The first time I was in Amsterdam was back in the Spring of 2005. I hardly knew anything about the city before I arrived, and I remember being surprised by two things - 1) that it was so beautiful and 2) that it seemed really diverse. I still think these two things almost every day. This past Monday night, I rode my bike home from the Lloyd Hotel after a great evening of free music - European musicians performed with artists from all over Africa and Europe as part of the Virus Free Generation Tour. The (South African) host of the night spoke English to the room, the artists performed in English, Slovak, Zulu, Swahili, Sardinian, Italian, and probably a few other languages that I'm forgetting. I sat with a group of new friends - Dutch, Croatian, Austrian, etc - and as I looked around the room I realized that out of the 100 or so people, we could have probably come up with at least thirty languages, easily. Every Monday night, the Lloyd Hotel hosts these free events, completely open to the public. You're not even obligated to buy a drink, though there is a nice bar. This Monday there's even a Tango Orchestra performance!
So the diversity, the combination of people who end up in Amsterdam from all over the world - this really appeals to me. In some ways, it reminds me a bit of New York City, just in the way that everyone seems to be from somewhere else, but every so often I'll run into a born-and-raised Amsterdammer. This makes for good stories, but at the same time everyone has heard all the stories... so one more foreigner showing up here from somewhere else really isn't that big of a deal.
And then there's the beauty, and this is me still being in the honeymoon phase. I still simply just love riding my bike across the city late at night, when it's quiet. On Monday night, my roommate and I rode home together, side by side, and only occasionally saw a car on the road. We crossed canals and rode past the windmill and the beautiful homes along Koninginneweg, not too far from where I live. It was such a great night, and to end it with the ability to cycle so easily, riding next to a friend the whole way ... it's just very special. Spring is in full bloom, and everything is so green and alive. I know I sound like a big hippie here, but whatever.
I've been trying to make myself take care of some of the more practical matters, like getting a printer cartridge refilled, going to the post office, and picking up a few things for my apartment. On the advice of practically everyone I've met I finally went over to the Albert Cuyp market and was successful getting just about everything I wanted. This is where you want to go to get everything from new bedding to envelopes, bike locks, food, clothes, etc - and at very, very affordable prices. However, if you plan to buy a mattress topper, I would advise you to maybe put some thought into how you're going to transport it home if you go via bike. As I rode home I just had to hope that I wasn't going to need to use my brakes or bell, since my hands were completely full holding the mattress in front of my handlebars in a very specific way (I got home without incident, fortunately).
It's really exciting to be in this phase, where there's still so much to see and discover. However, in the next week my first priority will be to spend as much time as possible with my current roommate, before she takes off for Rome. After spending over 8 years in Amsterdam she's leaving for a more southern climate. It will be great to gain a friend in Rome, but I'll miss having her around. Because of her generosity, I had a place to stay when I arrived here... but I also gained so much more than a bedroom, I gained a friend that I'm sure I will have for the rest of my life. And I can't thank her enough (though I'm going to try!) for making me feel so welcome here.