Welcome to Travel Diaries, a Refinery29 series where we tag along as real women embark on trips around the world and track their travel expenses down to the last cent. Here, we offer a detailed, intimate account of when, where, and how our peers spend their vacation days and disposable income: all the meals, adventures, indulgences, setbacks, and surprises.
This week’s travel diary: A 24-year-old between jobs visits all the stops in Amsterdam and takes home a very dramatic vase.
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Occupation: Previously worked in solar, but left the job for a four-month “garden leave” before I transitioned to investment banking. I didn’t travel after college/grad school so this was my reward to myself.
Salary: $0 at the time, I’m between jobs. Previously it was $65,000 and my new one is $90,000, both before bonuses
Travel Companion: D.
Trip Location: Amsterdam
Trip Length: six
Annual # Of Vacation Days: None, between jobs.
Cost: I departed from New York JFK with Norwegian and flew straight into Amsterdam ($149.90). And then for the return flight, I flew to JFK on TAP with a layover in Lisbon ($330.77).
Cost: We’ll be staying at the Flying Pig Uptown. The total for two bunk beds for four nights came to $320.75. I pay upfront. Because I don’t have Venmo, K. will pay me back for her share by buying our meals until we settle the balance. We used Splitwise to keep track of everything.
3:00 p.m. — I start my day late and head to pick up D., my travel buddy and former college roommate, at the airport. She flew in from Chicago, where we both went to school. I’m borrowing my parents’ car as we are spending the evening at my parents’ before our midnight flight.
4:00 p.m. — During our unofficial driving tour of where I grew up, we stop at a hometown diner as D. hasn’t eaten and I am always hungry. We split a cheeseburger and fries ($20, but D. pays). We head back to my parents’ to veg out until our midnight flight.
7:00 p.m. — Dinner with my parents goes well. D. and my parents catch up over Colombian roast chicken and rice. After dinner we sit on the couch watching Work in Progress, which D. highly recommends, and The Politician, which I recommend (caveat that it’s ridiculous as all Ryan Murphy shows are).
9:00 p.m. — My father drives us to JFK, and we are off! D. and I check in and bizarrely are stuck in a massive security line despite it being a Tuesday night. However, Providence smiles down and halfway through the queue the agent inexplicably lets us into the fast pass lane and we pass through security less than five minutes later. Alas, D. has forgotten to empty her water bottle and has to chuck it, much to her anguish. I just got my first credit card a few months ago (yes, I know) and it includes Priority Pass access to lounges. We schlep to AirFrance, but there is no room at the inn, so we go to a lounge that happens to be next to our gate! This is both of our first times in an airport lounge, and we are definitely basking it in while keeping a neutral face. We grab a second dinner of quinoa salad, veg, and a banana for the road. D. is unable to find a substitute for her water bottle, much to her sorrow.
Daily Total: $0
12:05 a.m. — We were assigned separate seats on the same flight, so we bid each other farewell and board separately. I pop some melatonin, which does not work at all, but the flight passes uneventfully. I watch Ready or Not, which seems like the spiritual cousin of Knives Out, and read a little of “Fleishman is in Trouble.
12:24 p.m. — We land 45 minutes early! The banana has come in handy to stave off hunger. D. and I breeze through security, and after some back and forth, we figure out which bus to take to the city. D.’s card is giving her trouble so I buy us a round trip bus pass that will give us a free ride back within 14 days of ticket purchase. This was added to the total D. owed me since I paid for the hostel. Since I don’t have Venmo, we used Splitwise to track her paying for things versus the hotel expense. Highly recommend Splitwise, first time using and loved it. $24.95
2:00 p.m. — We check into our hostel, Flying Pig Uptown, where we are informed we are on the ostensible third, but really fourth, floor as reception is the basement. I paid for the hostel earlier but we are informed there is a city tax levied upon arrival, which D. pays. Four flights of stairs later (so narrow my size 10 feet don’t fit on them), we make it to our dorm room. We elected for a six-bed all-female form, and we are assigned a bunk bed. Just like camp but now we are 24 and kind of old and our backs are weird instead of young and flexible. D. goes down for a nap.
2:30 p.m. — I decide to get my bearings, and Google suggests Back to Black café nearby. I walk over, passing the Rijksmuseum on my way marveling how much smaller it was than I expected. I cross my first bridge across an Amsterdam canal and feel trés bobo. The city is so charming, compact, and in lovely shades of brown. Back to Black is an adorable, awkwardly-shaped café squashed into a corner front that really had no business having a store in it. I order a milky oolong tea and my first Dutch apple pie, updating my journal while scratching the cafe cat who has deigned me as acceptable enough to nap next to.
4:00 p.m. — D. wakes up and meets me at the café, ordering a bottled ice tea and an apple cake of her own. D. is now chuffed to have a replacement water bottle for our trip. I order a lemongrass basil tisane, which is good but I don’t care for it as much as the oolong. We catch up about our first impressions of the city as we watch the light die outside. We settle up when we leave. $14.42
7:00 p.m. — After walking around through a trendy local shopping area, we go to Pastai, an Italian restaurant that D. picked out for dinner. We both order the bucatini with tomato, Parmesan, and guanciale for dinner and split a chocolate lava cake for dessert. The guanciale was deliciously smoky but not salty, fatty but not greasy. I end up thinking about this for the rest of the trip. We split the bill of $18.35 towards what D. owes me.
9:00 p.m. — We arrive back at the hostel after dinner; D.’s phone informs us we have walked seven miles today. We are feeling this and the jet leg, so we go to bed early.
Daily Total: $39.37
3:00 a.m. — Naturally, this means I am awake and feel very refreshed. I read more of Fleishman is in Trouble, go back to bed and lay awake until 7:00 a.m. planning what to do today.
7:30 a.m. — Reception informs me free breakfast isn’t for half an hour, so I get an almond croissant from Simon Meijjson, which is a classic croissant that’s on the drier side, but with a crackling, caramelized top with a hint of almond that doesn’t overstay its welcome on the tongue. Croissant in hand, I wander around in the predawn inky blue dark alone until a friendly cat joins me for a morning stroll. I walk over to Museumplein and stand on a grassy slope watching the sunrise over the rooftops. The Museumplein is a major lawn where many of the major museums are situated on, it forms a central hub between the more local-ish Vondelstraat and towards the beginning of the inside of the city. It has lovely trees, and a grassy roof over a museum outpost I think. $3.65
8:00 a.m. — Walking back to the hostel I see a café is open at last! I walk in and get a chai tea, which tastes suspiciously like a hot chocolate. $7.00
8:30 a.m. — Back at the hostel eating a (free!) second breakfast of tomato, cucumber, oranges, and hard-boiled eggs (I know, who is she) when D. comes down and joins me.
10:00 a.m. — We head to the Van Gogh Museum (D. prepaid for both of us, each ticket cost about $22.16). Interestingly it is arranged by periods of his life, which really helps the casual viewer see how his technique was influenced by environment and mental stability. The context definitely makes the work more poignant; for example, there’s a painting of a farmer reaping swaying fields of wheat. It’s lovely; the turbulent brushstrokes present in his later work look more like a smile and are timeless in a Gabriel García Márquez or biblical way. Despite the serenity, he painted this scene from the window of his room in the mental hospital, trying to focus on the best and not the dreary reality. I finish before D. and walk downstairs to buy postcards to send to my family and my sorority little. $3.33
11:45 a.m. — We head to lunch, passing antique stores and the flower market where the city becomes far more touristy. D. picks Toastable for lunch, a triple-decker sandwich place in a whitewashed basement next to the canal facing the flower market. D. gets the brie and bacon sandwich, and I get the fajita sandwich, which is superb. The meat is delightfully seasoned and melted into the cheese perfectly to create ruby fat bubbles that are delicious, topped with guac and cream fraiche (their version of sour cream?), sandwiched by brown bread. To drink we have a ginger lemonade and hot water infused with ginger, orange, and cinnamon. Both are delicious, almost like a winter and summer version of each other. We stay here for a while to veg out, rest our legs, and bask in the sun streaming down the high window. D pays. $13.28 (towards hostel balance).
1:00 p.m. — We shove off again into the Nine Streets, another shopping area. We see the famous fries place, Vlemcikx, but are too stuffed to get it. We pass into Begijnhof, which is an all-female cloistered Catholic neighborhood, to see De Houten Huys, the oldest surviving house in Amsterdam. We learn more about the Catholic and Protestant conflict behind the Netherlands. We wanted to poke around Our Lady in the Attic, a house with a hidden Catholic church upstairs, but they are closed for service.
2:00 p.m. — We keep walking, stopping to see Dam Square and ogle at the Royal Palace which could use a power wash. We then stop by the Old Church and walk around it to see the exterior. We realize that it immediately abuts the Red Light District, which is predictably choked with tourists and terrible looking pizza/kabob/chip shops. I chew D.’s ear off with speculation about sex worker unionization, health care, rent, and foot traffic patterns in the neighborhood.
5:00 p.m. — My calf is killing me at this point and we walk past a movie theater playing the new Charlie’s Angels. D. perks up as she had wanted to see it stateside, so we go see it to give my leg a break. I pay for us both as D.’s card isn’t working with the scanner ($24.40). We grab snacks ($4.05) and settle in. I immediately fall asleep but D. says the movie was good. $28.45
7:00 p.m. — We go to Cannibal Royale for dinner, which was very highly praised online. The restaurant looks like if Gaston from Beauty & the Beast had to decorate a hipster restaurant with only materials he had from his time. We order rosemary fries with aioli, and the Classique burger topped with ham. Solid but the burger we had at the diner was better. Mine comes out at $15.42 and D. pays.
9:00 p.m. — Walk back to the hostel, have walked eight miles today. I shower, finish Fleishman is in Trouble, and talk to our dorm mates — an Australian finished with a 6 week Euro trip ready to go home, and three giggly Irish college friends who make us feel old, even though we cannot be more than five years older than them. Lights out at 11:00 p.m.
Daily Total: $42.43
11:30 a.m. — Yikes. Text D. that I’m up, and she says, “same.” I reply that I need to close my eyes for a little longer:
12:30 p.m. — Let’s try this again. Get ready, talk to the Irish students some more (D. and I agree that we love them), and leave for the day as decided to do a day trip to The Hague.
1:00 p.m. — Lunch at Foodhallen in Oud-Est- we lap a couple of times, marveling how bougie food halls look the same anywhere you go in the West, whether it be Chicago, New York, London, or Amsterdam. D. gets a fruit smoothie and Seoul style chicken fingers. I get a poke bowl as we have passed at least ten at this point in the trip, and want to see how it compares. It is fine and D. covers my $14.42.
2:30 p.m. — Hop on the tram, which has a cute information desk and chat with the information clerk who surprisingly is extensively traveled in Central/Latin America. D. buys us 24-hour tram passes for $8.95 each.
3:00 p.m. — Alight at Amsterdam Central, the main station which was stunning from the outside and my favorite landmark in the city so far. It was truly a glorious entrance for someone coming to the city for the first time and had beautiful golden weathervane. Very Anna Karenina train station (full disclosure – have not read the book so I have no idea what I’m talking about) D. buys us round trip tickets to The Hague and covers mine for $29.40.
4:00 p.m. — We arrive! I let D. navigate, and we essentially play the Left/Right game for the rest of the day. We walk through a city park that looks like a fairytale forest, and D. is in her element. We take cute pictures and inhale the sweet air.
5:00 p.m. — This place is a city in miniature, and seems to cater to the very wealthy with its abundance of home furnishings stores. It looks like what I imagine Bruges to look like, tiny and pristine and Disney-fied. We get lattes at an outpost of a Belgian coffee chain. We walk around some more and see the Peace Palace (UN’s major court) which is immense, and the Maritiushius, which while housing the majority of Vermeer’s work, is much smaller than expected.
7:30 p.m. — We pass a store labeled Xian’s Delicious Foods. D. is reminded of Xian’s Famous Foods in NYC and we go in. We share a platter of fried dumplings, minced meat with torn noodles, and a pot of tea and decompress. This was a much-needed break after the marathon of yesterday, so we were content to wander without purpose. I convince D. we need another platter of fried dumplings. When they arrive she agrees and she pays and covers my share, $14.80.
9:00 p.m. — We take the train back to Amsterdam Centraal, and hop on the tram to get stroopwafel at a stand that’s open 24 hours and highly rated.
9:30 p.m. — We get there and guess what? There’s nothing there! A woman locking up her bike says it was her apartment building and there never was such a stroopwafel place. We even walk around to the other side to see if Google Maps had erred, but nope. The most recent review was two weeks ago so we are unsure if this was an elaborate scam for tourists or Google going rogue.
9:35 p.m. — Now dejected, we trudge home back to the hostel. We chat with our roommates about their days, and I’m sure D. is glad to have someone to talk to besides me after spending all day together, lolz. We walked 7 miles today.
Daily Total: $0
6:30 p.m. — Wake up from D.’s tossing and turning. Talk to a friend from home who’s going through a crisis and then go back to staring at the ceiling.
8:30 a.m. — Spring out of bed, ready to maximize our day after our leisurely day yesterday. As our tram cards are still active, we take the tram to Winkel 43 to get apple pie and a latte. On the way there we pass a street market that isn’t a farmer’s market, but a true market for city residents that sold bolts of fabric/shoes/etc. D. looks longingly at scarves but does not buy one.
9:00 a.m. — We order lattes and share a slice. This is supposedly the best apple pie in the city, and we ponder about the ramifications of the obsession with having “the best of the best” and if the saying “American as apple pie” is true or did apple pie come from the Dutch settlers? I ask the waiter, and apparently apple pie became a thing in the city in 1983 but became huge within the past 10-15 years due to travel guides, and it did limit creativity. So I was right! I think my dream career would be a culinary anthropologist and food critic. $13.31
9:45 a.m. — We walk back through the market, and I convince D. to buy herself and her mom scarves as a souvenir. I’m trying to cut back on all unnecessary spending (food excluded) so I like to live my shopping impulses through others.
10:15 a.m. — Get off the tram for the Albert Cuyip market, a bigger, more touristy version of the street fair we just went to. However, we came for one thing only: Stroopwafel from Original Stroopwafel! According to the proprietor, his forebears started the stroopwafel recipe here and many have imitated it, but never have come close. And yes, I am aware of the irony of our snack choices this morning in light of my comments about food tourism. We split a chocolate-dipped stroopwafel and I get a bag of mini ones to bring home for a friend. To me, it tastes like Cinnamon Toast Crunch! To D. it tasted like cinnamon toast pop tarts. It’s like the Mirror of Erised but in child nostalgia related carb form. $7.76
10:20 a.m. — I pick up a five-pack roll of international stamps to mail my postcards from an Albert Heijn store, a local supermarket chain. $5.54
11:00 a.m. — We go into the Museum Van Loon, and I pay for us both since it was my suggestion. I read about this house, which belonged to a family that had been influential in the city for hundreds of years, but needed to keep part of their homes open as a museum in order to be able to maintain the home. The center cannot hold. Anyway, we expected to see a private art collection full of Rembrandts and Vermeers but it was all paintings of family members! We realize the family was a founding member of the Dutch East India Company, and uncomfortably walk through an exhibit devoted to their influence in Suriname which is staged in poor taste, and the videos of family members show them as unrepentant of their ancestors’ past as sugar plantation owners and colony administrators. We decide to never recommend this place to anyone. $17.74
12:00 p.m. — After that weird neocolonial experience we beat it out of there. We have timed tickets to the Rijksmuseum (D. paid), so we get lunch in the cafe, served by an adorable hip older lady who is giving off major silver fox lesbian vibes, which we are living for. We get an incredible Jerusalem artichoke soup that has truffles, mushroom, potato, and a lovely green oil with a side of a crusty bread end and garlic butter! Delicious! $31.05
3:00 p.m. — Rijksmuseum time! I’m surprised how small the museums are here in the Netherlands, compared to the Louvre. The paintings are suitably grand and solemn but my mind is blown by the Special Collections hidden away by the ground floor bathrooms. I see beautiful cabinets, incredible locks, a map made of lapis lazuli with names painstakingly written in gold, and cities inlaid in gems. A gorgeous tiny golden cup that depicts Diana and Acteon. I see The Night Watch under repair, which is more interesting to me than the work itself as it’s scanned by a trolley mounted vertically as well as horizontally to work around the painting.
5:00 p.m. — I leave the museum and mentally congratulate myself for keeping my spending the past five days low. Have I turned a new leaf this decade with my spending habits? The answer is no, as I soon find out. In the gift shop, I get a small Delft ornament for my mother, upon her request. I look up and am stopped in my tracks by a lovely reproduction of a Delft china tulip vase in the museum. It is so exquisite and lovely. I drool over it, as the vases I want are €15,000 and this is a “mere” €275 in comparison. Somehow I find the willpower to walk out with just the ornament. $7.00
5:15 p.m. — I pass musicians playing outside the museum and leave a donation. $3.58
5:30 p.m. — I walk back to Back from Black, the coffee shop from the first day. I order another milky oolong tea, which I had been thinking about all trip, and a slice of carrot cake. I write an entry about the trip and drink tea, watching the sunset. I text a friend, who is even more hedonistic than I, from home about the vase. He urges me to get it, and to think of the drama it would have on my table. I cave when I see there are two left in stock and order it to be delivered home. I avoid $60 in VAT which totally is like making $60, right? $324.88
6:00 p.m. — The carrot cake is alas nowhere near as good as the apple pie I had there the first day. I settle up, meet D. at the hostel, who went to MoCo while I was drinking tea. She would not recommend MoCo for the art, but she loved the museum’s branding. $9.98
7:00 p.m. — We have been hanging off our bunk beds for the past half hour trying to pick an Italian place for dinner that satisfies an arcane combination of not too far for D. and not too expensive or too long of a wait. We are in a semi-delirious state of hysteria and laugh at every restaurant name. D. threatens to order pizza from the hostel kitchen which spurs me into action. We drag our sorry carcasses onto the street and arbitrarily head to Pampo. A thought struggles to the front of my weak, feverish mind: Isn’t this the cafe where the cat went for a predawn walk with me? Indeed it is, although kitty is much less friendly now that I am not carrying a fresh croissant with me. We split ravioli with pesto and truffle and spaghetti carbonara. D. pays (it would’ve been $24.39 for me) and the room expense has been settled at last.
9:00 p.m. — Bed, last night here and chatting with our lovely roommates! The Australian has left, and was replaced by a Norwegian. D. and I studied Norwegian in college, so I prompt D. to practice with the roommate. Sink into a coma around 12:30 a.m.
Daily Total: $420.84
8:00 a.m. — D. opens the window shade to wake me up. I wake up and stay awake. Smart D.
9:30 a.m. — I rouse myself, shower, pack, and join D. for breakfast. We are determined to eat only for free today as it is a travel day.
10:30 a.m. — Check out, and use the round trip ticket we bought from the airport the first day in Amsterdam to return back to the airport.
11:15 a.m. — Arrive at Schipol, and we separate so we can check in with our respective airlines. We hug and say we will meet after security. Sadly we don’t, and that is our goodbye.
12:00 p.m. — Check into a lounge for lunch. Read the international version of the New York Times, which is vastly more lowbrow in its title choices than the hometown version, while eating pumpkin soup with brown bread, salad, and a cuppa tea.
1:00 p.m. — Strap in for my connecting flight to Lisbon. We are scheduled to land at 3:40 PM, and I have an 80 min layover for a 5:00 p.m. flight, and my ticket informs me that gates close 30 min to departure. I am nervous the whole time about missing my connection, but the attendants assure me we will arrive on time.
4:30 p.m. — We land and I am resigned to miss my plane, and try to keep tension at bay. We are let out into the tarmac and have to take a bus to the airport, and my tension ratchets.
4:45 p.m. — Maybe I can talk my way into the plane, or perhaps the flight was delayed. I decide to run for the flight. Sprint to security, where I am the only person clearing customs since this was an intra-Schengen zone flight. Go through in thirty seconds.
4:50 p.m. — Of course my gate is at the end of the airport, classic. Start ungainly sprinting, looking ridiculous with my poor Patagonia backpack clattering around, sweat buckets. I see an airport tram ahead and set it as my pace car.
4:51 p.m. — Overtake the tram and pass it.
5:00 p.m. — Jolt to a stop at the gate, people are still boarding! I thank my luck and get online. At the ticket minder, I ask how long the flight is delayed for as it’s past the departure time on the ticket. He looks at me quizzically, sees my ticket and and says that Lisbon is an hour behind Amsterdam so it’s only 4 PM. Sweaty but relieved, I collapse on a chair and wait for boarding.
4:30 p.m. (Lisbon time) — Board, get dinner, watch a few movies and veg out.
8:00 p.m. (NYC time) — Land, go through customs, get picked up by my lovely father again and stop on the way back for Chinese dumplings as I am famished. Finally make it home, gulp down the food, and go to bed. What a great trip, but glad to be back in my bed! $7.90
Daily Total: $7.90
How did you prepare for this trip?
Online research such as Thrillist/Time Out, crowdsourced friends. First time in A’dam so lots of sights to see but avoided super touristy ones such as the letters. Jewish, but chose not to see the Anne Frank house as didn’t need to unearth the cultural trauma. Yad Vashem was intense enough.
Did you use credit card points/miles to pay for parts of this trip? If so, please explain further: No, but I just got a Chase Rewards Card, which I plan to redeem for a trip to Morocco this year or next.
When did you book your flight? Do you think you got a good deal? Booked 10 days before! Could have gotten closer to 250-300 if better timed but oh well! Worth the memories.
What was your favorite part of the trip?
Oddly enough the sandwich at Toastable, walking around the city at 7:30 AM with an almond croissant and bistro cat and watching the sunrise over the houses, general walking around and figuring out the ring system.
What was the best meal or food you ate while you were there? Bizarrely, Toastable. I can’t even begin to communicate how much my mind was blown by how well they executed fajita seasoning, considering we were in Europe. Runner up would be the almond croissant!
Is there a tourist trap you wish you had avoided?
Red Light District – it’s just tourists rubbernecking and mediocre-looking food stands.
What advice would you give someone who is traveling to the same location?
Definitely do a day trip if you’re in the Netherlands for more than three days, the city is small!
Is there anything about your trip you would do differently in retrospect?
Go to the Hague earlier in the day, go out with people in the hostel to Shelter, and avoid van Loon Museum. D.’s friend recommended a specific museum, Secrets of the Red Light District, for a fair and compassionate overview of the area’s history, but we didn’t have time.
Would you stay at your hostel again?
Yes and no. The people were lovely but the room was so damp.
Where were you located in the specific city and would you recommend staying in that part of town?
Yes! Right by Vondelpark and a good mix of walkable to museums and the center part of the city.
Is there anything you wished you had time to do but didn’t?
De Hoge Veluwe National Park, Shelter, and De School.
Do you feel like you were there for the right length of time? Would you have come home sooner or stayed longer given the chance?
Yes! If I went back it would only be for a day trip from Europe (or I guess night since nightclubs…)
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