Amsterdam is a city with a secret. I knew it the second I stepped out of the train station and into the streets. There was a feeling in the air and a certain look on the faces of the passing cyclists. I was instantly intrigued. I knew these people weren’t all vacationing like myself. These folks were locals and they looked happy. Within moments of my arrival I realized I wasn’t in Amsterdam simply to explore a new land. I was there to learn the secret of Amsterdam.
The Amsterdam Way of Life
Amsterdam has a lot of history. You’re reminded of it by the statues decorating the streets and through its many museums. However, Amsterdam doesn’t get lost in its history, it continually grows from it. The city has a certain vibe that makes you think that this little piece of the world knows something the rest of us don’t.
The first thing I noticed about Amsterdam, and possibly the most profound lesson I learned during my European adventure is that many Americans, myself included, live to work while the Europeans are working to live. I saw it immediately by the lack of rush at rush hour and the look of ease and contentment on the locals faces as they moved about their city.
I’m not suggesting that Europeans face less worries than Americans, they just carry it better. They don’t lose sight of the fact that the goal should always be living.
Living requires progression. You keep moving forward in every moment. Everything in Amsterdam is constantly moving: the water in the canals, the bikers and trolleys, even the famous IAMstredam sign moves about the city.
That’s the beauty of Amsterdam, it’s ease of progression. The city isn’t rushing toward the future, it seems more concerned with being the best version of itself at the moment. That mentality rubs off onto the residents.
Luckily, this feeling also rubs off on its visitors. Every moment in Amsterdam felt like a moment of life well spent. I wasn’t worried about the pressures waiting for me back home. I felt zero stress over not having phone service. In fact, it felt great to be removed from technology. Sometimes you just need to unplug.
We navigated the city with a paper map. I don’t remember the last time I used a paper map to get around. Will the next generation even know how to use a paper map? It wasn’t easy learning the many straat’s of a new city, especially when I still occasionally rely on Google Maps to get me around New York. But the challenge of finding your way is part of the excitement and despite the difficulty you keep going, drawn by the beauty waiting at the next step.
Part of Amsterdam’s beauty lies in its experience. However, despite the cities age, Amsterdam doesn’t feel old. It’s one of the most progressive cities in the world. Amsterdam’s progressiveness shows through its world-renowned flood control system, it’s decriminalization and legal stance on marijuana, its sex work laws, and its early acceptance of the LBGTQ Community. It’s this accepting nature that keeps this old-world city always feeling young.
Amsterdam has a party town reputation. Before I left on my travels a few people asked me if I was going to Amsterdam for the party scene. To be honest, this had zero influence over my decision to visit Amsterdam. If anything, I was more influenced by a handful of friends who’d visited Amsterdam within the past year (separately) and the aura of peacefulness upon their return. I wanted to feel like that. That’s way more appealing than any party high.
Maybe it’s the chilled vibe of the city that encourages tourists to use it as a party playground. It’s their attempt at emulating the natural state of the residents. It’s a search for the Dutch secret to living. I can tell you one thing, it’s not found through drugs, alcohol, or the bright red lights; although, these factors certainly play into the Amsterdam way of life.
The Secret of Amsterdam
The key to Amsterdam contentment is discovered by the rush you feel when dodging bikers as you cross the street. Or better yet, by being one of the bikers! The Amsterdam secret is discovered by strolling the canal lined streets shadowed by the draping trees. You can also find clues by spending an hour or so taking in the greenery, flowers, ponds, and wildlife at Vondelpark. Or spend a moment observing the architecture and notice the similarity of the buildings color and size, then discover how each has its own individual characteristics. Notice the cleanliness of the city. There’s no garbage scattered on the sidewalks. The people of Amsterdam take pride in their city.
You can also see this pride in their local museums filled with Dutch artists and local history. There’s a reason why two of the world’s most talented artists, Van Gogh and Rembrandt, originated in the Netherlands. You don’t have to look far to see the beauty that inspired them.
The vibe of Amsterdam is a filet minion for the creative mind.
It’s a combination of all these factors that generate the ease of Amsterdam. Amsterdam isn’t a party destination, it’s a place you gravitate toward to learn how to live life. With each step, you gain inspiration from the last thing you saw. You’re driven by the beauty and simple joys of life. Unlike its younger namesake, New Amsterdam, known today as New York City, you progress forward without rushing, just like the water moving through the canals.
It took me a couple of days, but I eventually figured out the secret of Amsterdam:
Amsterdam isn’t a destination, it’s a way of life.
Want to see more of Amsterdam? Check out my full photo album.