Amsterdam: The True City of Love

Move aside Paris, it’s sad but true that your enchanting yet tourist filled streets just don’t do it for lovers anymore. Amsterdam has been a world city both for its history and business for years but few realize just how picturesque the area actually is. With its tilting, brightly colored houses lined up along the street, the black wired entry ways framing wooden doors, and the flower boxes in every window, it seems almost like a painting. The canals wind its way through the streets, by the houses, and under bridges. It’s clean and organized, and you can expect to go over a bridge every block or so. But instead of being a nuisance, this makes every street feel like a piece of artwork. Bridges vary from painted green metal to brass spires to carved cement. Some have locks bolted onto their spires, a tradition taken from the lovers bridge in France. To experience the bridges and the city as it’s meant to be experienced, rent a bike and tour the city on your own. It’s crucial to have a bike that fits, or else you’ll be struggling with it the entire day. It’s also recommended that you use bikes not as a way to get around to the attractions in the city, but rather as an attraction itself. For first time riders, this takes away a lot of the stress and allows visitors to focus on the beauty of the pathways and architecture. Riding through the busy sectors can be slightly terrifying, as it seems that everyone else knows what they’re doing and won’t tell you, but the back streets can be peaceful and exciting. It’s thrilling to go bumping down a cobblestone way or to stare as you whiz by at shops selling eclectic memorabilia. The facades of buildings blend together with the canal to create a splattering of color and this is especially true when the sun sets. Depending on how the light hits, the waters can look like a clear blue-gray or a kaleidoscope of reflecting fragments. Casual people ride around, but also pedaling down the street are men in strict business suits and women in chic dresses on their way to work. It’s almost too hard to take everything in as one floats by on their bike, but that’s how Amsterdam should be seen. With a fast-paced heart beat and am excited mind. It is helpful for bikers that there are very few cars in the city. There are piles of bikes locked to every street corner, parking place, and bridge, but to see a car tumbling down streets that are past the city center is rare. This gives a quiet ambiance to the city, and makes everything seem much more natural. Without a car in sight, one can just people-watch. It also rids the area of “dirty” noises, such as horn honks and rumbling engines, and “‘dirty” items, such as cigarette butts thrown from windows or fumes from the mechanics. This was wonderful when I visited because it allowed me to discard that part of my everyday life and gave me the opportunity to view the eclectic culture without that distraction. People are always surprised when I go on about this and what a difference it made, but there would have been such a shadow over my entire experience if the streets had been filled with noisy cars rather than quiet chatter. There’s also something more serene and candor in most people walking or pedaling on bikes to get where they need to go. Whether getting there by bike, walking, tramming, or using one of the few streets with heavy car travel, there are several museums to see in the city. One being the Rijksmuseum, which houses several Rembrandts, Van Goghs, and the famous Milkmaid painting. The art is the main center piece of every room but the ceilings and entry rooms are seemingly pieces of artwork themselves, with hanging square lamps and gold-gilded walls. If you avoid the few days when tourists flood in, it’s easy to get around to see most everything contained in the building, ducking into the small crowds surrounding the most famous pieces. It was surprising to me some of the facts you can read about Rembrandt’s Night Watchman, how small Van Gogh’s portrait is, and how realistic the Milkmaid's bread. Other than museums, there’s the famous Anne Frank House. Though it can certainly put a damper on any happy day, it’s easy to feel inspired as you leave. It’s advised that you get tickets in advance and show up a few minutes earlier than your ticketed time; the non-ticketed line often stretches around the next building and down multiple blocks. That might mean logging on to the website a few months in advance, but it’s well worth it to save a few hours. If you do find yourself caught in the line, don’t despair, there’s usually one or more entertainers who will sing or do tricks for you in hopes of donations. The House begins with half of the audio tour detailing the history of the secret annex and how it was set up by Otto Frank and his associates. It also gives a history of Hitler’s rise to power and how that timeline affected the Jews in Amsterdam. After this, the audio tour cuts off so that you can walk through the actual place where the Franks lived for two years in hiding. Because there’s relatively no videos of the family at all and no images of the girls or family after they went into hiding, it’s hard to imagine what it would have been like for the actual inhabitants during their time there. What’s not hard is to imagine the feelings that anyone would be having to be trapped there for that time. What really hit me was that my little sister was Anne’s age at the time of hiding, and this brought out so many emotions. That was when I began to tear up, because I felt that I could relate to the family who had lived there so long ago. And that was terrifyingly sad. After walking through the secret annex, the audio tour picks up again and goes through the fates of all involved and the publishing of Anne’s diary. It’s a beautiful thing to know that even though she was robbed of so many dreams, Anne did get to fulfill her hope of being a well read author. Then there’s a small room that gives inspiring quotes of the aftermath and visitors experiences, which is so uplifting after the sombering tour. Visiting the museum gives one a much broader view of the experiences surrounding Anne’s life and the other people with her. Everyone knows Anne Frank’s name, but only visitors to the secret annex know just how real everyone else was as well. Specifically for couples but still a sight for everyone else is the Fault in Our Stars bench. The modern love story was first published in 2012 by John Green and quickly became a famous love story due to the teen's tragic illnesses and Augustus’s romantic gestures. Lined up with several benches looking out into just another canal, one can pick the specific one out after just a moment. People have signed it, written quotes on it, and put locks on its metal bars. It’s unknown enough that there’s almost never a line to see it or take pictures on it, but many people visit it each day. What makes it so special isn’t even necessarily the movie or book that speaks of it, or how it has been plastered on posters, but how much love visitors have put into it. A simple bench has become an actual location simply by people believing in it and pouring their hearts onto it. That makes it worth a visit even for a few minutes. And if you have your significant other with you, you can even recreate the movie poster. Or you could try just grabbing someone of your prefered gender off the street and paying them to take it with you. Either works. The perfect seal to any visit to Amsterdam is to take a canal ride just as the sun is setting. It’s bright enough to see everything the tour guide points out, but dim enough so the light fractures colorfully over the water and gives the buildings a new facade. After seeing it all at standing level, seeing everything from below is almost like getting a look into a secret that the city has kept. There are dozens, possibly hundreds, of different boat rides to choose from, some that are tours and some that are dinners, some that are large cruising boats and some that are private gondolas, some that are tailored to families and some that are tailored to couples. Getting to glide down the canals as the world shuts down is magical and all the little lights along the houses make it almost look like a fairy village. At various ends of the city, the small waterways open up to large piers and then the ocean, which can make you feel so small yet in place. If you’re lucky to catch it at the right time, it can even seem like everything has been done up just perfectly, just for you. Amsterdam has so much to offer, and even after one has exhausted all the attractions, museums, and historical spots, one could spend hours just observing and riding down the quaint streets. People that have never sketched before are drawn to put a pencil to paper just to try and capture it. Tourists that have never photographed before suddenly try to catch just the right angle and lighting to make it look like a professional shot. Those that have never biked before daringly try to make it through the busiest streets just to catch the excitement. Amsterdam is a city of antiquities dolled up to be modern and a city of new views. It’s a city romanticized over time as an enchanting breath of fresh air. It’s fine to see on your own, wonderful to tour with friends, but best of all to visit... with a love.

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