Amsterdam: Lights, Cheese, and Art

11-13 December, 2015

Whenever I’m on a flight, I usually commit a millisecond or two to admire the pictures in the airline magazines. I just about dashed past the advertisement for Amsterdam because I had already been there, but then I noticed that it was for a light festival taking place along the canals.

I’m a sucker for lights.

A few days later, my friend Kyndall had expressed interest in the same light festival on Facebook. I told her I was planning on going and just like that, I had a travel buddy!

Kyndall and I have had quite a few adventures together, so I’m not sure what I’ll do if she ever leaves Turkey.

It is very easy to get from the airport to the city center via train and it only costs about five euros. Once in the central train station, I purchased a 48-hour transportation pass for the trams and made my way to the hostel. This cost about twelve euros. I think it was worth having since it rained a lot, but other than getting to and from our hostel, we didn’t use it much. Amsterdam is a very walkable city.

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Amsterdal Central Train Station

We stayed at the Amsterdam Hostel Leidseplein in a 6-bunk dorm. My favorite part about the hostel was the resident cat. The people in the room with us were plenty respectful and the guys at the reception were helpful. The bed was good enough, but the room got a bit hot overnight and thus a little smelly. Towels were not included, but you could rent them for 1.50 Euros. Breakfast was included but it was only peanut butter and jelly sandwiches…

The street to our hostel looked remarkably like Istiklal in Istanbul.

The street to our hostel looked remarkably like Istiklal in Istanbul.

It was pretty easy to talk Kyndall into going to a nearby pancake diner for breakfast on Sunday morning. The pancake was more like a crepe. I’ve definitely had better in the Netherlands, but the eggs with ham were a welcome treat, as was the hot chocolate with loads of whip cream. We ate more than our stomachs could handle and we hated ourselves for hours.

Saturday morning, we made our way over to the museum quarter.

If you are a museum buff, you may want to consider the City Pass. It provides transportation, a canal tour, and entrance to many of the museums. We decided that it wasn’t worth the cost for what we wanted to do, but take a gander anyway.

The only museum I was keen to see was the Van Gogh Museum, although I’m told the Rijksmuseum is also spectacular. I had skipped both last time I was in Amsterdam because at that point in my ten months abroad, I had been to more art museums and cathedrals than I even knew existed.

I personally loved the Van Gogh Museum. The layout was so easy to navigate. It was well organized, taking us through his life, his influences, and his relationship with his brother and peers.

Seeing his works side by side is what made the museum so remarkable to me. I wish there were more museums dedicated to a single artist. I had never before found myself admiring an artist’s unique brush stroke style. I had never searched for changes in an artist’s style over time. I had never before marveled over an artist’s studies and rough drafts. My favorite part, however, was discovering how much I loved some of his lesser-known works.

There was also an exhibit comparing Munch and Van Gogh. This was where many of the better-known Van Gogh pieces were that weekend. Munch and Van Gogh approached art with similar techniques and beliefs. They wanted to represent honest feelings, nature, and real, everyday people going about their everyday lives. Some of their work is strikingly similar.

Following the museum, we made our way over to the Utrechtsestraat. I had downloaded the Amsterdam guide from Booking.com after reserving our hostel. The description of Utrechtsestraaat sounded like Cihangir, Istanbul. We should have explored the area a bit more, but the only thing we had in mind was lunch.

And lunch we had. We stumbled upon a unique menu at Toon (Utrechtsestraat 18) I had the most incredible burger and fries with what I can only assume was some sort of truffle mayo. I don’t know what it was, but I still drool when I think about it. If you’re looking for a cozy place to have an incredible lunch, look no further.

We wandered into a market across the street to buy some snacks and water for our canal tour. Since we came specifically for the light festival, we took the Water Colors tour. As we passed by a contribution to the festival, a recording told us about how it fit into the theme of Friendship. Unfortunately, it was raining, so the canal boat was covered and fogged up a lot. The Dutch ladies sitting behind us were hysterical, though, and were quick to open the window and tell me when to snap a photo of a display.

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The Northern Lights – This was my favorite.

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Unlike the Zorlu light festival in Istanbul, where there simply wasn’t much to see, the Amsterdam Light Festival did not disappoint. Had I not already been drenched and shivering from the rain, I would have gone along the walking route as well for more pictures. Check out their Facebook page for more incredible photos!

Here is a great time lapse of the festival.

While we were out, we stopped in some shops and tasted all the cheese. The Old Amsterdam tastes similar to Parmesan. The smoked cheese tasted like meat. I couldn’t have enough samples. There was so much variety.

After the cheese tasting, we made our way to the Red Light District. I think we only caught a corner of it, because I remember it being much bigger. Kyndall got the idea, though, and I think had seen enough.

Sunday morning started with our giant breakfast followed by the Anne Frank House. To those of you using the City Pass, the Anne Frank House is one of the sights NOT included, but it was only nine euros to enter. If you can, reserve a time to go as the queue is quite long.

I had gone through the house in college and remember being emotionally struck as I climbed the hidden stairs behind the bookcase. I can’t imagine living in such closed quarters for two years with no privacy and no light except for a window in the attic.

Next, we walked all the way to the one windmill within the city and ate a scoop of ice cream.

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We spent the afternoon admiring a few antique shops and Blue Delft ceramics. I found a tulip vase and some candle holders that spoke to me, but in the end, I was not in love, so I left them behind… Which is surprising because I love blue and white patterns.

Few cities in the world are as picturesque as Amsterdam. I never thought I would enjoy going back to places I’ve already been, but I’ve done that a few times now, and Amsterdam certainly didn’t let us down.

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