A couple of years ago I was living in a studio apartment by myself in a new city and my urge to travel was so irresistible that I bought a ticket to Amsterdam without a fleck of hesitation and decided I was going to hop around Europe for 2 1/2 weeks aimlessly. The memory recall is definitely far from fresh but I’ll highlight some of the basics.
PSA: This is not always a good or enjoyable experience if you are dealing with shit in your life (like I was) and you think that traveling will put everything in perspective for you or solve your problems. I’ve been told before that I have a syndrome called “destination addiction” and that I am unable to live in the present because I am constantly worrying about where I am going to be in the future or that somehow things are better elsewhere. I will admit that while spontaneous travel has worked for me in the past sometimes the desperation and yearning for experience coupled with inappropriate timing or circumstance can leave you feeling befuddled and grasping at straws on your trip. SO GET YO SHIT TOGETHA’.
So I flew into Amsterdam initially and planned to meet up with a friend who had just embarked on her own personal journey as a student abroad! I hate to admit that she definitely held the burden of my earnest bewilderment regarding the reason for my travel and I wasn’t as easy going or flexible as I wish.
1. Don’t stand in the bike lane
I’m dead effing serious about this one. If you are a tourist and are not sure where you are going, if you do one thing and one thing only, GET OUTTA THE BIKE LANE. You will know when you are in it because suddenly you will be disoriented by the dinging of bells, garbled voices of people yelling, and the colorful blur of being ambushed by thousands (okay not thousands) of people on bicycles.
2. Be careful at the smart shops…
So if you don’t know what a smart shop is I will give you this opportunity to look it up and sit quietly with your jaw dropped for a brief moment. Are you finished? Okay good! So my friend and I went to one of these, purchased AND ate the recommended amount of a legal substance and holy absolute mother of all deities… I was already in a funk of a place with my emotions and this sent my teetering over the edge into an abyss of anxious uncertainty about everything in my life. We got held up in Vondelpark for something like 5 hours lying in the grass contemplating existence. Yup. By the way Vondelpark is like being on another planet. The exotic foliage, swamps, and beautiful people everywhere can keep you entertained for countless hours. Go have a BBQ or something.
3. The Red Light District
Yes, we went to the red light district. I will be 100% transparent that I don’t remember a lot but I did have the chance to see the silhouettes of the women through the hazy lit booths, moving their bodies slowly and enticingly waiting for bystanders to become intrigued and approach. As someone who supports sex workers choice to use their bodies and believe they should have resources available that keep them safe, I can’t help but wonder what circumstances led some or the vast majority of these women to Amsterdam specifically. While many women choose to and LOVE performing these jobs there is still a lot of sex trafficking happening in the world, especially in Europe. I did not take, nor will I post photos of the district.
4. You don’t have to eat the herring.
Say it with me now! Of course, because I am disgusting and actually quite like herring I had to try it. It wasn’t…great. I mean I bought it in a plastic tray from a random grocery store simply because I HAD TO and my poor friend eyed me with disdain the entire time curious as to why I brought that shit into the house.
After struggling through the condensed streets of Amsterdam I flew to London and spent a few days at Wombat Hostel, which I totally recommend because of the awesome “pub” in the basement and the central location to the metro. I met some amazing people that gladly explored the city with me! My only regret is not doing much for night life.
1. Notting Hill Carnival
While I was in London an absolute shit storm of a festival was going on called Notting Hill Carnival. It’s a Caribbean festival that’s widely celebrated, but this is London’s version. The reason I call it a shit storm is because it becomes so apocalyptic that for 2 days straight businesses purchase plywood and BOARD UP THE STORE FRONTS because apparently British will unleash and destroy everything. It was a sight to behold. For 2 days graffiti festooned plywood decorated the streets while crowds large enough to give you panic attacks undulated through the streets. I don’t think these photos do justice by the way. An aerial view would be much better.
We literally saw a girl that had been stabbed (allegedy) walking through the crowd with blood soaked t-shirts clutched to her abdomen trying to find a landmark for paramedics to meet her.
I also had to pee in someone’s courtyard because port-o-potties aren’t a thing apparently along with garbage cans, and pandemonium just ensues for two days… I’ve definitely grown out of these things now that I think about it.
2. Camden Town
Camden Town was the only other real London experience I was able to get with my short time there, but it was worth the entire trip in my opinion. The Camden market has everything handmade, vintage, or new that you could possibly ever want and the food stands at the public market featured a plethora of different ethnic foods I hadn’t tried before. We ambled around Camden Town with a pungent and funky hard cider we purchased, people watched, and enjoyed the sunset. NEVER. BETTER. No photos to share on this one… But please check out CyberDog. It’s a rave clothing store and now even you can look like a fashionable version of the Jetsons and glow in the dark.
3. Windsor Castle
Since I had such a short time in the UK I had to decide to capitalize on a couple things and one of those being seeing a real castle. I grabbed my sock holder-uppers, put on my tourist pants and got on a bus with a bunch of strangers Windsor Castle-bound. I didn’t think I would be as interested as I was seeing knight’s armor, elaborate décor, beautiful gardens, and an eccentric doll house (The Queen’s prized collection). Not far is a village called Old Town which was easily walkable and featured some fancy shops and food joints.
Bath is a city near the border of Wales that is old as shit. I took a day trip here and marveled at the 18th century Georgian architecture and Roman baths that are centuries old. It’s known for it’s hot springs and has been a destination of wellness for a very long time. We didn’t get a lot of time to spend here, but we did get to see Johnny Depp’s house there. Cool.
Mannn. I had wanted to see this place since I could remember and I thought I might have felt a strange wind or a chill move through my body as aliens tried to contact me telepathically… but I felt pretty normal. Bewildered, but normal. Even so this place had a remarkable feel to it. It lies in the middle of a large pasture which appears very unassuming at first, then BOOM there it is. I was happy to see it. Of course nearby is a gift shop that offers every extraterrestrial novelty item you could envision, which can be a little tacky and over done at times. But hey! STONEHENGE.
Okay Berlin is the shit. I had no idea what I was in for when I landed in this city. I intended to visit a good friend here but he had a personal emergency which left me to fend for myself and pioneer my own experiences. While I was here I did a few different tours. Berlin amazed and frightened me with its dark history surrounding the Holocaust and the walking tour I took of the city center left me with worms in my stomach. I actually stood where Hitler “allegedly” was buried (c’mon we all know he lived out his years on a tropical island somewhere) and it was fulfilling yet curious to see that the place had ABSOLUTELY no mention of his existence whatsoever. No recognition. Good job Germany.
One of the favorite things I did in Berlin was a street art tour through Alternative Berlin. Walking through Berlin you would never know that graffiti is not legal. Every building and window as far up as a ladder can reach is ornamented with tags, murals, and glass etching. I actually learned that the penalty for vandalism is nothing like it is here in the states. They actually measure the size of your tag (or whatever) and there is a predetermined scale of how much you owe based on the size of your damage. NEAT right? Why send people to jail for years for tagging? After the street art tour we were lead back to a studio and taught how to make our own stencils and some basic spray paint technique. I think I made a french bulldog with a part hat? Yas.
The other important thing to know about Berlin is that the nightlife gets absolutely wild and the music is phenomenal. I became friendly with one of the tour guides, a young Portuguese man who fell madly in love with Berlin and had a flat with friends not far from where I was staying. So in Berlin you don’t start going out until at least 2-3 am. We went to this club called aboutBlank and I don’t think we left until 8:30 in the morning. There is something to be said about line etiquette when waiting to get into these places. Always go with a group. Never look bored. Keep it chill and easy, and you will likely get it. DO NOT BE WASTED. You will be turned away, possibly at the expense of your whole group. This place was apparently an old hotel and had loads of empty graffiti strewn hot tubs in the back that you could chill in all night.
I always regret not taking more photos after a trip… But ultimately there needs to be a good balance of living in the moment and viewing the world through a lens!