Culture Shock

DSC_0290After a five hour layover in Manchester, we got to Amsterdam at around 6 PM.  We took a bus that goes right from the airport to the city for about 4 Euros.  When we got there, it was pouring.  Harder than it ever had in London.  The bus dropped us off near Dam Square, which is close to the center of the city, but our hostel was on the opposite side of town.  After a full day of traveling, we didn’t have the mental capacity to figure out how to use the trams, so we decided to walk.

While London was really exciting and new, it’s structure was not all that different from cities we had been to in the states.  Amsterdam is a totally different story.  It’s built on the water, so there are canals running through it with over 1,100 bridges throughout the city.  Cars can go on most of the streets, so this makes it different from Venice, but a lot of people choose not to drive.  Most people use bikes.  There are more bikes than people in this city, which is really cool, but it was a little scary to be a pedestrian, especially on our first night there when we were tired and disoriented.  Bikes rule the roads, and from our first half hour there we were convinced that at some point while we were there one of us would get hit by one (we never did).  On the walking tour we took on our last day, the guide told us a local saying goes “Hear the bell, run like hell.”  We wanted to rent bikes while we were there to really immerse ourselves in the culture, but we chickened out, afraid that with all the other riders knowing the roads so much better and being so much more confident than we were, we would only end up causing an accident.

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I was honestly a little nervous when we first got to Amsterdam.  I don’t smoke weed, so I had sort of blocked it out of my mind how big that culture is in this city.  There are “coffeeshops” everywhere and most travelers our age come here just to visit them.  I was a little freaked out by this, worrying that we had committed to staying six nights in a city where all there was to do was smoke.  I was afraid I wouldn’t like being here.

I was so wrong though.  This city is different from anywhere Frankie and I had ever been, but there are tons of awesome things to do here.

Our first hostel was in Sarphatipark, in the less tourist-y part of town.  Smaller than either of the others we had stayed in, Hostel Sarphati only holds eight people per room, and the rooms are TINY.  The beds are smaller than in any other hostel we stayed in and they’re practically all on top of each other.  There is one bathroom in each room, shared between all eight of the people, and it has poor ventilation so everything gets damp and smells moldy.  On the other hand, it’s in a quieter part of town, has a gorgeous park right outside, and the staff was really helpful and friendly.

Our first full day, we wanted to explore the city rather than do anything in particular.  We didn’t know all that much about Amsterdam, and since we had five more full days, we wanted to sort of take inventory of what it had to offer.  We had breakfast in a tiny shop near our hostel.  Where we stayed was kind of far away from the action of the city, and this has its benefits and its drawbacks, but a definite plus was that food was a bit cheaper.  We got breakfast sandwiches for between two and three Euros, then set out to explore.

Our first stop was an outdoor market on our way to the city center, which was nice, but hard to compare to the amazing markets we’d seen in London.  We walked all through the city, wandering over the canals, sampling cheese at the shops on every corner and admiring the tulip stands.  We found a store chain kind of like Target called HEMA where they sell soft serve vanilla ice cream cones for 50 cents.  We probably walked the entire city twice, which was great because we learned a lot about it and made plans for the rest of our time, but we were really tired by the time the sun FINALLY went down at 11:30 PM, and had to head back to the hostel before we could really enjoy the night life.

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The next day was sunny and the ground was finally dry after the rain from the night we got there, so we decided to have a picnic in the park next to our hostel.  There are supermarkets called Albert Heijn all over the place, and they sell food at prices so much lower than anywhere in the states.  Don’t ever buy water in Europe from anywhere but a supermarket.  You’re going to need to drink a LOT of water, especially if you’re on the go as much as we are and it’s hot, but at a restaurant where we got Dutch pancakes we paid three Euros for a small bottle, when a giant bottle at Albert Heijn is 45 cents.

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After our picnic, we brought the rest of our wine to Dam Square at the city center and sat on a fountain people watching and getting a little tipsy.  You’re allowed to drink in public in most places in Europe, but I don’t think what we did is technically legal.  We saw cops go up to a few people and make them get rid of their beers, so if you do this, be discrete.  While we were sitting, we started talking to a couple of Canadian men on a business trip sitting next to us, also discretely drinking, and they ended up inviting us to their hotel’s breakfast buffet the following day.  We had to sneak in and out, but we got a 30 Euro meal for free – probably the best and biggest meal we had eaten in a long time.

Our first few days here were great, but it wasn’t until we switched hostels and we were more in the middle of things that we really got to know what Amsterdam was all about.

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6 thoughts on “Culture Shock

  1. In fact, you don’t need to buy water at all in most of Europe as tap water is perfectly safe to drink. Especialy in the Netherlands, where tap water has the best quality in the world. Most restaurants (except the Italian ones) also serve tap water for free with your meal. And Albert Hein is actually considered an expensive supermarket – all others are much cheaper!

    • Is Albert Heijn really expensive?! It’s so much cheaper than any supermarkets where we live in New York! We got tap water in a pub in London and both had minor stomach aches after, so we decided to just buy it from then on for the most part since it was under fifty cents for a huge bottle in each country, except in Rome when we used the fountains.

      • Compared to other supermarkets, it is. Guess compared to New York everything is expensive. As to the tap water – the composition of water is different everywhere, so even if its clean, it might take some adjustment. Better safe than sorry 🙂

  2. Pingback: First Swedish cultural shock | Tale of Nordic SAGA

  3. Pingback: I Amsterdam | hopelesswanderer

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