I thought Amsterdam would've been one of my first European experiences. As it is, it wasn't. Of course, that's mostly relative because in 20 years I'll look back at my second year living abroad and remember I went to Amsterdam and think, "that was one of my first European cities." However, presently, closing in on the end of my two years living abroad and Amsterdam coming midway through the second year, let's just say I thought I would've seen it by now. Nevertheless, it is the first European city I've visited with friends, so that's something.
The Netherlands is a bicycle riding utopia. It is everything anyone who has ever commuted via bike could ever dream of: dedicated bicycle lanes (everywhere, including along highways), right of way (cars stop for bikes), respect (everyone moves when the bell is rung). Heaven. Thanks to my friend's itinerary recommendation, we decided to rent bicycles for a day for a self-guided windmill tour outside the city which turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip. If she hadn't made the suggestion, due to the budget nature of my travels, I would've opted out of this particular experience and just spent another day walking around Amsterdam, not even seeing a windmill. That would've been a travesty. If ever in doubt, €13 for a 24 hour rental is a killer deal and worth every cent (and the sore butt). Do it!
Amsterdam is very picturesque. The canals are gorgeous. The cute, crooked houses are adorable. The small streets, especially The Nine Streets (De Negen Straatjes), are worth a day's meander. But, the Red Light District (De Wallen), especially at night, is not fun at all unless you like stag parties, ogling crowds, and a tense atmosphere.
Amsterdam is very disorienting. I doubted my compass on many occasions because I was certain north was not where it was saying it was. But, the compass was always right. Never doubt the compass.
Amsterdam is a lovely city and The Netherlands is a lovely country. I'm glad I finally had an opportunity to visit and look forward to exploring the country further. Shout out to my buddy T-Bird for joining me on this adventure. Especially when travelling on a tight budget, travel can become routine. It's fun to inject a new perspective and I hope to have her perspective on many trips to come.