Traveling has become one of the top self-pampering indulgences for me, especially since I’m strapped in a cubicle 80% of the year either in accounting or at night when I’m writing or working on my graphic design and web coding projects. When you’re indoors most of the time, it’s a rare, but insightful treat to get outside from time to time. I grew up by the water for over half my life, so whenever I get time away from the grind of Downtown Dallas, I make sure my travels take me near majestic mountains or the coastline of the Pacific. And every blue moon I get a real treasure and can travel abroad.
I find it inconceivable that as a military dependent for over twenty years, my family never lived abroad, so my first trip out of the U.S. happened rather unexpectedly. There are times when you have a staycation where you stay home and seek to disconnect from the world but, sometimes staycations open gateways to running errands, visiting family, and re-organizing your home. In the end, it really wasn’t much of a vacation.
This time, I wanted to take a trip abroad to experience a new culture and scenic wonders. Leaving the city, the state…nay…the country was my first opportunity to take a real vacation…
In 2005, I took a trip abroad to such places and each visit reminded me of the promises I had made to myself in my teens—the promises of travel, adventure and success. It’s important that we make time to reconnect with the kid in all of us and open our minds to the possibilities that are out there.
Europe would become that first possibility.
First we took a long flight across the Atlantic Ocean. When we arrived at Amsterdam’s International Airport, I slid my feet from the taxi to the curb and then checked into the hotel, Grand Tulip. The choice of lodging was strategic for its central location in Amsterdam, where a number of coffee shops, bars and discos where within walking distance. I also fancied its location because it was close to trams, the Jordaan— once a working class district in Amsterdam, it was now a thriving upscale society with art galleries, specialty shops and restaurants—and had Wi-Fi.
I entered the hotel with my aunt quickly, setting my luggage next to the table. I crossed the room and looked out of the window, marveling at the view of the IJ, the river flowing through central Amsterdam. When I’d taken in the view and accepted the fact that I had made it, I rolled up my sleeves and cleansed areas before unpacking. Once my aunt and I were settled I placed one of two copies of my important documents in the room safe and the other set spread out between my backpack and room luggage. After my belongings were secured, I put a travel pack around my waist and grabbed my backpack, which contained, bottled water, snacks, change of shoes, camera, cell phone, sweater, and identification.
The moment that I stepped into the outdoor air, Itook a deep, cleansing breath, fully intent on getting the most of my day. On my journey, I noticed narrow cottage-themed houses with clapboard shutters, gambrel roofs with flared eaves covered in clay tiles, dotting either side of the picturesque tapered and winding brick-paved canals. Splashes of vibrant reds and varying shades of greens and blues that matched the color of a clear and sunny day covered many of the houses.
I ambled over footbridges and along grachts—waterways in the city with streets on both sides of the water, normally lined with houses—all the while watching people ride bikes as a primary source of transportation if they weren’t walking. Even during my walk down the waterfront of the IJ, there were plenty of bike racks.
But the time spent at the bay was breathtaking. I could not believe that I’d hopped on a plane to Amsterdam. Soon we were trekking through the Jordaan district and visited the Emperor’s Canal. We tried some of the native food like Patat Oorlog, Holland’s version of French fries, stacked high in a snow-cone shape funnel with a healthy spoonful of mayonnaise, and spiced peanut butter sauce. I also tried the Turkish Pizza, a spicy meat sandwich served on a pita with cucumber sauce, shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, and julienne carrots rolled up like a burrito. I savored each piping hot mouthful, washing it down with a can of soda.
Over the next few days, we walked, boated, or took the tram to see more canal sights, buildings, and the gothic elements of the architecture intertwined with classicism and Renaissance impressions.
We rounded out our trip walking along the Rozengracht canal, where the famous painter Rembrandt spent the last years of his life. On a tour, we also saw the house of Anne Frank where the young girl went into hiding during World War II.
The best part of the trip for me was taking the tram to the Dutch province of Utrecht. The town had many historical buildings and its structures still encompassed remnant architecture from the early middle ages.
We visited the Dom Tower, the tallest church tower in the Netherlands at 368 feet. The tower was part of the Cathedral of Saint Martin, built between 1321 and 1382. Capturing the awe of formative Gothic appeal derived from its preceding Romanesque architecture, the tower, and the vestige of the cathedral housed tall lofty ceilings, modular floors, and stairways. I still marvel at the memory of the antique, stained glass windows where the striking rays of the sun hit the glass and illuminated the cathedral.
Our guided tour took us through Kasteel Haar, a castle with impeccable lush green gardens. I also stood on the ledge of one of the last operational windmills in Holland. Before leaving the windmill, we saw grain pouring into barrels from the mill.
My last night in Amsterdam, I stood along the waterfront of the IJ river, where my journey began and found a certain peace and growth during my vacation. There’s so much of the world to see, and sometimes we can take the little things for granted when we get stuck in a daily rut. I encourage you to take chances, travel more,—travel to new and exotic places—because in doing so, you will learn more about yourself. Don’t forget to pack consciously, know your budget and do your research.
Until the next adventure, travel light.