I have to be very honest here: I had been trash-talking Amsterdam for the better part of the past five years. Whenever I was asked to give my opinion on the city, I would always reply that it didn’t captivate me quite as much as Maastricht or Den Haag.
I would always claim that the stench of weed overpowered anything that was beautiful to see, that everything had closed so early so there wasn’t much to do in the first place, that Dam Square was way too crowded, that all the canals looked the same to me, that I couldn’t understand the hype about the food because all we could find was tourist places and a Burger King.
But I also have to admit that all of that was my fault: Amsterdam was just a last minute stop-over on the way back from the tulip gardens of Keukenhof. I had felt ashamed that I’d been living in the Netherlands for almost a year and still hadn’t visited its much hyped capital, and since Keukenhof was a short distance away, this was a situation to take advantage of.
I hadn’t done my research, as I usually like to do before going anywhere, I didn’t have a map, and we did get into the city just as things were closing for the day.
I remember wandering around the streets feeling completely disoriented, hungry, and disappointed. My mood only improved when we found an American bookstore by the Spui, which recharged me enough to complete a walk to the Rijksmusuem and back to the Central Station- a distance that I thought was too long and was glad to have gotten over and done with.
This impression lingered for so long that when we were planning for Amsterdam, I kept telling Ahmad not to get his hopes up, despite the fact that I actually read up before going. This allowed me to allocate time to see the many museums, to do a well-structured walking tour with Sandeman’s (my ultimate favorite), to look up a few eateries, and discover the city better- but I was still feeling uneasy. Amsterdam has a reputation that precedes it and it’s not at all what I enjoy. And yet, it deserved a second chance.
And this second chance was just perfect: from the moment we disembarked at the central station- an hour later than scheduled due to flight delays- to take a tram to the hotel, I felt that something had changed about the city and that I was going to like it a lot more than I thought.
For one, the weather was perfect: sunshine all day long with not a hint of rain in sight, with just the right breeze. You know that the Netherlands is bringing its A-Game when it doesn’t rain!
Also the stench of weed, while present, was gladly not as overpowering as I had remembered.
Dam Square and The National Monument were just as crowded this time around, but it didn’t matter much to me as we were staying in the quieter and more residential Museumplein area. This proved to be a great decision because we were within walking distance of the Rijksmusuem and Van Gogh, as well as the Vondelpark- a great setting for an early morning run.
Being far away from the touristy hubris also reminded me of the unique features of living in the Netherlands: having more bikes than cars parked in front of the houses, how the Dutch don’t believe in curtains, that the Netherlands is at its most stunning in the fall.
Having the iamsterdam card, which allowed us unlimited public transport and access to all the museums and attractions we wanted to see, was also a life-saver and allowed us to maximize our time in the city, while also leaving enough for another visit.
They even threw in a canal cruise, and while cheesy (literally, we snacked on cheese while on-deck), it did happen to be our second wedding anniversary. It was also a great way to see the city from a different perspective, even though I still cannot tell the canals apart! I don’t think the residents of Amsterdam can either.
In our three and half days there, I finally came to love Amsterdam for what it truly is: a historic and beautiful city that has given much to the world, and yet embraces everyone for who they are.
Only in Amsterdam would you find a church in the heart of the Red Light District, with a statue of a sex-worker next to the entrance, because all people are considered equal here, as our guide explained.
And while there isn’t a piece of history around every corner, like Berlin for example, if you take a closer look, you’ll find yourself captivated by what Amsterdam has on display. Which is why I had been wrong about it all along.