First steps on the European continent
We landed in Amsterdam around 3 o’clock in the afternoon. The plan for the rest of the day was to make our way to the first accommodation (most of the accommodation I booked was via Air BnB) and then get food and much needed sleep. After gathering our luggage, we made our way to the airport train station. My travel companion had to go to the toilet which left me a long time to just sit at the station and gaze around (isn’t Youtube wonderful! This is the first time I’ve actually uploaded something on there, might do it more now since it makes sharing videos so easy!). The station had numerous stores and eateries lining the vast floor space. The trains were another level beneath.
For my trip, I had decided to purchase a travel SIM from Australia Post which allowed me to have both internet access and calling capacity (as long as my phone didn’t run out of battery, which it did. Should’ve brought a battery pack.). It was a little pricey ($40AUD for the SIM and credit) but in hindsight it was well worth it. It just meant I didn’t have to worry about dodgy connection which I had read was common amongst some of the cheaper travel SIMs. They were running a campaign at the time and I even got a bonus 1GB of data which turned out to be more than enough for searching info and checking the maps.
I had planned on relying on the public transport system for majority of the trip as I had read it was very reliable and convenient. In Netherlands, there is a card system which is available throughout the entire country called the OV Chipkaart. There are essentially 3 types of cards depending on whether on your intended use, along with a host of discounts/plans that you can load onto your card. There was a counter at the train station so it was super easy to get ourselves the anonymous card. If you’re from Brisbane, it is basically like the Go Card. NS is the company that manages most of the public transport in the country. Before the trip, I downloaded their app which came in super handy because after I enter my destination, it picks up where I currently am and then tells me the exact steps to get to my destination. It tells me how long I have to walk, which platforms my mode of transport will be on, the duration, and the cost for the trip.
I did enough research beforehand to know the basics but I did not plan out the details of every journey, not even the first. So I probably could have saved a bit of money if I had planned better but I am also a massive fan of just winging it and am lucky enough to not be hampered by the higher price tag that comes with this style of traveling. Having said that, public transport does get a bit pricey if you’re traveling even within about a 15km radius. I think as a rough guestimate, I probably ended up spending around €400 for my entire trip. Though I must state that did a lot of “long distance” travel (i.e. traveling from one town to next) for my matches. If you’re on a tight budget, I highly recommend a bit more prior planning as well as making use of the Dutch equivalent of our car – bikes. I did want to ride a lot more than what I actually ended up doing but that’s another story.
The only other thing I pre-booked prior to the trip was the Holland Pass. It is a discount card which lets you do several touristy things “for free” depending on which level you bought (I mean, it’s not really “free” as such since you paid for it beforehand but it’s discounted). It is worthwhile if you are spending more than one week in the country, or have enough time to do at least the main attractions you bought for. I did not end up using the card for its money’s worth (part of the “other story”). In a way, it was very fortunate that I did not end up using the cards because I was able to offer it to my last hosts of the trip, with whom I had a very good connection with. More on that later. Anyways, I collected our pass at the train station before we left for our accommodation.
In the eyes of the beholder…
The journey to our first accommodation included a train ride, a bus ride, then a little bit of walking. It took us a little bit to work out how to use the OV Chipkaart but got there in the end (tip: when in doubt, always spot the locals and watch them like a hawk).
This first train ride was maybe my favourite train ride of the entire trip. From the moment I stepped off the plane, I just had this sense of wonderment in me. Probably because it’s my first time in this completely foreign land but I think maybe because I almost instilled the belief that everything in this country was going to be amazing and superior (??). I think I had a very positive vibe of Europe and the way things are run over there prior to the trip, not that I knew a lot about the details of the region though. (It’s hard to explain, sorry if it doesn’t make sense since I’m not very good with words.) Anyhow, to this day, I still vividly remember the excitement and wonderment I had while simply sitting on that train and observing the locals as they went about their day. Everything was new to me even if they were not doing anything out of the ordinary. There was a group of primary school aged girls that came on the train one stop after we got on, accompanied by two adults. It looked like they had been on a school excursion even though it was a Saturday. As I sat there watching, I was simply absorbing how raw and innocent their interactions were (maybe not to do with them being Dutch more so to do with their age). They were not afraid to show their momentary unhappiness with one another, nor were they unafraid to share their laughter when one of them fell as the flip-up seat lifted when she stood up without making their friend feel too embarrassed. I think I had a magical bubble around me that day.
The rest of the journey to the accommodation was similarly magical. When I stepped off the bus and walked off the main road into the local streets, I was once again left a little gobsmacked. I hadn’t looked up many photos of Netherlands beforehand; my expectation was for it be be full of high rises and being crowded, given that it’s Europe where there is little land and millions more in populations than Australia. As I walked, all around me were these small, one/two storey houses with large glass windows, and front yards filled with blooming flowers. There was really one word to describe it all – quaint! There were quite a few cats wandering the streets as well.
The Little Blue House
That’s the name the hosts gave their little granny flat at the back of their yard. It was a separate building which they had constructed themselves, with inbuilt kitchen and bathroom. The interior decoration had a touch of Chinese influence to it. It was the perfect accommodation for our time in Amsterdam.
The long but scenic way
After we unpacked and did all the other stuff, we decided to go find dinner. The hosts suggested that there is some restaurants towards the harbour area, and so we decided to go that direction. We decided to not take up his offer of his bikes and walked instead. Lucky we took his offer of the umbrella though, because it started to pour later on. The walk turned out to be a lot longer than we anticipated.
It was probably around 8pm when we set off and it was still pretty damn bright. There was a vast piece of farmland basically about 5 minutes walk from where we were staying which I never expected to see so close to the city. Eventually the houses turned into boat houses, where the living area was literally right next to the water. Almost all the house windows were uncovered such that I could see into all of them and I projected this feeling of warm coziness paired with relaxed comfort in all these houses. We also walked past this area with some tall apartment accommodation (in contrast to what we saw earlier) and it almost felt like it was a student accommodation area. There was a small soccer field (maybe similar to an indoor court) with metal cages as the two goals. There were a small group of teenage girls there, with one kicking a ball. If I was not wearing thongs, and delusional from my long flight, and starving to death, I would not have hesitated to join them and chatted.
After we made it past the looooong walk, we finally hit this industrial area with large warehouses all around. I walked past the first “coffee shop” (it’s where weed is sold). Fittingly enough, the name of it was Funny People. All this time, we had not walked past many people. Then as we turned the corner from the coffee shop, a group of teens/adolescent youth was walking past, a few of them with hoodies on, and riding a bike. They definitely smelt like they were smoking weed. They looked at us, and we looked (a little bit, without making full eye contact!) at them. I wasn’t feeling unsafe, but I was definitely apprehensive. Luckily, they just kept going. I reckon they could definitely tell we were tourists. Asians, looking lost, wandering around empty streets. Once they left, I went back to soaking up my new surroundings. The area had a lot of really cool graffiti.
Still we kept on walking and there was nothing restaurant-looking in sight, just lots of large warehouses. Eventually we turned another corner and saw a group of people and I thought “sweet, people = places open, surely!”. Nope, the group of people were there either doing some sort of performance or someone was giving a talk. They looked like they were hippies. But that was where I saw the cool face drawn on this round drum sitting on its side. Then not far from there, I heard a lot of voices and what looked like some sort of outdoor restaurant. However, it wasn’t long until I started smelling all the weed. There were lots of people at this outdoor lawn area, it was surrounded by lots of bikes and a few large trucks and some vans/cars. The crowd was quite loud and exuberant. We walked around the perimeter checking it out and then walked to what we thought was the entrance. We only walked in a few feet before realising that it’s probably more for just smoking weed than a restaurant for sit-ins. Not exactly what we needed at that time. So we backtracked and kept walking, now coming across a few more not-weed-smoking people and a few that even looked like tourists. We hit the edge of this bridge and wandered a few steps onto it before deciding that it wasn’t the right direction to head. Again we backtracked and then out of nowhere, we stumbled upon a festival! Eureka!
I have no idea what the festival was about but I found out later it was called Over Het Ij Festival. There was some food stands and other stalls along the pier but my travel companion was not the type for food stands. Luckily there was a restaurant to the right which we wandered into. It was packed. Mind you, this was already almost 10pm at night (though it was a Saturday night). We asked for a table for two and was seated in the middle of the restaurant floor. The interior wasn’t anything special, just a normal looking restaurant with a bar, and a second floor with more seating. The guests inside were mostly enjoying a meal in small groups, many of them looking between 20-40, all dressed in my opinion, pretty casually. I really enjoyed the energy present that night. The waiters were flat out with all the guests but we eventually got our food. I ordered a couscous dish. It was great that the menu had both Dutch and English. All the waiters we talked to spoke great English too.
Mozzies and their human equivalent
I’m a mozzie magnet unfortunately. I even specifically asked the hosts if there were lots of mozzies in Netherlands after they suggested we leave the windows open and they said no. Lesson learnt, just because the mozzies won’t attack anyone else, they will always come at me no matter what. God damn. I probably only had about 2-3 hours of decent sleep before I started hearing the buzzing sound of a floating mosquito. Even the thought of that buzz is making my hair stand right now. For the rest of that night, I was sleeping in fear (not even exaggerating).
Then there was my travel companion. I had an expectation of what she was like before the trip, but it ended up being so much worse than my expectations. And it began from the very start. I’m not going to give too many specific details in the public domain but I will say that I have met a few quite inconsiderate people in my life, and unfortunately she very quickly imposed her presence on my list. That night was the first of many nights of little to no sleep because of the light and noise she created.