Never have I come across a place where freedom seems to be so unrestricted. I think it comes with being a cycling city, built on canals with narrow homes and narrower streets. The locals seem so happy and free as they effortlessly whizz through the streets on bicycles. Everybody knows the traffic system and everyone has a place to be.
Of course, the tourists disrupt it a bit. There are those who can’t cycle, those who don’t know which way to look when they’re crossing the road (guilty!) and those who are just plain oblivious. But the locals seem to generally accept it as part of their routine and avoid the disruptions easily.
Amsterdam is, as John Green wrote in The Fault in Our Stars, “A city of freedom”. It is buzzing and alive. Swarms of tourists descend on it every day of the week but it doesn’t feel disgustingly touristy – and here’s why.
The amount of things to do and see in Amsterdam could easily take weeks. Meticulous planning of my week-long trip to Amsterdam and The Hague meant that I had ensured I could fit as much in as I could – time-wise, and as much as I could possibly afford – budget-wise. There are tourists, but you are so spread out throughout the entire city and country (public transport is VERY good) that you can feel solitude and peace whilst surrounded by others. Everyone has their own purpose.
You will, of course, queue for the popular tourist attractions. Timing though, as we all know, is everything. Plan, plan, plan. Though planning your trip may take longer, you’ll feel happier when you get there (and activities never take as long as you expect) as you won’t feel lost. You’ll feel secure. And when you do realise that your list, which seemed endless at the beginning of the day, has been easily completed, you just have to cross the street or turn your head a fraction of an inch to find or see something new and exciting.
As you escape from canal ring a little, you’ll come across more and more green spaces, the most obvious of which is Vondelpark. It’s where you go to picnic, to relax, to cycle, to play, to dogwalk, to smoke, to makeout and to socialise. While the canal ring may be the hub, Vondelpark is the suburban relaxation point.
I visited late on a Friday afternoon in April, when the sun was still high in the sky and locals had finished work for the day.
Crowds of youth perch precariously in trees where the branches hang low over the water. The mist from the nearby water fountains blends with the smoke which fills the summer air around them, creating a haze which hangs in the afternoon sunbeams.
As I ride on my hired bike, about ten policemen cycle past me. They are clearly knowledgeable about the happenings in this park but also more concerned with making sure it’s a peaceful environment. A man in his thirties carrying a tennis racket strolls past, his eyes red although it is unlikely that he has been crying.
Vondelpark has gorgeous cafes, food vendors, lagoons with fountains in the middle, children’s playgrounds and more. It seemed to be treated by the tourists as a place to smoke, however it is so much more. If you cycle on and look past the crowds of youth in the trees, you’ll also hear the squawks of the parrots that flit from tree to tree. Or the friendly ting of a bell to signal someone is about to ride past you. Or the peals of laughter from children playing tag on the playgrounds.
On any given day in Amsterdam, you could stumble across markets, an outdoor café, or live music. Make sure that you open your eyes and appreciate the experience. It’s not every day that you get to visit a city so steeped in history. Amsterdam has incredible food, people and architecture. Enjoy it.