Amsterdam, New York, is a city not far from Albany where I live. Originally settled by the Dutch, the Albany area has many cities and towns named after those that exist in the Netherlands. Growing up, the Amsterdam I knew was nothing much to talk about. But this summer I had the pleasure of visiting the true Amsterdam.
Amsterdam (the one in the Netherlands that is) was full of magic. Taking a walk down the streets of the city you find them separated by canals, with locals and tourists alike spending the day floating along in the sunshine. The surrounding buildings, built many years ago have started to shift and tilt as the man made ground above the water starts to shift and change as well. The roads are filled with bicycles as women pedal to work in dresses and high heels and kids ride in a wagon attached to the front. Cafes set up tables well into the sidewalk as their customers bask in the beautiful summer days.
In Dam Square and Centraal Station the streets are buzzing with tourists, taking pictures with the IAMSTERDAM sign, visiting the many art museums, or sipping on Heineken at the brewery. But not far from these destinations there’s a different tone. The GVB, Amsterdam’s public transportation, covers much of the city, and with biking being such a popular form of travel, there are few cars clogging up the roads. It’s easy to forget how loud cars are when you’re so used to them everywhere. Amsterdam is quite serene. Friends gather in the local park with a picnic basket of wine and cheese, a couple enjoys an ice cream cone sitting along the edge of the water, and it’s quiet.
The city has a reputation. Known for the “Coffee Shops” and the Red Light District, many regard this Dutch destination as one for those looking to smoke weed and find prostitutes. This Amsterdam is quite the contrast from the one I found. This Amsterdam, the one with the parties, and smoking, and prostitution is real. But it does not define the entire city. There is so much history, art, culture, and happiness in Amsterdam and it’s a shame for that to be overlooked.
You can learn a lot about a city, and the people in it, just by watching. Watch how they interact with each other. Watch how a customer treats a bartender, see how they behave getting on and off public transportation, or how they look at you when you ask them a question and you will see what I mean. Amsterdam is a happy, kind place, and I can say there isn’t another city quite like it.