Travel Tuesday: A Weekend in Amsterdam

By: Caitlin Duffy

The newly introduced Independent Learning Week was destined from its very conception to tease students away from ‘The Bubble’, whether it be for academic reasons, to visit family or to take a trip away from the ‘Auld Grey Toon’.  I was no exception to this rule, and decided to flee to Europe with my mother to the place of my birth: Amsterdam. While my visit to the Netherlands was, indeed, for academic pursuits – to visit the physics department at the Universiteit Leiden - there was no lack in my willingness to take a break from studying, and immerse myself in the spirit of the Dutch capital for a well-deserved rest.

Being half-Dutch and travelling with a Dutch mother, I was never going to partake in the usual endeavours of tourists – I have been on a canal, visited all of the museums and ridden a bike plenty of times. In the short 48 hours we had, my mother and I were living as Dutch people. We stayed in the most beautiful little apartment in Kleine Bickersstraat: it was a typical Dutch house with four floors, open-planned rooms, large windows and worryingly steep stairs. We were situated right next to the canal, on a tiny cobbled lane which was overflowing with flowers and cats, and where everyone was eager to chat to you (in Dutch) from the benches outside of their houses.

Close to Kleine Bickersstraat was Haarlemmerdijk: a bustling street brimming with independent shops. I spent plenty of time in two gloriously vintage tea shops, eyeing up the loose leaf teas and hand-crafted teapots. There were also shops full of trinkets and niche clothing all for very good prices! The food shopping there was incredible too, which is a noteworthy statement coming from somebody who is very particular about purchasing food from ethical sources. Upon our arrival into the city, my mother and I bought three types of homemade hummus and two different salads from a vegetarian deli. The supermarkets were all organic and catered for every diet imaginable. Plus, they had figs stocked at reasonable prices. If we were to have this in the UK, it would be much easier to become a healthier nation.

One thing I had never done in Amsterdam before, due to the legal drinking age, was try authentic Dutch gin, or Oude Genever (‘Oude’ meaning old). Trying this (and trying it with my mother) was rather peculiar: this type of gin had been aged, so it had a straw-like colour and looked and smelled rather like whisky. As a matter of fact, upon trying it I remarked that it tasted exactly like a blended malt grain whisky I sell at my work – it was absolutely marvellous and so unlike any of the gins we have here in St Andrews.

I came away from the Netherlands a mere 48 hours after leaving, but it felt like much longer. Reflecting upon my sojourn, it felt almost natural to be living in such a large city and in such a different culture, which might owe to our refusal to venture into the busier, touristy parts of the city. As a younger child, this would never have escaped my lips, but I really appreciated my Dutch heritage and non-Scottish roots, since it allowed me to feel immediately at home, in a place so different to St Andrews, and so different to where I grew up. 

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