Photo by Katie Lucken
At every corner we turn, a new feature of the Rijksmuseum garden waits to greet us. We walked by a giant chess board in front of a beautiful arch and set of trees reaching into the sky. A group of tourists hovered around the chessboard, ready to start a game, on July 21.
As I climbed the precarious steps to our bed and breakfast home for the week, hauling my suitcase up behind me, the sun shone through the open door at the top with warm golden light. It was two in the afternoon on July 20, 2019 in Amsterdam, and we arrived at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol earlier that day from Gothenburg Airport, Sweden. As I looked around the Bed and Breakfast Amsterdam, our new home for the week, I saw that we looked out directly onto a canal, and that the other end of the apartment was a balcony draped in beautiful flowers and plants. Four doors opened from the balcony into our living room, and made the whole floor bright. Exhausted from getting up at three in the morning for our flight, I collapsed on the bed and fell asleep immediately.
After a short nap, my parents and I went to explore Vondelpark. Our apartment was only a five minute walk from the park, and considered a prime location because Vondelpark is Amsterdam's most popular park, attracting thousands of tourists and residents every day. It acts as a cycling and walking expressway that connects the city center and residential areas of Amsterdam. After exploring some smaller side streets off of Vondelpark, I felt it begin to drizzle...and then begin to pour. My parents and I sprinted through sheets of rain back to our new home, dodging cyclists and walkers. Still tired after a long day of travel and taking in new surroundings, my family and I all quickly fell asleep to the sound of the rain.
The next morning, the owner of the bed and breakfast woke us by bringing breakfast in on a white tray loaded with fruit, rolls and bagels, eggs, fresh orange juice and y
ogurt. My parents had also walked to a nearby grocery store to get food for our time there, including orange juice that you squeezed yourself at the store. Soon after breakfast, we headed back into Vondelpark to find museums that Amsterdam is well known for. Trees shrouded the park nearly the entire way there, so when we emerged into the busy streets it felt as if we had just opened our eyes.
Photo by Katie Lucken
Looking down on Dam Square, I can see just how busy it is on the afternoon of July 21. Teeming with people of all different backgrounds, there was plenty to stop and take in when you arrived at the square.
When we found ourselves on a residential street going towards the museums, we discovered that every single tree, light post, or bike rack in Amsterdam was surrounded with every color of bike in the world, many rusted over. Some were locked, many were not, and others were simply thrown against the walls of the buildings. When the bikes weren’t thrown to the side, they were soaring past with riders carrying all sorts of items. Mornings were the busiest, as people would fly past with backpacks, wearing dresses and suits, on their way to work. Every street in Amsterdam had lanes for cars, trams, and bikes, making crossing the road quite a treacherous activity, but my family and I quickly became proficient in dodging the cyclists.
Eventually we found our way to Museumplein, a large square surrounded by Amsterdam’s most prestigious museums. Picnic-goers lounged at one end of the square, surrounded by gravel pat
hs and open grass. On the other side of Museumplein, aqua blue water shimmered in a fountain, with short green trees reflecting back around the edges. A vast, formal building stood behind the fountain, spires poking holes in the fluffy clouds above. Standing in the center of Museumplein, people brushed past holding bags or treats from the little stalls covered by red and white awnings that occupied the square that morning. Each stall in the market offered unique jewelry, clothing, art, and even food. Emma, my older sister, and I explored the stalls for a while but didn’t find anything we wanted among the hundreds of necklaces, bracelets, scarves and art pieces, so we returned to our family. We eventually made our way to the food carts and after a long line, my younger brother Nathan and I shared tiny pancakes covered in nutella and powdered sugar that were almost too sweet. We were given little wooden sticks to eat them with, but still managed to get covered in powdered sugar and nutella dripped from the sides. After our time spent in the market, we walked towards the museum to escape the multitudes of people.
My family and I were more inclined to explore the vibrant gardens that surrounded Rijksmusuem, home to art and history from the Dutch Golden Age, than enter the building, so we descended the concrete steps into a maze of gravel paths. Beds of purple bachelor’s buttons, orange poppies and papaver orientales gleamed in the sun. Hanging from the trees were silver sculptures, like twisted beehives, while green branches drooped down all around. In the middle of the first garden was an interactive fountain that visitors could run in and out of, dodging streams of water. My brother and mom ran in and out of the fountain, and unlike most of the other visitors around them, neither of them really got soaked. A gravel path surrounded the fountain with reclining chairs lining the paths in the shade. After we walked around and had our fun in the fountain, we turned the corner into an archway of vines and leaves that almost completely shaded the path. My family and I walked through into the light and around another corner, to find more paths, trees, chairs, and flowers. In the middle of this corner of the garden was a giant chess board, framed by a brick archway and two trees reaching into the sky. A whole group of people occupied the big chess board as we walked by, contemplating their game. As people chatted and sat around us, my siblings and I goofed around, making jokes and running around, covering every square inch of the gardens. Soon enough, we got tired and decided to move on from the Rijksmuseum gardens. After debating our next move, and listening to an orchestra quartet in the museum hall for a while, we headed towards Dam Square and the Royal Palace Amsterdam.
While finding our way to Dam Square, we stopped at the Begijnhof, an enclosed courtyard. This area was originally built as a sanctuary for the Begijntjes, a Catholic sisterhood. Although they lived like nuns in the early 14th century, they took no religious vows. Today, the houses are still occupied by single women, although none of the earliest homes survived. Eerily quiet and serene inside the courtyard, many tourists took in the sanctified atmosphere alongside my family. Several plaques are placed around the area, including one that details the history of Amsterdam’s oldest home, called Het Houten Huis, from around 1420. Contributing to the holy feeling of the gated Begijnhof stood the Engelse Kerk, meaning English Church. My father and I entered into the silent church, most of which is roped off to the public. Rows of small candles filled the corner of the building, lit by people from all over the world to honor their loved ones. Smelling the dripping wax and ancient wooden pews, my dad and I lit a candle for my grandma, and stood for a moment at the back of the chapel, considering the artwork and statues along the walls. Soon we exited the gates of Begijnhof into a tiny street, lined with dark buildings reaching into the sky, and found our way to Dam Square.
When we arrived in the square, my parents once again stopped to consider what we should do. As they discussed, I took in the overwhelming surroundings. Brick and stone buildings rose out of the ground around me, encompassing the square like soldiers and blocki