When I first arrived, walking along the canals from the central station, I stumbled into the excitement of a Saturday afternoon. The city was bustling with tourists and very alive! People tend to be very excited to be in Amsterdam because of its reputation as a place to party (just a hunch). However, that's not why I felt giddy with joy. In brisk February air, with snow still on the ground, I smiled a big toothy grin: I made it to the first destination of my bicycle pilgrimage. A holy site for all things bicycle related:
A M S T E R D A M !
The capital of the Netherlands is an ancient city on the sea which has since been retrofitted with a modern transportation network attracting bicycle enthusiasts the world over to pay homage, and appreciate an urban culture that puts the bike as king above all other modes. I like to joke and say that the bicycle is my spirit animal, and yes I am knowingly and intentionally being dramatic. But with good reason! For me, bikes represent a simpler, cleaner, healthier way of life. Amsterdam boasts having more bicycles than cars: 800,000 to 260,000! This is a kind of transportation future I believe in and want to see it happen in more places around the world. It’s entirely possible, all it takes the will power to make the change.
There is something very attractive about the canals spreading across the city like a web, under bridges and linking everything to the water. Rightfully named the Venice of the North because it has more kilometers of canals than Venice, with over 100 km of canals and 1,500 bridges. It's an entire water network that was once used by sea faring merchants to load and unload goods right to your door or warehouse. During my stay, I found myself constantly wandering, admiring the beauty of the stone buildings and drawbridges, with boats passing by. It’s a hypnotizing beauty that doesn’t seem real at times. On the opposite side of it’s partying reputation (where visitors come to try things that might not be legal in their home country) I enjoyed the museums immensely. I went to the Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum and saw a Banksy/Dali exhibition.
On strolls through Vogel Park, I admired the daffodils and crocuses peaking up through the snow, the first blooms of the year and afterwards devouring pickled herring sandwiches for lunch from the street market with Stroopwafel for dessert. What a marvelous place.
This period in my travels, was a period of profound reflection and personal growth. Most of it had to do with the fact that I was on my own for the first time since Lisbon, Portugal. Perhaps I am not unique in wanting an escape, a break from all the distractions of everyday life: social media, work, friends etc. About a year ago, I realized I didn’t make time for myself (just me). What I did was avoid being alone with myself and my thoughts. Rarely, if ever, did I just sit in a room in silence, allowing any thoughts or emotions that bubbled up to flow freely. That was too terrifying. So, I became determined to figure out why the thought of being alone was so discomforting. I wanted to understand this feeling I ran away from exactly because it was scary and unknown. Here is an important distinction. I always occupied nearly every moment of my time just to avoid being alone with my thoughts, not because I got lonely or missed people or don’t like being on my own, but because sitting with my thoughts felt like sitting in a hot tub while wearing a parka.
I set out to fix this in November of 2015. The goal was to feel comfortable on my own so that I could walk into nature and sit on a rock in peace and enjoy the moment without any gnawing anxiety. After much reflection, therapy, spiritual books, mediation, and hot yoga over a year, I determined that there was clear no cause or origin to this feeling. Perhaps it’s a feeling that just happens in some people. I’m not so sure because as a society, we don’t talk about it very much. The best theory I came up with for how to tackle this, is that I needed a break so that I could spend time with the person that I rarely sat down with to share a cup of coffee, just to enjoy their good company. Me! This break would coincide with a grand adventure to see all the places I’ve never seen before and always dreamed of visiting. I embarked on this trip seeking 'aloneness' and it wasn’t until Amsterdam that it hit me. On the train from Breda it sank in. So there I was on Monday morning in Koffiehuis De Hoek on the west side of town, eating breakfast, getting to know me a little bit better, one day at a time.
Famous pancakes that inspire Beastie Boys lyrics, 19 year old cafe cats and a robust bicycle network all contributed to me getting to know myself and finding comfort in solitude. For that, I am grateful to Amsterdam and they wonderful people I met there.