The winter morning was bright and for what felt like the first time, I was up early with giddy anticipation of where the day would lead. With a traffic-free drive to the airport and ten-seconds of arms-above-head security screening to prove that my mother and I were not harboring any weapons, I was ready to hop on the gigantic KLM combi plane for the over ten-hour flight across the Atlantic. Stocked with magazines and snacks, I browsed the on-board entertainment system and planned out the journey’s cinematic adventures (Magic Mike, Seeking a Friend at the End of the World, and Bachelorette—none of which I had seen before).
Let me say, I
was am highly impressed with everything about the KLM experience. The flight attendants were attentive and friendly, the food was actually delicious, and the drinks were plentiful (and free). If you have the option to choose KLM, I highly encourage you to do so. The hours flew by while I swooned over Channing Tatum’s dance moves and sipped red wine, perfectly content in my limited space.
Soon, an announcement requested all passengers return their seats to the upright position and the early morning light of a snowy landscape was visible through the window. We touched down in what has gone on record as being the smoothest landing of all time. Seriously, I talked about it for about twenty minutes after we got off the plane. It was incredible.
We navigated our way through the airport, got another stamp in our passports, and found the transfer that would lead us to our AmaWaterways river cruise ship. We had finally arrived in the Netherlands. Amsterdam, to be specific.
Amsterdam was unlike anything I had imagined. I had pictured it as a quaint town covered with a layer of sin and debauchery that would rival Las Vegas with its Red Light District and marijuana-provided coffee shops. Whenever I mentioned to co-workers or friends that Amsterdam would be the first stop, they all broke out into sly grins and told me to enjoy the “coffee shops.” There was never any mention of canal boats, tulips, museums, wooden shoes, or the diamond industry.
During my time there, I learned that there was much, much more to Amsterdam than its reputation.
Since our cabin wasn’t ready on the ship and we had no excursions planned for the first day, Mom and I decided to head out in our new winter boots—a purchase we were most grateful to have made in the days leading up to the trip—and set out on foot to explore. With only a map and an iPhone to guide us, we strolled along the canals and marveled at the incredible amount of bicycles even in the cold weather. Did you know that most people in Holland ride bicycles because parking spots are incredibly expensive? Yeah, I didn’t either.
After enjoying some fries and visiting Dam Square Souvenirs where I climbed into the largest wooden shoe I had ever seen, we found ourselves at familiar tourist attraction: Madame Tussauds. We found some good wax figures, some bad, and some downright scary.
The great thing about visiting one of these museums in another country is that they incorporate local historical figures. Alongside Julia Roberts and Lady Gaga stood Anne Frank and Dutch royalty including Queen Beatrix and her mother, Queen Wilhelmina. There were quite a few figures that I didn’t recognize right off-hand and it wasn’t because of the artistry involved in their creation. I’m just not as up on my Dutch celebrities as I should be.
With aching feet and hungry bellies, we made our way back to the ship for an early dinner and
too much free-flowing wine. Seriously, these gals wouldn’t let your glass get half-empty before they were topping you off again. I must have drunk an entire bottle by myself that first night and might I say, it was delicious. And so was the Advil at 2am.
The next morning, we were greeted with chilly temperatures and horizontal snow. I’ve never seen snow blow in that direction and it looked quite troublesome, but it certainly didn’t stop those early morning bike riders making their way to work.
Our tour bus took us to a different dock where we were ushered into the snow-free, but still frigid comfort of canal boats. Floating through the water, we chatted with our fellow passengers and took in the sights of towering churches, the Anne Frank House, and even a pagoda that seemed so out-of-place I liked it best of all.
From the boat came the bus tour and we were educated about Amsterdam’s history and learned enough trivia to be fully prepared for a Dutch category on Jeopardy! “I’ll take Amsterdam for $600, Alex.” We drove past museums, concert halls, and flower markets where tulips reign supreme in the spring and made our way to De Riekermolen or what is also known as Rembrandt’s Windmill, though it was built after he died.
All in all, the Netherlands was a fantastic start to our pre-holidays vacation. I was surprised to learn that Amsterdam was much more culturally refined than most people give it credit for and I would love to visit again in the spring when the tulips are in bloom.
After all, I still need a pair of those wooden shoes.