My sister and I found ourselves in Amsterdam last August, arriving after a lengthy journey from Hamburg with our unwieldy rucksacks in tow. I’d been entrusted with taking her travelling for the first time which was a pretty big responsibility, both in terms of keeping her safe and making sure she had an amazing time.
I’d heard a lot about the city from friends, and while their experiences involved visiting multiple coffee shops and taking advantage of the legal status of cannabis, I knew that my visit with my sixteen-year-old sister would be rather different.
After dumping our luggage at the hostel we set out to explore the maze of canals. The first thing that struck me was the abundance of bicycles – I already knew that cycling was the main mode of transport in this city but I was still surprised by the sheer number of them. I immediately highlighted myself as an outsider by being followed by a cacophony of bike bells wherever I went – the seasoned cyclists are certainly not afraid to let you know that you’ve wandered, yet again, into their path.
After visiting the Royal Palace on Dam Square, we found ourselves in the infamous Rosse Buurt, or Red Light District. Neither of us had any idea what to expect but I was pleasantly surprised – the atmosphere was lively and bustling and the vast majority of people were just curious onlookers like us. The architecture in this area of the city is beautiful and the canals looked stunning at night time, especially with a view of Nicolaasparochie (St Nicholas’ Cathedral) lit up in the distance.
The following morning we enjoyed a relaxing breakfast of banana bread and coffee while sitting in the sunshine by a canal. I could have sat there all day, but we had sightseeing to do! We headed to the Anne Frank Museum on Prinsengracht (‘Prince’s Canal’) and after a two-hour wait during which the weather changed its mind and a downpour commenced, we finally went inside. People may tell you that it’s a profoundly moving experience, but nothing can prepare you for the feeling of entering the secret annex then standing in Anne’s tiny bedroom, imagining living there in fear for more than two years. It was certainly worth the chilly wait in the rain, though I would definitely recommend getting tickets in advance if you can.
Later on, we explored a local cheese market with lots of delicious tasters on offer then went to a typical tourist market with clog-, tulip- and windmill-related paraphernalia galore.
We also stumbled across the Begijnhof, an oasis of peace in the midst of the city. It’s an enclosed courtyard surrounded by tiny houses where unmarried women lived, having taken religious vows to care for the sick. Nowadays the houses are still occupied by single women and although tourists are free to visit, there is a strict rule of silence.
We just had time to walk through the arches of the Rijksmuseum to see the ‘I Amsterdam’ sign (cue the obligatory photo next to our initials) before getting an early night. Not very rock ’n’ roll I know, but a weekend in Amsterdam with my sister was never going to be the typical drink- and weed-fuelled extravaganza. And besides, we had to be up early the following day ready for a coach journey to our next stop, Bruges.
By Rachel Bliss
The UoB Linguist Magazine
Guild of Students,
University of Birmingham