I actually spent most of our nights hanging out with Greg, an American who’d worked at Clown and Bard since 1999. He was also a back-up singer for one of the famous singers in the Czech Republic and lived next to the Osbournes in Spain for a couple months. To say he was an interesting guy would be an understatement.

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But back to Prague. We started out by cutting through the massive Old Town Square to get the Jewish Town, one of the most vibrant and historically rich Jewish communities in Europe. Hitler wanted to preserve the area to turn it into a “museum of the dead”, but the Czech Jews have made it so much more. We bought a pass that gave us access to all of the synagogues (which we couldn’t take pictures of) and the Jewish cemetery. They were stunning examples of how beautiful a place can be despite all the tragedy that surrounds it, and you can see the spirit and resilience of the community. The cemetery, in particular, was shockingly aesthetically pleasing considering the fact that it contains 2,000 tombstones and 10,000 bodies. 

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We spent the rest of the day seeing the main hotspots, and while I could fill novels with cool things we saw, my favorite site was the Lennon Wall. Previously a normal wall, it has since become a graffiti-covered landmark after John Lennon’s death in 1980. Although people started off with Beatles-related lyrics and pictures, it now contains everything from signatures to “YOLO”.

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Some DIS friends I picked up along the way.

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Once the sun set and we started buying dinner and drinks, we were pleasantly surprised to see how inexpensive (apparently the Czechs don’t like calling their country “cheap”) everything was, at least compared to the US/Denmark. The conversion rate is approximately 18 Czech Koruna to 1 US dollar and if you’re anywhere but downtown, you can get a large meal with a beer (the best one being Gambrinus) for under 10 US dollars. One restaurant we went to even had entrees for 4 dollars! 

On day two, I met up with some of my DIS friends who were in Prague for the day through a school trip. I tagged along to their walking tour, which was a bit miserable due to the rain, wind, and my decision to wear shorts (note to self: ALWAYS check the weather in the morning). I did learn some interesting facts, like the fact that only 5% of the Czech population is religious, despite the fact that there are churches on every street corner. I also got to finally climb the enormous hill (seriously, touring this city was my workout of the year) to the Prague Castle that allowed me to see the view of the entire city, despite the grayness and grossness of the day. 

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That night, I took a cab up to a neighborhood in northeast Prague to visit my friends from school, James and Molly. Accompanied by some of their…interesting…friends, we took a tram back to the neighborhood my hostel was in to find a club called Bunker, which James described, and I’m paraphrasing, a “dubstep cave”. He mentioned it was a bit hidden and underground, but when we finally arrived at a giant rock covered with graffiti in the middle of a park and he announced that this was the infamous Bunker, I immediately understood what he meant. Unfortunately, it was closed so we headed a more swankier place called Akropolis. By “swankier”, I mean that this place (a) was an actual building and (b) displayed its name on the front. The place wasn’t too fancy and was rather empty, most likely because we were in a more residential area that probably doesn’t share our love for Thirsty Thursdays.

Everything was fine and good until I managed to end up in a fight with four guys who were all twice my size. At least, that’s one of many stories I’ve been telling people about how I ended up with a black eye that still hasn’t completely healed, nearly two weeks after I got it. What really happened was that as I left the bathroom and attempted to find my way back to where my friends were sitting, I turned a sharp corner and ran headfirst into a wall. You can’t see it too well with my glasses and the poor quality of my camera, but my left eye was basically closed for the next few days. As much as it sucked looking like a mugging victim in the rest of my trip pictures, I know that worse things could have happened and I’m glad they didn’t. Also, I’ve had fun emulating the Joker and telling a different story to everyone after growling “You want to know I got these scars?” 

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You know you’re in a great city when you have a fantastic time, despite atrocious weather and an embarrassing injury. I rank it as my third favorite location of my trip; the only reason it’s not closer to the top is because of how congested the touristy areas are. I would absolutely go back though…hopefully at a time when I can see the beautiful city with both of my eyes instead of just one. 

Give Me the Red Light…

And so begins the barrage of travel-related blog posts…

If I had to pick one word to describe how I felt about Amsterdam, it would be FUN.

If you haven’t been to Amsterdam before, some parts of the city are exactly what you imagine it to be. Namely, weed and prostitutes. In fact, I had the most fun in Amsterdam in the Red Light District, where my roommate Andrew and I did some unmentionables that would compromise my blog’s PG rating if I typed them up. However, the city is much more than a giant Spencer’s. It’s beautiful, relaxed, and contains a ton of cool history and culture that’s tragically overlooked. 

My adventures in the Netherlands started when my friend Dylan and I finally arrived after a 15-hour overnight train ride from Copenhagen. The journey was made miserable by an army of small children who must have been on speed, but after sneaking off to an empty bed, the rest of the trip was smooth sailing. We quickly found our hostel, aptly titled Youth Hostel Meetingpoint, and dropped our bags off in our 18-bed room before setting off to see the sights.

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Unsurprisingly, the city was packed with tourists, even for a Monday and Tuesday. I also expected the abundance of marijuana and sex paraphernalia, along with the houseboats and elaborate canals I remembered from my last brief trip here in 2006. There were a few things, however, I was immediately taken aback by. I knew Amsterdam was one of the most bike-friendly cities in the world, but I didn’t how bike-obsessed the Dutch are. The Danes love to bike in Copenhagen, but there aren’t PARKING GARAGES JUST FOR BIKES. I was also surprised that the Red Light District was simply a street in the middle of the city, when I expected it to be more of a closed-off, isolated community. The Red Light District is open 24/7 by the way; it was a little jarring seeing the prostitutes in their glass cases during the daytime.

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After a photoshoot on the “I Amsterdam” sign, Dylan and I went to the Van Gogh Museum and the FOAM (International Photography Museum). We couldn’t take pictures at either, which was a shame since there were photo-worthy exhibits around every corner. FOAM was dedicated to photojournalism, and had exhibits on 9/11, the progression of Times Square, movie stars, Olympic athletes, etc. As for Van Gogh,  I didn’t know much (or anything) about him before, but I was astounded reading about this guy’s life. Did you know that he didn’t have any artistic experience as a child, and just decided to become an artist during adulthood? WHO DOES THAT?

That night, Dylan and I met up with Andrew and set off to see if the nightlife lived up to the hype. While we mostly stayed in low-key, casual bars, we did meet our fair share of characters. My favorite person from the night was a sassy English bartender named Anna; when she asked us a grammar question and we sided with her friend instead of her, she pretended to be furious and gave us shit for the rest of the night. Her friend ended up buying us free jaeger, so the moral of the story is: knowing grammar can lead you to free booze. Stay in school, kids. 

The next morning, Dylan and I waited in line for an hour to see the Anne Frank house, which I had read about since sixth grade. We couldn’t take pictures here either, but I wouldn’t have been able to capture the power of the house with my crappy point-and-shoot. I was moved by the persistence and resilience of the family (along with Otto Frank, who had to live for decades after World War II after all his family and friends had died) and the power of the written word. It blew my mind to think that thousands of people come to this site every year solely because a teenage girl decided to write about her life. The simplest things truly can be the most beautiful. 

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To wrap up my time in Amsterdam, I decided to rent a bike and ride around the city for a couple hours. After a bit of confusion and almost being hit by cars, I got the hang of the ridiculously easy bike routes and saw almost the entire city (which is only 85 square miles) in two and a half hours. I can now cross “biking in a city” off my bucket list…along with some of the unmentionables I wrote about in the beginning of this post. 

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Overall, Amsterdam was a blast but I’m definitely not in a rush to come back anytime soon. I would like to see other areas of the Netherlands, especially since I didn’t get to see windmills or the “real Netherlands”. I  also left with a lot of questions about the ethics of prostitution and the exploitation of women (a topic which also came up in Budapest), which could fill ten blog posts if I actually managed to organize my thoughts. Again, it’s one of the best cities to visit if you want to have fun, but it definitely wasn’t one of the highs of my trip. Pun intended.