A week after my Amsterdam trip which was more of a long weekend, I finally found enough energy to collate some thoughts and put them down. I want to start by saying this trip was amazing. It was scary, funny, nerve-wracking, stress-inducing and eye-opening.
Whilst there I celebrated my 26th birthday and I thought I would have this big epiphany that would completely change my outlook on the world, kind of like my experience in Italy when I was 19. That didn’t happen. There was no eureka moment, no challenge that would make me realise a part of myself I didn’t know before. If anything, it just confirmed things about myself that I already knew. One thing I knew for sure, I wanted to visit De Belhamel, the spot where Villanelle wrote to Eve and told a girl to “get a real life”.
I believe there’s a big, flashing light reason as to why that “moment” didn’t happen. When I was in Italy, I was 19. Now I’m 26 and life has thrown so much more at me than ‘what am I going to do now I’ve missed the last train back to the hostel?” I’ll tell you what I did, I cursed. Then I googled Night Bus. I then spent 30 minutes walking all over Amsterdam Centraal Station trying to find the bus and a further 10 minutes trying to find the right bus. But after a 50-minute bus journey, I was back in bed. Safe.
I will admit one thing, though. I hadn’t felt so spiritually close to my mum in years, even when she was alive. Now, it might 80% be derived from a non-sober state of mind, and I fully acknowledge and accept that. I don’t believe in the afterlife, nor do I believe in spirits. I believe in feelings and coincidences and how they make someone feel.
On my first day, I had got lost and finally found this lovely cafe, Winkel43 that was famous for its Apple pie. I sat done outside and ordered. Next to me were two women talking and one had pulled out a book. It was the Hemsley Hemsley cookbook. My ears soon picked up. That book was the last birthday present my mum got me, a month before she passed away. And now I have seen it, next to me, in another country, on my birthday, after being so stressed and worried because I was lost. I feel this coincidence was the universe’s way of telling me she was with me.
The next day, after visiting the Albert Cuyp Market, I stopped in Katsu for a coffee. Afterwards, on my way back to Centraal Station, I stumbled out of the blue, into this beautiful vintage shop called Penny Lane Vintage. I was felt so surrounded in love. the clothes were all 60’s and 70’s print and they were arranged in colour order, like a rainbow. The music felt straight out of Heartbeat and I thought of my mum’s school photos and the photos of her early 20s. I felt this overwhelming emotion of this being the best shop in the world and mum was right there with me. I didn’t want to leave the shop because I didn’t want that feeling to end.
I felt completely safe in Amsterdam. Which is surprising because I was using a walking stick, thanks to my back, and had a couple of men approach me. If I was 19, I would have probably run for the hills, don’t past €200. However, I wasn’t 19. I simply raised my hand and said, “no”. What was surprising about these interactions was 2 out of 3 times, they said “OK’ and walked away. The third time, I got told “SMILE! It’s the minimum, you are a girl,” before they walked away. I didn’t feel any more unsafe than I would back home because these sort of things happen back home. They happen everywhere if you’re a woman. It’s strange to say I was pleasantly surprised when they walked away. I was ready for a (verbal) fight but instead, they cut their losses and probably went looking for their next woman to try.
Amsterdam is a great city. Once you find the right ticket office and quickly work out the tram maps, the public transport is superb. The trams that run through the city are regular, clean and only require a ‘tap on’ ‘tap off’ transaction, kind of like London’s Oyster card. Where I live, it’s not unusual for people to try and catch a free train ride, ie. ‘bunk the train’. Leading to conductors ad inspectors wanting to see your ticket at every turn. However, In Amsterdam people are trusted to swipe on and off and guess what, they did!
Coffee Shop culture is also remarkable. Along and near De Wallen, The Red Light District, during the day people would be outside the shops under a garden umbrella, eating their lunch whilst smoking. If you didn’t know that these places were coffee shops or know the smell, there was nothing visually distinguishable between them and the people I’m looking at now, sitting outside Costa.
It wasn’t until night when The Brits came out to play in their groups of Stag and Hen do’s that you saw a “hubbub”. As I travelled on my own, I was quiet. I walked along and kept to myself. From this perspective, it was crazy how easy it is to spot Brits from a mile away. You could see that these people, mainly men, were drunk and because of the location, most likely high. You know that they’ve come to Amsterdam to get absolutely wasted legally and it showed. In Amsterdam, It’s illegal for a coffee shop to sell alcohol alongside cannabis. The effects of cannabis and alcohol in the body aren’t good and can lead to bad times. There is no law in Amsterdam to stop a person drinking alcohol in one place and smoking cannabis in another.
Whilst the city was more active at night, there was a significant enough of a police presence and guides (They are often in pairs and wear a red jacket with “ask me” written on) to feel completely safe.
In conclusion, Amsterdam was amazing and I’m so glad that I did it. I’m glad I did it in a time where I knew that I had an incredible amount of protection as a UK and EU citizen. If I were to fall ill or have an accident, I had a little card in my purse, alongside my travel insurance, that meant I had free healthcare. Because of the easy freedom of travel, I only had to book a plane and turn up. When I was looking out of the windows of the trams, trains and eventually plane, I felt like I was saying goodbye. Goodbye to Europe, goodbye to the EU. I’ll bloody miss you.