For those of you who don't know, there is a well-known Jewish camp song entitled "Wherever You Go (There's Always Someone Jewish)." In this song, there is a line that goes as follows:
Amsterdam, Disneyland, Tel Aviv
Oh they're miles apart
But when we light the candles on Sabbath eve
We're sharin' the prayer in each one of our hearts
I went to Tel Aviv in 2008 with my trip to Israel, I have been to Disneyland countless times, and on November 16th, I was given the honor of completing what has come to be known as the Jewish Trifecta by visiting Amsterdam.
This semester, five of my camp friends and I are all studying abroad. Hannah is in Rome, Ali is in Florence, Jenna's in Dublin, and Rebecca and I are in Paris. Unfortunately, Rebecca was unable to join us for this trip, but I met Hannah, Jenna, and Ali in one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been to in my life.
Once I arrived at the airport, I took a train into Amsterdam's central station then a tram to our hostel. Immediately, I couldn't believe my eyes. The tram ride over completely blew me away. I felt like I was in a fairytale land. It was as if Disneyland Main Street was every single street I was passing. For some reason, Amsterdam has a reputation for being the place study abroad students can travel to legally smoke marijuana. Along with this reputation comes the expectation that the city might be a bit run down and sketchy. On the contrary, Amsterdam is not only one of the most beautiful cities I've ever seen, it's one of the most clean and incredibly safe.
On Saturday the four of us took a free walking tour and my eyes were opened even more to the beauty of the city. We had an incredible tour guide. His name was Julian and he had been living in Amsterdam for about three years with his Dutch girlfriend who he had met back home in Australia. I learned more from Julian in that three hour tour than I ever expected to. He explained the history of Amsterdam, some interesting facts, but most importantly, he taught us about Amsterdam as a city of tolerance. You can be whoever you want to be in Amsterdam. Whatever religion you practice, politics you follow, things you believe in, it doesn't matter. The four of us felt like we were in some sort of dream world. I believe more than anything in the idea of tolerance and live and let live and my friends and I were blown away that we were in a city that believe so much in what we also believe in.
Prostitution is legal in Amsterdam and smoking marijuana has been decriminalized. The city has put it's efforts into cracking down on hard drug use and has almost completely ridded the city of crime. Some of this made me uncomfortable but Julian put it all into a perspective that helped me understand things in a completely new light.
After learning so much from the tour on Saturday, we headed out on our own. We wandered the city, ate good food, and just enjoyed each other's company. We visited Anne Frank's house which was amazing. The house has been turned into a museum and all of the furniture has been removed. They do, however, have her original diary in a glass case which was incredible to see. It was so strange being in the place Anne Frank and her family lived in for such a long time and a place that's known around the world.
This semester has been particularly hard for me but being with my friends was a comfort I so needed. Being in Amsterdam (and all my trips this semester, in fact) have taught me that there is so much more to life than we realize sometimes. I am extremely guilty of getting wrapped up in school and forgetting that having fun is just as important, if not more important, than work. The tests we take, assignments we complete, and essays we write are so minimal in our lives compared to what is out there. There's an entire world to be explored and tons of people to meet. I am more than lucky to have the opportunities that I do to see so many places and learn so many things. No matter how difficult this semester has been academically, mentally, and emotionally, I have gained so much. As I move into my last month here in Paris, I make a promise to myself and to all of you reading this that I will keep everything in perspective and continue to have fun. Much love.