I woke up dressed, four walls encasing me. There were three young girls looking at me questioningly and talking in their mother tongue, clearly this room wasn’t my own but I had a roof above me, a carpet directly beneath me and the throbbing rattle inside my head was enough to make me appreciate my surroundings. At this primitive stage of the morning I was labeling the shelter as a successful end to last night.
It was late January and I had begun a brief winter soiree with the liberal hub of Europe, improvised at late notice due to some unexpected time off work. My experiences in the Dutch capital had begun the day before with a tender innocence that felt unfamiliar as I indolently crawled my way out of the hostel.If there was one thing that set Amsterdam apart from other cities it would be, for me, the fact it manages to intertwine a metropolis of such euphoric intensity with a city steeped in such an astounding antiquity.
It seemed to be a city of two poles, the serenity of a swan preening itself in the still tranquility of a canal sitting effortlessly against the streets of rapture, and the endless avenues for cathartic pursuit. I was in a city that embodied the effortlessness of continental charm, somewhere so seemingly unsullied but at the same time a bastion of a refreshing attitude that could allow me to split my mind if I so chose.
Pondering this in the unassuming Vondelpark as the winter breeze bit my lips and shrouded me in a pensive sense of nostalgia; I would minutes later meet Jan and Pieter, two Danish men who had been led to Amsterdam by the approach of their mid-twenties. They were looking for escapism and a few days without the burden of their inhibitions, their wide, thin smiles showing the bare sincerity of their intent to lose their sensibilities. They were also looking for a third man, and having decided to join them in their saunter downtown I was about to turn my day on its head, and subsequently that ponder in that park proved to be my last memory of any real substance of my time in Amsterdam.
Here is what we know. There was a cafe or two (hundred), there were clubs (one of which was the sublime Paradiso), there were road-signs so engaging that we spent a lot of time pointing at them and giggling, there was an enchantment with the dams of Dam Square that would result in several near misses, there was a multi-storey car park and a car on the third storey with its lights on that we assumed to be flying, there were laughs, luminous bridges and a sense of wonder that has never been so finely tuned. And suddenly it was morning; there was a coarse carpet on the floor of an unknown hostel, an assortment of receipts, a spiky headache, a feeling that I was getting too old for such blue-sky spontaneity, a memory blurred and a bus to Belgium that I had to catch. Imminently.
There is one prevailing reason why Amsterdam is going to benefit from my company again. Simply, the city owes me hours of memory. This story isn’t one of abundant excess, at least I hadn’t gone to Amsterdam solely with that intention, rather this is a story of a metropolitan haven, a city with multiple personalities that allow for a visit that can be as businesslike as you need, or as hedonistic as you desire. Beautiful Amsterdam, I’m not finished with you. I would return to Amsterdam
Story written by Fraser Balaam
**This short Travel Story was submitted as part of the Holiday Travel Writing Competition. All short-listed entries such as this one are published in our online Travel Guide**