Amsterdam, Netherlands

I feel like I should give an update on Robbie and my hearts and how we are doing. We’ve been away from home now for over a month. Before this, neither of us had ever studied abroad or taken any extravagant trips, so this is definitely by far the longest either of us have spent away from normal life. You know, you never really can prepare yourself for this kind of a trip or adventure. You can do your best to read blogs of other travelers, ask questions, or do research but there’s nothing that will fully allow you to understand what this will feel like until you’re in it. I can remember Robbie’s mom asking a lot of questions about, “Have you thought about this yet?”, or, “What will you do if this happens?” etc. and you know, we talked about a ton of stuff before we left but how can you ever really know until you’re just in it? And it’s been cool to see that we have indeed figured out how to do all of this. I once thought Robbie and I were pretty bad travelers who always get lost in every city and never plan well enough for what we do. But I’ve found that I love the way we travel, that we have such similar interests and enjoy the same things. We have become an unbeatable team in so many scenarios and we are constantly each other’s biggest cheerleader. We haven’t gotten upset with each other, because it’s really not our nature, and our hearts feel so full.

I want to stress something though. It’s a thought that’s been rattling around in my head for a few days. Robbie and I have loved each other with such a strong and brilliant love for almost five years now. I used to date a boy that brought out the worst in me– we fought all the time and I found myself yelling and being rude right back at him as he’d do it to me. I prayed countless prayers– and boy were those prayers passionately delivered– over and over again, day after day, for years, that God would bless me with a husband that was slow to anger and quick to love. If I have ever had a prayer more fully answered than this one in the person that Robbie is, then I don’t know it.  I say this all to say that, I can’t stress enough how lovely and wonderful life was in Omaha, and our marriage too. I cannot express how truly precious it all is whether in Omaha or abroad– our marriage has gotten better since being away only because time has gone on. Our relationship only gets better with the passing of time, the experiences had, and the more numerous opportunities to love each other well; so that means that even if we had never left for this grand backpacking trip, I’d love life just as much in Omaha, alongside Robbie serving the Lord and living on mission. It was just important for me to tell anyone who reads this that you don’t have to travel to make anything in your life better– it certainly is so much fun and inspiring, and we are so beyond grateful for everything we get to see and do, but this isn’t what solves problems. Work on loving the people around you right now! Today! God has placed you in your mission field! Are you utilizing each opportunity to show God’s love and bless others?

So anyway, now that I’ve spent way too much time on that bunny trail, I will finish with saying, we are doing amazing! We are truly loving every minute of our time abroad. We love the different languages and enjoy trying to live more like a local rather than a tourist. We don’t mind wearing the same clothes over and over again and our backpacks are very heavy but we only have to carry them all when we are on an “airport day.” Otherwise, we are constantly noting how we move into a space QUICKLY by how our backpacks seem to explode all over the room the minute we get to our new airbnb. I’ve gone the longest I’ve ever gone without shaving my legs (because sometimes it’s not worth spending the money on one every time you’re in a new place and you can’t bring a razor in a carry-on), we are still only showering every few days (but nothing new there. that has nothing to do with no access to a shower. hahaha), and we aren’t sick of traveling yet at all. We love being present in one place, not even thinking about what’s coming next, being sad to leave that place but then experiencing a whole new round of excitement again with the new destination. But this whole thing doesn’t keep us from our doubts in our faith about how the Lord is going to use us or what He will call us to. We continue to be in His Word and we spend every day in prayer, yet our clarity on next steps isn’t clearer today than it was a month ago. But that is perfectly okay. I don’t know how many wise leaders back home specifically told me this: “When and if you’re a month or two or three or four into this journey and you still don’t know where God is calling you, don’t panic! He’s got you where He wants you. Enjoy what He’s showing you in His creation and his people and enjoy the experiences he has right in front of you! You’ll figure it out, He won’t let you not figure it out.” We cling to our faith, God’s promises to not leave His children and His promise to lean into His children that truly pursue Him, and cling to the wisdom of our good friends back home, and will fight for God’s purpose in our lives. We desperately desire to be obedient!

Sooo… We got to Amsterdam and trained into Amsterdam Centraal Station, and what a sight it was when we walked outside! The BIKES! That’s all you see!! An ocean of thousands of bikes (literally!!) parked in hundreds of bike racks. You could look to your left or right for one or two blocks and just see bikes upon bikes! So fun! Brett and Jeff visited Amsterdam in May and absolutely loved the city. They told us that this is what we would see when we stepped out of the station, and yes, they were right! And they were also right in their opinion of Amsterdam (by far our favorite *city* so far!).

We arrived at our airbnb in Amsterdam around 8:15pm. If you know anything about Amsterdam, you know that every block of every street has a new name. This makes things really difficult when trying to figure out how to walk somewhere when you don’t have data to bring up Google maps. But we made it to our beautiful canal house on Keizersgracht Street (one canal away-about a two minute walk- from Anne Frank’s family’s hiding place!) built in 1792 (So crazy to think of this place being almost as old as our country!!). We dropped our things and left right away, because we wanted to catch the movie IT! Robbie finished the Stephen King novel while we’ve been traveling and I have gotten a decent summary every couple of days (which I love) so we were both really excited to see it. We were walking in the dark, getting lost down the most confusing street designs and we were hungry so as we wandered past a small pizza shop by accident, cooking up wood fire pizzas with the smell drifting out their open windows, we backtracked and went on in, grabbing a sausage pizza and a bottled coke. We got on a more direct path to the theatre, found some wet lit benches and scarfed down our delicious pizza from La Perla while listening to the ever still busy streets of a Sunday night in September in Amsterdam. Memories already being made here. We were loving it.

We got to the movie theatre 45 minutes early, sat in these fancy chairs in the lobby eating peanut m&m’s and talking about our expectations for the movie since Robbie had only just finished reading the book less than a week ago. We were giddy (with nerves, because both of us are actually decently easily scared) and having the best time. The showing started at 10pm, the theatre (Pathe City) was quite nice with comfortable seats and the theatre rooms were very small, so it felt cozier than American theatres. This was our first movie either of us have ever seen in a foreign country and for whatever reason, it was a blast. There were plenty of other people in there watching it with us, and there were Dutch subtitles (that really weren’t distracting at all because the movie had us so engaged). Okay, so we seriously loved the movie even though Robbie says there’s a million things they changed from the book. They kept the characters true to themselves and many key aspects the same though. We thought the actors were super talented and Pennywise the clown is so well executed. So the whole thing was amazing to us. Honestly Robbie was more scared than me, but neither of us really found the movie to be as scary as all the reviews say. The walk home at 12:30am was eerie with chilly winds winding through the trees along the dark canals causing leaves to rustle and fall. There was the lightest sprinkle of rain that caused the brick streets to reflect the tiny bits of light, and an ancient church rang its bells even that late at night adding to the feel of it all. It was such a great experience though, that the Amsterdam streets only added to! These nights are so much fun.
Day two we slept in, woke to the wind coming through the canal house windows. Walked a block and a half to a second-hand market our quirky airbnb host told us about. Such fun finds. It was truly Robbie’s perfect market– like a huge fancy goodwill with nice second-hand things spanning over many blocks. We spent a long time there, even feeling tempted to buy something a couple of times. But we left empty-handed, which we haven’t figured out what we’d do with something if we actually did want to buy something. So far we have only spent money on places to stay, food, and plane tickets (and surf lessons too!). That was kind of our rule coming into this though– we would be more keen on spending money on experiences than “things.” We left and found a cold-pressed juice place called Juice Lab that was this very modern, open, “white-space” kind of a place that had large windows that overlooked a canal. We had acai bowls and they were downright delicious. It also felt good to actually eat something nutritious. Too much time in Scandinavia can lead to no produce in your system since their produce isn’t appealing looking at all! (I think it must kind of get too ripe and almost start to get bad by the time it reaches that far north??). Anyway, this day it RAINED ALL DAY LONG. It would stop for tiny periods, pour for 2 minutes, slow to a light shower for 15 minutes, pour for 2 more minutes, etc. all day long. We walked the crap out of Amsterdam this day, despite the rain. We were prepared with our rain coats and a protective water-proof covering for our backpack. We went in and out of cute local shops along one of the “Nine streets” (what they call a few of their shopping streets), just enjoying walking through this city, admiring the architecture that stayed consistent from “downtown” all the way to the outskirts of town. We had a bagel at “The Village Bagel” to wait for the rain, read for awhile, and then walked to the “I Amsterdam” sign (really more just to see it than to take a photo with it. We aren’t really ones for trying to wrestle with a crowd to get a silly shot of ourselves in front of a tourist magnet), but it was nice to see nonetheless. Vondel Park is the Netherlands’ most visited and most famous park and it was right around the corner, so we headed over there next. We made it only a little ways in before we had to hide under a tree for awhile while the rain poured and poured. The rain ended up slowing, but we felt we should head back home before we wouldn’t have a tree to get under the next time the rains came. So we walked along the canals as the thunder and lightning grew heavier above us, and the thing that sounded the absolute best to us that night while we were cold and wet was going for another pizza at La Perla. (This is beyond classic of us. We find the place that we absolutely love and just keep going to it because, why not?) We had two Margherita pizzas (definitely our go-to) for us while we watched the rain crash down on the brick street outside. It was perfect. Came home to a warm bed after sundown and hoped for a dryer tomorrow. (But it’s amazing how when you just love a place, it almost doesn’t matter that the weather was crappy because the place itself makes up for it. Amsterdam is so that for us. The brick streets, the amazing canal houses that line up and down every street, the trees that are planted along the water too give a suburban neighborhood feel to the city amidst the feeling that you’ve been transported right back to the 1700’s, the romance of the September weather in a place like this, how the leaves were just starting to change color and fall. We loved it all, and rain wasn’t going to bring us down.)

Day three began with fresh croissants (we watched them come out of the oven!) and what we thought was chocolate milk from a grocery market within walking distance from the Anne Frank House where we were going to have a tour of that morning. Sometimes mistakes (on our part) with foreign language can really get you though because that chocolate milk ended up being a tall one liter carton of chocolate pudding that Robbie willingly poured into his mouth and drank?? Or ate?? Hahaha

The Anne Frank House was everything I wanted it to be. I read her diary sometime in my school years growing up, but I reread it in May of this year so I could have the story of it all super fresh in my mind. Robbie has never read it so I’m not sure he got as much out of it, but he still appreciated it nonetheless. It was very surreal to stand in the place where Anne slept each night for two years and wrote the words that have impacted so many people’s lives and rocked so many people’s perspectives on the Holocaust. The museum does a great job of calling attention to the more than 80,000 other jews living in Amsterdam (and of course the ones that weren’t also) and how so very many of them had similar stories– just drawing home the point that we shouldn’t just think of Anne Frank when we think of the innocent lives lost. Thousands of others had the same, but different and unique stories. It’s heart breaking and fascinating and surreal that she and her family along with 4 other people lived in that space for more than two years never once going outside, having to stay quiet all day long so the warehouse workers below them wouldn’t be suspicious, longing to go back to normal life. And then getting sent to concentration camps at their first introduction to the outside again. Ugh, it’s just terrible. But I would highly recommend anyone go to the Anne Frank House. Such an amazing perspective.

Afterwards we grabbed some cold-pressed juice from another juice shop. Robbie got this juice called “astronaut fuel” that was colored an electric blue. Apparently the cold press process allows them to put 4 pounds of fruits into this bottle. Robbie loved the taste too so I was just pleased to have him drinking something so healthy for him (this can be a struggle at times. haha) We walked over to a bike rental place and asked whether they had a tandem bike available. They did! We were so pumped and nervous. Nervous because the bikes in Amsterdam definitely rule the road. I’m not kidding, bikes go wherever they want whenever they want. If that means cutting off a car in the middle of an intersection when it’s clearly the car’s turn, that’s what they do. And cars don’t even honk, they just take it! It’s insane! And it’s also insane the sheer number of fast-paced bicyclists on the roads at any given time. The speed and confidence of the riders would intimidate anyone who didn’t know their way around. So that was us– the tandem bike riders who weren’t confident and didn’t know our way around town. Honestly, I’m finding that the things that scare me the most are always the ones that are the most fun and make me the happiest that we did. Yes, I was navigating from the back with my google maps open just watching the little blue circle (that indicates where your current location is on the map) move along the streets and tried my best to tell Robbie when to turn based on that. But Amsterdam is definitely not on a grid system like back home, so we certainly had a few mishaps and wrong turns. But that’s all part of the fun! We got to see so much of the city that we wouldn’t have had we just walked. We also got to see so much of the city so much faster on a bike! It’s amazing how quickly you can get somewhere on a bike. It was awesome and we were loving seeing Amsterdam the way a local sees Amsterdam, from their Bicycle seat!

We biked over to the Red Light District. The night before we stumbled over a pamphlet on the Museum of Prostitution that our host had in a stack of other maps and pamphlets in our bedroom. We read it from cover to cover, completely fascinated and shocked by all the information in it. Anyone can Google the RLD for themselves, so I won’t go into great detail, but I will say, yes, prostitution in the Netherlands is completely legal, these women pay taxes just like any other person with a job, and as far as it can be controlled, none of these women are in this business by force. They’re doing it on their own will, their own choice. This is something Robbie and I just can’t understand. How could you choose this? Why would you want this? And one sad part was that this pamphlet had real quotes from real prostitutes in the business there who were actually admitting that it isn’t something they love doing, but they’re in it for the money. We just desperately desire that these women would understand their worth apart from their bodies and know that they could pursue a career outside of this and still make good money. So on a sunny Tuesday afternoon, we biked over to the district and then wandered around on foot. I won’t say much about it except that these women are just behind glass like zoo animals and it’s hard to really believe it’s real life. It’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen before, literally putting their bodies on display to be judged by men and then be paid by them to use them. It would make any sane person sick to their stomachs. Robbie and I stood at the top of one of these side streets where their “glass booths” are located and we just prayed out loud for the women, for them to know true freedom from this life, their true worth, that they could know true forgiveness and hope and love. We sincerely want these things for the women there and everywhere around the world who believe their bodies are the only way they can succeed in this world. Would you join us in continuing to pray for these women?! They desperately need our voices.

We left pretty quickly and biked back to Vondel Park again to see it once more, but this time in the sunshine. We were so glad we did. The park takes on a totally different feel when it’s not pouring, not to mention, biking through it was a brilliant way to see all the ways this park is special to locals. Its so green with so many trees and ponds and fountains, four different restaurants and trails that wind into bigger patches of foresty areas. We rewarded ourselves for our three and a half hour biking adventure by ending the night at a restaurant along a canal eating bitterballs (famous dutch dish, that was quite good!) and Dutch hard cheese with bread. We were more than satisfied.

The next day, our last full day, we decided to sleep way in, and it was amazing. Our airbnb host told us the night before that a big storm would be rolling in the next morning, so we took that as advice to just stay in bed and avoid the rain. The thunder and sound of rain outside our ever-open windows in the canal house, bringing that September breeze inside our room made for the most perfect sleep and cuddles. We were in heaven. Honestly that bed made for some of the best sleep we’ve had all trip. We wandered out of the place around noon, grabbed more fresh one-dollar croissants from the market (amazing!) and ate them at a little square in one part of the city. We walked over to the Pathe Tuschinski (another movie theatre, but this one was a theatre house designed and built by a jewish architect that passed away in Auschwitz Concentration Camp in the 40’s) thinking we’d go see another movie since we had the best time our first night. But after discovering no good movies playing here (there were both Dutch movies and American movies, but nothing appealed to us), we moved on. We walked a long way to the Albert Cyup street market that is pretty famous in Amsterdam. It’s supposed to stretch many blocks and offer all sorts of different things. It’s also supposed to be open until five. Sadly, I’m not sure if they wrapped up early because of the rain we had in the morning, but it wasn’t even 3pm by the time we got there, but the street was pretty barren. Nothing was there anymore. So two plans kinda fell through, but we were still determined to make something of this day, and honestly we just enjoyed walking the streets of this gorgeous city, that neither of these things bothered us or put a dent in our attitudes. We walked into some thrift stores and along new streets that had different feels to them than some of the other ones we’d been down. We found ourselves in the “Jordaan” neighborhood again (the same neighborhood La Perla pizza is in) where Robbie grabbed some Dutch licorice (the lady says this licorice is significant to the Dutch) that was flavored blueberry (we had tons of flavors to choose from). Although skeptical at first, we both really loved it. It was as chewy as a gummy and actually had more of a gummy texture to it than traditional licorice. Licorice reminds me so much of Iceland, but this was so different than Iceland’s, but I liked both. We were walking down the street when there were several cars sitting at a standstill on a one way street because someone had decided to park their car in the middle of the narrow street along the canal in order to more conveniently walk some items they had purchased inside their home. So as we walked next to these cars, all of a sudden, this guy (probably 27-ish years old) with his car window rolled down starts literally barking at us. It took me so strongly by surprise, that it scared me and made me jump! Oh man, I can’t express how much I laughed at this incident. It made me laugh so genuinely hard and for so long after it happened. Robbie was laughing pretty darn hard too, but I swear he was more laughing because I was laughing so hard. It seems so dumb to put this in the blog, but it was a moment that was so funny and honestly fun because here is this weird dude just bored and trying to get a rise out of a stranger, and he sure did! It was great.

We ended up at a cafe along the water closer to “home” and grabbed a coffee and a Dutch apple pie. Sorry to America, but The Netherlands’ apple pie is better than yours. (the crust and top “crust” that covers the apples is quite different than any apple pie I’ve had in the states. But to be fair, I’ve never liked apple pie. Now I know I do like it, just not American!). We stayed here chatting until the sun was practically gone and these are some of my favorite memories– things you can’t really write about, because, well, you just had to be there. We sat outside with our coffee and apple pie, so happy to just be. And there was an amazing rainbow that appeared just beyond some canal homes, that ended this sweet night perfectly. Since Robbie was craving a burger for a couple of weeks now, we grabbed one at a corner pub and I had a traditional Dutch dish called Stamppot. It’s mostly mashed potatoes with mashed in cooked vegetables and then a meatball in the center. Gosh, it was delicious and I left having not even finished the dish yet feeling like I couldn’t breathe from being so full. haha

We walked back to the airbnb, knowing it was our last moments in the city before we’d be waking up at 5am to catch the train and get to the airport. We were sad because this was, like Copenhagen, a place that we could see ourselves living in, a place we would totally return to. Everything here is beautiful and historical and it just had the “feel” of home. Alright I’ll stop here so I can go cry that we left this amazing city (where everyone has a “Van der” something last name just like us. <3).