Being 25 years old, and having never left the North American continent, I figured my first time in Europe would be spent like many of my young peers; carrying a 50- pound backpack and staying at various hostels with eccentric foreign kids. The internet had been my source for answering my questions and curiosity about far off sites I could only dream about one day experiencing. I used Facebook as my cyber stalking tool to track down friends who had traveled to other countries. I took note of where they stayed, what they saw, the food they ate, and how they interacted with the new world they were experiencing.
When the opportunity came for me to finally cross the pond, I already knew exactly where I was to go and what I wanted to see. I felt confident I had a good sense of the destinations I was about to embark to. I had, after all, spent countless hours on search engines and had watched enough episodes of Anthony Bourdain to consider myself an advanced tourist.
On my first night I arrived in Amsterdam; a city I believed to be the Las Vegas of Europe. I stayed at the Conservatorium; a nineteenth century music institute, turned bank, turned trendy luxury hotel. Designed by famed Milan-designer, Piero Lissoni, the hotel meticulously melds the original building with a modern, elegant design, with what looks what looks like a large glass case over the front of the building. It houses one of the hottest restaurants and lounges in Amsterdam. The transparency of the glass allows the rooms to flow from one to the other, while showcasing the traditional white glazed ceramics Amsterdam is so famous for. With a never-ending staircase that would make M.C. Escher proud, the architectural design is meant to show the buildings advancements without letting go of its roots.
After a celebratory champagne toast at the lounge I was ready to hit the streets, excited to see firsthand the debauchery that Amsterdam is reputed for. As I stepped out of the hotel, my presumptions were quickly haulted. There were no hippies playing reggae music, no clouds of smoke billowing out of coffee shops; there were no girls running around in lingerie, or dancing beneath red lights. Instead, there were cobblestone streets, elegant candlelit restaurants, 19th century styled shops, and kind and seemingly conservative people walking in the crisp fall night. Amsterdam wasn’t Sin City; Amsterdam was… pure and charming.
I felt like I had stepped back in time to Old World Holland. An untouched piece of history, where homes were built thin and tall, and ever so slightly slanted forward due to the hooks on the attic’s that would lift goods from the boats in its canals. The Dutch heritage is strong and integrated not only in the architectural design of the buildings, but also into the decadent bakeries and restaurants. The city itself is buzzing with a youthful pulse, and it wasn’t uncommon to meet a perfect stranger on the street, start a friendly conversation, and end up grabbing a beer at the local bar.
Bicycles are the main form of transportation, and they fill the sidewalks and bridges as if you are on a university campus. Nobody wore wooden clogs, but there was a definitive fashion that seemed to trend among the locals. Boutiques carried warm winter coats and boots with European influences of leathers, firs, and suede. Hats were a necessity due to the cold winter, and the women seemed to take on the challenge by flaunting every unique style they could.
Amsterdam did not look as I had seen it on my friend’s profiles; nor was it as wild as Harold and Kumar depicted it. Sure, you can find yourself a coffee shop, or seek out the red light district. But there was so much more to this city than any Facebook picture or travel program could show. It is a city filled with culture and you can see today how relevant its rich history is.
I rode on a horse drawn carriage through the town, learned the history of the canals and the trading business, experienced Anne Frank’s home, saw world class art by Rembrandt, Vermeer and Van Gogh, and had one of the most amazing waffles of my life.
Amsterdam was my first taste of Europe, and the memories will stay with me forever. It was a real eye opener to how very little I knew. I was grateful to have had seen and experienced all the amazing beauty the city had to offer. My former assumptions were nothing more than built up generalizations and held no relevance once I actually submerged myself in the city. For the duration of my trip I reset my way of thinking and made myself view all the foreign destinations I visited with an open, non-biased approach. I continued to travel throughout Europe with an open mind and didn’t let the experiences or stories of other’s travel alter my own exposure to unknown territory. This was after all, MY European trip, not my peers'. I made my own impressions, experiences, and journeys. It was nothing like how I expected my first European adventure to be… it was far, far better.
Katelyn O’Shaughnessy, TravelStore intern