After a few days, I had developed an appreciation for the city’s seemingly disparate identities and my expectations were heightened. I thoroughly dislike traveling with high expectations, so, in order to combat them, I decided to ditch the plans and just wander the city for a full day. We began the morning with pannenkoeken at Pancake Bakery (mine had apples and nuts) even though the Dutch normally eat them for dinner (or throughout the day, basically anytime but breakfast). In fact, much of the unplanned day was spent eating in a city that isn’t really known for its food – poffertjes, cheese from the market, and stroopwafels.
J and I spent the afternoon exploring neighborhoods along the canals (especially the Jordaan area) and their modern art galleries. We ducked in and out of cafés and local shops, some antique, some home décor, and some clothing. We also passed about a dozen shops with bins and tables of sketches and watercolor paintings of the city for passerby to rifle through outside their windows that seemed to be geared toward tourists. Most of the shops we entered were relatively empty in the outer neighborhoods whereas those nearer the center of the city (and the main tourist hubs) were busy and, in general, higher-priced for similar goods.
We finished the day with a walk through Vondel Park. It was a sprawling green space with numerous ponds and water outlets (as expected) as well as an abundance of bridges and gazebos. Lone joggers and mothers pushing strollers were common along the main path and the trees (encircled by moats left from the rain) shivered overhead or wept into the ponds. Street art in the form of uplifting phrases covered the lower walls, the areas between the gates, and the undersides of the bridges over walkways. It was intriguing to read many of them as they were so different from the usual bits of graffiti or statements of ownership and street tags (not that these were entirely missing). Instead, they said things such as “You’re beautiful,” or “My wish for you is…” with a long list of wishes added by other people. Those phrases summed up exactly how I felt about Amsterdam – it was peaceful, caring, and progressive.
-M. Ray Hall