Europe was exhilarating. It was the out-of-breath, jump-off-a-cliff, round-and-round-on-the-teacup-ride kind of thrill. And it wasn’t just because we were running to catch our flight before the trip could even begin (not my fault, I swear), and it also wasn’t because we only had twelve days to go through five beautiful cities (Amsterdam, Prague, Paris, Barcelona, then finally - Madrid); beyond the breathtaking sights, smells, and savory tastes, it really was the wonderful people I had the pleasure of experiencing all of it with, that made this trip magical.
Eurotrip Tip Number 1: traveling Europe—or anywhere, for that matter—with superb friends is always a good idea.
The first stop was Amsterdam, the city capital of The Netherlands which birthed geniuses like Rembrandt and Vincent Van Gogh, and is popular all over the world for their bud (of course I mean their tulips), and the side-serving of debauchery that come with their coffee shops and the popular Red Light District (hold your horses, we’ll get to that in a little bit).
With only less than 72 hours to explore this beautiful city that boasts of art, culture, music, and special coffee shops, there really was no time to waste. Google and Google Maps are your lifesavers - if you didn’t already know that; search for places to go to, things to see, food to eat, where to get said food, and book your tours swiftly online. Easily avoid mishaps by reading through experiences, blogs, and reviews from thousands of travelers who have done lab rat duties in honor of edumacating those in dire need of information (like you and I) and get an overview of the city, so you can properly plan how you would maximize under time constraint.
Lodging: Airbnb in Stadionweg
After landing, we headed straight to our Airbnb apartment in the posh area of the city, Stadionweg, which was right next to the Olympic Stadium. Now, Airbnb is cheap and a god-send, but make sure you choose a place that’s near the city centre. Our spot was a 5-minute walk, and 10-minute train ride from the city center but hey, if you have the time and love the cardio, then go for it.
I was head honcho for booking lodging and Tip Number 2 for a trip like this - do your research and scour the place for the nearest, cheapest, and safest area to find a hotel / bnb. Since you’ll be out all day anyway, you just need room to sleep in and park your stuff.
First day: Amsterdam City Centre
Amsterdam City Centre is where it’s all happening, and ultimately where you want to be. It’s here you’ll find all the parks with their well-kept landscapes and flourishing flora, the many shops, the cafés, and coffee shops.
Alright. Here's an important note. If you wanna get a cup of coffee, you go to a café. If you wanna get a bowl of weed, you go to a coffee shop. And that, my friends, is basically everything you need to know about Amsterdam.
Juuuuust kidding. May be subjectively true for some of you.
Cafe = Coffee
Coffee Shop = Weed
Now, where were we?
Ah, the Rembrandt House. Popularly situated along Jodenbreestraat, the house was home to one of the most famous Dutch painters in history, Rembrandt van Rijn. It's pretty near the City Centre, but you can also ride the taxi if you're too lazy to walk.
It might be important to note that Rembrandt died a poor drunk (words of the tourist guide, not mine), which is pretty sad, considering his massive influence on the Golden Age of Dutch art and the world at large. Despite this, I still choose to remember him for his legacy.
After the Rembrandt House we headed to Amsterdam Dungeon - which by the way is the worst place to be stoned out of your mind (telling for a friend) because what the Amsterdam Dungeon is, in reality, is a depiction of the horribly gruesome history of the city—500 years of torture and tragedy, all packed into an experiential, immersive ‘tour’ that lasts for 80 minutes. Panic. Attacks. We thought the ghosts were real and the floor was moving. They weren’t, we were walking.
Aaand that is the end of day one!
Day One Recap: Amsterdam City Centre cafes and coffee shops, Rembrandt House, Amsterdam Dungeon.
We weren’t able to explore the city at night since we went home to take a disco nap that turned into a very long, jet-lag-induced, 9-hour “nap”, spilling into the early morning of next day.
Now, on to day two of our tour of Amsterdam!
We allotted this day for the day tours, which saw us to the aforementioned Rijksmuseum. There were so many beautiful art pieces in this museum which is why it was such a relief that we had our tour guide because he pointed us right to the must-sees, instead of loitering aimlessly on our own. I think that counts for Tip Number 3: museum tours will maximize your visit by bringing you to the significant pieces in the galleries and telling you more about the history behind it. Reading the description usually takes time, or doesn’t cover all bases. You can also opt to get the audio tour if you’re really keen on avoiding a tour guide.
Next, we went on the Amsterdam Canal Tour. Very touristy? Yes. Very necessary? Hell yes. Seeing Amsterdam from the perspective of the canals, which ebbed and flowed with a serenity that both contradicted and complemented the bustling activity that connected the city and its people in a way that was simply awe-inspiring. It was also on the canals that we saw the famous Anne Frank House, another must-see.
One place that we visited that is one of my favorites in this entire trip is the Van Gogh Museum. What I loved about it, in particular, wasn’t just seeing the art and immersing in it, but it was actually getting to know the artist; the very real struggle of the very real man that was Vincent Van Gogh. He was an underdog who never seemed to get a break and would always fall in love with prostitutes. Nobody wanted to buy his paintings early on, and he had to live from one place to another, looking for the break that could make his career.
His brother loved him dearly. He died at 37.
The museum had a policy that restricts photos and videos in the galleries so we were able to fully enjoy it without being disturbed by our cameras or phones. Inside of the Van Gogh Museum are two different souvenir shops, I suggest you go to the one nearest the exit, not the one right by the entrance of the museum, just because it has more options. Also - when you leave the place, there is a park right outside with cherry blossoms, benches, and fields of grass where you can rest and enjoy a cup of coffee and ponder on the things you will have probably hoarded as memento. Tip Number 4, I believe.
So far in Day Two: Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam Canal Tours, Van Gogh Museum
For dinner, we headed to Mr. Porter, the well-received steakhouse at the W Hotel where we ordered steaks, alongside some potatoes and baby squid, paired with red wine. Tip Number 5, though, for any restaurant that’s popular - always try to make a reservation beforehand. I tried to book a table the night before but for some reason it didn’t go through so we just decided to try our luck as walk-in customers. This place had amazing food and service, and what’s even better is the price is reasonable.
For drinks, we headed to the swanky rooftop bar, W Lounge. This is on the same floor as Mr. Porter's. We had met the DJ on the way up, so he invited us over to watch his set. Tip Number 6, don’t be afraid to make new friends!
And now, to the Red Light District.
Amsterdam is pretty renowned for this so I feel like I don’t need to tell you that it’s a go-to. What I can tell you though, and I feel that I must, is that if you’re faint of heart or have never been to a strip club before, maybe popping your proverbial cherry in Amsterdam isn’t the smartest idea. But it could also be the best freakin’ idea ever so, debauch at your own risk at the Red Light District—where the prices are very high and the women very naked. I didn’t quite have the guts to watch the extravagant live-sex shows, with it being my first time to go to a strip club and all, but it was pretty interesting just to see how real these people are.
There were graffitis on the wall with signs that say, “Respect Our Women, Don’t Take Photos”, or “Take Photos of the Art, Not the Women” — so Tip Number 7, learn to honor ‘unspoken’ rules in the places that you visit; for the Amsterdam Red Light District, in particular—don’t take photos or videos of the women by the red windows (they will probably chase you down), the bouncers / signages of the sex houses, or inside the strip clubs. Just dont do it. It’ll most likely get you in trouble.
Nightcap: Mr. Porter for Dinner, W Lounge for Drinks, Amsterdam Red Light District for kicks.
The next morning was a Saturday; a little overcast, still pretty cold, but every bit the new day that it was. We had our last meal in Amsterdam at a weekend market we stumbled across, just a two-minute walk from the apartment, before we headed to the next country on our Eurotrip: Czech Republic.
Suffice it to say, my 72 hours in Amsterdam were as enriching as I had hoped but not nearly enough to give it justice. Its quaint, well-preserved architecture and bustling cityscapes leave more to be explored; its people laid-back, complex, and ready to welcome any curious soul that stumbles upon their doors.
One more thing I will miss about Amsterdam is how quiet the city could be, since almost all the locals rode their bicycles instead of cars. No angry honky, or roaring engines. Just the sound of city flowing through its pavements —rushing like blood to vein, giving it life.