First Solo Eurotrip: Amsterdam (Part 2)
The overnight bus from Paris to Amsterdam is comfortable and surprisingly cheap, only 10 euros! I arrived around 6 o’clock in the morning and headed to the metro line. There were not many people at that hour so I asked a fellow passenger for directions. He was a middle-aged Asian man that seemed to be familiar with the city. We ended up chatting and got breakfast at the McDonald’s near Central Daam. His name is Michael, originally from Vietnam and working as an acupuncturist in London where he spent most of his life. We shared similar views on Southeast Asian and Western European countries, like how many people in the prior tend to take pride in personal wealth while the latter focus more on their work. Having an interesting conversation, we decided to tour the city together.
|First photo in the city|
Michael was only in Amsterdam for a night, it is his favorite city. We walked along the canals where I felt such serenity from the Dutch architecture and clean waters. I also found out there are open urinal booths in some spots that just cover the private area (which I never felt inclined to use), since payment is required for most public toilets. Michael and I then went to our separate accommodations to store our luggage. We arranged to meet again the old-fashion way: setting a time and location. My hostel was quite far from the center but really clean and spacious. The receptionist said there will only be one other guest in my room. After freshening up, I head back to the McDonald’s finding Michael waiting in the front seat.
|My favorite feature of the city: its architecture and canals|
The main purpose of Michael’s visit was to browse around the red light district (and not consume). It was already open at 10am and I was kind of curious. Going around the street and alleys, women in lingerie and layers of make-up were posing in front of the full-length windows. We saw a bald man wearing thick glasses and bringing a carry-on leave parting with one of the workers with a big smile on his face. Michael then made a long speech on the logic of prostitution, that relationships can be more expensive than spending 30 euros on the “main benefit”. I just stayed silent.
Michael then treated me to an Asian fast-food joint called Wok to Go, similar to Wok to Walk. The menu is fully halal, which is why Michael chose the place considering my dietary requirement. It had a really nice concept, you pick your carbs (noodles/rice), protein, veggies and sauce (they even have kecap manis!). The best part of all is the red sambal on every table! This also shows the Indonesian influence on their former colonists. I asked Michael to try some but turns out it was too much for his stomach. We went here again for dinner, this time with Randi who met Michael from their hostel. Randi was working at the US army base in Germany and drove all the way here for fun. She could handle the sambal, after being warned by Michael.
|Lunch at Wok to Go|
After dinner, Randi had to go back so Michael and I could see the red light again at night. There were many couples walking romantically while seeing the windows, probably the wife and husband were having different thoughts. We passed a booth with a chubby blonde girl. She smiled at me as we made eye contact but I walked by. We passed her again, this time she pointed at me luring me in with a sly smile. We passed her the third time and she pressed her finger to the window and ushered me in. The fourth time we passed her, she yelled “hey!” while banging the door. Michael said she must like me and would give a good deal. He strongly advised me to try her service. So when we parted, he asked to meet in London and share my experience with that girl. I said okay, waved goodbye and went to play board games with a couple of couchsurfers.
|The canals at night|
Couchsurfing is indeed a great platform for solo travelers to meet people through events and hangouts. I signed up for the board game night at a local cafe not far from Centraal Daam. It was a beautiful place overlooking the canals, I also admired the reflection of the window lights from the water. I walked into the elegant high-ceiling venue with wooden floors. A girl sitting at a table with various games greeted me. Her name is Sanne, a local, and was the host for that night. There was also an Estonian girl that was having trouble with her phone. We started to play card monopoly, which was fun and faster than the original game.
The Estonian girl could not help taking attention away from her phone, which gave Sanne and I a chance to talk. I learned that she has been to Indonesia for a quite long business trip. She was really amazed by my country’s hospitality after so many people offered hangouts through the couchsurfing platform. After ending the monopoly game, we switched to a visual card game called Dobble. This was my first time playing it and it was so much fun that I actually bought a set in London for my nephew. The objective of the game is to find a match between the center card with the first one on your deck before your opponents. I did quite well that the Estonian girl got competitive. She asked if this is a typical game in Indonesia. I said no, first time hearing about it. She replied, “Ok, so you’re just a geek” (maybe she was teasing me, I didn’t know). After the session, we went to pay for our drinks before Sanne stopped me. She said, “because your people were so kind to me, I would like to pay to thank them on your behalf.” Thank you Indonesia for being so nice to foreign guests!
Arriving at my hostel, I headed to my room expecting another guy as mentioned by the receptionist. As I opened the door, it turns out the only other guest was a girl. She looked around my age, also Southeast Asian, and rather cute. She was really busy on her laptop, must’ve been finishing a paper or something. There was an awkward silence at first as I hesitated to initiate a conversation since she seemed busy. I also thought it would be awkward to go right to sleep. So I finally said,” Do you mind if I close the window, it’s quite cold.” She responded, “Oh, sure. Whatever’s comfortable for you.” Our conversation continued and turns out she is such a fun person to talk too! Her name is Chau from Vietnam and was studying in Paris. She was excited to hear that I was studying in London as she is a huge Arsenal fan. We had lots in common being past our mid-twenties and coming from the same region. We shared funny travel stories and our fondness of Amsterdam (although I kept saying how much I like Paris). After talking for around an hour (don’t actually remember), we agreed to explore together the following day.
Chau and I started the morning by wandering around the pleasant shopping area in Centraal Dam. Being a scientist, Chau wished to go to a museum called Micropia which exhibited microorganisms. I was quite skeptical about it and had to stop by the mosque for Friday prayer so we arranged to meet up afterwards. The mosque is in one of the lovely red-brick neighbourhoods, run by muslim of South Asian descent. After it finished, I headed to Micropia which is in the same complex as the city zoo. Chau convinced me it is a cool museum worth checking out so I bought a ticket. Turns out it really is remarkable, the first floor is dark with each exhibit luminescent. There was a kissing booth that tells the amount of bacteria you just transmitted (Chau said you could just stand there by yourself and it would pop-up answers). There is a lab where you can see scientists doing their research. I learned that algae can be used as an alternative for renewable energy (and kept sharing this every time meeting a biology student). Thanks to Chau, I gained a wider view on the innovation prospects of this science.
After the museum, we went to the city library by the river. The building’s design is contemporary with white walls and shelves and wooden flooring. There is a uniquely impressive model of a fantasy library on the first floor that I spent a while observing. The top floor has reading rooms with antique furniture and amazing riverviews. There is a large section on Indonesia, showing the Dutch views on its history and development. I really could spend the whole day in this place.
|The central public library|
After the library, we took a walk along the river while searching a place for dinner. There is a number of unique modern architecture that blend in well with the classic Dutch landscape. We spotted several cozy houseboats with splendid interiors. There is also a magnificent floating Chinese temple with emerald roof tiles and red lanterns. We found a nice restaurant at a corner that served Indonesian fried rice and chicken satay, that kind of reminded me of those in Bandung’s Braga Street. The menu was much more affordable than most Indonesian restaurants in the area that were fine dining and charged 15 euros for a plate of gado-gado (it can be 0.5 euro in Jakarta). The chicken satay is certified halal and served with authentic peanut sauce, but it was fried not grilled like the traditional dish. Nevertheless, it was a nice meal.
I found out that Arsenal was playing Liverpool that night so we searched for a pub screening. We found a comfortable and quite empty place that had a projector. The bartender could manage to turn on the sound but we already ordered two soft drinks and decided not to move. There were two Indonesian guys at the table behind us (I bumped into so many here). The match was really exciting! The final score was 3-3, Xhaka made the equalizer from outside the penalty box. Chau promised to treat me to lunch if Arsenal did not lose. When we got back to the hostel, there was a new guy fast asleep and snored like a excavator at a construction site. I turned on an EDM song that made his snore a cool background sound.
The next day Chau and I visited a popular open-air market. There were countless stands selling fresh produce, snacks, and souvenirs. I tasted one of the most delicious stroopwafels and bought a bunch for my flatmates in London. I also bought a kanafeh, my favorite middle eastern dessert during my childhood in Wisconsin. We initially planned to have lunch at a Javanese-Suriname restaurant that looked equivalent to Indonesia’s warteg, but unfortunately it was closed. So we ended up at a nice dutch cafe that served croquettes. I wanted to try the kanafeh but the owner told me it’s impolite to eat outside food. I realized how impolite my actions were and it was the last time I did this.
|One of the many peaceful streets|
Chau’s bus back to Paris was later that afternoon so accompanied her to the station. After parting ways, I explored other parts of the city. I went to the Museum Square to see the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh. I regrettably did not enter either, but enjoyed the atmosphere. There was a live orchestra playing beautiful symphonies in front of the museum, a christmas market and an ice skating rink. Tourists crowded the IAmsterdam sign. I stopped by a produce store to buy fresh gouda and bread and walked around the neighbourhood. The time by myself made me really embrace the vibe. I sat on a bench while watching a father and his toddler enjoy the public space. I passed by a coffee shop that sold actual coffee, not just weed like those in the center. I took a walk in Vondelpark and enjoyed the vast green space. The day ended with a tour around the city lights in Leidseplein Square.
|In front of the Rijksmuseum|
|Seasonal skating rink in Museum Square|
|A rare thing in Amsterdam|
To sum up, Amsterdam is a charming peaceful city for everyone. It shows how legalizing everything makes people wise enough to make decisions. The signature red-brick and flat facade architecture combined with canals and rivers give a sense of tranquility. The people are friendly and open to new cultures. The higher amount of bicycles compared to cars give cleaner air and sound. This and many more makes Amsterdam a favorite city for so many people.
|A magnificent home overlooking Vondelpark|