Adventures Abroad

Tales From Across the Pond: 10 Things I Learned From Two Days in Amsterdam

Emma Sulski | The PhoenixAmsterdam is home to canals, boats, bridges and surprises making it more than a tourist trap.

After five weeks of pushing myself to my academic limits in Loyola’s summer program at the John Felice Rome Center, I was more than ready for a break. The program gives returning students one week off to do as they please, and I certainly wasn’t going to waste it. You’re only abroad so many times. I booked flights to Amsterdam, London, Edinburgh and Dublin and anxiously tapped my pen all the way through finals, eagerly anticipating the adventure to come.

The first stop on my journey was Amsterdam. Once just a small fishing village in the heart of the Netherlands, the city has become a must-visit for those traveling in Europe, and I was determined to find out why. What’s so great about this canal-ridden Dutch city? What separates it from all the other European tourist traps? Turns out, I had a lot to learn. Here are 10 things that make Amsterdam the stand-out city it is.

1. The only floating animal shelter in the world, Amsterdam’s Catboat is home to dozens of feline friends, many of which are up for adoption. It’s every cat lover’s dream, or if you’re like me, it’s a pleasant stop for dog people with an affinity for those sandpaper kisses. “De Poezenboot” is open from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. daily — save for Sundays and Wednesdays — but those interested in visiting should arrive a little earlier to avoid waiting in line, as only groups of five or six are allowed in for 15 minutes at a time.

2. As I was cruising along the canal, prosecco in hand, I took notice of the peculiar ducks paddling alongside the boat. Unlike the mallards in the U.S. with their green heads, yellow beaks and brown bodies, these ducks were cloaked in jet-black feathers and painted-white beaks. A quick Google search informed me these were not ducks at all, but Eurasian Coots. As “coot” as they are, don’t try to pet these birds. This species is known for killing their young when they beg for too much food. A+ parenting.

3. Stepping out of the Airbnb at 11 a.m., I was greeted by sunshine and brisk air and I was quite happy to be wearing pants. Two hours later, I was drenched in sweat. Another three hours gone and I was once again thanking myself for the pants. The weather fluctuates throughout the day, so dress in layers.

4. Stay out of the biking lane. The bikers and cyclists WILL hit you. They will NOT be sorry.

5. If you go out to breakfast and order pancakes, don’t be disappointed when your server brings you crepes. One, because crepes are amazing and you should be thrilled to have them over some dry old flapjacks, and two, that’s what pancakes are in Amsterdam. They’re crepes.

6. Watch out for street food. It’s not poisoned or anything. There’s just a lot of it. Way too much of it. You’ll want to eat all of it. For the love of God, don’t eat all of it.

7. Unlike the CTA Red Line, the Amsterdam tram network runs frequently and on time. I never had to wait more than five or ten minutes to board. What’s more peculiar is the tram conductor, who sits not at the front of the tram, but in the middle, in a rounded cubicle, where they politely remind passengers to scan their tickets when entering and exiting the train-like vehicle.

8. Keep an eye on the time, as it stays light out late into the summer evenings, usually until 11 or later.

9. If you’re planning on visiting the Anne Frank House, be prepared to fight tooth and nail for that morning rush of online tickets. You could make the educated choice to book months in advance, but let’s be honest, you don’t think that far ahead. You’ll be hunkered over your computer at 8 a.m. like the rest of us, praying the spirit of a little Jewish girl deems you worthy to enter her abode.

10. Amsterdam is full of little surprises. Just walking around the city, you can stumble upon events you didn’t know existed. As I was walking to the Van Gogh Museum, I happened to bump into Urban Sports Week Amsterdam’s blading competition, where I stopped to watch international roller skating champion Joe Atkinson take first place. I’ve never cared about roller skating before in my life, but now I can’t stop watching the videos I took on my phone of world champion skaters sliding across the rails, making crazy flips look easy. And don’t worry, I made it to the Van Gogh Museum with enough time to see everything from “Sunflowers” to “Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette.”

The capital of the Netherlands is home to many an oddity. From the terror of the black-and-white not-ducks that kill their young, to the beauty of a transportation system that’s efficient and dependable, to the sweet surprises akin to a lover’s little gifts, Amsterdam is not to be passed up or forgotten when traveling while studying abroad.

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