The Peculiar Joy of Amsterdam
I couldn’t believe how much we’d changed. My friend Inge and I, that is.
I met up with her my first night in Amsterdam. She’s a friend and former roommate I’d lived with in a dusty old apartment in Hell’s Kitchen some five years prior. Back then, we were wild, single people navigating Manhattan’s turbulent gay dating scene. But on this night in Amsterdam, with Inge seated next to her pregnant wife and me next to my husband, we were two married folks marveling over the direction our lives had taken.
Our reunion was a great way to kick off a three and a half-day stay in the Netherlands. I learned so much about Dutch culture from her in just that evening. Considering it was just a few weeks before Christmas, I got the scoop on Black Pete (if you don’t know about it, look it up). I learned that the Dutch speak English because they know how difficult their language is for tourists. I tasted (and became addicted to) stroop wafels. I had real schnitzel (not that stuff you can order from restaurants on Seamless). We strolled through the Red Light District and saw the girls (some of whom I’m sure were teenagers) selling themselves in the windows. We had coffee and brownies at a “coffeeshop”.
Even in my first night, wandering the streets under the influence of a space brownie, I saw the complexity of Amsterdam—a city where you can eat a traditional Dutch dessert on one corner and buy sex on another.
My second day there focused on different complexities: art and stomach pains. At this point, we were a week into our two-week excursion. I’d been eating tons of meals that came with French fries (thanks a lot Paris) and my stomach was starting to hate me for it. Thank God our hotel (the Hotel Estherea-a quaint, old timey place) offered a standard, Americanized breakfast. There’s nothing like eggs, bacon and fruit when your belly is homesick. I even found a 7-pack of Yakult at the grocery store later that day.
We walked Anne Frank House in silence (no phones allowed), snapped selfies at the I Am Amsterdam sign and marveled at the works of Van Gogh and Rembrandt in the Rijksmuseum.
With the previous day as our more structured sightseeing day, we spent our last 24 hours wandering aimlessly and eating our way through the city. Febo, a vending machine that sells sandwiches and Dutch fast food (yes!), was a highlight. I never eat fried food back home so I was like a kid in a candy store in Europe…if that candy store was actually a French fry store. We also had Nutella cupcakes and tasty Asian cuisine.
We wandered the Nine streets to see the local stores and creatives. I stumbled upon a cute little bookshop where I picked up some one of a kind notebooks (writers are always buying notebooks-the promise of a new idea) which featured the artwork of Banksy and a picture of Muhammad Ali. The owner joked that he’d placed a sign in the window advertising the notebooks as “multi-lingual journals” but no one got the joke. Took me a minute to get it, too, which probably disappointed him. Blank pages, multi-lingual….get it?
During our entire trip, we walked everywhere, only taking public transportation when we arrived and when we left. Amsterdam is a city in which you’re more likely to be run over by a bicyclist than a car.
Looking through my notes, I wrote on my last day there: “I was less curious about the world before I started to explore it”. Maybe I was feeling mistakenly profound because we had to wake up at 7:30 to fly to Berlin. But I found myself wanting to know more, to stay longer, to dive deeper. Until next time…