Friday, September 21, 2007

My Favorite Cities -- Amsterdam

In all of my travels, I have seldom fallen for a city immediately other than (Paris and Florence). But Amsterdam stands a chance of changing all that. I just visited Amsterdam for the first time in April, but oddly enough, I'm feeling this urgent draw to return.

Perhaps I had set low expectations for the city and my experiences there. I knew I'd have a good time traveling with Dear Sister, but I figured that that would be the extent of the good memories. I don't know why, but I just didn't expect to be so affected by Amsterdam.

And before you ask, no, we didn't visit the "coffee shops" and I didn't smoke any funny cigarettes. Hell, I didn't even know we'd been in the Red Light District until we returned and were looking at pictures. "Oude Kerk," my DS said, "that was smack dab in the middle of the RLD." Increduously, I looked at her. "Did you not see the woman lift her window shade at 5 p.m. to open for business? Did you not see all the outdoor urinals?" she asked. I guess not, I guess I had one of those alternative trips to Amsterdam...the ones without the fun stuff.

But anyway, back to why I love Amsterdam. First off, the canals are amazing. There are more canals and bridges here than in Venice, allegedly. And as limiting and overwhelming as I found the canals and bridges in Venice, Amsterdam's are the complete opposite. Here, they are manageable and digestible. They provided the atmosphere and mystique that I think I expected in Venice but found in Amsterdam. We had a stretch of inordinately hot weather in April there, but one late afternoon we walked the Jordaan district, following a self-guided walk over the quaint and picturesque off-the-beaten-path canals and found a cool, calm retreat from a day's sightseeing.

Certainly, Amsterdam offers up some wonderful art and history in its museums. We wondered at the masters in the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, Rembrandthuis and Anne Frank House, as well as sneaking out of town to the Mauritshuis in Den Haag. And to be in Amsterdam during tulip season was just amazing; we saw colors and breeds of tulips that were previously unknown to us -- a feast for the senses we'll never forget.

But more of what I took away from Amsterdam was in the simple things: condensed milk in hot coffee; swallowing pickled herring whole; practical, sensible and clean public transport; the embrace of the bike culture; noticeable use of windmills, recycling and other forms of green living; kindness of strangers; appreciation for a good hot hutspot; the delight of a fresh plate of poffertjes covered in powdered sugar; the slow simmer and eventual eruption of a cherry jenever as it slides down. These simple pleasures are what I think of when I remember Amsterdam.

I found Amsterdam to be warm, welcoming and thoroughly enchanting, none of which I had really expected and all of which I am longing to return to.

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