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City of Hush + Wonder: Amsterdam

Amsterdam, travel writing, canalsAmsterdam is a city of distinctly small sounds. Upon walking the cobblestone-paved avenues, one becomes acutely aware of the slow bikes making their way over canal bridges. The quiet lapping of water on the hulls of canal boats. The whispers of footprints on leaf-strewn sidewalks. Despite the city’s reputation for being laid-back, liberal and sexually-charged, it is at its heart a city of soft-spoken pride.

We were in Amsterdam all of 24 hours. Such a shame, too, because I generally believe in being a tourist the first day of a trip, taking in the sights, sounds and smells of a place in order to get my bearings. With only 24 hours to enjoy the city, there was little chance I could do much else; on this trip, donning the hat of a local would be impossible. We wanted to do too much: enjoy ourselves, explore, be merry. Our itinerary was built-in with no chance to deviate.

We found ourselves staying near the Frederiksplein Park, on the outskirts of the “Canal Belt,” which on a map, looks as it sounds: a multi-layered belt of blue, the criss-crossing streets the loops of a pair of pants. Falling leaves muffle this already-quiet part of town, while the only conspicuous noise came from a couple of heavy-footed Americans (ahem). It was fall, and a soft mist and grey clouds greeted us in the morning. Upon waking in our hotel rooms, it was all we could do to hit the streets and explore what we could.

Like any respectable tourist to Amsterdam, we decided to search for, um, coffee. Yes, that’s it. We soon found it not far from our doorstep, tucked on a quiet side street between charming Dutch abodes. Barney’s was empty, save for some friends huddled in a corner, cappuccinos and a cigarette passed amongst them. The walls, tables and chairs were evocative of a sepia-toned print; everything was a different shade of brown. Like the rest of the city, it seemed like sound was muffled here too. Maybe it was just the fragrant smoke…

Our wanderings (both mental and physical) brought us to the Van Gogh Museum.Hushed tones, passionate brushstrokes and vibrant colors best describe this tribute to the great Master. There are no words to seeing Van Gogh’s works in person; anyone interested in art can agree, I’m sure. While everyone knows the artist’s seminal Starry Night, it is hisSunflowers that sent a sense of peace down my spine. It was here, somewhere between enhanced and lucid, I felt my soul quiet, if only for a moment.

After visiting Van Gogh’s work, we made our way back to our hotel, looking to spend some downtime before the night. The pace of the day never got away from us, and the city never seemed to get much louder than our breathing. Strangely enough, when the sun set and the lights came on, a distinctly differently feel enveloped the city. There were sounds, and beats, and music; if you wanted to hear something just above mute in Amsterdam, you only had to wait until night. But that’s a story for a different post…

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