old amsterdam.

We took a day out of our time in Paris to hop over to Amsterdam to visit a friend. Amsterdam is a crazy place. It is picturesque and quaint in appearance, but intense to experience. In Paris, and later in Lyons, Josh would heave a big happy sigh and say, "Let's move here. Can we move here?" He did not say that in Amsterdam. That is likely unfair. We were only there a day, and we spent a lot of time in the tourist areas. We got mildly lost. I would absolutely go back, but I know that I am not cut out to live there.

For one thing, there are already too many people. Something I have noticed about the big cities that make me anxious versus the ones that make me feel good about humanity is how close they feel. I have a hard time in Manhattan because the buildings are so tall that I feel walled off all the time. Walled off with a lot of strangers. Amsterdam felt like that to me. The buildings were not tall, but the whole place felt very cramped. A lot of the streets were very old, and therefore narrow. It was a little better near the canals, but even there you felt like the buildings were leaning in over you. That's because they were. A while back, the city tried to build some subways underneath the canals, which unfortunately caused the buildings on either side to sink. I think they halted construction on the subway, and I hope they took some measures to secure those houses.

And the bicycles. Do you like bicycles? Not as much as the Dutch. I agree that bicycles make a lot of sense in Amsterdam, because area-wise, it's not that big. (We saw some very small cars, too. They're so small that you don't have to get a full driving license to drive them, sort of like a moped. And, bonus, you can park them on the sidewalk.) I've just never seen such a bike culture. In some of the fancier neighborhoods in North Carolina, usually near college campuses, there are bike lanes. They're usually just the shoulder of the road with a bike painted in it. In Amsterdam, there is a completely separate, smaller road next to the larger road, a road for bikes. So you have the road, then you have a sliver of sidewalk, and then there is another road, followed by another sliver of sidewalk next to the leaning buildings. A distracted tourist might stand in the bike road waiting for the light to change so that they can cross the main road. They wouldn't stand there very long before being screamed at or just run down by an old Dutch lady, because as far as the old Dutch lady is concerned you are literally standing in the middle of the road like a slack-jawed yokel. Next to Centraal Station is a parking deck for bicycles.

The whole traffic situation requires constant vigilance. There are a lot of cars, and then there are all the bikes, and oh yes, there are trams, too. And there are canals, so after you get hit by the bike, the car, and the tram, you can fall in the water and be run over by a houseboat. People know how to move in Amsterdam, and they are not going to let you slow them down. They've got somewhere to be and only five minutes before it starts raining again. Our friend showed us a website that had the radar map of the city, where you can check for breaks in the clouds before you go anywhere, so maybe the fast pace is weather-related.

Also, I was unable to figure out how the tram routes worked. I have been able to figure out public transportation maps in multiple cities, but I had no luck there. Each time I thought I had it right in theory, the trams in actuality would prove me wrong. We ended up walking. This could be my own fault, or this could be why everyone rides bicycles.

Anything goes in Amsterdam. There are weed shops all over the place, some of them obviously catering to tourists and others that looked like a place where everybody knows your name. We did not go through the red light district, though Josh says he saw a lady dancing provocatively through a cellar window. We were in some tourist areas, and most of the shops were capitalizing on Amsterdam's reputation as a den of sin. So many phallic souvenirs. We encountered shops like this in Paris, too, around the Moulin Rouge. But that was in a generally seedy part of town, where everything was just a little bit dirty. In Amsterdam, this kind of thing was just everywhere. Our friend says that frat boys from all over Europe come to Amsterdam to get wasted, hire prostitutes, and be generally obnoxious.

It's a very international city, which I guess is why it is so permissive a place. When you've got people from all over trying to make things happen together, you need to live and let live. Everyone spoke excellent English, which was very lucky for us. I stretched my pitiful college French to the limit, but I don't know a lick of Dutch. I couldn't even read it very well. In French, you can sound out the words and end up pronouncing things badly, but generally understandably. With Dutch, I'd get halfway through the word before encountering a strange letter combination, and my eyes would cross. I learned how to say "thank you" from a information booth at the train station, and that was the extent of my education.

This sounds like a long list of complaints from a disgruntled tourist. I am sure that to some people, Amsterdam is the place they've been looking for all their lives. And it truly is a beautiful place. There are cobblestones and canals and cute houses all over the place. I think if I went back I would be able to adjust better. I guess I'm saying that it's not you, Amsterdam, it's me.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

The first time I went to Amsterdam I felt the same way.. but also mostly was in the tourist areas. The second time we stayed with a Dutch guy and did much less touristy stuff. Also was able to navigate better second time. I did almost get hit by bikes a lot both times.