As national news outlets broke stories of the White House’s latest administration changes, violence in Charlottesville, and the city’s raging heat, four teens from Atlanta embarked on a three-week journey to create art with a local theatre company. Their destination: Amsterdam. On arrival, they were mesmerized by the city’s beauty and culture, such being all the things that make the Netherlands both unique and surreal in comparison to home. Having visited a nation where cycling serves as a primary form of transportation, crime is a rare thing and most businesses close as early as 6 p.m., there is no wonder as to why the American in Amsterdam is able to exert their best self.
Damrak Street: The strip glittered in a vivid array of lights from bright red letters to crisp soft greens. At any moment, hundreds of excited and anxious tourists crowd the sidewalks, streets, and canals that decorate this strip and many other streets in the historic city. Fueled by curiosity, this famous street was one of many we visited on our journey. It was here that we four young artists were able and allowed to lose what identified us as American in order to immerse ourselves in the culture of others like the other hundreds tourists around us.
Below these windows lie a thriving, loud, immersing shopping district for tourists contradicting the calm, collected, cloudy skies that often cover the city. Yet, these shops hardly look like common stores found in the U.S., as much of the retail space is crafted from historic buildings or even monuments–a wondrous attestation to the city’s creativity and perseverance.
Church of Saint Nicholas: Missing the two large towers decorated in Victorian-inspired architectural aspects when studying the city’s expansive skyline is nearly impossible. In addition to evening mass, the church hosts a variety of concerts and cultural gatherings. Of course, in front of it is one of the city’s many canals. From the other side of this canal, the church can be seen in perfect alignment to other buildings; we sat on this side out of our desire to view a skyline that melted into water, wishing to cultivate all the beauty offered before our eyes.
Grand Central Station? Similar, yet unique in its own sense. This is Amsterdam Central, or Centraal as the Dutch spell it out. The large station is immersed in shops, art, and music. The scent of railway steel and sweet, syrupy stroopwafels dance into your nose as you try to maneuver through the anxious crowds, all excited to explore Holland’s most infamous city. A black polished piano sits at the atrium of the station as an old talented man relives his memories through the instrument’s melodies. The tunes bounce off the mosaics of the ceilings and archways before resting into the murals of the wall. I have rarely discovered such detailed, artistic, and passion-driven works of art in Atlanta, for it is made known that Amsterdam is nothing like America through details as small as brush strokes as if the city speaks it into your ear.
Haarlem: This is a small residential neighborhood outside of Amsterdam where boats, birds, and beauty meet together on the numerous canals and home fronts. At night, the chilly district is transformed into what looks like a holiday spectacle. Lights gleam from suspended ropes along the streets and sidewalks in the type of swayed pattern most common only during the winter holiday season in America. When such unexpected yet beautiful illumination lights the skies above and the ground under your feet anything feels possible, no matter from what lands one is visiting from.
If the Dutch specialize in one thing, it may just be cycling. Cycling serves as one of the most dominant means of transportation in the Netherlands. However the railway system serves not only the Netherlands, but much of western Europe. It is truly nothing short of impressive. One has not experienced true public transport luxury until having rode on one of the spacious, air-conditioned, and rapid rail cars of Rail Europe. Imagine traveling about freely on a bicycle in the cool summer breeze or about a train through cities and neighborhoods that never sleep. Such engagement makes one forget where they’ve come from or where they are to go but places them in that moment, elevating them.
The quiet streets of Haarlem, the residential district located about 30 minutes from Amsterdam. Yet telling the neighborhood a part from the buzzing city of Amsterdam quickly becomes difficult to many. What may look like wide streets for cars and buses in nothing of the sort, but in fact walkways. After 6 o’clock it may be hard to tell what is what as the streets often become vacant at this time with most businesses shutting their doors. Fear not, there is always a grocery store open for late-night snacks.
In Haarlem the idea and connotation of an alley is completely redefined. Children play and neighbors socialize in the wide, clean pathways surrounded by the backs and fronts alike of the distinct architecture of past centuries.
An average summer day in Amsterdam reached highs only in the mid-70s and lows in the 50s. Most women and men sat, hoping to catch the never-ending cool winds, wearing denim jeans and short and long-sleeved shirts when not covered by a jacket. And not once did the cool weather limit the amount of fun or social engagement hundreds of thousands of people enjoyed each day in the city. There is no limit to what conversation ranged from on such beautiful days, yet almost never did it concern politics or adversity, for it were as if the city not only transfixed visitors but its citizens and their outlook on life.
An American in Amsterdam has much to gain. The most evident gain from such a vividly beautiful place would be a refreshed being of oneself. I almost could not believe the Dutch television stations when instead of having to focus on crime and politics in the Netherlands they reported on matters of other nations. Surreal or even perhaps unreal could best describe the cultural and universal experience shared by us four young Americans. When we left, our minds were concerned with news regarding who had been fired from the White House’s current administration or which politician was on the verge of another federal investigation. Yet now having returned from such a great nation, those same minds are refreshed and renewed.