Foggy Canals and Amex Adventures- Amsterdam

The day started early…ish. It also started with some light rain and a bit of a foggy mist, which really wasn’t the most promising start to my first day in Amsterdam, especially given I had planned to spend most, if not all, of it walking around. I was tempted to think the rain I had encountered in Scotland had followed me down, but that would be dubious logic, right?  No matter the weather, it was still unbelievable amazing to actually be here, in Amsterdam.

Not to say being in Scotland wasn’t amazing and it’s own kind of dream come true but, Amsterdam was the city I had first picked out to visit when I was 16 and only just starting to dream of traveling to Europe. Full disclosure: this probably had a good bit to do with a big and rather inconvenient crush I had on an incredibly sweet and friendly Dutch boy I knew at the time, but the love for the city remained even after that summer infatuation faded.

I had never done any kind of tour before this trip, but after reading about people who’d done them and not wanting to spend all my hours wandering by myself through a new city, I decided to sign up for one just a few days before leaving and hope for the best. The walking tour I signed up for met at 10am at the National Monument in Dam Square and for someone that hadn’t ever had the chance to really sit down and learn about Amsterdam’s history, it was unbelievably informative while still being super fun. Some of the subjects and areas that were covered in the 3 hours:  Anne Frank’s story, the Dutch East India Company, the Red Light District, multiple hidden Catholic churches, Amsterdam’s Chinatown, and the history and reasons behind the leaning buildings & gable stones. While doing a walking tour that consisted of mostly all couples while I only had my camera as companion might have turned out a bit depressing, the guide we had was so chipper and genuinely enthusiastic about teaching us about her city’s history as to make me feel only that much more happy to be there.

We stopped at a restaurant for half and hour (I can’t remember the name of the place but I can tell you it was surreal, purple and very cool) in the middle of the tour so people could use the bathroom, rest their feet and talk to the tour guide about other tours available.  While I was debating whether to take that nights Red Light District tour one of the other people in the group came over to talk to me- she introduced herself as Elsa from Chicago and we started chatting and getting to know each other better as the tour continued.

By the time the tour concluded at the Homomonument (exactly what it sounds like yes- a memorial that commemorates gay men and lesbians who have been subjected to persecution because of their homosexuality) the sun was well and truly out, the fog has dissipated and we set off to try and find lunch together.


Now, if you’ve read the last couple of posts you might remember that I lost one of my credit cards somewhere on my flight from Paris to Edinburgh and as such only had some Euros and one card left to me while I waited for the other two to arrive by overnight mail. The good news was that my other cards were due to arrive that afternoon to my hotel, the bad news was that I still had a whole morning to try and get by with what I had with me…which wouldn’t have been such a problem if I hadn’t decided to take my American Express card with me instead of say, my debit card. Amex, as some of you might know, is not excepted everywhere. Generally i’d been lucky with it being accepted and thankfully Elsa was a good sport about making sure we could find a place that took it but it was still a fun half hour of walking around the streets of Amsterdam looking for that little blue and white “we accept” sticker on windows. Eventually though we found a nice and quiet sandwich shop and tucked in to barbecue chicken and gouda sandwiches and chilled pear juice which was an interesting but surprisingly tasty combination.

After that we walked off in the general direction of the Rijksmuseum, which I had bought skip-the-line tickets for and where we parted ways as she was headed towards the Vondelpark. We exchanged numbers though, and made tentative plans to possible meet up again the next day before she headed off to Geneva and I headed inside to spend the next couple of hours wandering happily through the many (many many) hallways of one of the most beautiful museums i’ve ever visited.

So, fair warning- the next 2-3 posts will probably be about the Rijksmuseum because i’m a gigantic nerd and so if you’re not too interested in that (but why wouldn’t you be, it’s an amazing museum!) feel free to tune back in for the Salzburg, Germany and France posts that will come after that.

~m

Crinkled Maps, High Hopes and Rain Clouds- Loch Lomond, Scotland

The day started earlier than I expected, at 5am. Jetlag sucks, but at least it helped me get an early start to the day, which included a brisk walk down into the center of Morningside (the district in Edinburgh my hotel was located in) to pick up some breakfast and grab pastries to bring along the planned roadtrip up to Loch Lomond. The day was already a bit rainy but I had hopes that maybe it would clear up as it went on. I also had hopes that I wouldn’t completely collapse on the side of some Scottish mountain while trying to keep up with someone who was much more accustomed to being out and about in the woods than me. Only one of these two would be fully realized (lets take a guess which one).

Fun side story: the week before I left for this trip, actually just 4 days beforehand, I endured a grueling hour long 3-person panel interview for a new position at work that I still wasn’t even sure if I actually wanted. The reason this is relevant is because I couldn’t help from worrying about hearing back about it, as I can be a tight-knit ball of stress sometimes that doesn’t know how to relax even when on vacation. I do honestly still feel bad that Rob had to deal with that while just trying to enjoy this mid morning hike up around Loch Lomond that we eventually decided on, but then again he’s been my friend for a good bit now and knows my personality can be a fun grab bag of both good and bad. 

The thing about this hike was, I didn’t realize till about a 3rd of the way- at the point where I needed to take a break every 15 minuets- that we would only be going straight up and the landscape wouldn’t level out till we started making out way back down. It was at this point that I decided to just gracefully bow out of further physical exertion and head back down to the lakeside to rest and de-stress. Though it would have perhaps have been more interesting for me (and this blogs readers) if Rob had followed me down and we had tried a different trail or continued exploring the area together, I urged him to finish the hike as he had been really excited to do it and I didn’t feel it was fair for him to miss out on the experience just because i’m a dumpster fire mess sometimes.

So after we parted ways, I took my time on the winding trail heading back down to the lake, photographing the beautiful landscape as it was laid out before me, the air so crisp and clean and scented with something I still can’t quite put my finger on. Green, wild and unknown. Eventually making it back down to the lake I spent the next two hours writing in my travel journal, talking to my boyfriend back home who helped me stop worrying about everything (the lost credit card, the potential job I was waiting to hear back from, the idea of meeting up with a bunch more people I had never met in real life and wondering if we would all get along, the stress of traveling through all new countries mostly by myself, ect) and by the time Rob made it back from the hike my head was clearer than it had been in weeks.

We headed back to Edinburgh to drop off the rental car, enjoying a leisurely drive that was full of more genuine conversation and laughter than had been there before and we wrapped up the day at The Worlds End pub complete with fish and chips, haggis and of course, surprisingly good warm beer.

The next day was another early start as I headed off to Amsterdam and though it wasn’t as quick or as easy as I had hoped (I missed my connecting flight and kept mistakenly buying sparkling drinks even though I hate sparkling drinks), eventually I made it to the city I had dreamed of visiting since I was 16 and all the struggles to get there were more than worth it.

~m

Coming up, Amsterdam (Walking tour around Amsterdam and the canals, the Rijksmuseum, Albert Cuyp market) and then Germany (Bavaria and King Ludwig II’s castles) and Austria (Salzburg).

Under The Ribbed Archways- The National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh

After leaving the Scottish National Gallery and getting slightly lost on our way to and back from a market that Rob was keen on visiting (it ended up being much more crowded than the museum we had left and the walk there and back made my very jetlagged body want to call it a day) we made our way back to the area we had begun the day at, to visit the National Museum of Scotland, which, to quote their own website features a stunningly diverse collection that will  “take you on a journey of discovery through the history of Scotland and around the world, taking in the wonders of nature, art, design and fashion and science and technology – all under one roof.”  We again went our separate ways once inside the museum and after a I took a quick sit down to check in with friends and get my slightly tired spirits back up, I happily went off to explore and make my nerdy dreams come true.

The area I spent the most time in was the Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites exhibit, and I can honestly say it was time really well spent. No area of the museum I went to was overly crowded but this part even more so was wonderfully quiet and it was a rare pleasure to get to take as much time as I liked to linger over the exhibits, reading the descriptive placards and just really taking it all in. Every item on display I got the chance to see seemed like it was so lovingly and perfectly curated and you could get the sense of trying to accurately and fairly represent the story of this period in time as honestly as possible.

Eventually I finally finished poring over bank notes and letters (seriously guys, I wish I was cooler than this but i’m a genuine history nerd and I make no apologies for it ), headed on to the rest of museum and then of course, to the gift shop to pick up postcards and other goodies for friends back home before meeting back up with Rob on the first level. We stayed until near closing time (17:00) and then headed back out onto the bustling streets to scout out dinner and then after that it was time for me to head back to the hotel because even though there was a huge part of me that wanted to explore the winding streets of Edinburgh, my body was ready to collapse in bed and melt into the sheets to rest in preparation of the next days adventure.

And what was the next days adventure? Well a very beautiful though slightly ill advised hike around Loch Lomond, of course.

~m

Among Cold Marble Stares and Brightly Coloured Walls- Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh

The day started with a cluttered bed in a beautiful hotel room on the quiet and calm outskirts of Edinburgh… and the realization I had lost one of my credit cards somewhere on the flight from Paris. One of my only two cards, as I had left the others at home because yes, you guessed it, I didn’t want to risk losing them. Sometimes my life is a quiet riot of irony. So after turning my luggage inside out and rummaging through every crevice possible, I called my bf (who turned out to be the real MVP of this trip) and we came up with a plan to overnight my other cards to Amsterdam. After that I booked a taxi to actually go and begin my day, by meeting up with my penpal-turned-good-friend Rob who had taken a train up from Manchester to meet up with me in Edinburgh.

After an impromptu stop to exchange some euros for pounds we found ourselves outside the The Scottish National Gallery . If you’ve followed this blog at all over the last few trips i’ve taken, you’ll know that if there’s a museum around even just a teensy bit interesting, i’m there.

We checked out the Northern Renaissance and Gothic Renaissance exhibition first, though separately because Rob said he liked to go at his own pace. Considering I was photographing every other piece on exhibit it was probably for the best, though I did rather miss the chance of having someone to enjoy the descriptive placards with- I think this exhibition was my favorite both for the aesthetics and the inadvertently humorous stories being told through the scenes on display. Once done there, we headed back down to the first level to pursue the rest of the artwork on display.

As you can see from these photos, the crowds were minimal even though it was a late Saturday morning. The atmosphere was serene and there were whole rooms where it was just me peering up at the gigantic paintings, the stoic statues beside them looking down like silent guardians. These two paintings above are part of the “Constable & McTaggart: A Meeting of Two Masterpieces ” exhibit and are even more beautiful and awe inspiring in person.

The Rococo to Revolution section was a real treat for me to wander, featuring some personal favorites like The Campbell Sisters dancing a Waltz (1st photo, statue on the right) by Lorenzo Bartolini and The Ladies Waldegrave by Sir Joshua Reynolds (3rd photo, lower left) . The last photo is from the Seventeenth – Nineteenth Century Scottish Art exhibit.

Even knowing I would be heading to Amsterdam next, I still spent a goodly amount of time in the Dutch and Flemish Art section. Two other personal favorites here, Flower Still Life with Bird’s Nest  by Jan van Huysum (2nd photo)  and  A Singing Practice by Gerard ter Borch(last photo) . 

We met back up near the front after which I made a dash into the giftshop (ok to be perfectly honest I stopped in at two giftshops here because I have no impulse control) and then we headed back outside to seek the next adventure, which turned out to be a walk towards a market he was interested in visiting, lunch and caffeine for me and then a walk right back to where we had started to go visit the National Museum of Scotland.

~m