Last week we spent two days in Amsterdam, Netherlands, a brief but jam-packed glimpse of the renown city and its districts. It was a sliver-sized look into the lifestyle of those living there; I could have spent a week, a month, maybe even a year’s stay longer.
We arrived to the city in the midday, and took a short train and ferry to our hostel. Beautiful buildings and breathtaking canals marked our first impressions. Labelled as a favorite city by a handful of my friends, I had no preconceptions of what to expect.
Once we dropped our luggage off and planned out the weekend, we ventured into the city center to grab a bite to eat, before heading off to an organized pub crawl.
Everything seemed as if it was adopted from a science fiction film, a fairytale set in the future. Bikes whizzed past pedestrians and cars, taking precedence in the urban streets and overall city layout. The aroma of legalized marijuana could be smelled on the sidewalks, a casual setting that stood strikingly foreign in contrast to both California and Sweden. The streets were packed with shops of all kinds, abundant with a strong and versatile culinary culture. What you could think of, you could purchase to eat.
After shopping around, grabbing some food, and settling in at the first pub of our Thursday night, we met some friends from Northern Ireland. The entire pub crawl consisted of around 30-40 people, all of which were visitors to Amsterdam.
Its almost as if tourists bind together in the places they visit; as a traveler you discover the places you visit for the first time, unique to your own experience.
Those new experiences are alike those of other travelers, new to them and new to you. It gives you something in common, no matter where you come from or what you’re doing.
Walking through the red-light district at night was a different experience. Not weird, not discomforting, just unusual. Truly, and respectfully foreign to everything that I am used to in the places I’ve lived.
We spent the next day exploring the city more thoroughly, grabbing breakfast, relaxing at a coffee shop, catching a canal tour, spending some time in the main square (with the infamous “Iamsterdam” sign), and partaking in the city’s popular scare dungeon.
Just sitting at one of the coffee shops might have been one of the most enjoyable experiences in of itself. To imagine the people, as residents of Amsterdam, spending a day relaxing and enjoying conversation with their friends, I could see the charm of it.
And I could imagine myself enjoying the charm, as an ordinary aspect of my life. Even though it was new, even though it was “foreign”.
Riding around in the different canals gave such amazing views of the architecture and people that give life to the capital of Holland. The light drizzle of rain added to the enchantment of the city as a whole.
The boathouses were one of the most intriguing parts of our visit, to imagine growing up in one, or living in one now. Just like the coffee shops, or the culture of passing time, the culture of residential living in Amsterdam seemed different in a variety of ways. Yet the people living this culture were no different than us. We were all just people.
It is truly amazing, to think of how similar we all are, with the same running dialogue in each of our heads, and the same biological structure in each of our cells. Yet our lifestyles can vary in so many ways.
But in these variations, no one is truly foreign.
Because as thinking, living, and breathing people, we can all potentially belong to a variety of cultures. It just so happens that we were born in the one we were, and circumstances find us living among the ones we do today.
Not to say that we would thrive just about anywhere, given that there are many cultures that suit certain people better than others (especially in areas with strong national beliefs, or demographic-specific conditions). But people are people. And identifying or living among another culture doesn’t necessarily have to be, for lack of a better phrase, “a big deal”.
I mean really, what if I moved to Amsterdam? Its not that radical of a thought, once you start to think about it. I would still be me, just living in a different way.
The main square had to be one of the most attractive city centers I’ve been in since traveling around Europe: green lawns, clear fountains, lively people. Before entering the center we walked through a large overhang that accompanied the famous Rhykes museum, and the contrast from dark to light upon walking out of the hall and gazing upon the open center almost made things seem surreal. A group of people were blowing bubbles by the main fountain, and the scene looked as if it was from a childhood storybook.
What got odd was when we tried to take a picture with the sign.
Inevitably filled with other tourists, it was almost like a war zone. People legitimately seemed to show no consideration for one other. There were probably at least three different people on each letter at a given time, with three corresponding parties passive aggressively mad at one other for getting in their way of their precious photo.
I get that photos are important to people, they capture memories. But for the sake of common sense, if you are visitor to anywhere, show some decency to the people around you.
There is nothing in this world that entitles one tourist to a smoother experience than another tourist. We are all visitors, and lucky in the first place to be able to travel to the places we do. If anything, travelers should exhibit companionship towards on another, because we’re all essentially in the same situation.
It was the first instance where I’ve witnessed other travelers in discordance with each other. We never got a group photo, but I did naturally snap some pictures from afar.
So to all the rude travelers out there, eat a:
Afterwards, we laid out on the lawn that spanned throughout the city center, and enjoyed the blue skies. The skies and clouds are always so pleasing, but we rarely look at them day-to-day. We talked about some things, and eventually got to the topic of how memories are formed and altered, something I recently learned about in my neuropsychology class.
To put it simply: Different parts of your brain are connected during the creation of a memory, and with each remembrance of that moment you make connections similar to the original. But every time you retrieve that memory the connections aren’t always the same. Some grow stronger, and some prune out. So you remember some things, but not others, and sometimes you might even remember things that aren’t true to that specific moment.
Its weird to think that memory is not a secure or tangible thing. But I like to think that it gives reason to how we look back on our memories with a golden hue: we remember the best parts more than anything.
Even now, I’m probably forgetting some of the whacky parts, or maybe just purposefully excluding the details of the pub crawl (kidding, mom).
We then grabbed some hot drinks at a nearby cafe, and watched a large group of strangers play a game of balloon tag together by the fountain. Its funny how games can turn a horde of photo fiends into friendly faces. And comforting to remember that everyone has the potential to lighten up.
We ended our trip by going to the Amsterdam Dungeon, a scare dungeon with themed rooms and professional actors. It could have been scarier, but I did get my money’s worth at the end. A grudge-like girl ran around the room and appeared in front of us (light-off, light-on thing), quite a classic ending.
I don’t really get why we like being scared as a form of entertainment, but it never gets old. A human luxury that I will enjoy at every opportunity. Shoutout to all the animals who have to use fright as a trait for survival. I’m glad we’re past the cavemen era.
Finally we grabbed some dinner at a hole-in-the-wall Italian spot. Delicious and filled with a big group of elderly locals, who were definitely roasting us the entire time.
To put it short, Amsterdam was lovely.
And to my best friends Ben, Hannah, and Jack, you made it what it was. As you always do.