"Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin,
but in truth it is a city of freedom.
And in freedom, most people find sin."
- John Green
Yesterday a friend and I took a (very long) walk through Amsterdam. We did none of the things you would expect. We didn't go to the Van Gogh Museum. We didn't get on a boat to cruise through the canals of the city called the Venice of the North. We didn't stop at a coffee shop and we didn't smoke a joint. What we did was explore the surrounding neighbourhoods of De Pijp and De Baarsjes, ate Stroopwafels at a local market, had lunch in Sarphatipark and second lunch in Vondelpark where a tagged and numbered duck stole and promptly ate my banana peel. We tried to find a public toilet and ended up walking the length of Museumplein underground where a massive parking garage hides under the expansive lawn. (That's why the trees are so small, it's essentially a massive roof garden.)
There is plenty of beauty in every detail: a vista of the church of Saint Nicholas through the arching steel structure of the pedestrian bridge leading back to the National Library, where two lovers met at sunset. Small hobbit-sized doors carved into semi-basements. Mosaic ceilings in soft pastel colours. Performances of Bach by two accordion players in the cavernous foyer of the Rijksmuseum. The city is overwhelming in its detail, its sights and smells and sounds.
I of course loved the fact that there are bicycles everywhere, but I'm also convinced that I don't want to even attempt getting on a bicycle in the throngs of people, cars, trams and buses. I would much rather walk, giving me the opportunity to spot at least one Invader tile on a street corner, watched over by the all seeing eye.
Getting out of the city center and into the quieter streets of the surrounding neighbourhoods was a relief. The fine urban grain and medieval details remain, but the hardness of the city - sometimes bordering on hostility - is softened with greenery and an airiness that can only be achieved away from the crowds. The inner city is grimy and harsh and blatantly in your face: whether it is the sweet smoke of cannabis wafting from the countless coffee shops or the garish display of sex paraphernalia in the Red Light District, you cannot walk the streets of Amsterdam without being confronted by life and all its facets: freedom and sin in every shade that humanity can imagine to colour it in.