My first ever solo-travelling experience was in October 2014 when I decided to be an au pair in The Netherlands. I left my job. I left my family, I left the country that I had been living for 27 years. It wasn’t easy to take the first step, but chances won’t come twice! When I looked back, I could say that I proud of myself, brave enough to enter a faraway country on my own. Holland was never on my bucket list, so when I arrived there I didn’t have any idea about how to enjoy the country. Luckily, internet really helps.
So, living a year in Holland. I’m going to show you some activities that I did, especially in Amsterdam (For other activities in another city, wait for my next post). This city never ran out of activities, events were available throughout the year (mostly annual events), so make sure you check their calendar events before you make a plan! (See it here: http://www.iamexpat.nl)
So, what to do in AMSTERDAM? Hopefully this information would help to make your visit easier!
December – January: AMSTERDAM LIGHT FESTIVAL
The festival offers you a new way to explore Amsterdam during the winter months. Both local and international light artists will show you their creations all around Amsterdam which you can enjoy by walking or taking the boat. Due to lack of information (since I was a newbie), I took the walking route in the middle of the night (the lights would be better seen in the dark, right?) without knowing the route and it’s so damn cold! I only found a few spot in the canal; taking pictures with my phone hence the results weren’t good. Personally I didn’t satisfy probably because of my high expectation of this event. LOL. So my suggestion would be: look for more information to find out the route. If you have extra money, it’s better to take the boat route that you surely won’t miss the lights. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures to post regarding this event.
January: NATIONAL TULIP DAY (NATIONALE TULPENDAG)
This event was AWESOMEEE because I can pick AS MANY TULIPS AS I WANTED FOR FREE!!
It was held on 17th January 2015, taking place on Dam Square which is reachable by foot from the Amsterdam Centraal. If you come from other part of Amsterdam or from other cities, you can check 9292 (Holland’s transportation app) for bus or train’s schedule. The event itself marked the starting of tulip season. The staff gave each person a plastic bag to put my tulips (I got two anyway). Just put in mind, don’t take too much time or picking too much tulips. Please consider other people who wait to take the turn.
TIPS: I suggest you to come early to avoid the long queue and be aware of pickpockets as well (you’ll never know!); bring your own plastic bag if you want to pick more tulips, and do not forget to take lots of picture while you’re picking the tulips
April: KING’S DAY (KONINGSDAG)
It’s time to celebrate King Willem’s birthday (formerly Queen’s Day). On this one of the most famous national day in The Netherlands, be ready to drown into the sea of orange as everyone is going to dress up in orange from head to toe, partying both in canals and the streets. I decided to visit Amsterdam since it became the center of the celebration; no doubt it was really crowded. I chose to walk to the famous Vondelpark, there were many performances done by people from any age. Children were allowed to trade for some pennies by selling their toys and books, doing face-painting, and showing off their skill. From Vondelpark I walked to Dam Square where there was a funfair (kermis) with lots of attraction like you can find in amusement park.
August: SAIL AMSTERDAM
Sail Amsterdam is a quinquennial event where tall ships from all over the world come together to Amsterdam and sailing in the harbour. I didn’t make it to get inside the ships, but still, lucky me I got the chance to watch the event. As you may know, Netherlands is located below the sea (you can tell it from the country’s name). The land is flat, no mountains, canals and rivers are everywhere, not to mention it’s always windy there! So mostly Dutch people have a boat or even their own ship! During the summer, people loved to ride on their boat or just staying there to enjoy the sun. They also participated in this event by sailing besides the tall ships or just riding the boat from the river near their house through to the city (My host family did that).
Well, you don’t have to worry marking your calendar to visit the museums, but do check their opening hours. Netherlands offers a lot of museums to explore. In Amsterdam, you can go to Muzeumplein where you can find tourist’s favorite museums, such as Van Gogh and Rijksmuseum. You can enter for free to some of the museums, but for mostly all well-known museums, like what I mentioned above, will charge you entrance fee. If you are a museum-lover, I suggest you to buy a museum card (museum kaart). It costs €60, valid for a year, and you can enter all museums for FREE! As a cardholder you can get some privileges plus avoiding long queue. For order you can simply go directly to any museum or buy it online (check: http://www.museumkaart.nl).
As for me, I got extra advantage from having this card. Whenever I needed to go to the toilet or water to drink, I ‘visited’ the museum. LOL. It’s quite saving my money especially when I roamed around for the whole day (toilet/ WC: €0.5, a bottle of water costs around €1).
Other museums are spreading all over Amsterdam, such as Royal Palace of Amsterdam, Tassenmuseum Hendrikje (Museum of Bags and Purses), Anne Frank Huis, and many more. From my experience, Van Gogh Museum has the strictest security among the other museums.
Tips: when you visit Muzeumplein, you can stop by at the popular I AMSTERDAM sign and take some pictures where bunch of tourists would do the same (it could be one of your must-have pictures in Netherlands. LOL).
What I learned during this journey was, at least – once in a lifetime, take a chance to travel out from your country. Don’t travel with negative minds. Kind people do exist. I got lots of help from strangers and it really moved my heart.
Being an au pair was the cheapest way of travel for me; I hope you can find your own way that suits you.