When I originally booked my flight to Scotland, I was scheduled to have a three hour layover in Amsterdam both flying into Scotland, as well as flying home to Seattle. Anything less than this would cause some anxiety for me, because I like to have plenty of time to get from one gate to the next without having to rush. Three hours was literally perfect, but unexpectedly a handful of months after my tickets were purchased I got an email advising me that my flight had changed.
Oh great, what does that mean?
My flight to Scotland had remained the same, but my flight home had a longer layover than I was expecting. 17 more hours to be exact. Initially I was peeved, what the hell am I going to do in Amsterdam for 20 hours. After realizing the opportunity this presented I became excited, I now had time to leave the airport and get a brief taste of the Netherlands.
In an attempt to prevent overwhelm, something I struggle with, I decided on one activity I knew I needed to do. I needed to visit the Anne Frank House. Growing up the only period of history I had interest in was the Holocaust. I often tuned out when learning about most time periods, but when we talked about the Holocaust in school I was voracious in my studies.
Tickets for the museum can only be purchased online, so two months prior to our trip I bought the tickets and our reservation was set. Upon arrival in the Netherlands we took a shuttle to our hotel, and then took a bus to the city center of Amsterdam. I was slightly uneasy upon arrival because English is not the native language here, but our bus driver spoke perfect English and was immensely helpful telling us where to go/how to get back after our day.
We arrived in the Netherlands around 1pm, and our time slot for the museum was at 545pm.
Pictures are not allowed inside the museum, but this was everything I hoped for and more. To be able to walk through the secret annex where Anne Frank and her family hid was an emotional piece of history I could never fully put into words. Talk about an inspirational human being, I can’t even imagine living through what she lived through.
After we had our cores shook to the bone, it was time for a pick me up. Right next door to the Anne Frank House is a traditional Dutch pancake house, and ya’ll better believe I needed some caffeine and sugar in my bloodstream. I was enthralled in Scotland when I discovered a churro and gelato shop, and finding a restaurant specific to pancakes (not like IHOP in the states) in Amsterdam was the perfect ending to my Eurotrip.
I got the apple crumble pancake with vanilla ice cream and a doppio on the side. The pancakes in the Netherlands are more like crepes, so it’s quite easy to eat your entire pancake…plus the leftovers of your friends. This place was literally called Pancakes Amsterdam and I found this to be very fitting. It was here that I received my only souvenir of the entire trip, a small white wooden clog keychain with the words “Pancakes Amsterdam” on it.
It was free, and I love free.
With a belly full of cakes and veins raging with caffeine it was necessary to walk around the city some more. After all, we had to make best use of our 20 hour layover. By the time we finished with pancakes it was around 8pm and we began to wander with no specific destination in mind. Amsterdam is extremely bike friendly, and even into the dark hours of the night there were so many people out biking. I have never seen so many bikers in my life. If I lived here I’d surely bike along the canals everyday.
Before we arrived in Amsterdam, we would tell people about our layover and the reactions were all very similar. We’d get a laugh, followed by “it’s very different,” followed by an additional laugh. I knew Amsterdam was 420 friendly, but so is my home state so this didn’t phase me (granted it’s still illegal to smoke in public where I live.) One of our Scottish taxi drivers warned us about sex shops as well, but even this was something I could handle.
What I ended up discovering was far more than I ever expected.
I like to think I’m a cultured human being. I’ve done my fair share of youth fueled activities that would make my parents cringe (sorry mom and dad), but within the last decade of my life I’ve turned into a quiet homebody. I tell stories of my past and people are shocked, but I like to emphasize that I don’t in fact live under a rock. All this to say I HAD NO IDEA prostitution was actually a thing, and that it was so “out in the open” like it is in Amsterdam. While wandering the streets we decided to follow the crowds, and found ourselves SMACK in the middle of the Red Light District.
Endless windows of women dancing in their underwear, peep shows, sex shows, sex shops, “coffee shops” aka bar like settings where people smoke weed and drink alcohol. I was emotionally dumbfounded and was so beyond the point of overwhelm. Despite being culturally out of place, it was like a car crash that you just couldn’t stop watching. The oddest part was that this is completely normal in their country, and after a short period of time it started to feel less taboo.
People were everywhere and most everyone seemed unfazed, which was contagious.
That’s not to say I wasn’t continuously shocked that this was normal, but it was interesting to see how starkly different one culture is to the next. In America this is so unbelievably illegal, yet in the Netherlands it’s not only legal, but almost felt like it was normal. Some people come to Amsterdam for the “coffee shops” and sex shows, but I’ll be going back for the waffle shops and bike canals. I can only handle so much, and my drug of choice will always be sugar.
Around every corner there are shops with waffles covered in whatever your heart desires, and candies and cookies, and pizza. It makes sense with so many “coffee shops” that people get the munchies, but I had eaten myself silly with pancakes, ice cream, and endless samples of Tony’s Chocolonely that I couldn’t stomach anymore food despite my desire to continue binge eating sugar (yes it’s a problem, no I don’t want to talk about it.)
My one regret is not buying a damn waffle to bring with me on the plane the following morning.
The busses run 24/7 in Amsterdam, and we arrived back at our hotel around midnight. Our flight was around 10am giving us plenty of time to digest what we had seen and what we ate on our quick adventure in the city. Although if I’m being honest, I’ve still not fully digested the Red Light District…it’s truly something you have to see for yourself to fully grasp. I’ve seen so many things I cannot unsee. **Disclaimer: I DID NOT see any live shows…I’m simply referring to the (barely) clothed women in the windows.
I’ll definitely return to Amsterdam to explore more of the museums and cultural history, but I don’t anticipate needing more than three days here. Let’s be real though, I’m mainly going back to eat as many waffles as I can. What can I say, I’m a glutton for punishment, and I don’t know the meaning of portion control.
And just like that, my second trip to Europe was complete.
Q: Had you heard of the Red Light District?