Thoughts of smoke billowing out of partially opened doors down streets lined with girls (and sometimes women...) bathing under the glare of red lights all the while electro-pop music blares from grand dance clubs somewhere in the distance.
It all sounds like some kind of twisted sinner's paradise- a place of temptation but a place where young people can "let it all go." At least that's what we're supposed to think of Amsterdam, right?
Well that, and maybe some canals and those fries with mayonnaise you always see pictures on Instagram of. Food in the air, anyone? And in general, I think you would be almost correct, and could definitely spend a weekend in this Amsterdam. Unless you're one of the "Fault in Our Stars" pilgrimage travelers only there to take a picture on the bench. That's cool, but there's a lot more to this city.
I can't help but be a little mesmerized by Amsterdam's dual nature. It's a place of wild contradictions and I knew it the moment the plane landed. As my small group of friends walked off our Malaga based flight, and first glanced Amsterdam- the airport that it, I found myself thinking what is this place? Where disgruntled groups of teenagers with dreadlocks sleep on cold airport floors, while fully grown humans rush past clad in business head to tow.
But these contradictions are what make Amsterdam the enticing, exciting and yet undeniably livable city it seems to be. Seemingly illicit activities occur around relatively normal people, places, and things and there's a kind of harmony in it. And what happens when this city- with its lack of illegality and excess of activity exists? An environment of open-mindedness is created, but also of acceptance and indifference. Each person you see or meet will likely be drastically different, but I've found every Dutch person to be overwhelmingly kind and helpful. And I'm sure once this city turns into home rather than a weekend destination, these contradictions transform into normal occurrences, but as a traveler, my eyes were in a constant state of glittering fascination.
As I walked down the 9 Straatjes, tiny streets of boutique shops, and watched it turn into the Red Light District so casually, without the kind of warning I was expecting, it struck me. Of course, how absolutely insane this city actually was, but more than that, how it only seemed that way to me because it's not where my roots are. And this is an important conclusion to reach as a young traveler. Because when everybody is telling you not to be a tourist (I've even written about this quite a lot..), and to experience a city for what it really is, it seems like this daunting and impossible task. In some ways, it is. Traveling to a country for a weekend basically solidifies your tourist status, but this is not a bad thing. Why?
Because Amsterdam is the best city to be a tourist in. And because for every iconic and known sight, there are local spots scattered around them: Dutch snack bars, Febo to be exact, where you can put some change into the wall and get classic horrible for you, but delicious food, unusual places to stay- if you're looking for a unique experience, definitely stay at a campsite outside of the city sans heater in the snow. It was one of the times that definitely tested my patience, but nobody remembers the stories of times you stayed in "that one really nice hotel." And then there are metros, which I think were made first for meeting interesting people and second as a mode of transportation, but maybe my experiences have been lucky.
Traveling is more than being a tourist, but it is, at the same time, different than being a local. You're in a curious in-between state where everything is foreign, and it makes you crazy, but at the same time you can't help but be enamored by it all. There's truly nothing in the world more exciting. And people have various reasons for their own wanderlust, but mine is quite simple.
Because of that light you get in your eyes when a plane touches down in a new place, and the jump you feel in your skin and down your spine as you walk down unfamiliar streets. I would book a flight in a minute if not for anything else than to feel that sense of smallness in the world while looking at Van Gogh's paintings, or swinging above the entire city of Amsterdam on top of a building.