Amsterdam, real quick.
Amsterdam was properly hung over when I met it. I caught it at a bad hour, perhaps on a worse weekend, though I imagine it regularly falls into this state every morning after a late Saturday evening. Wheels touched down just before 6 am, and after unloading, exchanging for some Euros, and buying a train ticket to Centraal Station, I was in downtown Amsterdam before 7am. Having not slept at all – it was night for only an hour or so on the flight, something my mind never can wrap its head around – I was hoping for a coffee shop. I was out of luck. Everything was closed. Clearly, I was there just a couple hours after the bars had closed (judging by the shattered bottles on the street and stale beer smell throughout), and a couple more before the city actually awoke again. A very odd time.
So, I just walked about the city, without a map or directions – rather unplanned on my own part, but really what else can you accomplish in a few hours before anything opens up? From what I wandered through – quite a bit once I traced my path on a map later – Amsterdam is a beautiful city. Dozens of quiet canals lined with boats, many more footbridges crossing them every so often, hundreds of excellent looking bikes I wish I owned, frequent parks and courtyards, and some very interesting people, a skewed sample of the few that were out.
At one point, I sat in one of those parks, and was immediately joined by a young fellow my own age – seems its not only a Ghanaian thing to approach a foreigner uninvited? Regardless, being myself, I asked him where he was from, wondering if he lived in Amsterdam, though he didn’t look like it. He replied he was from Germany, only visiting for a n electronic music festival of sorts that happened the night before, and asked me in exchange. Unabashed of my roots, I replied I was from the States, to which he only laughed and said, “I know, but from where?” Clearly, I have some work to do in blending in.
Somewhere along the way, we began a conversation about US involvement in Syria over the last two years – not prompted on my own part. Why these conversations follow me wherever I go, I just don’t know.. I garnered that he grew up in Saudi Arabia, but was Syrian and spent most of his young life there. It became rather argumentative at a point, so I let it drop. I asked where in Germany he lived – outside of Frankfurt, he said, adding “that’s where the US has a lot of military.” If all he has seen of the US is our military, and he’s essentially grieving for his country, I can understand the perspective..
On my walk back to Centraal Station, Amsterdam came a little more alive. I found an open coffee shop and grabbed an espresso and pastry, then explored an open market that was starting to unpack. I bought a simple metal crafted ring and a small book with old black and white photos of Amsterdam. It took me some time to find a good book among the hundreds a couple of jolly, elderly, bearded men were selling. They helped me pick it out and chuckled at my inability to decide between that or a peculiar Dutch copy of the Kite Runner, just for kicks.
I don’t have much European experience – only four days in Paris and six more on France’s Atlantic Coast – but Amsterdam felt very classically old, simple, and full of character. It was small, and I imagine very lively at any other time of day. I hadn’t ever given much thought to the city, but certainly something to see again.