After a few days in Amsterdam I’m beginning to realize that like Venice in Italy, this is a city that requires a little time to get used to it and discover its hidden treasures. It is a place of stunning beauty, but also one that doesn’t divulge its true nature easily or perhaps willingly. As a visitor, it would be too easy to walk through the narrow streets in the Museum District or the Jordaan without ever talking to any local or getting to know what gives a particular neighborhood its character. The locals, while quite friendly, do seem to expect you to make that first friendship move, but once you take that first step you invariably find how friendly and nonjudgmental everyone seems to be.
Hang around the city’s many neighborhoods and you will be amply rewarded. From the ethnic diversity of the Pijp in the southern part of the city to the more genteel dwellings around Leidseplein to the west, Amsterdam is a city that begs to be discovered (and even in winter when constant rain and high winds remind you how far north you really are). Behind the imposing City Hall and the curved Amsterdam Music Theater you will find some of the most interesting shopping experiences in town, which are perhaps better characterized by the seemingly popular Cafe Reefer (the name very aptly describes it). But the city Flea Market and Rembrandt House are also in the area, thus providing a good balance to the neighborhood. Continue further west and you will soon be crossing the gorgeous Old Town section and the über-busy Kalverstraat, where you will also find the tiny Vlaams Friteshuis Vleminckx french fry legend. They have been making fries at this place since 1957 and topping them with as many as 25 different sauces. But be prepared to stand in line for a while and to eat out of a paper cone down the street, as the place serves its potato delicacies out of a window.
And then, there is the Jordaan. Just about every travel publication exhorts you to visit this neighborhood, and I can now see why. This is indeed Old Europe at its best. Small stores selling eclectic wares, tiny cafes filled with trendy-looking folks, and narrow, colorful streets almost begging you to turn here, or there, or anywhere. It is also one of the places where you are most likely to be run over by a bicyclist, as the narrow sidewalks filled with flower pots and bicycles often force you to step onto the cobblestoned streets where all the fast-moving Dutch cyclists aggressively zoom by while ringing warning bells. But none of that danger really matters, as you will most likely be languishing at a cafe or small restaurant oblivious to the passage of time. And if Amsterdam has any poets, I think you will most likely encounter them at a cafe in the Jordaan. Yes, right there next to you, where time and life’s burdens don’t seem to matter much.