People say Paris is the city of romance, but if I really wanted to impress someone I wouldn’t take them to big, crowded, dirty Paris – I’d take them to Amsterdam. Amsterdam with it’s quaint little cobblestone streets and hundreds of bridges that look like they’ve come right out of a postcard. Amsterdam with trees everywhere strung up with fairy lights winking magically in the dark. Amsterdam with it’s canals and boats and houseboats that bob so peacefully in the water, some fenced with delightful little flower boxes that add to the colour. And bikes, tied up absolutely everywhere, but especially prevalent under signs that say ‘gien fietsen platsen’ – Dutch signs saying it’s forbidden to park your bike here.
As soon as I stepped off the train in Amsterdam Centraal it felt like being home again. Although, if you’ve been away from a place for 14 months it does take a little while to reacquaint, and I ended up faffing around for a while trying to decide whether I should get an OV-chipkaart or 3-day ticket, and then having decided upon the latter, searching for the elusive non-chipkaart machine. Centraal is a lovely station but it’s big and they tend to hide things a little, so it could definitely use a few more signposts. My ticket-finding mission ended, however, in the best possible way, when I heard someone call my name from behind me. Matt, absolute darling that he is, surprised me once again by turning up at the station unannounced to pick me up, armed with a spare OV-chipkaart to make life just that little bit easier. I’d also like to add that It’s times like these that having bright, unnatural red hair comes in handy – he’d almost lost me amongst the post-work crowd, but short as I am it’s easy to pick out what looks like a giant moving tomato in a sea of blondes and brunettes.
A lot of tourists come to Amsterdam for the Red Light District and the coffee shops, but if that’s the main thing you see or do when you’re here, you’re really missing out. There are so many better reasons for which Amsterdam is my favourite place in the world. Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands, but it feels more like a small village, and in many ways it is – the whole city is walkable, although it’s much better on bike, and during the peak tourist season there are actually more tourists in Amsterdam than there are residents – which can be frustrating for the people who live there.
Besides the canals and the boats and fairy lights, the houses and stores themselves are also just generally gorgeous and postcard worthy. Like Berlin, there are lots of quirky stores – little specially places for everything – but unlike Berlin, which is so spread out, in Amsterdam there are houses and cute little stores in lovely little rows everywhere, so that in general you can walk out of your apartment or house and go three doors down to a cozy little cafe or delicatessen or pancake house. There’s dogs and cats everywhere, including indoors, and it’s not uncommon to have store pets – which, I can tell you, vastly improves your shopping/going out experience. There’s nothing quite like browsing for Christmas gifts with a big friendly Labrador there to help take away the stress of finding that perfect something, or sitting in a bar next to the fire drinking a mulled wine with a cat on your lap to help beat those winter blues. Store pets should totally become a thing in more countries around the world.
Amsterdam also has a lot of parks – closest to Matt is Sarphatipark, but up the north is Westerpark, which is where I used to slack-line and play frisbee with my friend Simona, or tennis with Jasien, and towards the south is Vondelpark, where we’d have picnics and BBQs and there’d be free concerts at lunch time. Amsterdam’s parks remind me of New York’s central park a bit – they’re all big and superbly landscaped, with their own bridges and ponds and grand statues and little hidden niches, and they’re so full of life – in summer all the parks are buzzing because that’s just where people hang out. There’d be fire twirlers and acrobats and people playing all kinds of sports and free performances and multitudes of rabbits and ducks bounding about. Parks in Amsterdam are seriously next level.
The other thing I love about Amsterdam is that there’s art and culture everywhere and it’s just such a big part of everyday life. I loved the Van Gogh Museum – the art is breathtaking but it’s also small and simple enough that you don’t lose interest or get sore feet. The Rijksmuseum is magnificent to look at but just a bit too overwhelming for me – I have a penchant for smaller museums and galleries that have only one area of focus rather than huge repositories of information or art that can be hard to take in and generally require longer than a day to properly see everything. It just gets too tiring for me and starts to become tedious – but the Rijksmuseum does have a very pretty garden that’s open to the public, and that’s a nice place to stroll through and have a raspberry lemonade with mint – or if you’re in a more playful mood, to frolic amongst it’s fountains.
There are also so many free concerts and performances all around Amsterdam in any given week – I went to a performance of Debussy’s La Mer played by a full symphonic orchestra at the Concertgebouw and it was just incredibly grand. Amsterdam also has so many arts venues and seeing shows is really cheap – I almost cried when I realised Chet Faker was playing there on my last night but, at only 17.50 Euros a ticket, had completely sold out. Speaking of music, you’ll find that if you’re hanging around 18-30yr olds, almost everyone within that age bracket in Amsterdam is a DJ, or DJs on the side. A lot of them may also be models. A disproportionately large number of my Dutch friends (actually almost all) fall into the DJ/model mould.
I could go on for ages about everything else I love about Amsterdam. About how we’d spend ages at the Bloemenmarkt because, while it’s famous for the flowers the other side of the road has rows and rows of cheese stores and we’d just go on cheese tasting excursions of an afternoon. About how a lot of places scheduled for demolition turn into temporary bars/clubs until the day they’re scheduled to be knocked down, and how those are all super cool and experimental. About the yarn bombing you see around the place but mainly at Vondelpark, where people just come and knit trippy patterns on the trees. About the fact that everyone bikes everywhere (there are more bikes than people in Amsterdam), holding an umbrella if it’s raining, and that I’ve seen people fit all kinds of things onto their bikes with them, including furniture. Or about the library, which is huge and beautiful and in which there’s so much going on that, together with the restaurants and other facilities they have there, you could almost just live in it and be highly entertained.
But instead I’ll finish this by telling you about the people, because that’s the best thing about Amsterdam. When I first came to Amsterdam, I stayed with my friend Jasien and his mother for a month, after meeting Jasien very briefly in Sydney, and they actually made me feel like I was at home. I met Simona when I went to play frisbee at Westerpark, and although we had barely spoken she tracked me down and messaged me online, knowing that I was new to the city, and offered to hang out and help me with anything. A friend of Jasien’s, Nora, only saw me for about a minute as she was getting up to go to work, but added me on Facebook, chatted to me, and took me out for a day of shopping when I needed to get some clothes – which was nice enough, but I got sick part of the way in and she was so patient and looked after me and later she and Jasien made me crepes late at night because I’d never had Dutch crepes before (more accurately known as Pannenkoeken and probably the best version of crepes out of culture in the world). I sub-rented my room from Koen, an incredibly smart and brilliant 26 year old who spent ages hanging with me and exploring Amsterdam, and who, when I lost all my money and cards, returned my bond to me, took me out for dinner to cheer me up and just always gave me great advice even after I’d left Amsterdam. I met Matt at a 4th of July picnic some American expats were having, and we bonded over our love of music and dancing – I can’t even count all the nights Gen and I would end up at Matt’s after a big night out and we’d drink tea while listening to deep house. There’s so many others – Max, Steef, Raph, Andrzej, Daniel, Jan, Eamon, Sam and about 50 more and if any of you are reading this I just want you to know that you made my time in Amsterdam one of the best experiences of my life.
Being back was lovely – it was so nice to catch up with friends, and enjoy the parks and bars and music that I’d missed so much while I was gone. You’re the lekkerste, Amsterdam, and I can’t wait to come back again.