Amersfoort + Amsterdam

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May 28 – June 4

Ireland, Round Two!

My sister had the opportunity to go back to Ireland for a couple months for work training. We both agreed this would be another great opportunity for second European sister’s trip! I booked my ticket as soon as I got the official green light. Since I had toured basically the whole country of Ireland last time, we decided to venture out of the country for the weekend and head to the Netherlands. I could not have been more excited!

Let’s start at the beginning of my travels. I booked Icelandair because it was the cheapest and most convenient flight for me. Who would pass up a $600 roundtrip ticket to Europe? Not me! Tuesday comes and I drive up to Chicago Tuesday afternoon for my overnight flight. I only brought a carry-on that they ended up asking if I wanted to check. Which I didn’t need or want to so I don’t know why I even said yes. Rookie mistake. Don’t check your bag if you have a short layover, lesson learned! This later becomes an issue….

I fly out of Chicago (with a 20-30 minute delay) to Reykjavik for my layover. Originally my layover was suppose to be 55 minutes but because of the delay, it ended up being under 10 minutes. If you know me, you already know I was freaking out about missing my layover to Dublin. Luckily, the gate I needed was to the right of the gate we de-boarded at and they had waited for everyone on the same flight as me heading to Dublin. I was so relieved. Not that it would be the end of the world, but I just wanted to be there already after a long flight of not sleeping.

A couple-ish hours later, I arrived in Dublin. So this is where my baggage issue comes in to play. I de-plane and head to baggage claim, like you do. I stand there looking for my carry-on. I wait until the belt goes in a full rotation before freaking out. My intuition told me that my bag didn’t make it…I was right. So I had to go to the baggage counter and fill out a form to make a report of delayed baggage. The employee helped me understand the form and had assumed my bag was still in Iceland due to my very short layover. Luckily he tracked it so it wasn’t lost, which was a huge relief. But, I did have to wait for the next flight from Reykjavik to land in Dublin before I could get my baggage.

After figuring out the delayed baggage, I walk to arrivals to find Katlynn waiting for me. Katlynn’s co-worker and her had planned to pick me up at the time I was suppose to arrive. Because of the delay and baggage issue, they had been waiting far longer than I wanted them too!

Margaret, Katlynn, and I head to Gabby’s, Katlynn’s home in Ireland. Since it was a work day, Katlynn went back to work and I just went straight to sleep. I got a solid 3-4 hour nap in. Unfortunately Katlynn was sick so we decided to just stay in that night to relax, watch TV, and just hang out together…even though she slept most of that time, lol.

The next day, I had to borrow some of Katlynn’s clothes since I still didn’t get my luggage. We went into the city to eat and walk around. I wanted to see some of the things I didn’t see last time. We went to Trinity College and walked some of the streets and stores. We also sat and people watched because that’s the absolute best. We visited St. Stephen’s Green, which is a well known park in Dublin, and sat on some hidden rocks. While we were there, we tried to contact the airport regarding my delayed baggage. At this point it has been almost 20 hours without my luggage. I was getting worried and frustrated because they hadn’t been answering any of our phone calls. I had emailed them and called them like a crazy person. It was almost 6:00 pm and I still hadn’t heard anything. I was freaking out because I wouldn’t have clothes the rest of the trip and would have to buy some for the rest of the week and then lug it bag home in my carry-on where it most definitely would not fit and be completely overweight. It just would have been a huge cluster and expensive to get everything back home in my mind. 

We were walking to Penney’s, a store similar to a mix of Forever 21 and TJ Maxx, to browse. As we were walking I was just prepared to buy all new clothes until Katlynn’s phone rang. IT WAS THE AIRPORT, HALLELUJAH. They had my luggage and were going to deliver it within 2 hours of calling. It was a HUGE relief.

In the evening, we headed back home for dinner, which was basically like eating at a fancy restaurant. Kevin, Gabby’s son, really enjoys cooking so he cooked us steak, a veggie mix, and chips (fries). It was delicious and filling! After our late dinner, we headed upstairs to pack for our 3 days in Amsterdam. We went to bed pretty late and we had a very early flight. We had to leave at 4:30ish in the morning to make our 6:50 am flight.

Traveling to Holland

The alarm goes off at 4:00 am and we’re up! Because it was so early we had to schedule a taxi. Our taxi driver had quite the leadfoot and the need for speed. At the airport, we had to get a Visa stamp on our boarding passes, which we didn’t know HAD to be printed when flying with Ryan Air, the cheap flight alternative, similar to Frontier or Spirit. They can only stamp printed boarding passes and if you don’t have them printed they will charge you 20 euro to print, which is ridiculous. Even though we didn’t have them printed, the lady was nice enough to print them for free.

We arrive extremely early for our flight. So early that our gate number wasn’t even showing. Since we were waiting, I decided that we should probably eat since we won’t have the chance until we land in Amsterdam around 11 am. Burger King seemed like the best option at the time, only to find they didn’t serve breakfast. Chicken nuggets and fries at 6 am it is!

We board the flight and it wasn’t fully booked so I ended up with a window seat and no one sitting next to me. What a nice little nap I took. Katlynn ended up with the same situation in her row. Lucky us!

A few hours pass and we have landed at Schiphol. We follow the crowd toward immigration and then towards the exit. We needed to get a train ticket from Schiphol to our Airbnb in Amersfoort, which is about 50ish minutes from the airport but 30 minutes from Amsterdam. We didn’t book soon enough to find good Airbnb rates in the city, so we had to venture out a little bit, which ended up working out perfectly since we got to explore the little local town we were staying in.

The lines to purchase train tickets was pretty long. There were multiple buying kiosks but a ton of foot traffic. Katlynn decided to go find a shorter line and I stayed in the line we first chose. I had no idea which ticket I was supposed to buy but I was approaching the kiosk quickly and had zero cell service. Luckily, she got tickets before I had the chance to even try and figure out which ones to buy.

We go downstairs to the train and hop on ours to head towards Amersfoort. Once we get to the Amersfoort stop, we had to walk about 15-20 minutes to our Airbnb. This was a struggle with luggage. I mean I only had a backpack, but it was STUFFED, heavy, and we didn’t exactly know where we were going. Eventually we found our way and was greeted by our lovely host, Nel.

 Amersfoort: Day 1

Nel was a great host. She immediately greeted us and showed us up to our own space. We had the second floor to ourselves. She had beds ready and a packet of history and information we may need for our stay, mostly information about her town, Amersfoort. I felt very comfortable at her home and would highly recommend staying there!

Once she gave us the run down, we unpacked and freshened up. Since we woke up so early that morning, we decided to take a 2-hour nap before we went out and did anything. It was much needed to refuel our bodies for a half day of go go go.

After our naps, we got dressed and headed towards Amersfoort city center. On our way, we decided to rent bikes, otherwise it would have been toooooo much walking. Katlynn was still healing for two major sprains in both her ankles, so walking was painful for her. We stopped in at the local bike shop that sold and rented out bikes. For the cheap price of 7 euro a day, we rented two bikes for the day.

Biking is the main transportation in Netherlands. Everyone owns a bike and bikes anywhere that they can. They have their own bike lanes and bike stop lights. Unlike Indiana, people over there know how to drive with bikers in the road. We get on our bikes only to realize the seats are way too high for us. We try to figure out how to adjust the seat but just can’t figure it out. I went back into the bike shop to ask for help. Let me just say we felt very stupid after she helped us adjust our seats.

Riding on the sidewalks was not common so we biked the like locals in the road along with traffic and other bikers. To say we were nervous is an understatement. We can both confidently ride bikes but to ride them with crazy Dutch drivers alongside us was just not natural. Cue, the story where I almost got hit by said crazy Dutch driver.

To preface, this incident is completely my fault, but nonetheless spooked both Katlynn and me. We were headed toward the city on the road and then the bike lane. We come to this round about that I just quickly look left and right at before riding across. Not looking twice, I cross the road. As I ride across, I am getting a horn blown at me by this car. I came to a stop on the other side of the road, trying to process what even just happened. I hear laughter from men dining outside at this café and I see Katlynn on the other side of the road with her hands over her mouth in complete shock/laughter. I suddenly realize, oh shoot, there was a stop light! Usually, bikes follow the same road rules as the cars when it comes to stopping and going. But this roundabout was flowing traffic and the bikes had their own bike stop light that I DID NOT see. So, I completely ran this red light and that is the story of how I almost died.

After this near death experience, we continued biking to the city center and parked our bikes with all the hundreds of other bikes. We walked the streets and found a place to eat lunch, Hemels. We sat outside because it was such a nice day.

There’s something about dining at European restaurants that always happens. Katlynn has experienced this a lot too but the service is never top notch. I want to believe it’s because servers in Europe don’t depend on tips like in America so they aren’t as attentive to their tables. With that being said, our service wasn’t great and kind of slow. But this restaurant had Dutch menus to order from unless you ask for an English one. We sat there for a good 10 minutes trying to read Dutch until we asked for an English menu, lol.

Even reading the English menu, we were still unsure what some of the dishes were, but we ordered bitterballen and this ham dish that looked questionable. Both were Dutch dishes and were delicious. Especially the bitterballen, which is very popular Dutch dish. We sat there enjoying our food and people watching.

Once we left the restaurant, we immediately started walking the streets to find ice cream. Ice cream every day on vacation is acceptable, right? We strolled around with our ice cream and noticed that a lot of shops were closing and it was only 6 pm. Luckily, we weren’t there to shop but it just seemed early for retailers to close. As we were walking we would stumble into popular attractions in the city. We made our way into Hof, which is like a town square in the old town. It was full of restaurants and shops and had a lot of public outdoor seating.

We finished our ice cream and went back to our bikes to continue riding around the city and canals. My favorite part of the day was this part because we just aimlessly rode the bikes to whatever streets we wanted. There was something so serene and relaxing about it. As we were riding, we made a few picture stops. One of which included Koppelpoort. It was just a nice relaxing evening with Katlynn riding around together before a hectic day of walking in Amsterdam the next day. At one point, we walked around the area and something, I think is really funny, happened. We were talking to each other and I said “for sure” really dramatically, emphasizing the “suuuuure”. This guy and his lady friend were walking passed as I said this to her and I hear him say, “Bonjour”. Katlynn and I start laughing because I think this guy thought I said “bonjour” to him but I actually said “for sure” to her. Not as funny when you read it, but definitely a funny experience.

Once we were finished with the city center, we rode back towards the Airbnb so we could return the bikes on time. While we still had them, we went to the grocery to get waters and snacks for the future and hauled the groceries back to the Airbnb with our bikes. We returned the bikes and walked back home to get our nights rest before the next day.

Amsterdam: Day 1

We woke up, got ready, and headed toward the train station. After hassling with the ticket machine, we got our tickets and waited for the train to take us 30 minutes into the city.

Our first mission was to find breakfast. This is where our cell phones became an issue. We both had an Irish SIM card, that is suppose to work in all of the EU. However, we noticed once we got off the train that neither of us could use our data and our phones only worked with WiFi. We were unsure why this was happening because the last time Katlynn visited Amsterdam she was able to use her service. At this point we couldn’t do anything about it so we just started walking the streets.

As we walked, we realized we were in the Red Light District, which is very close to the train station. We saw 1 woman behind the windows and realized that we were in the district. At this point it was probably 11:00 am or so. Not many woman had those day shifts, they all come out at night, which will be brought up later in this post.

We found this cute pancake cafe in the Red Light District called Madam Pancake. I have to say that the Dutch know how to make a damn good pancake. They are the fluffiest and lightest I have ever had. They had the cutest, but tiniest, cafe that oozed the yummiest smells of sugar and syrup. Their menu was full of sweet and savory pancakes, smoothies, yogurt bowls, etc. Katlynn decided to go for the “The Hangover” which consisted of 3 fluffy cakes topped with bacon, onion, and sausage. Which, yes, sounds gross to some, but it was actually delicious. I went for the savory and ordered “Red Crush” which was topped with dragon fruit, raspberry, strawberry, and almond shavings. In addition, they bring a side plate full of other condiments you may need.

After breakfast, we started walking around and exploring the city. We had a few hours to kill before our canal boat tour. We aimlessly wandered the streets that led to all different places. We took a lot of sitting breaks to relieve Katlynn’s ankles, but also to enjoy the city and people watch. We sat along a lot of canals and watched our surroundings which was full of locals and tourists.

Something we both wanted to do was go to the Anne Frank House. Unfortunately, the trip was booked about a week-ish in advance of actually going to Amsterdam so tickets for the museum were sold out. I read online that 80% are released 2 months in advance and the other 20% are released the morning of the day you plan on going. I kept that in mind the morning of but the queue was about 250 people deep. Since that didn’t happen, we still walked around it and took photos with the “Anne Frank Huis” sign. Crowded is an understatement. The whole area was crowded with people from all over the world.

Once we got our photos, we continued walking to and through different districts of Amsterdam. We found a little shopping area with cafes and restaurants. The weather was beautiful and sunny so we sat on an empty bench to enjoy the weather, our drinks, and the people. It was almost time for our canal tour so we headed back toward Anne Frank House, our meeting point. While we waited, we sat along the canal and watched all the boats and tour boats float by.

We chose Flagship Amsterdam for our tour. There are hundreds of other touring companies to choose from but this one stood out to me because of their branding and the fact that is was an open boat, not covered. The tour started with our “captain”, Johnathan, and his assistant/bartender, Gina, introducing themselves and then having everyone else say where they are from. Katlynn and I were the only ones on the boat from the States, everyone else was from around Europe.

Our guides were very informative and educated on the history of Amsterdam. Something I found interesting was that homeowners pay taxes based on the width of their homes. We floated by the thinnest house in Amsterdam (image below) that pays little to no tax. During out relaxing canal tour, I was able to capture some great photos of the city and of Katlynn! After an hour, we were back at the Anne Frank House to hop off the boat and continue exploring.

After our tour, we continued walking, with no GPS directions. Somehow our maps would come up and locate one location but not give us actual turn-by-turn directions. So with the compass on the GPS, we directed ourselves to where we wanted to head. I had mistakenly found this food place I wanted to try and was under the impression that it was at Foodhallen. Like I said, I was mistaken, but this place was still really cool to see. So with that said, I made Katlynn walk FREAKING FAR AF with me to find this place. They didn’t have the food I was looking for but it still didn’t disappoint. I mean they have 21 food stands to choose from!

We stumbled into the food hall and were welcomed with multiple aromas of all different kinds of food. It was also extremely hot in the food hall too. I think I walked around the entire hall at least 3 times trying to see all the food options. I was overwhelmed with the choices that it became too stressful to even choose a place. Katlynn went to some “meat shack” that I can’t remember the name of. I ended up choosing this place that made teriyaki chicken patatas. Both delicious choices. After we ate, we went to get ice cream at La-la-ijs.

From Foodhallen, we made our way back toward the Red Light District so we could experience it at night. On our way back, we made a few stops and ended up hanging out in Dam Square to see street performers and the foot traffic. The first entertainer we saw was doing breakdancing moves and tricks. After his performance we made our way to McDonald’s to get some coke and fries. Now we had a snack for the next performer who was from Australia. He did tricks with weapons, like swords and knives. It was actually impressive because he literally put a sword on FIRE down his throat. Creepy but cool at the same time. Don’t mess with that guy!

Now…the Red Light District! I have never seen anything like this before and it was so so fascinating. We didn’t know what to expect but now that we experienced it, I can elaborate for anyone who wants to know. The district is fairly sized but the actual windows with prostitutes and the sex clubs and museums is just one long strip. The windows with women in them are along the main strip but also around the street blocks. If you walk around the blocks, you’ll see more windows. Some of the windows are underground, eye level, and above ground. I want to say we got there around 8:30-9 pm, and a lot of the windows were occupied by women.

Me and Katlynn plopped down along the canal which just happened to be across the canal in front of 4 doors. We literally sat for like 2 hours just people watching and seeing how people interact/react to the women. Specifically, there was this group of men and one of the men went to talk to woman. She opened her door to talk to him and then he went inside. The woman closed the curtain and then I guess everyone who saw him go in has to leave what happened to their imaginations. 20 minutes go by and he comes out to his group of friends chanting and cheering him on. It was so strange!

Once it became darker, almost all the windows were occupied by women. We also noticed, if the women caught people taking photos of them, they will back away from the door and hide or close their curtain briefly. One girl actually flipped people off if she saw them. There were signs everywhere that say, “No photo or filming of the sex workers, respect sex workers.” Some people just didn’t respect that.

Other than the prostitutes and windows, there were sex clubs and shows people could go to and also the Museum of Prostitution you could tour for a small fee. In addition to the main strip, if you kept walking through the district, there were a lot of pubs and restaurants for people to dine at.

After we exhausted our stay in the Red Light District, we started walking to the train station. It was around 11 pm and we still had a 30 minute train ride to Amersfoort and then another 15-20 minute walk to our Airbnb. We got home late but sleep is for the weak on vacation!

Amsterdam: Day 2

The morning of our last day in Amsterdam started with packing our stuff and chatting with Nel. She was nice enough to let us print our boarding passes so we didn’t have to pay 20 euro at the airport. Besides that, Katlynn and I chatted with her about her family, books, and her lovely garden. Nel also informed us that the train station had luggage storage so we could store our stuff there instead of lugging it all around the city with us during the day.

This time, we headed to the train station with all of our luggage. We bought our one-way tickets and hopped on our packed train. We had to stand in the train cart that connects the actual train carts. This is also where the toilet water was leaking so the floor was soaking wet with toilet water…yep. Luckily, it did NOT smell! There were a couple of stops in between Amersfoort and Amsterdam so more people were getting on the train making it uncomfortably crowded with everyone's luggage and bodies.

Finally arriving at Amsterdam Centraal, we follow the signs to the lockers. It was pretty easy to find the locker room but actually finding a locker was a shit show. We walked into this large room with electronic lockers. Everyone is crowded in the back because that’s where all the available lockers were at the time. There were tons and tons of people trying to get back there and look for an available locker. It didn’t help that people retrieving their bags were trying to leave either, making the whole area a traffic jam. It was hot, sweaty, and smelly back there too, which was gross.

As we were about to just give up, we saw an available locker and snatched it as fast as we could, letting no one take it from us. A lot of people were still in the way, mostly people trying to figure out the payment system. We shoved our stuff in the locker, payed, and got tf out of there. Funny enough, we overheard an employee say there were additional lockers outside…HA!

On this day, we didn’t have any specific plans other than to tour the Paleis Amsterdam, aka Royal Palace Amsterdam. The first thing we wanted to do was find somewhere to eat. Wasting no time, we went the opposite direction that we did the day before from the train station which led us to Mr. Rabbit. We snagged a table outside to enjoy the view and nice weather. I ordered a mimosa and this dish called Shakshuka, which I learned is a North African dish made with tomatoes, onions, peppers, fresh herbs, and eggs. It was really good and different than anything I would normally order for breakfast. Katlynn ordered eggs benedict with a side of bacon.

After we wrapped up breakfast, we continued walking in the direction we hadn’t been. We stopped at a souvenir store to get our dad a nice Amsterdam crew neck, which he loved. We continued making our way toward the palace to take our tour.

The palace is in Dam Square, so we walked back there and went inside. We walked inside, scanned our tickets, and went to grab an audio device to start the self guided tour. I was more interested in the architecture and photography rather than the history behind it. Katlynn was more into learning about the history. I was in charge of getting photos and she was in charge of telling me the history in a more condensed fashion. It was a win-win!

Every room we entered, we placed out audio devices in front of these stands with an electronic circle to check in with. Once you run the audio device along that and it beeps, a voice will start speaking about the rooms and sculptures in each room. I listened to some of the audio, but I was more infatuated with the architecture and paintings. History was never my thing either, so I’m glad Katlynn, the history minor, was there to help me out.

We learned about 16 different rooms that all serve(d) a purpose to each royal family. When the current royal family is out of town, the palace is open for touring. When they are in town, the palace is closed to the public but they can view the palace virtually online via Google maps.

Once we finished our tour, we continued walking and finding this strip of high end stores. with all the big brand names. We took a side street to find some cheap snack food. We found this small walk up restaurant that served vlaames frites and bitterballen, just what we wanted. Vlaames frites are basically just french fries but there’s something special about them. I don’t know what it was but they actually were really delicious and just the right amount of crispy. There are restaurants in the city that specifically serve Vlaamse frites and a bunch of different sauces. I researched and saw that most Dutch people have them topped with Dutch mayonnaise and sometimes other toppings. We just got a side of ketchup and Dutch mayo. However, I’m still unsure what the difference is between Dutch mayo and American mayo….

We took our snacks and walked to the canal to sit, eat, and watch all the boats go by. There was an incredible amount of boat traffic going through. I think this was one of the more busy canals. We sat for awhile and enjoyed our time relaxing and watching the everyday’s of Amsterdam. We skipped from canal to canal to sit and watch.

As I was researching Amsterdam, I found this place I wanted to go to before we left. Stroopwafels are another popular delicacy in Amsterdam. They are two thin waffles, similar to crepes, with caramel in between. They can be served like that or with other sweets on it. It’s called Van Wonderen Stroopwafels. What really drew me to them was their Instagram….just take a look and you’ll see what I mean. Stroopwafels in hand, we head back to the canal and sit. Two birds were hanging around us trying to pick up the fallen caramel and Oreo pieces. They got lucky.

The time came for us to head back to the train station to go to the airport for our evening flight. Getting our luggage was much smoother than storing it. We were in and out quickly and efficiently. We sadly got back on the train and rode to the airport. TSA went smooth and fast. Probably because this airport doesn’t require you to separate your liquids or take you shoes off…

Our flight landed very, very late and the only transportation option to get home was by taxi. EVERYONE who landed around the same time as us was in this taxi line. It was unbelievably long but we had no choice. The weather had changed significantly from Amsterdam to Ireland so I was freezing in my sun dress. After probably 40-ish minutes, we finally got in a taxi and headed home. We got home around 2:00 am, so exhausted was an understatement.