In May of 2018 I had the distinct privilege of joining a group of physicians on their medical mission trip to Rwanda (more on that later). Getting to Rwanda from Omaha requires a route like this: Omaha > Another big airport with more connections > AMSTERDAM > Kigali, Rwanda. In an effort to adjust to the new time zone and keep each traveller’s sanity, we spent one day and one night in Amsterdam. When I first learned I had the good fortune of going on this trip, I was felt overwhelmed by all the activities one could do in Amsterdam. In some of our travels, we have over-scheduled ourselves and it can suck the fun out of the day. Part of traveling is seeing how other people live, eat, shop, commute. It’s really hard to observe and enjoy if you have tickets to seven different museums and sights. Once I came to terms with our super-short stay in Amsterdam, I made peace with the fact that we can’t fit everything in. This took the pressure off and allowed us to enjoy the company and wandering.
What We Did and Didn’t Do in Amsterdam
We did not nap.
And now, from the beginning. We waltzed off plane after our overnight flight and checked into our hotel which was attached to the airport and train station. Staying at a hotel attached to to the airport is a great option if you’re freaked out about navigating Amsterdam or are coordinating travel with a large group (ahem, herding cats). After checking in we showered and did not lay our sleepy little heads on a single pillow. Powering through is a new one for me. Simply glancing at a fluffy white hotel bed can cause me to succumb to jetlag. This is a Cale trick and it worked. No nap. Instead we laced up our tennies, threw on our jackets and got ready to cover some serious ground.
We did stroll along the canals.
Honestly, Cale and I would agree that these wandering types of days are our favorite in any city. When the pressure is off, you’re free to take photos of anything and everything, eat when you’re hungry, sit and grab a drink, swing into expensive shops you have no business being in, etc. Obviously the architecture of the homes and businesses along the canals give the city it’s charm. If you are wandering with absolutely no agenda, be aware that the rest of the population of Amsterdam are on bicycles and they have places to be. Keep your head on a swivel and get outta their way!
We ate giant waffles.
If you’re gonna be walking miles and miles around a beautiful city, you’re going to want to carb load. And carb load we did! I’m sure there are a million more quaint, gourmet restaurants but these giant waffles WITH ICE CREAM are not to be missed! I think two people could easily split a single waffle but there are savory and sweet options so good luck deciding. We got two waffles because we are overachievers.
Where We Went: The Pancake Bakery
We did walk by the Anne Frank house and the long line to get in.
The front door of the original home is totally nondescript (it was a regular home so…) but you can take a picture of or nearby the plaque of the front door. If this is an important stop for you, get tickets exactly two months in advance of your visit. We weren’t able to secure tickets but I absolutely intend to make it back to Amsterdam and walk through the home, which is now a museum.
We did [try to] take photos in front of the famous sign.
We had covered a lot of ground and built up our Tourist Tolerance by now. By this I mean we said goodbye to our personal space hours before. Just know that you’re going to have a bunch of strangers in your vaca photos. You’ll be fine and there’s no way around it. You can laugh about how weird people are later. Bring coins for bathrooms and peruse the gardens nearby – it will feel like a breath of fresh air!
We did take a canal cruise.
This was such a fun way to see the city. Touristy? Sure! But it was super enjoyable. Everyone gets [many] glasses of [cheap] wine, your own little personal pizza, and ice cream. I think you can please anyone at any age with that menu. I really liked doing the cruise because offers you a chance to sit(!) after walking all day while enjoying the architecture and evening views. There were so many quirky cool house boats that we saw along the way too!
This is not the Red Light District. This is Cale petting a furry friend.
We did walk through the Red Light District.
Yep. And lived to tell the tale. It is at once exactly what you expect and totally different. The District is marked by red posts and lights so you know exactly when you step into the area. Wouldn’t recommend this as a family activity because you will see and smell things you maybe shouldn’t. But seriously, it was a way more civilized 15-20 minute experience than I expected it to be. Walk through and walk on home.
What to Pack for Amsterdam
A few tiny nuggets of advice on the thing I stress over the most: packing. People are going to know you’re a tourist no matter how chicly you are dressed, so be yourself and wear socks, shoes, pants, shirts, bras, jackets, etc that allow you to focus your eyeballs on the beautiful things around you.
Pack comfortable shoes. I get blisters so easily so I am always willing to sacrifice spaces for clothes in the name of an extra pair of shoes. I don’t care if they are thick-soled Dad Sneakers or comfy suede boots or both, but you do not want blisters on the first day (or any day) of your trip. A gal in our group wore ankle boots with a decent heel and ended up buying flip flops at a gift shop because her feet hurt. So there’s a back-up option for you. Pack or buy some bandaids just in case.
Wear light layers. Granted, we went in the spring so the weather was super pleasant. Even still we spent pretty much the whole day alternating between wearing our jackets and taking them off. If you’re going to go the No Nap route, and spend your whole day out and about, definitely bring some kind of light layer. You’ll be much more comfortable in the evening and night if you’re walking or sitting outside.
So that was our adventure in less than 24 hours in Amsterdam! We are actually heading back later this spring and intend to get to know this city much better on the next adventure, mostly because we can spend more time. Do you have any recommendations or things you would add to the list?
Oh, Paris. You were so beautiful last August! Who am I kidding? I’m sure Paris is beautiful every August. London was our first stop and the The City of Light was our second. (more…)
‘ello! You’re about to enjoy a charming, historic stroll down Memory Lane/London. It is now many months after the fact, but I’ve been trying to sift through the [hundreds] of photos Cale and I took on our two-week trip to Europe this summer. We visited four major cities in 14 days and the first stop was London. If you have personally been to London, taken a history class, or have access to the internet then you’ve probably seen many of these things before. It was an unforgettable trip full of laughter, public transportation, and a little stress. Europe was really an exercise in how many random places I could fall asleep – many. Here’s what our first few days looked like, plus a few snaps from London Town.
Day 1: First Taste of International Travel
Cale and I flew out of Omaha late-morning on a Monday and arrived to thunderstorm conditions in Charlotte, NC that afternoon. A few weather delays and iPhone charges later, we boarded our overnight flight bound for Heathrow. (This would be a good time to warn you that there will be a few “first world problems” in this post, as I realize I am lucky to have taken this trip so bear with me). The flight was long (9 hours) and I was too anxious/excited/mostly anxious to get any amount of decent sleep but I did find the movie selection overwhelming in a good way. The food left a little to be desired but it was my first real airplane food experience beyond the pretzels, peanuts, or cookies on other flights.
Day 2: Arriving in London
When we touched down in London, we went through customs, blah, blah, blah, and had a pre-arranged shared ride that picked us up and took us to our hotel. We shared the cab ride with a grandmother and her 13 year old granddaughter from Boston. Yes, they had great Boston accents. Their 10-day stay in London was, and I quote, a “middle school graduation gift.” So this young lady spent 10 days in Europe. For completing 8th grade. Soaking up quality time with her grandmother. Darn lucky 13 year old! I don’t expressly recall my eighth grade graduation gift but I’m 98% sure I was wearing some kind of shirt/skirt combo from American Eagle and my family celebrated with dinner at Applebee’s or similar destination. Anyways. We arrived to our hotel in the South Kensington area of London. Our room at the Kensington Close Hotel wasn’t ready so we quickly found a cafe and went all in for the espresso.
Jet lag is real and it is serious and we (ok, just me) fell asleep sitting up at the cafe so a walk around the neighborhood was much needed. The houses and businesses and storefronts are so charming and adorable – the architecture and level of detail are amazing! After wandering and finding a little restaurant to grab a bite, we made our way back to the hotel, checked in, marveled at the tiny room and bathroom, and changed clothes for dinner.
Per many recommendations, we enjoyed Indian food at a little local restaurant a few blocks from our hotel. We let our true tourist naiveté shine during a slight miscommunication about adding gratuity to our check. I am not certain we are welcome back to the restaurant but the chicken pasanda and naan were delicious.
Day 3: Tour as the Tourists Do
On our second day in London, we… enjoyed?… a large bus tour with many other tourists. A large charter-style bus took us on a whistle stop tour of famous monuments, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, Tower of London, and concluded with a River Thames boat ride. These moments were the first of hundreds of moments when I thought “HISTORY IS REAL! I’VE SEEN ALL OF YOU IN BOOKS BEFORE!” Seeing places in real life that you’ve only heard or read about, is really freaking cool. I got better at this as the trip went on but I also learned to take a few photos and then put the camera away to actually take everything in. That way you’ve documented AND enjoyed the moment.
Dome atop St. Paul’s Cathedral
Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. We are literally and figuratively out of focus in this photo. It was about 4:00am back in Omaha at this time.
Tower Bridge near the Tower of London – often mistaken for the London Bridge made most famous by my girl Fergie-Ferg.
The tour of the city left us just as entertained with our fellow passengers as the sights in London. Sidenote: As a life-long sufferer of “carcolepsy,” I would maybe not recommend bus tours to those who A) fall asleep as soon as they’re seated inside a moving vehicle. Also, jet lag may result in brief bus naps… so I hear. After the tour ended we walked to Oxford Street and through Harrods. After I finished drooling over the Céline purses and designer everything, we found our way to a small pub near our hotel for fish and chips. I’m not very knowledgable on cars but the amount of expensive/fancy/outrageous cars parked near Harrods was jaw-dropping. Though I felt extremely underdressed in my jeans and sandals, I loved every second of soaking in the pristine designer stores.
Tower of London – crazy to see buildings way older than our entire country.
Charming doorways near the Tower of London
Day 4: Rain and Shine
For our last and very rainy day in London, we bought an umbrella and made the soggy trek to the Tate Modern Museum. It was apparently a popular and free venue–great art with no rain and no cost. We wandered the floors and got to see a few Mondrian pieces (one of my fave artists).
Interior of Tate Modern Museum
We followed up the museum trip with a spot of coffee and cake (an entire pot of coffee and separate pieces of coffee cake). Everyone knows vacation calories don’t count. The rain moved out so we made the rounds on foot to Picadilly Circus, the National Gallery, and Trafalgar Square. Pro tip: Free museums = free bathrooms. Trafalgar was so full of people, which I think is half the fun, but also you need to keep your head on straight and your purse zipped.
Trafalgar Square – where pigeons, pickpockets, and tourists unite!
Keeping your wits about you, navigating public transportation, and seeing lots of historic sights make for amazing and exhausting days. Dinner that evening was unremarkable at a small Italian restaurant near our hotel, but the company was excellent!
Day 5: This is Not a Drill
On our final morning in London, we slept as much as we could and grabbed breakfast at our hotel. Cale so wonderfully mapped out the trains we would need to take to get to the final train station that would get us to Paris. As we were packing up the last few items into our suitcases, the fire alarms in the hotel went off and everyone evacuated. So we heaved our suitcases down the stairs and were on our way!
Cale Kassel, Map Reader Extraordinaire
Not our most graceful exit but thanks to Cale’s extraordinary navigation skills, we made it to the train station in plenty of time for our train to Paris. London was wonderful.When we first arrived, I so badly wanted to “act natural” and fit in with the locals, and much to my chagrin, but later to my relief, it was never gonna happen. But more on that in a later post. Stay tuned for the next installment of “Cale & Katie go to…” to hear snarky observations and mediocre photos of our adventures.