Last week was an exciting week for my history of art class, as instead of touring a museum as we usually do on Wednesdays, we went to the Royal Academy of Arts and toured one of the most prestigious institutions in the art world. Our guide, a first year art student named Josephine, took us through the facilities as well as a few of the artists’ workspaces. As I walked through the building and saw all the students working on their pieces, I thought of my mom, and the many art studios she’s had throughout her life. The opportunity that these students have is one that art aficionados like my mom would dream of. With a total of 57 students in the entire program, these aspiring artists have access to some of the greatest and most technologically advanced resources in the art world. They have the opportunity to curate a weekly speaker series by famous artists and philosophers from around the world, and most importantly, they don’t pay anything for their tuition. I especially enjoyed listening to Josephine explain her methodology and reasoning behind some of the work she creates, as oftentimes a clear explanation of the artist’s vision is lost when a piece is placed in a museum.
On Thursday, we left right after our morning class to Amsterdam. I was excited to visit what many had said was their favorite city abroad, and was not disappointed. While we waited in line for a taxi outside of the airport, I noticed that nearly all of the taxis were Teslas. I’ve had a chance to ride one of these futuristic cars before, but was the only one in my group that had ever been inside one of these cars. To think that this was the standard for taxis in this city is incredible, and an amazing step towards a sustainable future.
That night we grabbed dinner and drinks at a local bar and planned the rest of our weekend. While the people in Amsterdam weren’t as friendly as the Irish, we certainly felt welcome by the laid back, happy locals.
The next day we grabbed breakfast and started to explore the city. We ran into a bit of bad luck, as it rained for the majority of the weekend, but we decided to make the best out of it and continue on walking through the hundreds of small streets divided by little canals. I usually have a pretty great sense of direction, and after staring at map for a few minutes, I can figure out how to get to places in a foreign city. However, this was not the case for Amsterdam. For the first time in my life, I was in a city where I did not understand the local language in the slightest. Street names, which are usually the easiest indicator of how to get around, were sixteen letter words that I couldn’t pronounce regardless of how hard I tried. The landmarks in the city were also very scarce, as the majority of the city center looked the same: a canal separating two roads with small buildings on either side. Losing ourselves inside the city center was actually pretty enjoyable, as we were able to discover plenty of hidden treasures and beautiful sights.
That afternoon, we headed to the Anne Frank house with hopes of going inside. When we tried to buy tickets in advance last week, all tours were sold out for the entire upcoming month. Our best hope was to try and wait in line, but when we arrived, we were told it was a three-hour wait in the rain. Disheartened, we went for our back up plan.
We continued our tour through European breweries and distilleries and visited the Heineken Factory. The establishment in itself was massive, much like the Guinness Factory. However, the tour was very different. Its focus was more interactive, and guests had the opportunity to take photos in different photo booths, participate in live simulations and get souvenirs along the way. At the end of the tour, we were led to a lounge where we got to sample a few pints of Heineken. Although the tour wasn’t as informational as the one at the Guinness Factory, it was still pretty awesome.
After leaving the Heineken Factory, we grabbed a quick snack and went back to our hotel room to rest before going back out that night. We had plans to go out to dinner and walk around the city at night, but fell into such deep sleep that we didn't wake up until it was nearly midnight. At that point in time, we knew we still wanted to do something so the night wasn’t completely lost, so we went to the only place we figured would still be exciting in the late hours of the night: the Red Light District.
When I was thirteen years old, my family took a vacation to Las Vegas. I was old enough to understand the concept of strippers and prostitutes, but was too young to experience these taboo subjects firsthand. Walking through the Red Light District was a very surreal experience. We stumbled upon it after walking around in circles for a while, and if it weren’t for the actual red lights that adorned the window displays along the streets, we would have completely missed it. At a glance, the street looks like any other street in Amsterdam: small buildings with a canal running down the middle, dividing the two roads. However, as we walked down the street, we immediately realized why this was one of the most notorious places in Amsterdam.
Nearly naked women stood on the windows winking at people as they passed by, selling themselves to the men that stopped and stared for more than a second. It was shocking to see prostitution in such a liberal way. The locals walked down the street nonchalantly as the scantily clad women on either side of them were a normal daily occurrence. We went to a bar in the Red Light District later that night, and before we knew it, it was four in the morning. Exhausted, we returned home and slept.
The following day we went to the iconic Iamsterdam sign. It was a bit rainy, but we still got a chance to take lots of pictures and explore the area. We split up that afternoon and while a couple of my roommates explored a nearby market, we went to the Rijksmuseum. At the Rijks, we saw a couple original Van Gogh paintings as well as an artistic representation of Amsterdam’s history. We ate lunch at the museum and met up with the rest of our roommates to go explore some more. That afternoon, we popped in and out of stores and made random purchases throughout the city.
One of our friends from home strongly recommended we go to Cau for dinner. The restaurant was a beautiful Argentinian steakhouse, where we all had the best meal we’ve had in a long time. We were there for a while, laughing and enjoying ourselves after a long day of exploring. It was a little on the expensive side, but I definitely recommend it!
While we were gone, one of my roommates’ hotel rooms was broken into. Her laptop and brand new camera were stolen, and while the Amsterdam police was very helpful, the hotel staff didn’t seem too worried. It was a bit of a bummer, as it feels like we can’t escape a stroke of bad luck during our trips.
On Sunday, while our roommates filed a report at the police station, the rest of us went on a bus tour of the city. It was a nice way to end the long weekend, as we were able to give our legs a rest while still exploring the city.
Overall, Amsterdam was an amazing time. It was a beautiful city with a very interesting outlook on life. There are a few things that I still wish we could’ve done, like the Anne Frank house or the Van Gogh museum. With so much to do and so little time, I always feel like these weekends go by so fast! I’m excited to hopefully go back to Amsterdam in the future.
This weekend, we’re finally staying in London. After three weekends of non-stop traveling, it’ll be nice to relax and explore at a more relaxed pace!