Featured image and all pictures have been taken by me.
Back in early December 2017, I did something very impulsively. One day I just felt like going somewhere by myself, and booked a round trip to Amsterdam and a hostel accommodation in a matter of few minutes within my having felt so. Not that I didn’t regret it a bit soon after, but I had been more excited than stressed about it. Given that I have been living in Europe for over a year now, it wouldn’t seem much of a big deal. But it was a big deal for me, because I had never traveled anywhere ALONE AS A TOURIST before, not even in India. Coming to Geneva and settling down was a different kind of challenging experience of course, but going away for the weekend just for travelling? This, I had to try.
Why Amsterdam? First of all, I wanted to add a new country to my list of have-been-to. And no, I hadn’t been to the Netherlands before. Secondly, this seemed like an interesting city to explore by oneself – with its abundance of art, history, canals and the famous streets of the Red Light Area. Thirdly, something that highly motivated me was a visit to the Keukenhof Gardens in spring to see the millions of beautiful tulips. And I checked all of it off my list !
Let me break it down for you. A disclaimer, though. This is less of a travelogue and more of a personal introspection, that you may or may not find interesting. I would love to know what you thought.
My hostel was called ClinkNOORD, supposedly one of the best youth hostels in the city. The people at the reception were super nice, the hostel as a whole was awesome. It had a large lobby with book exchange facilities, games to play, a very cool bar, a guest kitchen and everything you can ask for. But I might have been too adventurous to book a dormitory (probably inspired by the Bollywood movie Queen), which didn’t really go too well for me. I had never stayed in a dorm before, and it was difficult to get good sleep or find enough space for myself or my belongings (even though they had a locker). Anyway, I had to try this as well and I did. Conclusion? Nope, not for me. On the brighter side, it motivated me to stay outdoors almost the whole day or just hang out in the lobby. They also sold dinner, which was very convenient. Breakfast was pretty nice too (they have an elaborate breakfast buffet as well as regular breakfast menus, and I went for the latter because I have a small tummy – on the inside I mean).
So although staying at a hostel as a solo traveller is mainly for meeting new people, I didn’t really do that. No one in my dorm really talked to each other (I don’t know why some of them slept the whole time), but surprisingly, I didn’t mind. I was quite happy with my own company. There was a Karaoke night on the day I arrived, and I even sang a couple of songs alone as well as with some other people, who I never saw in the upcoming days. So I guess, I had already started venturing out of my comfort zone, something that I hadn’t been so sure about earlier.
The A’DAM Lookout tower next to my hostel
For the next day, I had plans to take a free walking tour with Sandeman’s New Europe Tour. I had already done that before with the same company in Brussels and Prague, and loved the experience. In my opinion, these kind of walking tours are a great way to explore the city as well as hear about its culture, history and architecture from locals or people who know a lot about them. And they are always happy to answer questions. So I filled my brain with knowledge about Amsterdam, including some things that I would have never had thought about by myself, like why all the houses have hooks hanging from the top. Find the answer here. Or that actually cannabis is illegal in the Netherlands, and the so-called coffee shops are just running illegal businesses all over the city openly.
During the walking tour, I learnt from other people that the visit to the Anne Frank House can be done only through online booking, and they have limited number of tickets for each time slot. Luckily I found some availability for later that afternoon, and went ahead with it. In the meantime, I tried some Dutch cuisine called Stamppot for lunch. The Anne Frank House was a very detailed reminder of the Nazi regime back in the days, and how the family of Otto Frank managed to shield themselves from it for two years, but only two years unfortunately. I had read The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank as a teenager. If you haven’t yet, you must.
I had to kill some more time before my second walking tour of the day to the Red Light District was to begin at 7 pm. So I went to the Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, and it was probably the first time when I wished I had someone with me, just to take pictures of me with (wax statues of) celebrities. The selfies aren’t worth sharing here really. It was a fun way to pass the time, but I found it not big enough for the price of the tickets. But an experience is an experience. So I came out of Madame Tussauds and sat at the Dam Square below, eating a medium-sized hot dog and trying to charge my phone with my power bank, while someone dressed as Darth Vader and someone as Yoda tried to earn some money from the people watching them.
View of the Dam Square from Madame Tussauds
For the Red Light District Tour, a nice lady called Kendra guided us through the area and gave us a peek into the legalised prostitution in the Netherlands – how it empowers the women in the profession, how they are taken care of by the government and how it has reduced trafficking and violence against women. We also saw some interesting shops, windows and theatres, from the outside. There was a lady (in her 40s?) from Mumbai who was on this tour with me, and she said it was her first solo trip as well, and we hit it off quite well as we walked along with Kendra. I realised that what makes this district well-accepted is that it is safely located in the heart of the city, and not in some shady area, and anyone can walk in. And indeed the area was teeming with tourists of all ages. It was just like any other neighbourhood, not uncomfortable at all. There was a kindergarten school which really surprised me, and Kendra explained that since the whole idea was to make people tolerant towards sex workers, removing a kindergarten which was already there would refute the purpose.
LGBT pride flags in the district
The next morning, I set off for the Keukenhof Gardens by a hop-on-hop-off bus (I figured that would be the most convenient way to travel, but I had apparently forgotten that my motion sickness doesn’t help much). This place is a heaven for people who love flowers, and also for those who don’t. Because when you imagine paradise, you can’t not think of flowers, right? There were thousands of visitors from all across the world, and it was a breathtaking sight to behold. There was also this cute little farm where you could go in and pet the chickens, the goats and the sheep. The children seemed to have a lot of fun. It took me around three hours to explore the park (including lunch time). I could have stayed longer but I decided to take the return bus, since I felt I was getting tired.
I took a two-hour long nap that afternoon, and as I woke up, I remembered I had a one-hour canal cruise ticket to use (which I had bought during my walking tour). So I went for it, and this time I was accompanied by an Indian family staying in Belgium, with a little girl and her baby sister. We chatted along and it was a nice experience. The only disappointing thing was that the boat claimed to have an audio guide in Hindi, but it spoke completely pure Urdu instead of Hindi, which was beyond our easy understanding. I ate chicken masala at the hostel for dinner, and slept well that night.
The next day, I was scheduled to depart from dear Amsterdam. The check-out time was 10 am, and I was torn between keeping my luggage at the hostel cloakroom, at the station locker and carrying it around. I had tickets for the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh museum (for which my visit time was 1:30 pm), and I doubted that if I had to come back to the hostel to pick my bag, I would not be able to reach the airport on time (my flight was at 5 pm). The problem was that the Van Gogh museum didn’t have a luggage room for big backpacks. In any case, I went to the museums with my luggage, and decided that if I felt I was getting late, I would skip the Van Gogh. But fortunately, it went down smoothly and I could visit both museums. I employed a small trick though. I kept my bag in Rijksmuseum all the time, while I sneaked out and visited Van Gogh. Then I came back, picked it up and left for the airport.
Funny story: I went to have lunch at the restaurant next to the Rijksmuseum, where the attendant saw my unkempt jeans and Guardians of the Galaxy T-shirt and said, “Are you aware that this place is for fine dining?” So I sneaked out from there too and had a hotdog for 3 euros from a food truck five metres away.
So yeah, it went pretty well, and I am happy about it. I realised I love my own company, and I get much less nervous about things than I did few months ago. I am eager to try out new things and push my limits a bit (just that next time I’ll probably get my own private room). Moreover, it is fun to notice how your thoughts fly and leap from one thing to another when you are talking to no one but yourself.
How did your first solo trip go, whenever and wherever that was? I would love know. Drop comments.