Canals, Cafes, & Coffee Shops Galore!

Hello Hello, it’s me again!!

This past weekend I traveled to the Netherlands with four other friends by train and we had a blast!! We learned so many new things through our discoveries in four new museums and two “free” walking tours in different areas of the city. First of all, I don’t know what you have heard about Amsterdam, Netherlands, but hopefully I can provide some information and clear up any myths and provide you with a few facts. I plan to walk you through our weekend step-by-step and share our escapades with you. I’ll include information you won’t want to miss as well as what we would choose to do differently. Hold onto your hats! Here we go…

Rembrandt House & Museum

The first museum the girls and I attended was artist Rembrandt Harmenszoon Van Rijn’s House and Museum. He lived during the 17th century. The museum admission fee was 10 euros with a student ID. I highly recommend visiting this wonderful attraction!!! It is conveniently located near the train station, and a good stop for the first day, especially if you are looking for something to do that is not too terribly crowded.


There is a first time for everything…….

So, as I was planning to study abroad in Europe I discussed traveling on the weekends and staying in hostels. Of course, my mother immediately squashed that idea, until I did some additional research. This past weekend I stayed in a hostel for the first time. It was called the “Stayokay Hostel Amsterdam”. It was very clean and my four friends and I booked five of the beds in a six person all-female dorm. We tried to rent out the sixth bed, but someone already did and this was last minute and the best deal we could find. It was nicer than some hotels I have stayed in and I suggest using the Hostelworld Website to secure a hostel that best suits your needs. It is a great way to view pictures of the hostel and read all of the ratings and reviews. I would stay at this hostel again, but I always recommend calling the hostel itself beforehand just to make sure your reservation is correct. In the future, we are going to try and stick with an Airbnb for accommodations, but this trip was planned at the last minute and our options were limited.


Anne Frank House & Museum

THIS IS MOST DEFINITELY A MUST MUST MUST SEE!!! I don’t know if you all have read the diaries of Anne Frank, but I promise you will appreciate the story even more when you’re visiting the actual “secret annex” in Amsterdam. This was such a moving experience for me and there is nothing that will give you chills more than when you walk through the ORIGINAL BOOK CASE (with the original books still on it) that was used as the secret door up to the apartment where the Frank and Van Pel family hid for more than two years. This museum does a great job describing the life of the Frank family before they were forced to go into hiding, during hiding, and the mourning of Otto Frank for his family. He was the only survivor of the Frank family at the conclusion of the war. There are a few parts of the tour that actually moved me to tears. The videos of the Holocaust and Auschwitz were heart wrenching and quite emotional. The museum also showcases videos from Otto Frank (Anne’s Father) after the war and Anne’s friend (Hannah ‘Hanneli’ Goslar in 1994) who saw Anne for the last time over the fence at Auschwitz when they were children. I could go on and on about the level of impact the artifacts of this museum had on me and how important it is to visit this museum. You will just have to go see for yourself! If you plan your trip to Amsterdam ahead of time, I recommend purchasing your tickets in advance as it books up to two months in advance, otherwise, you can go to the museum at 3:30pm and stand in line for general tickets. Luckily, February is not a busy tourist season and we only waited for an hour and a half. In the summer, the average wait time for general tickets can be up to four hours! This is an experience you won’t want to miss, so plan accordingly!! Tickets are nine euros which is quite cheap compared to the Van Gogh and Rijksmuseum.


Red Light District Walking Tour

I was debating on writing about this, but then I thought, well it was something I did and I learned so much about Amsterdam from this tour. Some of the information is hard to believe! I will try to keep my explanations as PG as possible, but that could be difficult with this topic. Prostitution is 100% legal and very regulated in the Netherlands. Operating a brothel is also 100% legal where the women can pay rent for their booths. The rooms are above the booths where they stand in the window to attract clients. However working through “Pimps” is not legal and yes that is different from owning a brothel. You could consider a brothel just like owning a rental house in America. These women pay taxes (21%) and also receive free healthcare. They are not forced to get yearly health checks but due to their work the country offers this for their well-being and safety. So I am sure you are wondering how I ended up on this tour in the first place, and to be honest, I never planned on going to the red light district. However, a friend had signed us up for a tour, so I went along with my crew.

I was a little freaked out initially because I had no idea what to expect. Folks I had talked to  made it seem like these women would be in the nude, which I had no interest in being around,  but that was completely false.The red light district was also a lot calmer than I had expected.  There are police everywhere trying to reassure that these women and people on the street stay safe, which I also wasn’t expecting. As I was walking along the street, I obviously saw numerous women trying to sell themselves through the window (obviously not to me but the men in the group). I soon came to the conclusion that it just looked like a very raunchy scene from a movie.

Our group, which contained couples and young travelers from all over the world learned about a new color of light. “The blue light” which indicates that the prostitute is a transvestite or transgender woman. There is a specific street in the red light district with blue lights, so this allows clients to know the difference in the women. Our tour guide has done a lot of research on the history of prostitution in Amsterdam as well as interviewing many of these women. He informed us that the district is also somewhat separated into different size women, so customers can go to their area of preference.

As we were walking along and our guide was explaining basic rules in the red light district such as, no pictures and no hardcore starring. Obviously in my case, I wasn’t try to look at all but sometimes that is difficult when there are booths with red lights everywhere on a crowded street.The rule of no pictures is due to the woman keeping their work private because many of them are from Eastern Europe and their families are not aware of their second occupation. Also, here is a fact that was quite mind blowing……70% of these women are MARRIED or are in LONG-TERM RELATIONSHIPS and some have children. In the Netherlands, this is strictly a career for most of these women and they make decent living doing this. There have been many studies done on the prostitutes in the red light district and there is even a center to learn about how to start work and safety tips at the “prostitution information center”. There are some other interesting facts we learned, but I’m not very comfortable sharing them, so I guess you will have to go to Amsterdam and find out yourself.

~INTERESTING FACT- there is a Kindergarten located right in the middle of the red light district and it is a very expensive highly regarded kindergarten. Crazy to imagine, but it is true and many people with children actually live in expensive housing in the red-light district. Not my ideal place to a raise a family, but hey whatever suits you!

Cafe vs. Coffee Shop

As we strolled through the streets of Amsterdam, one could smell the aroma of the “Coffee Shops” throughout the city. However, it’s not the robust scent of coffee you might be imagining, but rather, the smell of marijuana. If you are on a quest for the perfect Cup A Jo that would be found in a “Cafe”. As you can see, there is a very big difference between a “Coffee Shop” and a “Cafe” which can be easily recognized. My friends and I did not choose to go to any Amsterdam coffee shops because we have absolutely no interest in that sort of activity, but I can tell you that we did learn that marijuana is NOT LEGAL IN THE NETHERLANDS……… it is “tolerated”. I wanted to be sure to clarify this information as many people think it is legal when it is most definitely NOT. Let me explain how “tolerated” is interpreted in Amsterdam. Toleration of marijuana simply means that it must be maintained within a certain parameter of the coffee shop and it is regulated. In the netherlands, when something means it is “tolerated” it is not legal, but the authorities do not do anything about it as long as it is in the coffee shops. We also learned that the many locals do not support coffee shops and do not frequent them. The coffee shops exists predominantly to serve the tourists.

If you are looking for a frothy cappuccino or creamy hot chocolate I suggest you find a nice cafe. These can be found on just about every street corner. Most of them serve meals and have a wonderful assortment of pastries and desserts. I loved the cafes which lined the banks of the canals. You can sit outside and enjoy the quaint scenery. Most cafes provide guests with heaters and blankets.

Van Gogh Museum

This museum is a bit more expensive with an admission fee of 17 euros, but it is definitely worth every penny and a must see!!!!!! There are four floors of magnificent paintings throughout the museum. The museum tells a story of the struggle Van Gogh had with mental illness. There are excerpts displayed beside the paintings explaining the connection of his illness and the inspiration of the paintings. Van Gogh was born in the Netherlands and did not start painting until he was 27 years old. This museum is state of the art and I think it is a wonderful tribute to Van Gogh’s masterpieces.


The Rijksmuseum is the largest art museum in the Netherlands and you should definitely carve out some time in your schedule to visit. It is a huge museum!!! I have been to the Louvre, which is also quite large, but they do a nice job narrowing down how to locate the most famous paintings and artwork. At the Rijksmuseum, everything is very scattered, therefore, my friends and I spent three hours in there!!! It has a plethora of art and contains many of Rembrandt’s famous masterpieces. This is must while in Amsterdam! No worries if you don’t make it through every inch of the museum because you could easily spend an entire day there!!! Admission was 17 euros and there is a nice cafe in the atrium. It is kind of pricey so I would recommend eating elsewhere.


Free City Walking Tour

This was a great way to see the city and the tour guides are excellent. They work hard to earn a good tip at the end of the tour. My guide shared lots of good information and took us on a two and half hour tour around the main sites in Amsterdam!!

I hope you have enjoyed learning about my experience in Amsterdam, Netherlands. It is an incredible city with so many things to do and you will never be bored!! In order to be truly immersed in the culture of the city,  I suggest you travel everywhere on foot even if it is a 30 minute walk. The canals are gorgeous and you will be glad you did it in the end. We walked more than 10 miles each day in Amsterdam, so I promise you will meet your daily step goal. I hope I have provided some good tips if you plan to take a visit to Amsterdam!!! It is definitely worth seeing. I look forward to returning in tulip season!!!!!

Happy travels!!


“Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin. But in truth, it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin.” ~John Green

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