If you aren’t caught up, check out my last post about my final days in Paris, France.
From here, our journey became a road trip. The touring company (Education First) provided our group with a gigantic charter bus – one where each of us had our own row of seats. Our driver was from Germany and taught us snippets of German during the traffic jams we hit on our way to the Netherlands. On our way there, we took a pitstop in Gent, Belgium. People were not kidding when they said Belgium’s waffles were to die for. This cute town warranted a few days to explore all on its own, but alas, it was back to the bus to Europe’s Sin City.
A Night Tour in Amsterdam
We arrived at our hostel just as it was getting dark. We were in bunk beds once again, but luckily, Dounia and I were placed in the smaller room with just two other girls. Dounia and I met Nikos downstairs to begin our traditional group tour of the city. He pointed out all the major squares, districts, and castles. Our hostel was a little far away from downtown but was just a quick trip on the public tram. We danced across the many bridges, laughing with one another as we dodged drunk and stoned tourists (Amsterdam is famous for more than pretty sights – it’s known across the continent as Europe’s Sin City). We were all finally starting to grow into the group and become good friends. And finally, we arrived: the Red-Light District.
We suddenly became salmon swimming upstream. The many alleyways were so crammed with people that it was all I could do to keep track of Dounia and the rest of the group. Personal space did not exist within those streets. It was the most crowded and trapped I’ve ever felt while still being outside. The alleys were lined with large windows and glass doors, where the women twirled around to show off to those on the other side. Some had curtains drawn to show that she was busy. I didn’t know whether it would be rude to look or not look so I tried to avoid being in front of windows entirely. The whole stint was probably only 5 minutes of meandering through the crowd, but it felt like eternity. I didn’t go back there after dark for the rest of the trip.
Hanger Strikes in Europe’s Sin City
After the tour, we were free to explore Amsterdam on our own. It suddenly occurred to all of us that we hadn’t really eaten since the Belgian waffles that morning. We decided to try and find a place for dinner. I wanted to go back and eat near the hostel somewhere, as the trams there stopped operating around 11:30. Our tour had finished at 11:20. Somehow, I had gotten roped into guiding everyone away from the tram and towards the Red-Light District for dinner. Everywhere we turned, it seemed like it was just a bar or club. Restaurants were few and far between at such a late hour, which I found surprising for Europe’s Sin City.
Finally, one of us snapped and dragged all of us into some Argentinian place that was kind of pricey. I was officially annoyed. This only worsened as they tried to map out how to get back to the hostel while using their phone’s GPS. I don’t remember what I said, but I have a feeling I may have also snapped and told them all to “Just. Trust. Me.” Fortunately, it worked out and we got onto the last tram of the night. Looking back, I hope I didn’t step on too many toes.
Without a Pocket Map: My Worst Nightmare in Amsterdam
By now, I was starting to feel pretty confident in my navigational instincts. Boy, did Amsterdam pull one over on me. After the first night, I couldn’t find a good map for the life of me. I was navigating this city on memory alone. Luckily, Amsterdam was small enough that I couldn’t get horribly lost like we did in London. But it was big enough to misjudge our destination by several blocks. And getting back to the hostel without a tram? Forget it! Luckily, it was never a big deal. Regardless, it certainly knocked my confidence level back quite a bit. Maybe I didn’t have that instinctive head for direction like I had thought.
After Amsterdam, I made sure to find a pocket map everywhere I went and not to give it to anyone. Usually, our tour guide gave us street maps and maps of the public transportation in the area, and if he didn’t give us those maps, I made sure to pick them up in the hotel or hostel we were staying at. My pocket maps became my holy grail, and I keep them preserved to this day in my travel journal. I may be just like an old man when it comes to these maps, but nothing quite beats the feeling of true travel confidence.
Join me next time as I talk about our first real day in Europe’s Sin City!