You fall in love with some places instantaneously. For some, it’s New York City. Others, Rome. For me, it was Amsterdam. All it took was a single stroll.
Falling in love is something one does without conscious thought, and, more often than not, without any expectations. For a city that was never on my bucket list, Amsterdam surprised me. It was a place I’d mentally pigeonholed as a city people went to for sex and weed. But like so many other sister cities with a rich and varied history and culture, Amsterdam transcended that narrow-minded view. I loved it from the moment I found myself lugging my suitcase down a warren of narrow alleys that were at once claustrophobic and thrillingly mysterious, feeling a little lost, wondering what was around the next corner, and finding rows of red-lit windows in the early hours of the morning. Without consciously meaning to, I had found myself in the middle of Amsterdam’s infamous red light district, struck by the realization that business never stops. I loved it. I loved the matter-of-factness of it all. There were cheese shops and crepe shops, sex shops and weed shops all within minutes of each other; flower shops, antique shops and a restaurant with an old carousel in the middle. It was weird, welcoming, unapologetic and wonderful. I loved what Amsterdam was trying to say: that humans love sex just as much as they love cheese, so why treat one with any more shame than the other?
Amsterdam is a city that marches to the beat of its own drum and allows everyone else to march to the beat of theirs. If there’s anything I can appreciate, it’s that. It’s an old city, built on commerce and art and I loved everything about it. I loved that it had charm. I loved that it had big fat french fries with mayonnaise and rich, buttery slices of apple pie that sat like a stone in your belly. That it had sweet little poffertjes dusted with icing sugar, and flavourful black licorice. Best of all, that they had FEBO, an automatic “restaurant” with all sorts of strange sounding krokets, and you never go wrong with whatever you pick even if you have no idea what it is, because everything in FEBO is just so damn tasty.
I loved that Amsterdam had cobblestone streets and little street-sweeping machines that came out at night to clean them. I loved that it was designed with not just longevity, but beauty in mind, its core shot through with bridges and canals that surprisingly do not smell like sewage. I loved its public transit, which was easy to understand despite being in a different language, that people bicycled everywhere, that it was equal parts familiar and not, that its residents don’t really use curtains, and peering into a residential alley is like being like a little human in the middle of giant dollhouses. Everything is open, if you don’t avert your eyes. I loved that windmills were just half an hour outside of the city.
I miss Amsterdam. I miss it whenever I’m out in the middle of a chilly night, walking through the streets of Toronto, breathing in the cool night air the way I was the other night. Something about that combination, a midnight stroll and a lingering chill takes me back to a night when A and I, ravenous and excited, once traversed the streets of an electric city, holding hands and looking for a FEBO.