Of Amsterdam, the second time around

Oh, Amsterdam. So lovely a little city.

The canals lined on all sides with rows of bicycles haven’t (despite their endless reproduction in all tourist materials on the lowlands) lost their charm. Dutch still-lifes and the Vermeer of the woman pouring milk in the Riljksmuseum still stun–regardless of the mass of postcards of these works they make. Dutch design and architecture, Dutch aged Gouda, Dutch people (though perhaps not Dutch cuisine) make strolling through the city at as slow a pace as you’d like a true pleasure for any visitor.

What is more, it seems a truly livable city. Particularly if you avoid certain stretches of the center and all of the Red Light District (though it is well worth suffering a trip through if you’re somewhere in the Western canal rings and need to get to fondue at Café Bern).* Infrastructure devoted to bikes and trolleys, the enormous and lovely Vondelpark and the fact that when the weather is nice, the Dutch seem to congregate in any available outdoor space, make it a place you want to stay for a stretch. Maybe a very long one.

I remember roaming in Amsterdam when I was 18. Then, because all travel was novel and certainly anything ‘abroad’ was exotic, it was strange. Now, it feels a little bit like visiting a prettier Brooklyn. The people there in the central districts are kind and good-looking, well dressed, and unflinchingly fluent in English. You can duck down an alley and find fantastic art, perfectly prepared Indonesian food, magical canal-side cafes serving La Chouffe and you’ll barely notice that you can’t utter a word in the native language. Of course you can end up in a mass of tourists oohing and ahhing at the ‘native’ bridges and photographing themselves alongside a mass of bicycles, or perhaps a live sex show. But I am willing to entertain the possibility that this darker under belly buoys up the rest of the urban culture there.

I prefer my most recent trek through the city to the one I took, low, some nearly 15 years ago. But that may just be because I like me, and cities and me in cities more now. Either way, if you find yourself meandering around Europe for any reason, Amsterdam is worth time. Maybe lots of it.


*And you do need to get to fondue at Café Bern if you’re anywhere in Amsterdam. Trust me.

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