As the opening lines of Kanye West’s hit song “Stronger” blared across Hyde Park, the London crowd went wild. “Th-th-that that don’t kill me can only make me stronger” sang West, along with me and the sea of people who had shown up to see him. For me, it was hard to believe that less than twelve hours ago I had been in Paris with my family, rushing to catch my Eurostar train to London. But here I was, at Wireless 2009, watching Kanye West in London!
The next morning, I thanked my friends for letting me stay at their flat before taking the Tube across London to London City Airport. Sitting on the train, I wondered if I’d made a mistake and had been too ambitious choosing not stay in London with them. I had already been in Europe for two weeks, touring Italy with my family before getting to go off alone to London and Amsterdam for almost a week. After my stop in London for the concert, it was off to Amsterdam, where I’d really be on my own.
After struggling with Dutch pronunciation, I finally made it to my hotel near Leidseplein, one of the busiest parts of Amsterdam. My hotel, the Freelander, was built in an old Dutch house, complete with the steepest staircase I’ve ever had to climb. Had I had any more luggage than my backpack and duffel bag, it would have been nearly impossible and very dangerous to try and climb those stairs.
During the next two days I spent in Amsterdam, I saw famous Dutch art at both the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum. The Rijksmuseum was particularly impressive, as I had learned about Dutch art in school and was able to see how detailed and realistic the Rembrandts and Vermeers were in person. I also visited the Anne Frank Haus, the site where Anne Frank and her family had hid from the Nazis. Although I had been to a concentration camp in Germany, walking through the Anne Frank Haus was more personal, and I was struck by how they had just been ordinary people forced into hiding. I also saw the city’s sleazier side, walking through the famous Red Light district populated with prostitutes and sex shops. It is almost indescribable what it is like to walk by a window with an almost naked woman behind it for the first time, as it is just something not seen in everyday life.
Upon my return from my trip, friends asked me whether or not I would do the same trip again. I didn’t really have an answer for them, and it took me awhile to come up with one. Because as great as my trip was, I underestimated traveling on my own, and learned how lonely it can be. I discovered it wasn’t the walking or train trips that were the worse alone, but the meals. There was oftentimes no one to talk to, and I came to dread having to eat by myself towards the end of my trip. But being alone also forced me out of my comfort zone; to talk to people I probably wouldn’t have talked to had I not been alone. While at the concert in London, I struck up a conversation with a group of English teenagers, who I ended up hanging out with for the rest of the concert. Given the opportunity, I’d probably go again, but this time I’d know what to do and expect. Travel is supposed to show you new things, make you reexamine yourself, and my experiences certainly did.
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