Amsterdam

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Which was way too adventurous for my weak heart.

Some time in the late afternoon on 24th September I received news that you could actually enrol early and ignore your enrolment appointment because the system isn’t strictly enforced. It’s hard to anyway, the university probably doesn’t even know its total student count. Hence I rushed to enrol that evening 1 hour before the end time, which meant that I freed up time for all my days ahead. I could join my sister to Amsterdam!

There were a lot of cock ups along the way though which seriously tested my mental capacity in the “what to do WHAT TO DO???” kind of frustration.

1. Online payment

I excitedly booked my coach tickets and got to the payment page, where I quickly submitted my MasterCard details. But oh shit- I needed the One-Time-Password authorisation for payment which was sent to my Singapore number. And as per all the overseas trips I attended, I never activated data roaming.

Solution: I made an international call to my brother (6pm UK, 1am Singapore) and woke him up for his details to make the payment. Thanks for waking up my dear brother 😥

2. We missed the coach

We arrived at the Victoria Coach Station at 9.35pm, a safe timing before our bus was due to depart at 10.00pm. We waited at Gate 17 as shown on the screen, and waited, and waited, for our bus to board. By 10.02pm we were wondering where the hell our bus was- and we were told it left. First thought: FAK. We were expected to leave the gates ourselves and head to the bus bay to board- BUT THE GATE CLEARLY SAID NOT TO WAIT OUTSIDE THESE GATES???

Lesson learnt: To always ask, ask, ask. Should have asked the service staff from the very start- we would not have missed our coach then. And we wouldn’t have wasted 32 pounds damn it. That’s the cost of a 7-day unlimited travel ticket 😦

3. We could not print anything

If we waited till the next morning at 7.00am to take the next available bus to Amsterdam, we would reach there in the evening/night and waste our entire first day there. So since we already spent such an extravagant amount, might as well just take a flight, right.

So at 2.00am we decided to call our brother again (which would safely be 9.00am) for his card details, to book two flights to Amsterdam via British Airways at around 100 pounds each. That was a relatively low price for a flight. The flight was at 8am, and there was so much trouble with payment because the page didn’t seem to recognise his details and so on. In the end we managed to book the tickets using my sister’s Paypal account. We troubled our brother for nothing. At 2.30am we booked the 4.30am bus by EasyBus to Gatwick Airport.

But I forgot to read one clause before we booked both bus tickets to the airport and flight tickets.

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I’M NOT AT HOME. HOW THE HELL OR WHERE THE HELL CAN I FIND A PRINTER?!?!?!

Tried printing at Schafers’ House, but it was 3am and I could hardly get help. The printer didn’t work, I could only scan. Desperate times call for desperate measures so I tried scanning from the screen of my MacBook and obviously it didn’t work. At 3.30am we decided that we HAD to leave for the station and just pray with all our heart that our driver lets us get on board without being too anal.

4. We couldn’t find a taxi

I booked one and it would be too late before the taxi arrived- so finally I managed to hop on one and cancelled the reservation/booking of the other taxi too late. I got scolded over the phone and over message. I’m sorry for spoiling your day that early in the morning, taxi driver 😦 We were desperate and we were almost going to miss our bus/flight.

Lesson learnt: Always cancel a booking early, don’t spoil someone’s day just because yours has been spoilt.

5. There was no one at the bus stop waiting for airport transfer bus service.

I googled about EasyBus reviews and there were so many comments about how buses did not turn up AT ALL, about how buses were delayed by more than an hour, and I noticed that the bus at 4.00am did not arrive too. Firstly, we did not have our ticket print out, and secondly, THERE WAS NO ONE AT THE BUS STOP. My heart nearly stopped when I put everything together- it was likely that our bus was not going to come (who will pick up 2 passengers, and furthermore such last minute booking?!), and even if it did, we were probably not going to be allowed on board. We were going to miss our flight.

BUT THANKFULLY THE BUS CAME. THE ORANGE MINI-VAN WAS ALMOST LIKE A GLIMMER OF HOPE- the driver hopped off his seat, saw our e-ticket and FREAKING ALLOWED US ON BOARD!!! It was probably because my sister and I were the only passengers, and he was making a trip to the airport anyway. I was so damn thankful- and at that moment I thought nothing could go wrong anymore. Finally all that money wasted was worth it- and the only “money gone to nothing” was the 32 pounds we wasted because we missed the coach. How lucky could we get?

But,

6. I overbooked last-minute accommodation.

I was obviously complacent, I thought things would remain status quo from Korea- that there will be free cancellation on your dorm rooms until the day itself. So I saw that my sister’s accommodation had a free bed and quickly booked it on her phone! Without realising that mine did not offer free cancellation. FAK right, we would have to pay 100% of the price if it was a no-show or last-minute cancellation. Shit!

Thankfully we went around the rules a bit and managed to avoid paying the double charge, but that came with a lot of worry and frustration again. I could not sleep in peace because I was thinking about my wasted money all the time. 😦

Lesson learnt: Chill your balls and do not be impulsive. Check carefully before making any form of payment.

After all these drama, we finally reached Amsterdam, got the airport chop, and cleared immigration. Finally we were set on our trip to Amsterdam to get lost in the city centre and discover everything I have only watched or read about.

Highlights in Amsterdam:

1. Amsterdam is a nutella (sweet) town.

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This was churros with nutella- which was crazily guilty but obviously the least of our concerns after such a challenging night. To make this even sweeter the man who made this for us had an extremely glib tongue- “Do you girls work for the airline?” “I usually give 5, but I’ll give 6 this time just for you” “Don’t say things like you’re not pretty, it makes me sad.”

And it didn’t end there. Throughout our 3 days there, there were many people who would stop us to simply say “Where’re you from? You’re beautiful!”, “I would love to bring you around but you are leaving tonight.” and “You look really really pretty” on 4 separate occasions. I’m clearly not accepting the compliment as easily as they are offered, but I thought it was a very nice gesture how they would make the day of random strangers. Actively chat them up along the street. I was initially quite creeped out by all these, especially when I’m walking back to my hostel alone at night, but after a while I became very appreciative of how warm they were towards strangers, and didn’t think too much about it anymore. Paranoid Asian is me.

2. The first place that caught my eye- which I then found out was called the Dam Square.

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Evidently this was a very last-minute trip and I had not been able to do any preparations at all, much less check out the attractions that we should pay attention to as we made our rounds around the city centre. However, while we were walking around in the rain, this large square caught my eye and the first thought I had was: “We must come back after the rain to take a photo.”

And coincidentally it was a tourist attraction, with huge loads of pigeons flying all over our heads and making us look stupid by covering our heads midway through taking photos.

3. Canals

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This is probably the main highlight of Amsterdam: the canals. They were everywhere, running through the roads randomly. It was interesting to note that Amsterdam is a city surviving below sea level, which may explain the vast expanse of water all around.

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By night, which would clearly be 1000x more stunning than the canals in the day. The neighbouring buildings would be lit up, as well as the standing bridges across the water. Amsterdam was much more stunning in the night than in the day.

4. Amsterdam was a really green city, through all its different meanings.

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Besides the floating flower market, huge green garden right outside the IAmsterdam sign, Amsterdam was probably one of the most environmentally-friendly cities I’ve ever chanced upon. Bicycles were more likely to knock you down than any form of vehicle- be it the rail or cars. Roads were unfriendly because the terrain was horrible, and instead there were dedicated lanes to cyclists. Cycling was very much encouraged by the presence of bicycle racks all around the city starting from the exit from the Amsterdam Centraal (no not typo) rail station, and there are even “half-bridges” across the canals which were built for the purpose of creating some space for bicycle racks. It was definitely a refreshing sight given that we have always been living in cities filled with cars, cars and traffic jam.

5. Even its outskirts were breathtaking.

I dropped by Zaanse Schans on a day tour which set us back by 59 euros, but definitely all worth it because of the view.

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We took hundreds (literally) of photos here of the same scenery, but we couldn’t stop because the place really looked amazing. Many tourists were there but that didn’t spoil the charm of the place at all. No tourists traps too- souvenirs were hardly overpriced and the food (Fried Kibbeling- I remember my meal) was reasonably priced. I really enjoyed myself on this day trip.

6. Red Light District

On our second and last night in Amsterdam, my sister dropped by De Wallens, the famed red light district in Amsterdam. I read online about how this wasn’t the first place you should pop by in Amsterdam, because it would destroy all your pre-conceived impressions about the city.

Sidetracking a bit, I must say it was pretty true. It was quite a shock to walk through the streets and smell second-hand weed in every corner. I finally understood why this materialised as an example in our Economics essays, about how GDP isn’t an accurate measurement of standard of living across countries because some countries like Netherlands legalise the sale of cannabis, but countries like Singapore don’t. And given how widespread the sale was (cannabis ice-cream, the seed and plant itself), it must really form quite a substantial proportion of GDP.

Back to De Wallens: the entire street was filled with hundreds of small bedrooms (with beds) and a lady parading at the glass door, usually quite skimpily dressed. There were girls of different age ranges, different nationalities, different body shapes and different styles. It was a really open business- incoming customers would just knock on the doors of the girls’, talk for a bit presumably to discuss the price, before they will be ushered into the room and the curtains will be shut instantaneously. Interestingly, I saw this happening right before my eye. No photos though, apparently the prostitutes have private bodyguards who will really come at you if you attempt to take a shot of anything.

My sister said she was afraid, and would be really disappointed if her husband strayed to such prostitutes in her future. And I guess this will always remain a worry of every woman- needlessly thinking about those girls through the glass doors…

The 3 days in Amsterdam was a rough ride, especially the start when I questioned myself again and again on my decision to waste such a large amount of money just to get here to experience a horrible rainy day. But travelling is all part of growing up too, and I’m really glad to have had thrown myself into such unfamiliar circumstances when I was barely coping with the concept of London being my “new home”. I learn so much about myself each time, 2 weeks in and I know I’m truly growing, be it in my thoughts or actions. Perhaps not my words yet, while I learn to be more sensitive and tactful.

They say you change a lot by your first vocational attachment, and I can see why that happens. Here’s to the end of fresher’s week, and to the start of formal lessons and academic rigour. Here’s to hopefully not becoming a phantom and hiding in my room to study the entire year.

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