An American in Amsterdam

Amsterdam felt like a favourite sweater, one that embraces and warms at the same time. Never have I fallen in love with a place so quickly and so completely. I don’t believe in the metaphysical and genetic memory is not something I have ever considered. I have managed to trace both sides of my family to the Netherlands, a connection five hundred years old. Could it be that deep in my genetic code there is stored some predisposition to Dutch architecture? To canals and charming bridges? To the Dutch language? To windmills and wooden shoes? Very likely not. More likely it was a mental connection. Some sort of unconscious recognition of my ancient ancestry. It really doesn’t matter what caused my instant affinity with Amsterdam, I just know it ran through me like one of the city’s many canals.
Canals are the truly the heart of Amsterdam.
They are beautiful and each is unique.
I stepped out of the station and bought a three-day tram ticket. (Traveller’s Note: If you are in Amsterdam I highly recommend using the tram system, it’s easy to figure out and will get you everywhere you want to go.) I took the 5 to Keizersgracht and walked to my room. I had used AirBNB for the first time on my own and was slightly nervous about the arrangements. I walked down the canal, taking in the gorgeous, narrow buildings on either side. Looking at the numbers, I soon realised that I was on the wrong side of the canal. Amsterdam isn’t like other cities where you can just cross the street. I walked back to the bridge and crossed.
The room was perfect. It was the best accommodation I had on my entire trip. It was a basement room, but right on the canal with a large, warm bed and spacious bathroom complete with a tub. I had spent the past ten months using my space pod shower room and seeing that tub…well I almost thought of spending the entire time I was in Amsterdam taking a hot bubble bath.

This was a great find on the way to my room.
It’s where John Adams lived when he was in Amsterdam.
This is where I stayed while I was in the city.

That evening, I ventured out on the tram in search of dinner. I wandered past numerous cafes looking for something special, something unique. I had been spoiled while in Hamburg having dinner on the water. I settled for a table on one of the bridges looking down the Singel towards the dome of the Koepelkerk Conference Centre. I sipped on my glass of Sauvignon Blanc while taking in the atmosphere of the city. I had scheduled my time in Amsterdam rather carefully. I had wanted to come to the city for what seemed like ages. I was determined to fit in what I could.

The next morning I had breakfast at Bakers & Roasters, a little café not too far from Museumplein. I had read about it in an article and decided to take a chance. When I arrived, the staff was busy working through a power outage. My waitress very kindly offered me pancakes and fruit which suited me perfectly.
I like blending into the stories of other people. As I sat with my cup of tea and plate of pancakes, an Englishman came in with a little dog on a leash. He was obviously a regular as the staff greeted him warmly and offered the dog a bowl of water. This was his morning routine, breakfast at Bakers & Roasters, perhaps a walk along the canal later, and then…my thoughts trailed off as my fruit bowl arrived.
After breakfast I walked down to the Rijksmuseum. A bicycle path cuts right through the entrance and leads out to Museumplein, a marvellous stretch of green park lined with museums as the name would suggest. It’s a rather iconic place with the I Amsterdam sign a must-photograph spot. I purchased a timed ticket for the Van Gogh Museum at the museum shop (I do recommend purchasing tickets prior to arriving at the museum as there was quite a queue.)

Best slogan ever. I really amsterdam.

I spent two hours with Vincent looking at every single painting watching his stylistic transformation from Dutch painter of peasants to master of colour and texture. Many of his earlier paintings had a certain amount of anxiety inherent in them. One in particular gripped me, Avenue of Poplars in Autumn. I stared at it uncomfortably, feeling a silent horror for some reason. As I look at images of the painting now, I don’t get that anxiety, but in person, it felt strange. I ripped myself away and when I found his later works, vibrant, and bold, I found myself smiling and feeling more at ease. Seeing his work in person was so important to me. Seeing his joy and jest in his paintings but knowing that it was subsumed beneath those terrible layers of loneliness, depression, and anxiety.
When you leave a truly remarkable museum experience, you need some time to return to so-called real life. I had intended to go to Vondelpark but decided to stop along Prinsengracht for lunch. I looked down the canal towards Westerkerk and decided I needed to climb the tower to complete my collection of bird’s eye views.
I got to the church and purchased a tour of the tower before they closed the sanctuary. The organ was absolutely beautiful and I found the plaque indicating Rembrandt’s internment. I sat for a while, just taking in the simple, Dutch surroundings. It was time for my tour. Only six people can be taken up at a time and I found myself on a tour with a German family of five. The climb was one of the steepest, most difficult of the climbs I have made. The passage is terribly narrow and you feel very claustrophobic. I did appreciate the tour though. Westerkerk is right next to the Anne Frank House and she wrote about the bells of the church reminding her of the world outside of the annexe. Standing at the top of the climb, Amsterdam stretched before me and once more I fell in love with the city. I still do not know why Amsterdam had worked its way so deeply into my heart, but standing there, I couldn’t help but smile. My guide came up to me.”
“So what do you think?” she asked.
“It’s quite amazing,” I replied.
I spoke to her for a bit about how she came to be in Amsterdam, she had come from a small town in Holland and had been in the city for two years. She told me I was standing in her favourite spot in the city and I could understand why.

This little statue of Anne Frank is right next to Westerkerk.

The amazing view over Amsterdam.
The Anne Frank House is in the foreground.

Looking toward Westerkerk and the Anne Frank House.

Westerkerk tower.

We climbed back down and I exchanged a few words in German with my tour companions before heading back out into the city.
The queue for the Anne Frank House reached through the small courtyard through to Keizersgracht. I contemplated joining it, but decided instead that I would try tomorrow morning. I took a long walk back to my room, passing over bridges and through the busy, sunny streets.
The next morning, I woke early and took the tram to Jordaan. I was going to get to the Anne Frank House early and beat the–
The queue wasn’t as long as it had been the day before, but it was still not short. I had arrived forty minutes before opening and the wait took nearly two hours. I cannot express how much the experience affected me. I wasn’t prepared for the mix of emotions. I didn’t think I would be as moved as I was. I have gotten used to places failing to meet my expectations and perhaps I was afraid of the same thing happening here. When going through the warehouse and offices, you can imagine yourself back in the Amsterdam of the 1940s. Anne’s words are used in almost all of the labels and the videos in several of the rooms feature the helpers and Mr. Frank speaking about their experiences. Then you step through the actual bookcase and into the secret annexe. You feel what life would have been like for the eight people in hiding and you begin to truly understand how insane the world had become for the persecuted. I began to imagine not being allowed to see the beautiful streets of Amsterdam, only to live by hearing the world outside the windows.
I spent some time at the café looking out over Prinsengrapht as the modern world passed by. I needed that decompression time before I rejoined the world.
I took the tram across the city and went to the Hortus Botanicus. I was glad I had planned to go to the gardens after the Anne Frank House. The city floated passed the large windows and I began to dread leaving the city the next day. This place felt like home.

One of Amsterdam’s trams.

I spent three hours at the gardens, walking through every inch of greenery. I meandered over bridges and through each greenhouse. I played with the butterflies in the butterfly house and was so delighted when several landed on me. The gardens aren’t particularly extensive, but they are certainly worth a wander.

I loved these guys and spent about five minutes watching them.

I ate at Restaurant Greetje that evening, a rather posh place to dine but with authentic Dutch fare. It was my last full day of what had turned out to be the best holiday I had ever taken. I retraced my steps from Copenhagen to Hamburg to Amsterdam. I had ridden on trains, metros, ferries, trams, and had walked miles and miles. I had dined at Nyhavn, seen the Little Mermaid, sung on the streets of Copenhagen, climbed to the top of Michaeliskirche, dined across from the Rathaus in Hamburg, and found a city that felt like home in Amsterdam. I had met amazing people and seen some fantastic things and I had found a place that had embraced me.

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