“Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin.”
― John Green
A Crowded and Endearing City
Amsterdam ranks with Valencia as a favorite among the cities we have visited.
What the two cities have in common is a delightful blend of the old and the new. Both are vibrant, modern cities, built directly upon and in harmony with lovingly preserved antique buildings and infrastructure. Their charm is alluring. The people are wonderful.
The canals in Amsterdam fan out from the harbor in an orderly, geometric pattern. It is a web, with Centraal Station at its core.
A person can wander and get lost in central Amsterdam, but not for long.
It is a scenic, charming and safe city for meandering by foot. And the tram, bus and subway system is excellent and inexpensive for going farther afield.
The Spice of Sin
Amsterdam is also just the right level of naughty.
A casual stroller will notice wafts of “legal” marijuana smoke in the air (marijuana is actually not legal in the Netherlands or in any EU country, but the Amsterdam authorities conspicuously look the other way).
There are dozens of “coffee shops” where pot can be purchased and consumed on the premises, as well as “head shops” that sell psychotropic mushrooms (called “truffles”).
In the famous Red Light district, female prostitutes display themselves (ever so fetchingly) in little storefront glass booths. Lately, they all seem to split their attention between looking at the screens on their cellphones and flirting with prospects on the street outside.
We noticed that a lot of the prostitutes were wearing horn-rimmed glasses. It was a nice look, intended, we guessed, to make the young women seem more intriguing and intellectual, like adventurous graduate students. “What are you reading these days?”
There are also numerous gay bars and clubs. You cannot find a city more accepting and inviting toward gays than Amsterdam.
And, of course, in Amsterdam the beer is plentiful, fresh, tasty and cheap.
Our gentle reader might well ask, “So, of these various pleasures, in which did you indulge during your sojourn in old Amsterdam?”
Well, to that we could simply respond by saying we really enjoyed the beer.
But we also have to acknowledge something about the Dutch people that attracted our attention and occasionally made our hearts skip a beat.
We relished the people-watching.
The people of the Netherlands tend to be statuesque and many of them are achingly handsome. They are said to be the tallest in Europe.
So very attractive, and yet at the same time so un-self-conscious about it, are the Dutch people, that to walk the streets of Amsterdam is to fall in love a dozen times on any given day. Men and women alike, they are a beautiful people.
One of the first things that struck us upon arriving at Amsterdam’s Cenraal Railroad Station was the enormous quantity of bikes in this city. You see stacks and stacks of them everywhere.
Amsterdam has a two-story parking garage next to the train station dedicated exclusively to bicycles. It was completely packed, as were the bike racks on the streets around the station.
How anybody ever finds their bike in that mayhem is a wonder.
Nobody in Amsterdam rides expensive bikes, because of the risk of theft, but everybody rides one. The locals start around the age of three and just keep pedaling into their 80’s.
Much like our experience with motorized scooters in Marrakesh, being a pedestrian in a city with so many two-wheeled vehicles can be a little unnerving. They are everywhere, rushing past at breakneck speeds. Traversing the streets in Amsterdam becomes much more complicated with bike lanes on both sides, in addition to the automobile lanes. But we soon realized that as long as we crossed bike lanes carefully, and didn’t make any sudden or unexpected moves, the bikers were very adept at avoiding us.
In other cities we have visited (including Valencia and Seville), we have rented bicycles for self-guided touring, but we did not feel comfortable doing so in Amsterdam. Brian himself is quite a regular bicyclist in California where we live, but even he did not feel adept enough to navigate the streets of Amsterdam on a bike, where the flow was just so much more swift and advanced than back home.
Hanging Out With Cousin Bart
Frank’s younger cousin Bart (first cousin once removed) has been living in Amsterdam for the last few years. Bart’s mom is Dutch, and Bart and his family lived in Amsterdam years ago when the kids were younger, before they moved back to the U.S.
A highlight of our time in Amsterdam was the night Bart hosted a dinner party at his apartment for us, his girlfriend and his three roommates. He made a delicious pasta dish with shrimp, pesto and cream. The conversation around the table was a delight. We really enjoyed the company of these young adults in a Dutch household.
Two Exceptional Museums
A special place we discovered to enjoy the fine arts is the Rijksmuseum, the Netherlands’ largest and most distinguished art museum.
The museum building itself is a showpiece, a perfect setting for displaying the great works of the Dutch Masters.
It took the Dutch government ten years to restore the Rijksmuseum roughly a decade ago.
Of all the places on earth made by humankind, surely there few more beautiful. It’s both the structure and the works of art within that make the Rijksmuseum so special.
Beauty of a different sort can be found at the nearby Van Gogh Museum.
An entire museum dedicated to the work of a single painter, Vincent Van Gogh, may seem extravagant.
As artists go, Van Gogh may not have been the most technically accomplished of painters, having come to painting relatively late in life and being largely self-taught. And he was severely mentally ill, the poor man.
But, oh goodness, Van Gogh was truly an exceptional and compelling artist. He burned very brightly, for all of his madness and suffering. There is an undeniable intensity about Van Gogh’s work that is emotionally very affecting.
No, we concluded, it is not an extravagance after all for Amsterdam to dedicate an entire museum to this genius.
More Highlights of Amsterdam
Amsterdam is peppered with beautiful parks. As in other European cites, local people of all ages really appreciate and enjoy their urban parks.
On any nice day, especially over a weekend, the parks are full of families and friends enjoying the air and the bucolic scenery.
One of the streets where we lived…
…and a boat tour along the canals…
Finally, we include a few quirky shots…
Oh, Amsterdam! We would happily return again and again to this wonderful city!