Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Living in Amsterdam: Top Five Favorite Things

Hold your breath no more! Finally, without further delay, here are the top 5 ...

Number 5: Coffeeshops (& yes, spacecakes!)

Ok, it’s not #1, but #5 aint bad :) There are over two hundred coffeeshops (and I don’t mean the kind that just have hot beverages) – enough that I was able to go to a different one every day (ha, just checking to see if my parents really do read this!) The main reason they are in my top 10 list is because I like the concept -- In general, the open-minded and accepting attitude of the Dutch, “to each, his own”. It started in 1976 when the Netherlands allowed them as a way of separating hard vs. soft drug users, and it worked – over the next 30 years the percentage of hard-drug addicts in the Netherlands fell significantly relative to other countries.

Since it’s for the same kind of reason, also included in number 5 is the Red Light District (it can be “5a”, if you will). After all, it isn’t a complete list about Amsterdam if the RLD isn’t included! But sorry I can’t report any personal experience on it ;) Ideally it helps control things that would happen anyway and creates an organized and more health-safe environment. All I know is that it’s very popular with the Brits, but it’s only one small part of what Amsterdam has to offer. Here’s a pic from across the street (since the girls come after you if they see you take a picture of them) – It looks like these guys don’t even notice the girls in the window...

Number 4: Gezellig

What in the world is that, you ask? It is a Dutch word that they say is difficult to directly translate to English, but could be described as “cozy” or “pleasant” - it could involve something like sitting by the fire reading a book, or hanging out with friends at a cafe and enjoying conversation. Whatever it refers to, it usually involves a moment to enjoy. Don’t forget to clear the back of your throat like you're gonna spit when you say it (kinda takes some of the pleasantness out of it doesn’t it!).

In general, the Dutch are very keen on taking their time and enjoying the experience when they are out for a meal. Especially when there is great weather, the outdoor cafes are full of people sitting outside all day – It is not uncommon for a group to claim a table for the entire day and only consume one cappucino or glass of wine, and yet the wait staff never seems to get frustrated. Maybe this is because they would do the same thing if they could! The downside is that it can be a challenge to actually track down any wait staff if you actually do want to get your bill within the next 5 hours, and that can be frustrating to us ‘mericans, but gradually we are adapting to the “take your time” state of mind and enjoy the moment...

Number 3: Environmentally Friendly

It feels good to make a smaller “ecological footprint”(link), and that is not hard to do when living in a city with so many mass transit options (see Jeff's blog “Ride the Train”) as well as bike paths everywhere. This is also a general European thing of course. Here many people don’t even own cars, compared to the U.S. trend of Hummers as big as some houses in the Netherlands. This is the Amsterdam version of an SUV...

Gone for us are the days of collecting 50 plastic bags from one trip to the grocery store – Here you’re expected to bring your own (see Jeff’s hilarious blog on when he first learned about that).

The lights in the office have auto-sensors, and the buildings have solar panels and other environmental-friendly features. The living areas are smaller, and there’s no A/C. Our office was virtually paperless (see blog). Some things were harder to get used to than others, but you realize that it’s not so bad, and in the end it feels good to be helping the environment at least a little (or at least not hurting it as badly!).

Number 2: Proximity

This is another one that could apply to Europe in general, but one of the great things about living in Amsterdam has been being close to so many other interesting places! In the few months we’ve been here, we’ve gotten to visit Norway, Denmark, I went to Prague, we biked in Spain, visited Belgium several times (gotta get that Belgian beer fix!), I went to Germany, and we biked one insanely long day up some mountains in France. Oh and southern Netherlands too (even though it’s in the same country as Amsterdam, it seems totally different, and even has hills!).

But of course it was always nice to come home to our beautiful city filled with tree-lined canals...

Ok, after long last, you have finally reached the number one favorite thing about living in Amsterdam!! Drum rollllllllll......

Number 1: Having Friends & Family Visit!

We have been amazed by how much of a bonding experience it is when friends and family come to visit us over here. Maybe it’s because you spend a lot more time together than in our previous “normal” lives, and because there’s so many new experiences to share... Well whatever it is, we have really enjoyed the connections it creates.

Our friends Sandy and Jim were the brave souls who earned the title of “First Visitors”, and we rang in the New Year together in Dam Square with thousands of our closest Dutch friends (click to see more pics).

Jeff’s parents came out in February and we had soooooo much fun sharing everything with them (click to see more pics).

In April our friends Bill and Maria enjoyed a week of perfect weather (they must have brought the sunshine with them from Colorado)... As they put it so perfectly as we biked thru the countryside, it’s like a “fairytale land”. Then later in April my parents came out, just in time to catch the last of the incredibly beautiful tulips that Holland is so famous for. In July Heidi spent a week with Becky where they had some real girl-bonding and Heidi taught her how to shop (thanks Heidi!), along with a side-trip to Berlin.

Right after Heidi left, Brian stopped by during his bicycle tour of Europe...

It’s hard to put into words how meaningful the time was that we’ve spent with you all, and how much we enjoy sharing these experiences with you.

So that’s my top ten. There are still many other great things about Amsterdam, it’s impossible to mention them all – It really did surprise me how different the city is from possible first impressions. So I’d recommend including it in your future travel plans sometime if you haven’t already. Thanks for reading!


Anneke said...

Finally! ;) Really a good read! Loved it!

i8chocolate said...

For those of us that didn't have the pleasure of visiting you in Amsterdam, your post provided the perfect journey. I feel like I was there afterall. What a fantastic collection of memories you now have. Thanks for sharing!!!