May 6, 2008

Exploring different neighborhoods in Amsterdam

I love feeling a strong sense of attachment to my neighborhood - I don't need to be best friends with my neighbors, but I certainly like saying hi and bye. I like knowing the folks who work in the shops and cafes closest to whatever apartment I'm in, I like knowing all the shortcuts, I like knowing who has the cheapest beer and who has the freshest bread. So I already feel deeply attached to my new neighborhood, became friends with some old guy named Ben who works on my street, and the guy at the tabak is starting to get to know who I am. I know I won't be able to stay at my apartment indefinitely, but I'm already starting to hope that wherever I end up next will be somewhere close by.

That being said, it was great exploring the Oost with my friend Brooke, who has been living there for over a year. We walked through the Dappermarkt and then crossed over to what I think is the Zeeburg to check out all the crazy architecture and bridges. We enjoyed a couple of beers at Studio K, which was just across the street from her house. The thing I loved about Brooke's neighborhood was the diversity and the realness of it. Amsterdam is a small city and I'm sure tourists find their way to a lot of places, but on that day I think I was the only one taking pictures and not knowing my way around. That's a good feeling - maybe I'll end up living in that area someday.

One thing that I love about Amsterdam - and I know this might sound strange given that sex & drugs is what this city is known for - is that it's pretty quiet and peaceful in many ways. There's not a lot of horn-honking or car alarms or police chases, especially in my neighborhood. But talk about quiet and peaceful ... yesterday I finally explored the north of Amsterdam, or Amsterdam Nord - and it was like I had transported myself to the countryside. After taking a five-minute ferry ride, my friend C. and I rode our bikes no more than 5 or 6 km before I felt like I was in the middle of nowhere. I saw cows, sheep, goats, windmills, and lots of open space. I rode my bike on lanes that were built in between two bodies of water, and I even rode in places where the water level was above the bike path - I'm finally starting to understand what this whole "below sea level" thing really means. The landscape of Amsterdam is so wonderfully foreign to me. I grew up around mountains, and I didn't see a working windmill until I was about 22 years old. C. and I spent about eight hours riding around and stopped here and there for a drink, a bite to eat, or to take pictures.

I felt very fortunate to have such a beautiful day to explore the north, and such great company. Even if I didn't have my roommate with me, it would have been a really easy trip to do by myself - and I did see a few tourists on rental bikes while I was out there. Even though city life suits me, I'm always looking for a way out. I hate that feeling of "trapped" that comes from spending too much time in the same city - or any city. I need to get away from buildings and concrete and people as much as possible. And Amsterdam makes this incredibly easy.

I took that above photo at a cafe where C. and I stopped for food. We ordered inside, then sat at the tables that were placed along the docks - literally eating on top of the water. I wouldn't want to go swimming in the water or anything, but just being around it - and hearing it all day long - feels incredible.

Even just getting to and from the north of Amsterdam was fun - we took a five-minute free ferry ride. I've been on ferries before, either on foot or with a car - but I've never seen one full of people on bicycles.

It's been so much fun to run all over Amsterdam this past week and learn my way around. I still have a long way to go before I'll really feel at home here, but fortunately we have another beautiful week ahead of us. This week I'm making it a goal to A) do some work and B) make some more friends. The friend part isn't so hard, but man, sitting down inside to actually work has been a bit of a challenge. One of these days I'll find that magic job where I get paid to learn my way around different places in the world and write about it, right?


A Touch of Dutch said...

Cool blog!
I'm also another American expat in the Netherlands. I've added your blog to my list of expat links! Hope you don't mind :)


Another American Expat said...

Thanks for the comment (and the link), Isabella!