From London to Amsterdam: Excursion filled with wrong turns, crazy bicycling and memories forever

VTSU Castleton student Jess Emery, traveled from her study abroad school in London to Amsterdam to celebrate a new friend’s birthday.

This past weekend I took my first journey outside of England. 

Me and five of my friends booked at last minute trip to Amsterdam for my friend Lucy’s 20th birthday. 

By last minute, I mean my friend Savannah planned the whole thing two days before we left. 

Arriving in Amsterdam and getting through customs was a breeze. When the customs officer asked what I planned to do in Amsterdam, I told him I planned on riding a bike and walking past the Anne Frank house, because tickets were sold out for the actual tour. 

His only response was, “ah, it’s okay. She’s not there anyway.” 

Immediately things went south, however, when we somehow managed to sneak onto an international train to Belgium. 

By the time we realized we were headed for Brussels, we were about two hours away from the airport. 

My friends and I were standing shoulder to shoulder with about 20 other people and they all were trying to help us figure out where we needed to go. 

After much discussion, and the locals picking fun at our American stupidity, we got headed in the right direction. 

Home sweet home for the next two nights was a hostel located right in the center of Amsterdam. There were three bunk beds in a tiny room painted a bright green. It was going to be a cozy couple of nights. 

Amsterdam is known as the City of Bikes, which makes sense considering the majority of our near-death experiences were from nearly being taken out by people on the two wheels. 

Although the city was packed and busy, there was a certain calmness that you don’t ever see in America. 

No one was rushing anywhere. 

People spent a lot of their times chatting outside of pubs or gathered in the coffee shops. 

Everywhere you turned, you’d be walking across a canal. I didn’t realize just how much water there was. 

Our first day was pretty leisurely; we got brunch, went to the Rijks Museum and stumbled our way into Little Italy. 

We couldn’t decide which restaurant we wanted to try out for lunch and finally a waiter in one place came out and said we’d each get a free shot if we had lunch there. 

We didn’t need any more convincing. 

We visited one of the infamous Amsterdam coffee shops and tried some of their brownies and then made our way back to the hostel to rest for a few hours. 

The biggest culture shock by far was the language barrier. For dinner I thought I was ordering some sort of fried white fish, but when the waiter brought out fish that looked like little sardines I was horrified. 

Mostly because you could see the outline of their fins and eyeballs. 

For our second and final day we had a lot to squeeze in. 

We went to a giant market with a ton of food and vintage clothing and collectables being sold. 

My friend and I both picked up hand-made leather-bound notebooks for nine euros each. 

We walked by the Anne Frank house, which was insane. It really struck me how lucky I am to be able to travel to all of these places and see all of these glimpses of history. 

We made our way to a bike rental spot to ride around in a nearby park. 

Mind you, I am not a very good cyclist and the way they ride here is very intense. 

Bikers get their own lane on the road and follow the same rules the cars do. 

I ended up renting a children’s bike because all the adult ones were too tall, and I was not willing to risk my safety. 

At least I saved a little money. 

We took a canal cruise that was beautiful and learned a bit about the history of Amsterdam. 

After that, it was time to start our night. 

I think it’s important to note that since we had a 7 a.m. flight the next morning, we decided instead of paying for the hostel another night we would just stay out until 3:30 a.m. and then make our way to the airport. 

We went to a small pub and then to a place called Winkel, that’s known for their world famous Apple Pie. 

The pie was delicious, but it was time for the next pub. 

After the fourth pub or so, we found ourselves entering the Red Light District. 

This was the most packed area we had been in since we arrived. 

There were streets and streets of burlesque shows and window brothels. 

Hundreds of people were lined up outside of each. 

It hit midnight and we made our way into one of the bars to celebrate Lucy’s birthday. She kindly bought us each a shot for coming with her on this very hectic weekend. 

Earlier that day, we had taken our luggage to the train station to hold it there until it was time to leave for our flight. So, we decided it was time to go retrieve it, then take the hour-long trek to the airport. 

By the time we stumbled into the station, they told us that the lockers don’t open until 5 a.m. 

That was not going to work considering we needed to get to the airport at 5:30 at the latest and it takes at least an hour to get there. 

After much begging, they were finally able to unlock our lockers for us and we got our luggage. 

But, of course nothing can ever be easy with our group and we found the trains only leave every hour and the trams are also not in service at this time of night. 

After discussing it with a Dutchman, he told us our best course of action would be to order an Uber. 

We planned on meeting our Uber at the nearest McDonalds, but of course, we went to the wrong McDonalds and our half-drunk crew had to sprint through the streets of Amsterdam in the pouring rain at 4:30 a.m., dodging bikers left and right to catch our Uber. 

After the most stressful 36 hours of my life, we made it to the airport and back home somewhat safely. 

Although everything about the weekend felt extremely high stakes and we thought we were going to die more times than I care to admit, Amsterdam was everything and more and will always hold a very special place in my heart 

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