Why to travel to Europe in winter
25.11.2008 0 °C
Snowy, rainy, freezing cold and grey. Regardless of the season or weather conditions, Amsterdam is always full of people - locals on bikes and distracted tourists crashing with bikers. I was of course the second one, clumsy tourist with her nose in her map walking on bike paths instead of sidewalks. I seriously think I was being protected by some force majeure which stopped me from being run over a zillion bikes!
This time Amsterdam welcomed me with just a few Celsius degrees above zero and a freezing drizzle. It didn’t stop me, however, from going out of the apartment I was staying at and exploring the city. What amazed me was the outstanding amount of people who, just like me, seemed not to care about these rather harsh weather conditions. I’m lucky, I thought, it’s not summer. Otherwise I would most definitely be run over by one of the million bikes locals use even more during summer months.
Winter in Amsterdam definitely has its charm. Even though my hands were freezing and I had to break icicles that grew out of my nose numerous times, I was enjoying a wintery magical scenery of Amsterdam. During my one-and-a-half-day-stay in Amsterdam, I haven’t visited many regular tourist spots, but decided to purchase a 24 hours I Am Amsterdam card which gave me several discounts on transportation, museums and tours.
Since my trip was a last minute thing and I was driving from nearby Brussels, I wanted to book a hostel one day before. I actually found a really charming "PhilDutch" houseboat located right in the center of the city and thought it would be quintessential for my stay in a “canal city” but it wasn’t available on the last moment, so I had to call my friend from Amsterdam and convince him to let me stay in his tiny apartment. My friend ended up giving me the keys to his apartment as it surely would not fit me, my boyfriend and him.
As much as I loved his generosity of letting us stay at his place, I couldn’t believe how much people are willing to sacrifice. I guess it’s similar to New York, where people pay 1,000 dollars for a room of a size of my closet just to live in Manhattan. The apartment I stayed in consisted of one very tiny living room, kitchen slash shower and a toilet behind the sliding doors. Very steep ladder lead to a rather claustrophobic attic with a mattress and no windows.
There was also a heater which is another story. My friend educated us on how to use it and even executed this knowledge by conducting a small test. I wasn’t surprised though. To turn on the heater, you had to light up a fire by following a rather complicated procedure. It worked though and at 4 am I had to go down the steep ladder to turn it off, it was so hot! Another thing I found funny were… mice. When I told my friend that we bought bread for breakfast, he said I should guard it in the microwave; otherwise it will be consumed by mice. I actually thought he was just joking until I came back to his apartment at night and discovered his bread in a microwave. As you can imagine, I burst out laughing.
So, besides enjoying the Christmassy atmosphere of Amsterdam, we also took a night boat cruise. It ended up being a really nice experience, mostly because the boat was heated and we could learn some historic facts about the city’s architecture and canals. One of the things I remembered was the story about hooks that every Amsterdam house has to be able to place furniture in it through windows due to very steep and narrow staircase.
We took almost the whole day visiting the Van Gogh museum that I found excellent. Except of Van Gogh’s works, it also displayed several world-famous works of other impressionists. Van Gogh’s paintings were showcased along with his biography which made us understand better his inspirations and motives. The biggest attraction of the museum, however, was the weather outside. I’m guessing snow in Amsterdam is not as frequent and all the tourists gathered by the museum’s windows to take photos of this nature’s phenomenon.
We ended our stay with a visit to an Italian restaurant La Madonna which was full of hungry foreigners just like us. Service was excellent and food even better. After some Minestrone soup, garlic bread and pasta with salmon, we couldn’t wish for more. Although we were stuck in an hour-long traffic just outside Amsterdam, the beautiful image of snow-capped bikes and white cobblestone streets of this magical city had me smiling all night long.