When I landed in Schiphol Airport the long European day was near its end, bathed in the last rays of a setting sun. Standing for a bus with just a backpack, I was on my own in Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands.
The Dutch capital is a top destination for tourists with its many museums, open theatres, cheap transport, friendly people, and picturesque sceneries of endless boats and canals.
ADVENTURE AT NIGHT: FINDING TRANSPORT AND ACCOMMODATION
Two days ago, I had luckily got a last-minute booking for a shared dormitory through Hostelworld, an online site that helps youngsters find cheap accommodation throughout Europe.
The place I was going to stay was called Camping Amsterdamse Bos, and it was 20 minutes by Bus 199 towards Zuid. The transport stopped right in front of the gate of the camping site.
There were other ways to get there, for example, if one took a train they would come from the Central Station. The directions were attached in the booking mail from Hostelworld.
While getting down from the bus I was little anxious because the place seemed absolutely in the middle of nowhere with nothing nearby. However, on seeing two other young girls like me getting off, I felt confident.
On reaching the campsite, we found this large open field with small cottages, which were the dormitories. They looked like a child's Lego house but made of wood. It was calm and quiet because most of the residents had retired for it was almost ten at night. The people at the reception had also left, but they kept a note on the door indicating the cottage numbers of late arrivals like me and the two Slovakian girls. We discovered that we were in the same dormitory and made our way towards it.
Our cottage was at one end of the camping site with rows of identical small shells on two sides making a walkway. As expected, the arrangements in the 'wooden boxes' were very simple with some bunk beds, which had fresh pillows and linens. There was one small table in the middle and one light glowing above it. After all, it cost only 20 euros per night!
Nearby was a large shed, which had toilets on one side like in a 'hostel.' On the other side were the showers and in the middle passage were basins for washing and cleaning. One could even do laundry. The showers and laundry required tokens, which could be bought for a euro or two at the reception. The kitchens were in another big shed and it had everything from stoves to pots and pans, but one had to bring his own materials to cook.
DAYTIME ADVENTURE: FINDING MUSEUMS AND PARKS
I woke up to a beautiful sunlit morning excited for my day ahead. The reception had opened so the Slovakian girls and I had breakfast from the adjoining shop cum café. The girls invited me to visit them in Slovakia and I asked them to visit Bangladesh if they come to Asia. We took pictures and parted ways.
I had to walk a long way beside highways and under tunnels before reaching the tram station since the camping site was quite far from the city. At some point, I thought I was lost, even Google maps got me confused. However, people in Amsterdam are very friendly and they know English well so there is nothing to worry for tourists. After walking and wandering for an hour, I found the station from where the tram took me to the city centre.
I got off the tram at Museumplein, a park surrounded by famous museums, and made my way towards my first destination- Van Gogh Museum. Other museums in the area are Stedelijk Museum (for contemporary art and design) and Rijksmuseum (for European masterpieces). It is impossible to appreciate all the marvels of these museums in a few hours, but as I was there for a day I had to make the most of it. After hours of running around big halls with paintings, I was starving. I had lunch at one of the museum cafes because I was too tired to go out and search for a restaurant — I had little to complain; the food was delicious.
After satisfying my tummy, I got out in the park and found people lying around basking in the sun. There were families having picnic with children running around, groups of friends chatting over food from baskets and lonely tourists with a book in hand or headphone covering their ears. This was how Europeans enjoyed summer — I had read in books and seen in movies, but now it was in front of me like a painting of Van Gogh, vivid in colours and imagery. I too settled down under a tree and within minutes fell asleep.
When I got up from my nap, I was immediately anxious about my belongings. Coming from South Asia where safety issues are a serious concern, my mind was constantly bugged with images of looting and mugging. But again, there was nothing to worry.
Next, I walked to the Anne Frank House while admiring the beautiful city full of canals and boats while on the land it was full of cycles and trams. There were hardly any cars or buses. I had never seen such a peaceful or pollution-free city before.
There was a long queue at the Anne Frank House but it was worth the wait. The place where Anne Frank hid from the Nazis with her family during the Second Word War was turned into a museum.
I had the read book when I was young, but the seeing it all was a gripping experience! The house is located on a canal called the Prinsengrach in central Amsterdam so coming out of the museum I bought tickets for a boat ride. I hopped on a long open boat with other tourists and put on the headphones for the commentary. I saw the most breath-taking scenes of buildings floating on water and learnt about the history, culture and architecture of the city from the guide. It is the best thing to do in Amsterdam — take a boat ride!
There are many other interesting things to do in this city such as visiting the Heineken Experience, Science Center, Rembrandt House Museum, etc. so it is better to make the trip for two to three days at least.
By Anika Saba, Lecturer, BRAC University
Photo courtesy: Anika Saba