The door’s bell tinkled as I entered the red-painted restaurant, and the waitress caught my wide-eyed look. “You can have the corner if you’d like,” she said, directing me to far right.
Feeling special, I walked over and sat at an embroidered stool. The tiny counter was attached to a wide window overlooking a castle-like building, some boutiques, and a wheelbarrow full of flowers. There were salt and pepper shakers and a bowl of rock salt on the counter. But I am not special; I’m just traveling alone.
I was visiting Amsterdam to see my sister and her boyfriend; but since she had a 9 to 5 job, she put an OV-chipkaart in my hand and told me to “just explore.”
Me, the youngest sibling, the spoiled baby of the family – roaming a foreign country unsupervised? In all my past trips, I was scolded for wandering off by myself.
Now, I sipped the foam off my cappuccino, warming myself after a long morning of biking in the rain. The city is bikeable, of course, but I am bad at reading street signs and good at getting my wheels trapped in tram rails. I let myself recover after a few days of locating museums, demystifying public transportation, and being completely responsible for myself.
I’ve come to realize that I like being a solo tourist. True, it’s hard navigating without help, and I make lots of mistakes, and I’m very slow by myself—but I can take my time with things. My itinerary suits me and only me. I can just take in without having to provide commentary and small talk to a companion. I don’t have anyone to please or accommodate.
My most recent phase of life began with a similar solitude: Philadelphia’s big music festival, which I attended as a new student of Penn and new resident of the city, mostly unaccompanied but also uncompromising in my enjoyment. I remember feeling free, explorative, and so much like myself. Something about being the only one you know in a crowd does that to you.
That experience of independence marked the beginning of my college life. Is this my new new chapter?
I was so content. And excited for the rain to resume. I knew (according to the weather app) that after it ebbed again, it’d be clear to bike.
Things I saw in the Netherlands:
- Keukenhof tulip gardens
- Van Gogh museum (very nice interactive guide)
- Rijks Museum
- Canal boat tour
- Haarlem market
- Van Stapele koekmakerij