Amsterdam was our last stop in Europe. EVERYONE was sooooo excited. I don’t know what everyone else was looking forward to, but I had a short list of things I considered “must-do’s”: Anne Frank House, Van Gogh Museum, see a windmill, people watch at the canals. Not a long list, but I’m willing to let other people have a say in what we do on vacation. Not that they ever do, since my family likes to just sit back and let me plan everything. Hey, whatever works.
We drove our mighty Caddy van toward Amsterdam, and were almost immediately rewarded with a windmill sighting! I was so thrilled to point it out to everyone, much to their amusement. This was going to be a great day!
And then we got to Amsterdam. Immediately, I felt myself tense up. We were in our first overly crowded area of the trip. Traffic backed up, and we inched along the main street looking for parking. Bicycles whizzed by, narrowly missing cars (ours included) and pedestrians. People were walking shoulder to shoulder everywhere I looked. We inched along, finally finding a parking garage after 40 minutes and maybe 1 mile.
The unfortunate truth is, I struggle with anxiety. Everything about this stop so far was making me anxious. This was looking like a bad idea.
We walked around for a bit, trying to get our bearings in the city. All I have to say about that is: Good luck! Amsterdam is a confusing place to try to find your way. Maps (paper or online) didn’t help. Asking directions didn’t help. Looking for a tall landmark (my usual go to this trip) didn’t work. More on this later.
We finally decided to take a canal tour. Surely we could find the (right) canal! We booked tickets in advance, then went in search of food. Being budget minded, we went to a local grocery store and bought sandwiches of unknown ingredients and drinkable yogurts. FYI, these markets are cash only, so come prepared. We walked in the direction of the canal cruise near the train station, sat on the benches, and people watched while we ate. A flashing billboard warned us to beware of pickpockets. Cool. I sat on my bag the whole time. Good luck, pickpocket!
The canal cruise was fine. We got to see the city and listen to a taped tour. I saw the exterior of Anne Frank’s house and made a mental note of how to get back there. After the cruise, we went in search of a herring stand. (Tip: Look for an enormous amount of flocking seagulls and the herring stand will be right under them.) I’m all about trying the local food, but let’s be real here–NO ONE in my family was going to eat an entire herring sandwich. So we bought two and split them 5 ways. Those 2 1/2 bites we each had were plenty. But now we needed a beer to wash them down. We found a nice local bar that featured Amstel (the adult kids dissed Heineken), and enjoyed some quiet time with the locals. Lovely people. Probably should have stayed in the bar.
Out on the street, we went wandering, looking for Anne Frank’s house. I’d since narrowed my musts down to this single place. We walked shoulder to shoulder with the zillion tourists, getting a contact high from the pot being smoked on the street. Seems like many tourists come for this aspect alone (haven’t they heard of Colorado?). That certainly wasn’t my focus. (Seriously, AA has flights to Denver right now for $90 R/T. Why waste Europe time?) We asked no fewer than 6 people how to get to the Frank house. We got redirected with conflicting directions 6 times. We logged about three miles walking in circles on our search.
One lovely woman who tried to direct us was a health worker on her way to check the prostitutes for HIV. The bio hazard gear should have been a heads up to us, I guess :). In fact, she invited us to go with her to the Red Light district, as “I
t’s great family fun!” Thanks anyway. We went our own way and kept looking.
I thought it would be smart to cut through an alley instead of staying on the main road. Bad idea. Green lights strung between the buildings invited us to “live porn”. Giant dildos and other sex toys were positioned to entice us into shops. And hey, what was that?!?! Women in storefront windows bathed in red light. Shit. I had led my family right into the Red Light district. I wanted the earth to swallow me whole. My kids found this hilarious. My husband stopped to marvel that “they really are standing in red lights!”. And in case you are wondering: no matter what your tastes, there is someone for everyone in the Red Light District. Oh well, now we have a great story to rehash at every family event for the rest of eternity!
Needless to say, we never found Anne Frank’s House. We did find a billion murderous bicyclists, Dam Square numerous times, the flower market, the flea market, and some incredibly kind people. And we held on to our belongings. Not every trip is a win, but this one is definitely a story!