The travel fever is upon me again. It is a fever that insists on recurring despite my best intentions to starve it and it seems to be in full swing this summer. We all travel for deeply personal reasons, and I am generally one to love the sights and sounds and all the history and excitement about the place – but my one day visit of Holland’s memorable city of Amsterdam had very little to do with scenery and everything to do with watching life go by on a lazy Saturday in October of 2007.
“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” — Miriam Beard
We had one free day in Belgium and having thoroughly enjoyed Brussels, we opted for a drive into Amsterdam. In fact, I turned down a chance to visit Paris again, one of the jewels among my heart’s top destinations, to set foot into Holland for the first time. Traveling the world is outlandishly easy these days – there is no reasonable excuse for me to ever stop doing it, not when I think about the days when one would board a ship for a few weeks to cross over the Atlantic ocean and a balloon ride was the closest thing to humans flying – if only Leonardo da Vinci had lived to see his dream of flying become a daily chore for us mere mortals someday – and traveling across countries in Europe is as smooth and lackadaisical as a summer breeze (Getting out of Brussels notwithstanding on that last comment. The most confusing road system in all of Europe kept sending my expert international navigating driver, the husband, into endless loops and it’s a miracle we ever made it to Amsterdam that morning but I digress!).
So off we went to visit Amsterdam, knowing not what to expect and having no preconceived notions or prepared knowledge about our destination, something that is very much unlike our style and yet something which suited our mood beautifully at the time. We simply loved it! To wake up one morning and decide to visit a foreign city simply from a voice whispering the promises of adventure, you can do this in Europe on the spur of the moment. Simple as it may be, I never forget the privilege to cross borders and meet new cultures and see how life is lived in the most or least ordinary corners of the world.
Traveling changes your mind and expands your horizons! If you like to see the other travel stories here, check my category On the Road.
Entering Amsterdam with this mindset of ease and calm, free of all expectations, deadlines and goals, we simply followed our hearts that day. Funny enough, I remember this day distinctly well whereas I need to refer to my journals for the well-planned days in other cities. There is often little logic where memories are concerned and this one for a change is working in my favor; therefore I shall recount these random but crystal clear highlights here for us before I suffer from another memory loss!
A Culture in love with Biking
The Dutch are brilliant when it comes to the mode of transportation. I am not a big bike lover; I just love the idea of biking and I have sweet memories of biking when I was little. To bike as a standard mode of transportation is both traditional and modern, a wisdom of the ages put into daily practice by a smart culture. We saw bikers but we saw no helmets. We saw traffic and crowds but we saw only peace in the streets that were shared by pedestrians, dogs, bikers, trolleys, carriages with horses, and cars! How was it that everyone knew their turn and respected it? Orderliness, respect, harmony, those are the essential elements of life in Amsterdam.
Melted Brie with Honey
Of this I wish I had a photograph to share but even so, it would not do it justice. I remember the cafÃ©, the tall skinny waiter, the item in the menu and a simple and delectable combination for us to remember over the years: Melted Brie with warm honey on top, served with two pieces of bread and a yummy espresso. At least, I rejoice in the fact that I need no photograph to remember the taste. Our other senses can more than make up for the visual at times if we only let them. We remember this simple lunch more than we would have a fancy cuisine.
Watching life-size Chess Game
My Dad taught me how to play chess when I was very young and I wish I played more often. I do not have the patience of a Saint like him, nor his brilliant game strategy but seeing chess in any shape, form or size, warms my heart. It is a game of intellect, planning, and quiet rivalry of the minds. Seeing two men play chess on a Saturday morning with many more just watching speaks to the pace of life and the choice of activities here in the beautiful Amsterdam.
Cleanliness and Politeness
Amsterdam was so clean I was certain a giant Hercules of sorts appeared every night to scrub the buildings from top to bottom, sweep and then wash the streets, clean all the extra leaves from trees and allow not so much as a single piece of garbage to run wild with the wind. How breathtakingly clean this city was, how colorful and orderly and crowded yet far from loud and annoying. I long to return if only to be among such clean structures and foliage. I pay tribute to the Dutch residents for their acute sense of creating the most appealing atmosphere in the heart of Amsterdam.
A Canal Runs through It
Water adds a unique dimension to any place and the historical canals running through Amsterdam are no exception. The calm and the beauty of these near still waters holding the countless boats and water taxis afloat affected our mood even though we never set foot in the water. The richness of color, the quietly operating machines, the breeze, the sound of water, this city is made for calming the nerves and enriching the senses. Everywhere your eyes travel, you feel the contagious harmony around you. If you lived here, would you be in tuned to this peace too?
A Longing to Return to Amsterdam
In this manner, we spent an unforgettable day walking, observing, listening, eating and taking in life on a lovely Saturday in October in Amsterdam. No plans, no sights to see, no museum runs, no checklist and no exhaustion. We traveled a little differently for one day and we loved it. We also found a city to which we long to return. Perhaps with a checklist and with a plan to visit its most beloved monuments and treasures next time but never forgetting that our first visit to Amsterdam was an unplanned one and our first memories are of a calm, harmonious, orderly, and colorful city and a culture which recognizes the simple pleasures of a healthy happy life.
“Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.” — Lucius Seneca, a Roman philosopher
Share your thoughts
Ah travel dreams, travel plans, travel memories! Do you travel just for adventure or always with a purpose and a plan? What is the ideal time to spend at your favorite destination spots? What about the ideal time to dedicate to a new city, an hour, a day, a week? Is there a place to which you yearn to return, if only to see whether the magic of that first visit can repeat itself all over again?