Utrecht was crazy, but after two nights, it was time to go back to Amsterdam and travel to the second destination of my Europe 2.0 trip.
Return to Madness
I went back to Claire’s apartment on a Monday afternoon to find her working on a letter for a possible employer, so I took the time to work a bit on client stuff and sort out my travel plans. By the time Claire was done with her letter we decided to hit the supermarket to buy some things and then head to Vondelpark, one of the city’s two major parks, with a lake right in the middle. Naturally, we travelled there by bike and like every other time before that, we almost got run over by many thanks to my shitty biking skills.
After the park, we came back to the apartment for a quick clothes change and then went to watch Boyhood at the cinema that’s 20 minutes from her place. We came out of the movie at around 10 p.m. and went back to the house to get some rest.
My Own Private Amsterdam
The next day, blondie told me she was having visits over and she wouldn’t be able to let me stay another night, so before I left she decided to show me one her favorite spots in town, Winkel, where they make the best apple pie I’ve tasted in years.
Happy and with bellies stuffed with apple, we walked down to the Red Light District by daytime and Claire gave me a swift tour of the famous Dutch Death Star of Pleasure. Suffice it to say it was full of cock-shaped mugs and very nice looking women.
Once out of there we got hungry again, so we visited another Dutch tradition: the Febo snackbar, baby. This fast food chain has automated snack bars where you can fill your stomach to your heart’s limit with fried goods, burgers and more.
Claire treated me to a kaassoufflé, which is basically an empanada with melted cheese inside and it tastes amazing. I decided to pay her in kind by taking her to taste one of my personal traditions which is also fried and I’m notorious for on Instagram:
Once back home, Claire helped me to find a new pad to chill for the night and I ended up going to the Stayokay Hostel which is right on Vondelpark. Yep, the same park I’d gone to eat the day before.
Friends > Couchsurfing > Hostels
“…but the times I’ve stayed with a friend have been far superior in terms of my overall experience and adventures.”
After a warm goodbye, we agreed to see each other next year for the festival season in the summer and I began my march through the city which by now was quite familiar. Not much after I realized something very particular that I hadn’t paid attention to before: friend’s pads > couchsurfing > hostels.
Since I began traveling I can say I’ve spent most of my lodging time in hostels, but the times I’ve stayed with a friend have been far superior in terms of my overall experience and adventures. Staying at a hostel isn’t bad, but it depends on the people you meet when you get there and many other things, especially if you travel by yourself.
Having a friend who can host you in a city you know nothing about can level up your experience to near incomparable levels. Beyond (possibly) saving money on hosting, food and towel rentals, it’s about seeing different things and meeting more locals, instead of other travelers.
The part of town surrounding Vondelpark is called Leidseplein and it’s a den for expensive bars and restaurants who take advantage of nearby hostels like Stayokay which get filled with foreigners looking for the “Amsterdam Experience” (read: smoking weed and seeing women at the Red Light District.)
If you’re anything like me, in most cases you’ll end up avoiding every tourist spot or bullet point in Lonely Planet, choosing instead to heed the humble recommendations of your host, a real person who knows the surroundings you’re in and can show you a small piece of his or her world. For this reason alone, on my way from Claire’s place to the Stayokay in Vondelpark, I felt like I was doing a complete downgrade of my experience in Amsterdam. It didn’t matter that the hostel had great security, free wi-fi/breakfast, or that it looked like a hotel for €26.50 (which is “cheap” for a weekend in town). In the end, being at a friend’s house and having a laugh while talking shit past midnight is way better than snagging the last empty bed in a dorm full of strangers.
Don’t get me wrong, most of my cool adventures happened after staying at a hostel and meeting new awesome people, but I find that this is easier to do (and a must) in less expensive countries like those in Asia or Latin America. In Europe I see most backpackers tend to keep to their own groups or just travel alone.
After spending the night without much to tell, I picked up my stuff the next morning and left early to the Amsterdam Centraal station to hit Doetinchem on the northern side of Holland, where my pal Stef lives.
Pateando Calle (Kicking Streets) is a weekly column about my backpacking adventures across the world, documenting how a Panamanian traveller survives with little money and no clue of what he’s doing. For more adventures, read the archive.