With such a fluid atmosphere of open-air cafes and meandering canals spotted with lazy mallards, the city of Amsterdam offers the backpacker a rare slice of history, and the chance to submerge into a culture where anything, and often everything goes. The Dutch push the aesthetic appeal of art and style into a realm of unabashed individualism, yet between each skirted beauty and scarf-wrapped gent there glides a constant and implacable social bond. You can see it in the mailman’s smoked-cured smile of cracked pink lips and coffee-brown teeth as he offers praise to the tulip garden of an addressee. You hear it in the laughing from the handlebars of a passing bicycle. In a town viewed by most as an old-world Babylon, Amsterdam’s grit and independence present the vacationer with a rewarding glance into a town mired in misunderstanding.
Amsterdam is a city that packs such an eclectic thrust that it forces you to abandon the itinerary and embrace the impulsive. Cobbled streets and arching bridges lay out the path for this Netherlands labyrinth; a town constructed of 160 man-made canals that encircle the Old Center (referred to as the Centrum). With its inherent principals of tolerance wafting out the fogged windows of coffee shops, and a social entanglement that prefers the bicycle to the BMW, Amsterdam resembles a utopian village hidden beneath the façade of a metropolis.
Once the world’s richest and city and business boon in the Golden Age of the 17th century, Amsterdam has endured everything from religious strife to an economical upheaval caused by the tulip bulb in order to become what is now referred to as the “Gateway to Europe.” Reaping the riches of commerce and the world’s first multinational company (East India Co.) early on, Amsterdam’s fortune helped mold a unique and European society that redefined social liberties.
Individual expression began to blossom within Amsterdam’s golden tide of affluence, and philosophers like Descartes and Spinoza flocked here to espouse “unruly” meditations which shook them out of their own countries. Planting seeds of tolerance early on, the town attracted outsiders immediately as a place of expression, acceptance and determination. With over 7,000 monuments attesting to the town’s rich past, visiting Amsterdam centuries after its age of influence still reveals a fresh current of old ideals.
With 730,000 residents swirling its puddle radius of fifty miles, navigating this town takes extreme awareness, good shoes, and strong will power (or simply a pocketful of Euros for the debauch-privy). But no matter what your hopeful destination may be, hunching over a map in Oude Zijde alley will only result in a scooter accident and an irate Dutchman. Amsterdam maintains a pace that squelches the methodical itinerary toting backpacker (there will be no Clark W. Griswald vacation lampoons in this town).You learn quickly, and often with the unwanted insistence of the city’s meandering dope dilettantes, that mobility is a crucial ingredient to enjoying Amsterdam.