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Amsterdam in Autumn MAG
It's like honey candy in a crinkly golden wrapper, or an old book bound in soft leather, spare change, even in the rain. That's Amsterdam, over there, across the ocean, with the old buildings leaning up against each other and the bell tower that Anne Frank wrote about. Who's to say if even Venice's canals are more quaint. Yes, there – that's Amsterdam.
It starts with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. My father's business trip to Europe happens to coincide with my fall break. We decide to go, even if only for a few days. “But where?” I am asked, and this is a hard question, for I have never gotten to choose. Picking from thousands of cities across a continent, being a Latin nerd, I choose Rome.
But as you've probably gathered, this piece is about Amsterdam, not Rome. So I fly to Amsterdam first to meet up with my dad, who has just finished the working portion of this trip. We plan to spend two days there before our flight to Rome.
There are many hours of silence – I fly alone – and so few hours of sleep. The time jumps five hours, and after landing I am exhausted. The only thing I can remember is drinking five cups of coffee and the tram ride to the hotel when, as I step off of the tram, within three seconds of my arrival, I am almost hit by a moped.
We are staying in the bicycle hotel. Old bicycles are attached to the front of the building, as if they are riding down a brick road with pothole windows. We go inside to get the key to our room, which happens to be on the fourth level. The first thing I notice is that there is no elevator.
We head to the staircase, pausing to reposition my bags. I look up and find that this is, without a doubt, the staircase of death. It is, first of all, a spiral staircase, and therefore somewhat dangerous. The steps allow about ten inches of foot room at the widest point. And, I might add, each step is about a foot and a half tall. I begin my climb, attempting to drag my luggage. I learn later that the real trick is trying not to fall going back down.
The next day we decide to go on a bike ride. After renting bikes from the hotel, we ride over to the Anne Frank House. The air is cold and I wear two sweaters, a scarf, and a hat just to keep the wind away.
The traffic in Amsterdam is awful. Almost everyone bikes, and as we pedal onto a main road, I become aware of how crowded the streets are. It takes all of my biking skills not to run into other cyclists and all of my senses not to be hit by a moped, car, or tram. You see, in Amsterdam, the roads have sidewalks on both side, and if you cross them you have to watch for bikes and mopeds in the biking lane, and if you survive that, you have to watch for cars and trams (silent, but deadly) on the main road. Crossing a road has never been so complicated.
After several near-accidents, we reach the Anne Frank House. As I walk through the rooms, the thought of how close in age she was to me makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I listen to the ringing of the bell tower across town, and I wish I could open the curtained windows to let a little light into this sad place. It feels impossible to breathe.
When we come out, it is raining lightly, but in a cozy way that complements the intricacy of the canal bridges and leaning buildings. We ride past a park with willow trees weeping rain, and a pond with gray geese gently stirring the water. To take a break from the rain, we go into a small restaurant and attempt to order as best we can off of the menu, trying to decipher what looks good with Dad's minimal German. It ends up being no help whatsoever, and we simply order the item with the longest name. Luckily it's good.
You know, it's strange, but it seems Americans just don't know how to cook at all. There is always too much salt or spice or flavor. Anything we think is good is simply overpowering in taste because that's the only way it will sell. Europeans know that too much flavor can ruin a dish. A food's flavor has to be subtle and create a very detailed and particular taste at the same time – like fine lace, as compared to thick velvet.
There's also something unique about time in Amsterdam. For example, after you are done with a meal, you might wait for the check for 30 minutes. Some people would be frustrated by this, but it actually gives you time to talk. We don't do much of that in the U.S. anymore. We're always bustling around, going somewhere, getting places faster. In Amsterdam though, you have time for thought, and time to make life your own kind of beautiful again. Maybe that's why the people here can put up with the insane traffic. Who knows?
On the second day, to conclude our trip, we take a bike ride out to the country. We see large mansions surrounded by stone walls. We peek over the walls to see beautiful gardens, even this late in fall, full of light pink roses and delicate cherry trees and tulips. There are stones and statues and arbors weighted with climbing plants. My lips and nose barely brush the top stone as I attempt to take in so much. I clamber down, thinking how stupid I must look, peering into rich people's gardens.
We also see windmills that lazily turn their massive wings like butterflies in slow motion. They stand on the countryside and remind me just how flat this place is, with miles upon miles of farmland stretching off into the great beyond – that place between grass and sky, shrouded in fog.