First of all, Happy New Year everybody! 🍾 (Can I still say that even though it’s practically February?)
So it’s been a while since my last blog post, I got really busy with school projects and assignments and packing and preparing to go back home to Aruba for winter break. Then when I got back to the Netherlands, I had exams and assignments waiting on me. However, I finally finished my first travel post!
Sooooo, without further ado, here we go…
Probably the most exciting part of getting to study in another country is the part where you get to travel and explore and get to know said country. I’ve been to the Netherlands a couple of times before coming to live and study here. The problem with vacations is that you only scratch the surface of getting to know a country. The tip of the iceberg.
Since I’ll be here for a solid four years, I intend to explore and get to know different parts of the country.
My friend, (though he has officially abandoned me for Australia) Miguel, and I decided to go explore Amsterdam.
I was supposed to wake up at 7:40 AM, which would have given me a decent hour to get ready and to get to the station, but instead I got out of bed at 8:10 AM (because screw punctuality, right?), and basically experienced one of the biggest rushes of my life to get ready and out the door within half an hour (that’s a lie, the very next day I was rushing to get to school because I woke up with even less time to make it to the station). Somehow, I managed to actually get my ass there in time to catch the train.
Somehow (aka, Divine Intervention).
I arrived in Amsterdam a little past 10, and Miguel and I meet in front of the station’s Starbucks. We were planning on having breakfast there, but it was so full of people that I was surprised no one was suffocating in there. I stayed in Amsterdam for about five days with my mom a couple of months earlier, so I knew there’s another Starbucks at Rembrandtplein.
So we board tram 9 heading to Diemen Sniep, and got off at Rembrandtplein, to have breakfast at Starbucks. Rembrandtplein is one of my favorite places in Amsterdam. Because my mom and I stayed close by, I always took the tram there to go to the station so I could catch the train to school.
The square tends to be pretty calm during the day, with just a couple of people walking around or sitting by the statue in the center of the square. It’s at night that the square really comes to life. The cafés and clubs are suddenly full of people. What’s odd to me is seeing how people are willing to sit outside even though it’s gotten a lot colder in recent days. But the cafes provide heating (yes, even outside), and even blankets!
Anyways, we got off the tram there, and go to Starbucks. I ordered a chocolate cheesecake with a Mocha Frappuccino and Miguel something I can’t be bothered to remember (sorry Miguel), and while we ate, we discussed our plans for the day.
After breakfast, we went book hunting. We decided to hit up two bookstores that are practically next to each other (a bit of competition is healthy, I guess): Waterstones and American Book Centre. So we head up to Kalverstraat because that’s the only way I know how to get anywhere. 😅
Wikipedia describes Kalverstraat as a “busy shopping street”. Honestly, not even that does it justice. I have never been to this street at a time that it hasn’t been absolutely crowded, but maybe that’s my shit timing. That being said, it’s crowded for a reason. A bunch of great shops is located there, from Nike to stores such as Lush or ICI Paris XL (which is a ridiculous name, but they sell Urban Decay, so all is well) or Douglas (that sells MAC and Anastasia Beverly Hill). So regardless of feeling like I have to constantly zigzag through people to get ahead, the place does have a soft spot in my heart (but my wallet really seems to hate it).
We went to Waterstones first because it’s just the tiniest bit closer since it’s directly on Kalverstraat. The building that houses Waterstones was designed by de Dutch architect Hendrik Petrus Berlage and both the exterior as the interior of Waterstones has a certain charm to them: Old-timey but not outdated.
American Book Centre is a few steps away, located at Spui 12. While I don’t think that ABC has the same old-school charms that Waterstones has, I have to say, there’s still something about it. The towering bookcases and how everything seems to be made of wood. I especially like the aesthetics of the second floor. Oddly enough, it’s kind of oval shaped with a slight elevation off to the right in the main area. ABC does have a special place in my heart, I’ve been here every time I visited the Netherlands (and every time I left with at least 100 euros less).
Afterward, we continued to wander through Kalverstraat, which culminated into Miguel dragging me out of ICI Paris XL because I had already blown a hole through my wallet at Douglas a bit earlier (I’m a sucker for skincare products).
Kalverstraat mouths out right onto the Dam. On a normal day, this square is also pretty busy, with street performers captivating the crowds of people with whatever talents they seem to own.
When it was well past 1 PM, we decided to go get some lunch. Right by the Dam, we found a pizzeria, and because Miguel is sort-of-but-not-quite-vegan, we decided it’s a good place to take a break and get some grub.
Miguel ordered a pesto pizza sans cheese, and I decided to try something new and got a pizza with tuna as the topping. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I guess I was hoping for pieces of tuna. What I got instead (I think), is tuna from a can. Which wasn’t really a problem (I’m not really a picky eater). The pizza, in general, wasn’t anything mind blowing, but the service was fine and the price was reasonable. So I guess I give the place a solid 6.5 out of 10.
Fast forward to several hours after lunch and walking through two malls, we decided that it’s still too early to go home, so we started googling what else we could do. The thing about the Netherlands is that after 5PM-ish, every “daytime activity” kind of thing comes to a close. So most things that were popping up had to do with alcohol and nightclubs. Not exactly what we were looking for.
Then suddenly, by sheer luck, I stumbled across something call ‘C the City’. So what is C the City? It’s a tourist attraction, but with a bit of a twist. You get to explore Amsterdam, except you don’t get to see anything. C the City allows you to experience Amsterdam as a blind person would, basically walk around a re-creation of the city in pitch black darkness, using all your senses expect for your sight to figure out where you’re going. Considering that we couldn’t find anything else that we could do in the evening (besides clubbing), we figured this worth a try.
We took the tram and then we walked for a solid 10 min, struggling with Apple’s Maps app until we finally found the building housing C the City. I was mildly put off by how shabby it looked, but in the name of wanting to experience more shit, I pushed the thought aside and we went in.
After we bought our tickets, we were introduced to our tour guide. He gave both of us a white cane, and then took us into an adjacent room, completely dark save for the light that was barely streaming in from the cracks of the door connecting to the previous room.
There he explained that the next room we go into would be completely dark. We can try to look with our eyes, but we’ll notice that we’re not gonna be able to rely on our sight, and instead we’re gonna have to depend on our other senses. As soon as we walked into the next room, I understood what he meant. It was pitch black. I was immediately gripped by an irrational fear. I’ve never in my whole life been in a place that was so dark. I couldn’t see anything, I couldn’t even make out any silhouettes. Just utter blackness in front of me.
Our tour guide is blind, and completely familiar with the room, of course. So while Miguel and I stumbled and hit into things, he effortlessly made it to the next door and guided us to him with his voice. It was an illuminating experience. Actually understanding and trying to grip making use of your other senses to replace the one you don’t have.
He guided us through different rooms, asking us to recognize things like fruits or soft drinks with touch, taste, and smell. I’m surprised by how quickly I could recognize certain scents and textures, but it was also frustrating when something was familiar but I couldn’t quite figure out what it was exactly.
We were asked questions to get us to think about how blind people would have to figure out certain things that might come easily to non-blind people. “How do you think a blind person knows when the train stopped at the station?” or “How would a blind person know that he/ she reached his/ her stop and needs to get off the train?”. You have to really try to put yourself in the shoes of a blind person to try and figure out a solution.
The final ‘challenge’ our guide gave us was a game. He put 20 wooden blocks on the table, told us that the blocks belonged pairs, and instructed us to match the blocks to each other. Each block has a design in relief on the surface, and we had to feel it out with our fingertips. We had to find the identical match by touch, some of which were easy, while others were tougher because of the similarity between different pairs.
When we finally finished and decided that we were satisfied with our matches, we let the guide check them for us. It was almost as if I was back in secondary school and a teacher was checking my homework assignment. To our relief, we got them all right!
In the end, the slightly shabby looking place turned out to be one of the most fun and educative experiences of my life. It was different and exciting and challenging in a way I never expected to be challenged before. Overall, I really recommend anyone who’s planning on visiting Amsterdam, to go check this place out. There’s even an affiliated restaurant right next door, but because it was already late, Miguel and I couldn’t go because we had to catch our trains back home.
Overall, it was a fun trip to Amsterdam. I finally got to really walk around the city and explore. However, I admit, I hardly scratched the surface still. So I’m definitely gonna be going back again soon!
Thanks for reading!
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