After a bit of a break, I am now back to writing. I am closing in on the end of this series of stories from Europe, with only one more to go after this one. This second to last story is a reflection on my two trips to Amsterdam and the different experiences of each.

Amsterdam was the first city I came to on the continent, and the second city I visited on my European trip after London. I knew some people that really liked Amsterdam, and had overheard plenty of people singing it’s praises, (many relating to it’s looser social policies) but on my first time in the city I was not all that enamored with it. The hostel that I stayed at was near the train station, just outside the famous/infamous red light district. In retrospect this obvious colored my entire first experience in Amsterdam, since I had to pass through or near that part of town to get to and from where I was staying. As I’m guessing all of you know, prostitution and weed are both decriminalized in Amsterdam, making them regular businesses that exist right alongside more traditional ones in the red light district. Going through that area of town was always something of a strange experience, as it felt like the capitalist system unleashed to run to it’s amoral conclusion. Coffee (read: weed) shops right next to fry shops and just down the street from a prostitution house was a novel experience to my American sensibilities. Moving beyond this area, crossing the canals and checking out other parts of town, I was feeling a bit jaded about Amsterdam. Outside some nice attractions like the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum, there wasn’t too much to the city that appealed to me. It was also cold and wet (being early April) the whole time, so maybe the weather had me down too. Throughout my time there I felt almost perpetually lost, despite having a map. When I left Amsterdam on my first visit, I really did not see what people liked about the place, except for those who loved it for nontraditional offerings.

Near the end of my trip I returned to Amsterdam for a brief stay before crossing the channel back to London, from where my flight back to America would depart. It was then that I saw what I call the other side of Amsterdam. Whereas the first time was interesting, but not very flattering, my second time in Amsterdam was really quite pleasant. Looking back, I wonder if it was because I was not so busy like my first visit. I also stayed in a different part of town, farther south, very close to Vondel Park, and it was sunny part of the time I was there. Sitting in Vondel Park, away from much of the tourist horde, eating cereal straight out of the box (just let that image sink in) and watching the bicycles go by, I gained a new appreciation for the city. Unlike the northern part of Amsterdam, around the red light district, this southern part seemed like a place one could actually live. Below are a pair of photos to help illustrate:

Vondel Park
Along one of the canals.

The population was much more locals than tourists, and everyone seemed way more relaxed. Whereas the tourists (like myself on my first visit) were always on the move, (except when getting stoned) the locals had an appreciation for slowing down and enjoying life. Unlike my first visit, where I never seemed to know where I was, on my second time in Amsterdam I hardly used my map at all and felt like I knew the city well. Even the swarm of bicyclists that roam the streets seemed strangely friendlier.

My second time in Amsterdam was definitely much better than the first. While I do not approve of some of the activities that go on in the city, I think I now have a better appreciation for the feel and vibe of Amsterdam.

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