The period between Thanksgiving (though being an American student in Scotland means this holiday goes shamefully uncelebrated) and New Years has always been my favorite time of year largely because I believe it to be the ideal time to travel. Celebrating the holidays in a foreign country brings out an essence of which would not have been apparent if you’d chosen to visit at any other time of the year. From the lights strewn across town for Christmas to the thundering fireworks hailing in the New Year, each country has their own distinctive way of commemorating the holidays.
Traveler’s Tip: Book a hotel in a neighboring town rather than the city centre as it will save money and many hotels are already fully booked. We stayed in Utrecht (approximately thirty minutes outside of Amsterdam); a round-trip train ticket ran around €13.00.
It comes as a surprise to many of my colleagues when I inform them that the first time I ever stepped foot outside America was in September 2012 when I traveled to Scotland for the commencement of my studies at the University of St Andrews. So rather than spend another holiday season basking in my perpetually sunny hometown of Los Angeles, I chose to brave the arctic weather in Amsterdam and experience my first New Years abroad.
Even the preceding winter months spent living in Scotland could not prepare my boyfriend and I for the torturous amalgamation of wind and rain we endured on this particularly chilly December 31st in Amsterdam. Hanging our heads in defeat, we decided to recede into the balmy depths of our hotel room only to be turned away as we discovered transportation in central Amsterdam was suspended for the impending New Years celebration. Accordingly, we were “stuck” in the city centre; a turn of events I am forever grateful for, as I was able to experience the unparalleled way that Amsterdam kicks off the New Year.
Foodie Tip: Every visitor to Amsterdam must stop at a street vendor to sample Vlaamse Frites (Belgian style chips). Order a few of these with a side of mayonnaise (the national staple as far as condiments are concerned in Holland; if you choose ketchup over this national delicacy then prepare to be berated on the streets) and continue on your stroll through the city!
Rather than welcoming the New Year amongst the myriad of inebriated tourists gathered on Museumplein (Museum Square), we chose to wander through the quieter boroughs of the city. We avoided the reveling crowds, notably high on Amsterdam’s legalized vice, and situated ourselves on a quaint canal bridge awaiting the renowned fireworks display. The fireworks commenced with around twenty minutes remaining to count down the New Year and continued on long after with a paroxysm of harlequin explosions as the clock struck midnight.
Amsterdam is a city that knows how to throw one hell of a party and after all, what party is bigger than the one thrown in celebration of the dawn of a new year?
Images courtesy of author; admittedly, the ultimate photo belongs to TrueAmsterdam.com, as I was too busy gawking at the hour-long fireworks display to spare a few seconds to snap a photograph.