If you've been following me on any of my social media, you know that I've been planning a trip to Europe for about a year. Well, I'm on that trip right now. I'm writing this from a darling little room in a B&B in Verona, Italy. I arrived this afternoon from Milan, after three glorious days in Amsterdam.
I'm still getting my bearings here. Italy is completely different than Amsterdam, and DEFINITELY different from the US. I spent my afternoon decompressing after a long train ride, followed by a long bus ride. Let me tell you, public transportation here, while plentiful and convenient, is CROWDED!
But that's another story.
Let me tell you about Amsterdam.
My flight touched down early afternoon on Monday. I made a beeline to the bathroom (because I really had to pee, and I needed a moment alone), and immediately burst into tears.
I was thousands of miles away from home, all alone. What was I thinking? Why would I do this to myself? I'd be lying if I said it didn't occur to me to hightail in the opposite direction and buy a ticket home.
But I'd come all this way. I was at least leaving the airport, dammit!
So, I did. And that was the best decision I've ever made.
I arrived in the city mid-afternoon, and proceeded to get thoroughly and spectacularly lost. I got off at the wrong bus stop and wandered the streets with my three-hundred pound backpack for two and a half hours (one of those things is true, the other is a huge exaggeration, guess which is which).
I must have looked really lost, because I was stopped by a guy offering directions who just happened to be from New York. "It's the street right next to Vondelpark," he said. Sounds easy, right? I'd wandered by the park a few dozen times by this point, so I was confident I'd find it. I thanked him and went on my way.
And kept going.
After a few back and forth trips, I wandered down what I thought was an alley. Super narrow, cars parked along one side, the park on the other. Surely my hostel wasn't down here. I was about to turn back when I ran into a lovely Mexican woman. I asked her what the name of the street was and she said she didn't know and kept walking. Luckily, she paused and asked me what I was looking for. I told her the name of my hostel and her eyes lit with recognition. She was staying there, too! It was right down this alley/street!
There were more tears when I finally made it to my room and sat on my bed. Pure exhaustion after my adrenaline wore off. But I was here. In Amsterdam. I did it!
I did a walking tour the next morning--my guide was a super hot Austrailian guy who'd moved to the city for a girl seven years before. He took my group through the Red Light District, to the house Rembrandt used to live in (it's a museum dedicated to the artist now), which was also located in what used to be the Jewish neighborhood before WWII, and we ended just outside the Anne Frank House. I learned so much about Amsterdam's history, and, really, I was captivated by the way my guide spoke about the city (and not just because he was pretty). He seemed to really be in love with the place. At the end of the tour, he said something that stuck with me: "Amsterdam is a place where you can really be yourself." The whole point he kept driving home was about how Amsterdam was a city of tolerance. It welcomes people of all different types with open arms, and it always has. It welcomed HIM with open arms.
And I felt welcome, too.
Even that first day, wandering lost and alone, I didn't feel afraid. Every person smiled (except for the cyclists...I can't tell you how many times I almost got flattened by a bicycle), and everyone I asked was willing to help.
I even made a friend! I'm a member of a solo female travel group on Facebook, and I had posted about my bathroom crying incident, and a lovely soul that lives in Amsterdam offered to meet me and show me around. She was amazing. We walked all around the city for hours, and she treated me to appetizers and dinner, and I got to see much more than I would have wandering on my own. I'm super thankful for her!
My last day was my most victorious. Even now, thinking about it, I'm smiling.
I had plans: I was going to see the Van Gogh museum, and the Rijksmuseum. I already had my tickets, I just had to find the places. So I left my hostel that morning, spent about an hour wandering Vondelpark (which was so lovely, guys).
And off I went. I found the Van Gogh museum and I fell in love with a painting I had never even heard of (Vase with Cornflowers & Poppies -- such a nondescript name for something so beautiful). I was so captivated I took a ton of pictures of all the little details, until a museum attendant scolded me. When I walked away, I felt like I was leaving a friend behind.
You can study Van Gogh all day long, but until you're standing in front of his work, leaning in to see the layers of paint, the almost-manic brush strokes, the chaos that creates something beautiful...well, it's hard to really appreciate the man.
After, I went on my hunt for the Rijksmuseum. And I found it! This building was breathtaking. I sat on a bench for so long, just staring at the stained glass windows, high ceilings, tiled floors...so beautiful! A few more hours wandering this massive building and I was spent.
I ended my last day with a canal tour. It was super windy, and I was freezing, but the sights were beautiful, and I had a nice conversation with a pair of British girls on vacation.
Once that ended, it was only 630pm, but I was exhausted. So, sans map, I made my way back to my hostel--without getting lost! Success!
(I know both museums AND my hostel are in the same area, but shhhh...don't take this victory from me!)
Part of me stayed behind in Amsterdam. I fell in love, and I look forward to returning. But for now, I am in Italy. Fair Verona. Tomorrow, I take to the streets and explore. I'm ready to fall in love with another city. Show me what you got, Italia!