On my first night in Amsterdam, I saw an interesting piece of street art through the window of the tram I was riding. It was written on the side of a building in huge letters: “Like all great travellers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I’ve seen.”
Part of me thinks this quote was my main takeaway from our weekend in The Netherlands, because it was the first time I felt like a true traveler.
When the bus driver unloaded me and my friends, Bryan and Katie, on the side of a dirt road in the middle of nowhere at 6 in the morning – it really hit us how unprepared we were. Just five days earlier we had gathered in our flats back in London with the impulsive decision to go to Amsterdam. We could leave Friday after class and be back Monday morning before our class trip to Brighton. Nothing could possibly go wrong.
As we stood shivering on the road – only our backpacks, no cell service, and not even a basic understanding of Dutch – we started the think maybe we had been wrong.
We walked along the side of the road to seek shelter from the cold in Duivendrecht station. We sat huddled in the center of the station trying to figure out where we were and how to get anywhere.
By the grace of God, the station had Wi-Fi. So we were able to get ahold of Bryan’s friend Brigit, who lived in Holland. She and her mom picked us up and took us back to their picturesque Dutch cottage in Wassenaar.
They revived our travel-weary souls with showers, blankets and coffee. By the time they explained central Amsterdam to us – including the Dutch people’s natural distaste for foreigners and the lack of free tap water – we were reenergized and ready to see the city.
We spent the afternoon getting slightly lost on the public transit (with all of its directions being in Dutch) and wandering the streets of the red light district.
We ended up in a photographer’s gallery exhibit, taking selfies with a giant inflatable dog in the front of the canal and soaking in the sun in front of the Stedelijk Museum. For lunch we ate the best pancakes ever created (Dutch pancakes with stroopwafels, cinnamon ice cream, whipped topping and chocolate shavings). Then for dinner we ended up at an outdoor Turkish place with seating on the canal.
Brigit helped us exhaustedly find our hostel before leaving us for the night. We spent the rest of our evening listening to music and eating a bag of stroopwafels before swiftly passing out at 9 p.m.
On our second day, we woke with more life to us. We were well rested and felt slightly more confident in our navigation abilities. We were actually able to find our own way to the city from our hostel. We explored for a bit and stopped for breakfast before meeting Brigit at Amsterdam Central.
She took us back to her house in Wassenaar where her mom was planning a traditional Dutch dinner for us. We were greeted with fresh lattes, tomatoes roasting in the oven, and bags full of Dutch candies and cookies for our bus ride back home. It was all we could do not to cry from happiness.
We spent the rest of the evening with good conversation while stuffing our faces with lentil soup, pasta, tiramisu, ice cream and some phenomenal Dutch yogurt thing called Yakult.
After our feast and our never ending gratitude, Brigit and her mom dropped us back off at Duivendrecht.
The end of our journey in Amsterdam takes me back to the quote on the side of the building. I think it’s important to be a traveler, not a tourist. We didn’t take any guided tours of Amsterdam. We didn’t make any detailed lists of sights we wanted to see. We had nothing but our backpacks and our bus tickets, and I had an amazing time. I saw some of the most beautiful places; I met some of the most wonderful people, and I ate some of the most phenomenal food.
I think sometimes we tend to view travelling as a race to the finish line. We want to say we’ve seen as many places as possible. We want to document and plan every aspect to make sure we can get as many things checked off our Bucket Lists as possible. We’ve lost the sense of whimsy and chance that can go along with traveling.
Go somewhere without a plan. Pack only what you can fit in a backpack. Don’t feel the need to check Zagat for every meal.
Life can be so randomly beautiful, and it’s a lot easier to see if you let it unravel. Don’t be afraid to remember more than you see.