I’m trying to figure out why it’s taken me such a long time to get to Amsterdam. There’s no clear answer – instead I’m left scratching my head.
I’d been on a holiday to Europe in my youth and have now lived within this continent for over a year. Yet Amsterdam never made an appearance in my travel plans. This wasn’t due to lack of desire, rather one of convenience. I knew when I finally visited the Netherlands, I wanted to feel fresh. I didn’t want it to be just another country I’d find myself passing through at the end of a trip, simply to tick it off an intangible list.
Amsterdam is one of those cities that everyone I know has been to, yet no one seems to rave about. Those who have been there like it well enough, but they don’t get excited about it the way people do about cities such as Barcelona or Edinburgh. Luckily, I have a friend from back home who had moved here of all places in January of 2015. He’s a creative sort and I was intrigued as to why he had chosen this city, over somewhere like Berlin, to settle down.
He told me he had fallen head over heels for Amsterdam, the first time he had visited many years ago. During my four days there, I began to understand why.
Having a blog is great for many reasons, but it comes part and parcel with a bit of stress. When I travel now, I constantly have a question in the back of my mind – “where am I going to find the next story?” Often enough, I wouldn’t want to be searching for something to write about, as I don’t want the pressure. I just want to be.
The universe must have read my thoughts and because it is a dick, decided to subsequently mess with me. It seems I’ll never learn the lesson about travelling when tired – either don’t do it, or take it slowly. Stop, reflect and don’t make rash decisions. Finding myself without 3G and as it would seem, a clue, I jumped onto the first train that said “Centraal” at Schiphol station. It took a good twenty minutes for me to realise that the train was heading in the wrong direction and I was in fact, en route to The Hague. (I’m not the only one who has been caught up by the Netherland’s public transport, such as catching the tram in the wrong direction in Amsterdam).
It wasn’t the only misadventure of the weekend. Pedaling at one point what seemed like a million miles behind my friend The Filmmaker, I tried to navigate around a van that was parked in the bike lane. Unfortunately, I didn’t realise that I was being overtaken by a city-dweller at the time, who ended up cutting me off. This drove me straight onto the tram tracks, a big no-no as I was soon to find out. My bike skidded and I fell head over heels, landing painfully on my legs. Luckily there wasn’t too much damage – the only casualties were my dignity and right knee.
On my last day there, I was feeling pressured to do something. Up until this point, I had simply cycled around the city, drunk a lot of mint tea, watched a heck load of ‘Modern Family’ and socialised. I felt I needed to do more to “experience Amsterdam”. But it was raining intermittently, I had returned my bike and was feeling quite unmotivated.
I wandered out to the Van Gogh Museum, with some sort of halfhearted objective of checking it out. Rounding the corner, I took one look at the massive line and thought – “nope”, walking back to The Filmmaker’s place to have a nap instead.
A couple of hours later and feeling somewhat refreshed, I headed out to Centraal Station, with the intention of taking a boat tour down the Amstel. It was raining quite heavily by this point, but Amsterdam is one of those cities that is beautiful in wet weather. Considering what a big part water plays in the layout of the city, this makes perfect sense.
My original plan had been: Do boat tour through canals. Walk back to The Filmmaker’s place through the city. Take photos along the way. My DSLR is not waterproof, but I refused to let the weather deter the other two thirds of my original plan. I started walking up the Danmark, taking in the sights, sounds and smells of this city.
“BOOM!” A flash of light, followed by a deafening explosion. Bomb! – my mind immediately jumped to the worse conclusion, as did everyone else’s, judging by the screams around me. False alarm – it was a great clap of thunder. Just another instance of Mother Nature reminding us mere mortals of who actually runs the show on planet Earth.
I walked the half hour back to my friend’s house, getting mostly drenched in the process. It was a good stroll, leaving me finally feeling like I had seen some part of this city.
It’s a hard truth to learn as a writer, but you don’t always need to be on the lookout for a story. Equally, you shouldn’t feel you have to tick items off some imaginary list in order to claim that you’ve “seen” a place. You don’t truly experience a city through the museums, art galleries or historical monuments. You can however, cobble together some vague idea from the smells emanating from the restaurants you pass on the street. In knowing what the place looks like, in both brilliant sunshine and after a downpour of rain. From the paths you cross of the people who call this place home – pushing past them on the pavement, or if you’re incredibly nosey like me, from peering into their homes as you walk past, trying to piece together some sort of mental picture of how they live their lives. And realising, it’s really not that different from how you live yours.
More often than not, the story finds you, without you even trying. The scar that I am sure to end up with on my knee will serve as a testament to that fact.
And if all else fails, as the old adage points out – a picture tells a story in itself. When words become redundant, that’s all you really need.