Belated Blogging: Amsterdam, Week 1

Hello from Amsterdam! Even though this is my first blog post, I have actually been in Europe for nearly two weeks, yet stranded without Internet access! After much confusion in the past week, our Internet is now up and running! Commence the mass influx of blog posts! 

I reckoned that the most informative method of blogging would be to recount the highlights of each day of my trip (or at least attempt to), albeit, not without the occasional attempted joke, opinionated interjection, and obscure movie reference. So, without further ado, I present to you the first week of my nine-week journey.

Day 1:

The first day of the program – travel day – was neither simple nor stress-free. After boarding a flight from LAX to Amsterdam-Schipol Airport, I sat through a relatively uneventful, near 10 hour flight. The friendly French woman seated next to me wished me bon appetit prior to my airplane dinner that tasted striking similar to microwavable dinosaur chicken nuggets from Costco. Obviously, my flight was pretty unexciting. With no delays, I arrived in Amsterdam on Monday afternoon, and waited for my friend, Taylor’s, flight to land. Once we met up, we wandered over to the train station within the airport. And here is where we first encountered the dreaded chipknip – a chip on credit cards prominent in the Netherlands and Belgium. This chip makes life a breeze for those with it and a living hell for those without; it is essentially a small square on the front of credit cards that helps to eliminate cash and swiping in many stores in an effort to make paying faster and more hassle-free. Yet, for Americans, the chip renders us limited in our ability to purchase various goods, for example, train tickets. (Unknown at the time, we actually were able to buy train tickets, but had to stand in an obscure line to do so.) The day continued with a cab ride to the wrong part of Amsterdam, subsequently followed by another ride to the correct location, confusion within our apartment complex, a 30-minute search for our respective building, eventual success, a brief respite from the hustle and bustle of traveling, unpacking, a discovery that our hot water was not working, followed by repair attempts by our professor and RA, concluding in victory, more unpacking, and, finally, well-deserved sleep.

Days 2 & 3:

The second and third days of the program were, retrospectively, a blur; most of our time was spent adapting to Amsterdam life and getting over our jet lag. My attention was divided between endeavors to not get run over by bikes, trams, or cars and awestruck gapes at my beautiful (yet directionally confusing) surroundings. Tuesday was spent in the classroom at the Bushuis (no, I don’t know what that means) in two orientations – one about the university and life in Amsterdam, the other about the history of the Netherlands. Wednesday consisted of a walking tour of (part of) Amsterdam, followed by an excursion to purchase necessities, such as a bike, Dutch cellphone, and cookware.

Days 4 & 5:

No sooner had we finished unpacking than we packed up again (yet with much less) and headed off to Ghent, Belgium to view the closing collection of modern Netherlandish art at the Museum Voor Schone Kunsten (aka the Museum of Fine Art). And this is when I learned of the awesome power of the train. I have always heard of how easy it is to get our Europe, yet I have never actually experienced it via train; but let me tell you, it’s fantastic! No need to worry about directions or gas; the train is reliable, hassle-free, and relatively cheap. I’m basically a Eurorail spokesperson now. So, all nineteen of us easily piled into the train from Amsterdam to Ghent (with transfers in Rotterdam and Antwerp because non-direct trains take longer but are so much cheaper). Upon arriving in the beautiful city of Ghent, we made a quick stop at the hotel to drop off our bags, and then we headed straight for the museum…for four consecutive hours. Don’t get me wrong: I love museums, and the Fine Arts Museum at Ghent was particularly interesting. Yet, after traveling for half a day, standing for hours was not on my to do list. Looking back, though, my feet survived and the insight provided to us by the curator was invaluable. After the museum marathon, a small group of us wandered through Ghent, finding castles, cathedrals, and cafes around every street corner. For dinner, we ate traditional Stoofvlees – a hodgepodge of meat (mostly beef, but, unfortunately, some horse too) cooked in beer and served with fries and apple slices. So good! The next morning, our group walked over to the cathedral right across from the hotel to view the renowned Jan (and Hubert) van Eyck masterpiece – the Ghent Altarpiece.  Two hours later, our professors left us in Ghent to do whatever we liked until class on Tuesday morning (4 days away)! So, after searching for Belgian waffles in the city, Taylor and I headed to the train station to catch a train to London for the weekend (once again, trains are great)!

Days 6 – 8:

England, in a nutshell, was a great weekend! Because this blog post is long enough already, I’ll (very briefly) summarize our trip. We conquered the underground – buying Oyster cards so that we could easily travel the entire weekend. All the tourist sites were visited: the Eye, Big Ben, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey and Cathedral, Trafalgar Square, etc. I was able to visit my family in Huntington (about an hour away from London by train) for one night. We saw MacBeth at the Globe – the Ghent Fine Art Museum adequately preparing me for the standing at the Globe. And we ate amazing food! It couldn’t have been better!

Thanks for reading!