Amsterdam. Photo by Claire Bredenoord
It’s the traveler’s dilemma: return to favorite places or explore someplace new? When a place enchants and charms —I can think of so many–Rome, London, North Carolina, western Canada, Ireland and more–it’s only natural to want to return.
Amsterdam is one such place for me. Its maze of beautiful canals and row houses make the city an entrancing and romantic place. When I first saw it (and our beautiful row house hotel) more than 20 years ago, I liked it so well I changed my flight so I could stay a day longer. And, a few years later, I made sure to add several days in Amsterdam to a trip to Germany. It’s different. Unique. There’s a certain freedom to be who you are–it’s in the air and you take it in with every breath. Of course, that freedom’s been both a curse and a blessing. Amsterdam’s got a high crime rate. Still, it’s a city that eschews constraints of any kind and I love that.
It’s not just the legal pot, at least not now that medical marijuana is so accessible in California. Or that prostitution is legal and controlled. I must confess to hanging out for an hour in the Red Light District, watching the girls in the windows and the comings and goings of “johns” and what had to be the Dutch version of “pimps.” Each interaction seemed to have a riveting and imaginative backstory, at least to me. Amsterdam makes no bones about its legal prostitution and I’ve always respected the practicality of that decision.
But of course, there’s plenty of real culture. Fan of Van Gogh? Check out the Van Gogh Museum. You can drop by Rembrandt’s house. Or steep yourself in the Old Masters at the Rijksmuseum. Plus, it’s a great place for edgy, modern art. There’s a Sex Museum, a cat museum (oh yes!) –in fact, more than 50 museums await visitors in this small capital of the Netherlands.
As a young girl, The Diary of Anne Frank was my first exposure to the unfairness of life and it had a huge impact on my world view. So, I couldn’t miss the Anne Frank Huis (House) at Prinsengracht 263. Be prepared: visitors are deep in thought, perhaps remembering their own family members and the Holocaust or the writings of a young girl on the cusp of her teen years. I’ll never forget the hushed, respectful silence both in the queue and when we got inside the house itself. A moving and emotional visit.
Bicycles are everywhere — it’s a great way to see the city. Picnics in the park are common, although we didn’t have a chance to do that.
Besides the delicious cheeses, Indonesian food’s a staple. I loved our night at a rijsttafel (rice table). At other restaurants, I skipped the traditional raw herring–not my thing.
First Lady (at the time) Hillary Clinton was in town on my second visit to the city. My then-husband and I were having some tasty cheeses for lunch at a tiny, canalside cafe, when we saw her boat floating toward us (followed by a boat of journalists). A few of us stepped out to the railing to see the touring party.
The world is large and there are so many places left to see. I’m not sure I’ll get to Amsterdam again. Still, it’s a special place and if you get a chance to visit, you won’t regret it. I can’t promise you’ll see Hillary Clinton, but I can promise that you’ll see things you won’t see anywhere else in the world.