Our first full day in Amsterdam was all about immersive, observational experience. To become immersed in a city as fascinating, unique, and sensually invigorating as this requires little effort, especially when hailing from a continent seemingly worlds away from the intoxicating rusticity that is the Old World. On day one, there would be no museum tours, no shopping, no extra-metropolitan excursions. The city itself, the intricate details of its planning, construction, and constant fine-tuning would have our minds occupied for the time being, and our hearts captured for what I know will be a lifetime.
Every day in Europe, Teresa and I’s mornings would start with a hearty breakfast, sometimes cooked ourselves and consisting of toast with a variety of fresh jams, boiled or scrambled eggs, a glass of orange juice, some fruit, and a cup of coffee to wash it all down with at the end. At some of the nicer B&Bs we wound up at later on, it would also include some nice cheeses and fresh deli meats. These daily high caloric beginnings would give us each the energy we needed to keep a constant explorative move on as well as helping to shape an increasing appetite for the day so we could consistently enjoy whatever local food was available to us. The Lucky Lake Hostel made it very easy for us to get this breakfast in as early as 7:30 AM so that we could be off into the city by about 9:00.
The hourly shuttle bus dropped us off at Holendrecht once again so we could make our way to the centre. Day one was all about exploration and observational intake; with endless cobblestoned streets and romantic canals snaking this way and that in a well-designed and easily navigable pattern, Teresa and I had plenty to absorb and all too much to desire.
For a denizen of the New World, i.e. North America, the architectural splendour of Europe is mesmerizing. I even spoke with locals who felt enraptured by what they’ve been surrounded by their entire lives. Despite a seeming uniformity in style, each and every building looks different from the next. The attention to detail is exquisite and the notion that these structures were designed and built well before the modern era only adds to the charm and romance of it all. Where I live, when a subdivision is designed nowadays everything looks the same. In Amsterdam, the entire core was designed as one, yet you would think that a different person drew out the plans for each individual structure. Much of the architecture was designed after the standards of architect Hendrick de Keyser, as well as the seventeenth century baroque styles of Daniel Stalpaert, Jacob van Campen, and Philips Vingboons. Some buildings even date back to the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.
In terms of modern design, the streets are fashioned in a way to make bicycles the primary form of transportation throughout the city. Everywhere you turn, you may be walking into a bicycle lane and the cyclists in Amsterdam have little patience for starry-eyed tourists who are hypnotized by the city’s beauty. While providing a form of cardiovascular activity that I’m certain keeps people in tiptop shape, most cyclists are simply trying to get to work or school as quickly as possible. In the more congested central areas, particularly close to Amsterdam Centraal Station, things can get a bit dicey. As conscious and observant as one might normally have to be as a pedestrian, this goes doubly so when walking through some of the main streets here.
The Netherlands is characterized by the presence of hundreds of thousands of tulips during the spring months. Scattered in flowerbeds along the streets, the canals, in people’s yards, or clustered and labelled in a variety of botanical gardens, these multi-coloured beauties could pop up anywhere and provide a much needed brightness during a season that can see frequent overcast for a majority of its days. Here, outside of the NEMO Science Centre, the reds, yellows, oranges, and pinks really pop against the dull grey background.
NEMO is very interestingly shaped as well, with an outdoor patio slanting for tens of metres towards the ground. Unfortunately, this area was under renovation when we arrived so we couldn’t check it out up close. Just behind this area, across a large inlet of water lies the Netherlands Maritime Museum with some cool ships docked outside.
As we made our way out of this area and towards the eastern part of the city centre, we took note of the accommodations made for cyclists going up and down the numerous staircases throughout the city.
Throughout some of the streets, trolley routes were surrounded by narrow stretches of grass, emphasizing the natural incorporations into the city planning. Right beside this stretch lies the Hortus Botanicus Amsterdam, a botanical gardens we would wind up visiting the following day. In the meantime, though, we’d made a rule that on this day we would stay outside, wandering around without committing any of our time indoors just yet.
We passed by Anne Frank House as well, on Prinsengracht, right along a beautiful canal. The lineup to get inside stretched well around the block and out of sight. I can’t imagine how long it would have taken just to get a glimpse inside but it was by far the most populated tourist attraction we’d seen yet. It was very strange, to see the home of a young girl whose diary so many of us have read whether on our own, or because it was assigned to us in class. This is just one of many examples of how Europe connected my imagination to the reality of what actually exists there. So many of my studies, the literature I’ve read over the years, has come directly out of this part of the world. To be able to contextualize what I’ve imagined throughout my life with the concrete reality of it was particularly moving for me and is part of what has made this beautiful and visually captivating region one of my favourites.
A day spent out in Amsterdam is quite fulfilling. I should have known how much I would miss this city after spending only a weekend here. Teresa and I still had another full day, though, one where we would be able to take in the history and culture of Amsterdam and the Netherlands from a more structured and tangible perspective. Our next day would see us exploring the world class Rijksmuseum, the ideally situated Marijuana and Hemp Museum, as well as the peaceful and serene Hortus Botanicus. For days, I’ve been struggling to find the words to convey the feeling of longing Europe left in my heart, even before leaving. Sharing these experiences in Amsterdam is as good a place as any to begin.