I Nearly Fell In a Canal
Okay, so that's not strictly true. At no point during my trip to Amsterdam did I nearly fall into a canal, though given the number of canals and my propensity to jump at the slightest surprise there was a very real risk. Indeed, part of my pre-trip planning involved trying to work out if I could either a) fit a life-jacket into my suitcase or b) steal the life-jacket located either beside or underneath my seat on the plane. Thankfully for my friend, the most embarrassing item of clothing I wore ended up being a pair of bright pink trousers that I was assured would 'fit right in'. Three days later and I remain unconvinced.
However, I have returned utterly convinced that Amsterdam is about as awesome as the queue for the Anne Frank house is long, which you can imagine, even if you have not been to Amsterdam, is pretty long. So long, in fact, that despite walking past it three or four times, I never actually went inside. Perhaps partly because I avoided the emotional turmoil that surely would have followed (no matter how beautiful I found Kraców, its memory will forever be associated with the trip to Auschwitz) Amsterdam quickly became one of my favourite cities. There was a certain atmosphere that struck me almost as soon as I left the central station, which is stunningly beautiful in itself, to the hotel - Room Mate in this case - which was also a rather striking piece of architecture. That is a consistent theme about Amsterdam, so many of the buildings are beautiful and/or have a certain character to them.
Given The Netherlands is the land that gave us Louis Van Gaal, I did have my concerns that Amsterdam, despite all the hype and the fact the lady who sits next to me at Old Trafford raved about it, would be a dull as the football I was treated to at Old Trafford last season. Pleasingly, I could not have been more wrong. After a pleasant meal in a Jamie Oliver restaurant called Fifteen, which seemed to have absolutely no reason to be called Fifteen whatsoever and that I was told was 'definitely outside of Amsterdam' by my friend, we ventured over to the red light district. My only other experience of a red light district was on a school trip to Paris in Year Nine when our teachers turned around suddenly on our walk back to the hotel and exclaimed that they had "accidentally" lost their way and that somehow we had ended up in the red light district. I have no memory of the Parisian red light district, though I can confirm the one in Amsterdam is remarkably full on, which (for some reason) I was not expecting and in an attempt to quell my slight awkwardness at the women (literally) on display, I asked my friend questions about them as if she were the authority on the Amsterdam red light district. Question one: Are any of them Jewish? Side point: I liked the fact there were actual red lights on the canal bridges. I thought it was a nice touch.
Perhaps my favourite thing about Amsterdam was sitting by a canal, whether that be in an actual restaurant/coffee shop or just with my feet hanging over the edge. This, in part, is what makes Amsterdam another one of those fantastic cities where you can do pretty much nothing and somehow feel productive. Of course, there are plenty of things to see and do. The Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, of course the Anne Frank House to name but three tourist attractions one will have heard of. The streets are a joy to walk down, beautifully bisected by the canals, adorned with buildings that seem impossibly narrow and quaint coffee shops that makes for a tranquil wonder interrupted only briefly by the sound of a motorcycle whizzing past. Any city that recommends pancakes for breakfast, lunch and/or dinner is a city I want to spend time in. The coffee was generally almost as good as the Macchiato Bar in Brent Cross where I sit now and type.
This would not be a travel article if it did not make some reference to a juxtaposition. Amsterdam's is that there is a busyness epitomised by the red light district and the anything goes attitude that comes with it. I could not help but feel awkward, almost as if I were partaking in something morally wrong simply by being there. That latter bit is probably just me, but it was there nonetheless. A few streets away, by contrast, there is a peacefulness epitomised by the gentle breeze and the stillness of the canals that one watches whilst enjoying a cup of coffee. Not quite a tale of two different cities, but certainly the tale of a city I would visit with my Mother yet at the same time stumble across a street, a shop window, an area that would make me quicken my pace, close my eyes and hope the next left turn takes me back to quiet street, preferably with swans gracefully swimming down the canal, lest I decide to jump in.