I just got back from my second mini-vacation this semester. This time I went to the Netherlands to visit Helena; we visited a different town every day and I absolutely loved them all! Helena lives in Leiden, which is a half hour train ride outside of Amsterdam. The town is about the same size as St. John’s, but the city centre is filled with canals, cobblestone roads, windmills, and lots of bicycles! On my first three days we visited Haarlem, Amsterdam, and Utrecht, and on my last day I did some exploring in Leiden.
One of the first things I noticed about the Netherlands was how European everything feels. This might seem like a bit of a weird comment since I’ve been living in London and traveling around Europe for most of this year, but all the cities I visited felt so old and untouched by the rest of the world. According to Helena, Amsterdam is one of the largest cities that was unaffected by WWII. While London’s key buildings were saved during the blitz, much of the rest of the city was flattened. A lot has been restored, but you can definitely tell that London is a newer, more modern, city. While several towns in the Netherlands were bombed during the war, most of them escaped any large scale damage, leaving the cobblestone, buildings, bridges, and canals all intact. I think this is what created such a different atmosphere for me.
Amsterdam is a very different city. We started the day off with a 3 hour tour of the city that started in the main square in Amsterdam, Dam Square, and took us through the red light district and the canal network to the royal palace, old church, and Anne Frank House. There’s definitely two sides to Amsterdam – it was interesting to learn about some of Holland’s more liberal policies regarding marijuana and prostitution and how legalizing both of them has resulted in less occurrences of hard drug abuse, pimping, and sexual trafficking. However, my interest in visiting Amsterdam was to see the rest of the city and we didn’t spend much time in the red light district.
My favourite part of Amsterdam was easily the Anne Frank Huis (house). I read Anne Frank’s diary when I was 10 and I’ve always been fascinated with WWII history, so this was the number one thing I wanted to visit. The house has been transformed into a museum, but the secret annex where Anne lived for two years has been left empty. After walking up two flights of stairs, you go through the secret bookshelf which is the entrance to two floors and several hidden rooms at the back. All the furniture was photographed as it existed when Anne lived there, but it has all been removed in the rooms now. I was surprised by both how large and how small the annex was. I knew it was two floors, and I expected it to be small as it was secret, but it’s a little bit hard to believe that 8 people lived there for 2 years! During their stay, Anne pasted several posters to the walls and her parents marked the height of her and her sister on the wall; these things still remain in the house, but everything else is gone. After a fun day in the city, it was a bit of a reminder of the darker history of the country.
The rest of my time was devoted to exploring Haarlem, Utrecht, and Leiden. I’m so glad we didn’t spend all of our time in Amsterdam, because I absolutely loved visiting the smaller towns! Leiden and Utrecht were my favourite. It was easy to walk around the smaller cities and the canals give the towns such a nice feeling. We spent our time walking along the canals, shopping, and eating Dutch treats. We particularly liked oliebol (although I also tried bitterballen), which is a large piece of fried dough sprinkled in icing sugar (so basically a larger, round, touton). We also had a huge laugh on our way back from Utrecht, one of the train stations was closed, so we had to temporarily take a bus – to make up for this minor inconvenience, we were provided with free treats! The transportation staff was waiting for us with soft drink, stropwaffles, chocolate, and candy!
We went out with a few of Helena’s friends for live music on Friday night and had a truly Dutch experience. I’ve never seen more bicycles in my life than what I saw in the Netherlands. Everyone rides bikes there and you constantly have to watch out you don’t get run over by one. Since Helena only had once bike though, we had to cycle to the bar ‘Dutch’ style! This means I sat side saddle on the back rack of Helena’s bike and she cycled both of us! She was a bit wobbly at first and I was a bit nervous and kept jumping off, but we eventually got the hang of it and had a great laugh learning!
Overall, I had a fantastic trip to the Netherlands! I wasn’t really sure what to expect since it’s such a small country, but I was pleasantly surprised. Only 2.5 weeks left in London now! I’ve realized that I haven’t seen any new musicals since I’ve been back, so I need to cram a bunch into the next few weeks. This coming weekend, my childhood will be realized when I visit Harry Potter Warner Bros Studios! So tune in next week as I’ll likely be writing a special HP blog 😛
Home in 25 days, gotta make the most of the last few weeks!