My stay in the former hippie capital of Europe was different from what I expected. When I decided to go to The Netherlands I thought I would spend time visiting villages such as Urk, Haarlem, and Naarden, yet a series of events led me to change plans and apart from spending one night in Rotterdam, I stayed in Amsterdam the whole time.
Rotterdam is an hour and a half train ride from Amsterdam. I met with my host Tristan and his other three North American couchsurfers at Amsterdam Central station. He looked like the typical dutch man with blue eyes, light blond hair and a casual disposition. Not long after meeting he made a comment about my butt that I think he meant as a compliment, “we are very honest people” he said about the Dutch and in spite of his severe lack of tact, my impression is that the Dutch are indeed honest, welcoming and accommodating.
I experienced Rotterdam from the back of Tristan’s bike while the other three girls from California peddled their own rides. Rotterdam is a big modern city mostly occupied by working class people. Just as in Amsterdam, they rely on bicycles as a main form of transportation. We went to a house party to watch The Netherlands play against Spain; the entire flat carefully decorated with futbol flags and most people in the room wearing the national color that became so due to the name of the royal family: Orange-Nassau. The game was probably one of the most exciting matches from this World Cup. Watching the locals celebrate their victorious revenge was priceless. But the following morning, I was ready to go back to Amsterdam.
One of the things that I have learned about travel is that sometimes plans get in the way of the natural flow of your experience. I talked about this with my new friend and fellow blogger Corey Pickett (*), a rad chick from San Diego who is currently traveling through Europe, “it is a huge commitment to book something in advance” she said. It is also my experience that some of the best plans unfold naturally one day at a time. I rushed back to Amsterdam so I could meet an old friend; months prior we had agreed to stay in a charming boutique hotel near the Van Gogh Museum and despite the generosity of my host in Rotterdam, not many couchsurfing spots can compete with the white linen and fluffy pillows that money can buy. I arrived at the hotel ready to have a comfortable Amsterdam vacation.
Oh, I was ready for luxury! I was ready for love and hazy bike rides through the famous canals. But things changed, because things always change and soon enough I realized that my friend and I had very different agendas. Sometimes the best way to compromise is to let go of your own expectations and decide to walk a different path. My stay at the hotel turned into a last minute reservation at a dodgy hostel nearby; I checked into a small dorm that I shared with three other men and a private bathroom that was in serious need of maintenance. Home sweet home, with an emergency door next to my bed that I left open at night so the air would remain fresh; I traded a cotton comforter for the goose feathers of my own sleeping bag, the familiar for something new. Once I accepted the failure of my boutique lodging, I realized that when I stepped outside the dorm there was a lovely patio with sunshine and new people to say good morning to. This is how I met Henrik, a Swedish guy who had gone on two free tours of the city and was kind enough to share his knowledge and friendship with me. He told me about how in the 1970’s cars became more affordable and the people in the city became concerned with the repercussions of having too many vehicles on the road; they demanded that bicycling remain a primary way of transportation and to this day in Holland, bicycles are treated like cars.
Amsterdam is world-known museums, small art galleries and at this time of the year, the country also offers the Holland Festival; Coup Fatal was one of the most amazing performances that I have ever seen from Congolese musicians that combine pop, opera and rock into a modern contagious act; at the end of the show they managed to turn my mellow energy into an inspired, energized evening that was as exciting as sitting by a canal in the redlight district at three in the morning watching men shop around.
Organized prostitution and commercial weed. Amsterdam is the city that managed to push my limits and show me that even if things go wrong, your experience can be all right. I borrowed a bike and lost it when I parked it in the wrong zone; I went to a coffee shop that sent a friend into an epileptic seizure by the front door; I made friendships with people from America, Sweden and Canada. Not what I had planned, yet all of it I loved. Perhaps when I go back to Holland, I will be able to experience the countryside.
(*) If you want to see Corey do head-stands around the world follow her on facebook and instagram at corey_stories