If anyone ever has the chance to go interrailing- don’t let yourself be asked twice, DO IT. I feel as though when I set off at the beginning of July, with high hopes and a heavy backpack, I was almost a different person to the one that returned a month later, and not only because I managed to come back with half of the socks I left with.
Our 21 days of trains, planes and misbehaviour began in Amsterdam. As a first time visitor to Holland, I was instantly obsessed with the fairytale setup. The crooked houses and whistling canals look like they’ve been magic-ed straight out of a storybook with delicate watercolour illustrations. Admittedly, we were there during a perfect summer, where the sun won out over the breathy wind and the only rain was a few drops barely worth mentioning. I’d gone with the expectation that Amsterdam was all ‘sex, drugs and Dutch rap’, and although I don’t doubt that does happen, my experience was of a quaint, beautiful city, absolutely bursting at the seams with character and stories.
I found myself in the role of ‘Trip Organiser’ which seemed to entail a lot of bossing around and ordering about my unsuspecting and undeserving friends, telling them where to go and what to do (sorry friends). In all my fuss, I almost (but not quite) forgot the value of just walking around a new city, in comparison to steaming through a checklist of “Top 10 Things To See in Amsterdam”. In Amsterdam, a walk down a different street or across a different bridge can lead you to all kinds of weird and wonderful things- from coffee shops to comic stores, I think we saw it all.
Speaking of seeing it all- a visit to the Red Light District is not for the faint of heart. It was kind of hard to believe that although we were there (almost embarrassingly so) as tourists, for a bit of a shameless gawk and “oh my god I can’t believe this is real”, some people actually frequented the area to…use the facilities, if you will. I found it unbearably sad to see beautiful women, many of whom couldn’t have been much older than me, sat in windows as, quite literally, products to rent out. Of course, there is a larger feminist debate about whether or not these women are empowered for exercising their right to chose such a profession , and who am I, indeed, to say that it’s wrong, especially when the law in Amsterdam dictates otherwise. However, you could almost smell the sense of entitlement as business men in tailored suits did their predatory march alongside the canal, all the while women were perched on the edge of leather stools waving waning cigarettes beside their scantily clad figures, teasing the occasional wink.
As a History student, and human being, there was no way I could miss the Anne Frank museum- and if you ever find yourself in Amsterdam, nor should you. Reading the excerpts on the wall brought me to tears, and I think will easily move most anyone. It’s near impossible to put yourself in the shoes of a teenager forced to live in fear and hiding – no amount of literature and research on the time in which Anne Frank lived can emulate how she actually must have felt. Standing where the Frank family once stood is enough to blow anyones mind, and I imagine those with minority backgrounds must feel particularly moved and grateful that they are so much safer today than the Franks were back then. In a time where men like Donald Trump could actually become the leader of a country, I think Anne Franks experience is even more poignant and important to remember.
Coming from small and sheltered Singapore, Amsterdam was certainly a jump. Having quietly rolled my eyes at the rife rumours that you could “smell weed everywhere bro!!!!” I was amazed to find that this was actually quite close to the truth. Credit to the Dutch- it doesn’t seem to me like there could be a safer place to indulge in a cheeky smoke, but that’s a whole new debate. Without claiming to know anything concrete about the drug culture in Amsterdam, from what we heard and experienced, having a legal way to obtain and smoke weed seemed to eliminate a lot (obviously not all, but a lot) of the possible associated danger. I shouldn’t say that though, my Dad wouldn’t approve. (Hi Dad!)
Another thing that my Dad definitely didn’t approve of, was the infamous Amsterdam Sex Museum. Entry is only 4 euros, and it may just be the most interesting and wonderfully weird 4 euros you ever spend. I wouldn’t say the educational value is especially high, but you do get value for money in awkward laughs and slightly bashful awe. SPOILER ALERT: There is a moving model, complete with creepy moustache and trench coat, that flashes you with his (amazingly detailed) phallus upon the simple click of a button. If that wasn’t enough to convince you, there are also more historical parts to the museum, such as a pictorial history of Pornography, complete with some of the most unexpectedly strange sexual imagery I have ever seen (not that I’m particularly well versed in strange porn).
If you want to watch a video of our entire Europe experience, 7 countries in 21 days, you can do so here!