Now that I’m living in Cologne, there’s suddenly a whole new range of possibilities for day and weekend trips I could do. I do miss being in Hamburg a little bit, partly because now going to the sea for a few hours or going on bike rides through Schleswig-Holstein’s villages isn’t possible any more. But Cologne is a great vantage point for new adventures.

Last week, two girls I met at university and I were talking about where we could go for the weekend. First we talked about looking at the neighboring cities of Bonn and Düsseldorf. But soon we thought about Amsterdam not being very far from Cologne either. So Amsterdam it was. We quickly reserved some hostel beds and only a few days later, on Saturday morning, we were on the road to the Netherlands.

At a souvenir shop at the Dam Square

Sign in an alley

We arrived before noon, parked the car outside of Amsterdam and got into the city by tram. Finding the hostel was easy, as it was located right in the city center. We dropped our bags off at the hostel and ventured out into the heart of Amsterdam. We joined a free walking tour and spent the following three hours or so walking through the red light district, along many canals and by the beautiful narrow Amsterdam houses. This was actually my first free walking tour – but it was a great experience and I will try to do it again in other cities. Loved all the little stories!

Church in the center of the red light district

Typical Amsterdam alley

The evening we spent walking through the streets, sitting at the canals drinking beer and watching a large group of people in kayaks floating by and generally being impressed by the night atmosphere with the women in their windows, the huge number of “coffeeshops” and all the tourists. We also noticed that Amsterdam is swarming with bikes at any day or night time. Our guide told us that on average, as many as 30 bikes fall or are thrown into the canals every single day. There are people driving around in boats in Amsterdam whose only job it is to take them out of the water again.

Canal with lots of bikes on the bridge

The Royal Palace at Dam Square

The next morning we had some coffee and pastries for breakfast and then headed off in the direction of the city of Leiden at the North Sea. Somehow, the Netherlands are really tiny compared to Germany, so it didn’t take us long to get there. For me, having a salty breeze in my face again and being able to walk across the beach on bare feet was the best part of it all. Even though it wasn’t particularly warm (especially with the wind quite strong), we also took a few steps into the North Sea. However, as soon as we realized that there was actually nothing at all in the town where we had reserved some beds, we decided to cancel the reservation and head home. Maybe it was because it was Sunday or because the season had ended already, but all the shops and restaurants were closed and there were hardly any other people to be seen.

Taken while resting in the dunes

People flying kites at the beach

It was a great weekend, but we all agreed that one day was enough to see the most important parts of Amsterdam. The city center was far too touristy (and this also means extremely expensive!) and at some point we just had enough of the red light district and the smell of weed all over the area. According to what our tour guide told us though, this will change rapidly within the next couple of months as the Dutch government is hard at work to close the famous red light district “windows” and to ban all the drugs from the city.

The sea, too, was nice, but somehow we liked “our” North Sea coast in Germany better than the Dutch version of it. Anyway, it was a nice getaway and totally worth it. Next, we might be heading to Brussels or Bruges – Belgium is just as close to Cologne as the Netherlands.