Posted by James
I never know how to start these things when I go on a great trip or weekend excursion. How do you begin? What really signifies the beginning of those moments? Travelling somewhere is half the battle, and therefore half the story.
“Yeah, we’ll be heading downtown in probably 35 minutes, maybe grab some food before the train. You’re welcome to join us since you’re not going out this weekend.”
“Great. I’ll hang out with you guys before the train.”
It’s 5pm on Thursday in Metz. Class has just finished and our first true study abroad weekend is calling our names. Since we’re taking an overnight to Amsterdam with a few stops along the way, we head downtown to say goodbye to Metz for the weekend. We head directly to a nice corner of town we have been discovering over the past few days, and we are quite ready for the weekend to start.
Friday, 9/2 (7 hours later)
“Uhhh, when is this train gonna get here? I can’t deal with this guy anymore!”
“It’ll be here at three, calm down.”
I’ve been sitting on this bench for what feels like two days. My legs are pounding, I haven’t felt circulation in them for a while. It’s 1:30 am somewhere in Germany. After three train switches and one very close call we’ve made it to our last train, for Amsterdam Central. A bum keeps circling us scrounging for paper in trashcans to light the cigarettes slowly killing him. Every so often he asks my friend for a light. Each time coughing up half his will to live.
“Caugh, chhhhk, sigh!” The train eventually comes to our savior whisking us deep into the night.
This is our train to get sleep on. 7 hours and many short naps later we’re in Amsterdam, or The Old New York, as I’ll think about it from now on. Its 9:40am on the first Friday of September for this city. We step out of our train met with a barrage of dynamic and energetic movement. From every angle the city begins to pour its aura into us. We start to wake up and by the time we leave the train station, were pumped.
We still have a few hours till check-in, so we begin roaming. With people everywhere, the New York taxi is replaced with the original fast travel-bicycle. The city is home to hundreds, if not thousands of bicyclists. Walking only a few blocks it is clear to see and feel, that the lights and tempo of this city run on the bikes’ hearts. Huge crowds of people are everywhere, no matter where we turn we are met with accents from all groups, English, French, German, Dutch, Spanish, American, etc. You can almost instantly tell the tourists from the locals. The locals are always in a hurry and used to the constant crowds and seem quite annoyed by it all.
The average tourist, we are taken aback. The city is so beautiful!
A mixture of ancient architecture and culture with the most modern thinking and progressiveness. Walking the city, you see its influence on teens and adults alike. Sitting on the edges of canals is often a giveaway. Here the stereotypical circle can be seen, and they all seem to be at peace, enjoying the moment and the feeling of the city.
After taking a quick tour, we meet our friend’s friend Bo in the outskirts of the city. He takes us to Local Park to play Frisbee and relax. The day seems to fade away as we go deeper into the city. Along the way he reveals the ways of his culture and people to us slowly. “This is so foreign to me, this military before drinking…” We’ll go on to try and defend our American laws, but by the end Bo has us convinced: that not all systems are flawless, and it is good to experiment.
I hear the clamor of people in the streets below us. Opening my eyes I see that were in the hostel. The rest of last night starts to make it back to me, the park and walking all the way across town at 1 am. I look at my watch, 12 pm. Its noon! Already? I wake up my mates and we funnel out of our tower that is a hostel. Stepping onto the street you cannot help but feel a little crowded. The cramped staircase makes you forget where you are.
“Whacha wanna do today guys? Rembrandt -Rijks Museum?”
We start for the Rijk’s museum after breakfast. The city seems angrier today. People move past us in a blur. We fight through the crowds for a good long struggle.
Eventually finding our way at the foot of a huge building. We enter with only a few hours left till closing. While my friends stay behind looking at smaller paintings I scurry towards the Dutch masters. I finally run into a room and see, REMBRANDT in gold letters above me. As I make eye contact with his work I’m transported. I feel the city: its people, accents, energy, all of it weigh on my shoulders. Here in this moment I see the painted scene before me unraveling. Each work I look at connects with me this way, a war between two naval armadas, I see the before and after of the painted moment. Likewise with military portraits, all the men clamoring to get in place and look manly as the artist aggressively attacks the canvas wanting to get this over with. I find my way to Van Gogh’s self-portrait. I see him looking through me, not at me. He looks at the mirror as he paints himself. Always in good view to himself, understanding who he is and where he comes from. Amsterdam much like that moment gave me more than just a good weekend, it gave me a new layer that has for a while been hidden.