Allein in Amsterdam
Perfect creative conditions. A small room on the third floor of a tall, narrow hotel. A tiny desk with a lamp. A view of the bustling city and an enormous church with bells that chime every fifteen minutes, rousing everyone from their reveries. All this is Amsterdam on a Sunday evening, when most other world capitals are already asleep.
Across the road is the famous red-light district, where you can enjoy a little loving. A few metres away, a cheese shop and a waffle stand.
Some years back, a friend and I were in Düsseldorf, Germany, for the Caravan Salon. In the evening we wandered by mistake into a barn-like hall, where a real German party was going on and the schlager band onstage was singing "Amsterdam", with its chorus of "allein in Amsterdam". Now that I actually am "alone in Amsterdam", it strikes me that this is probably one of the best places in which to find yourself alone. And although the song describing this situation may be somewhat melancholy (if its plodding beat is anything to go by), Amsterdam itself is anything but.
I don't feel like a tourist here. Instead, I feel like a vital part of the great mass of people that make up the colourful scenery of this mysterious metropolis. People are friendly and always willing to help. Given that I have the sense of direction of a blindfolded ostrich and am more likely to put my head in the sand than actually find my way somewhere on my own, I was lucky to find – very quickly, and with the help of some locals – my own little room in the very heart of the city. When I think that just a few hours ago I was in Novo Mesto, I am struck by how small the world has become in the last few years. Everything is within reach. You get an idea and within minutes you can make it a reality. Brnik is actually ridiculously handy. No sitting and waiting at foreign airports, where simply managing to connect to Wi-Fi in a foreign language is an achievement in itself, especially when it keeps asking you for confirmation or a certificate and you have no idea what that is.
Today I walked more than 22 kilometres, a new personal record, with a smartphone that records every single calorie that so blithely abandons its master. I was on foot because I wanted to really take in Amsterdam, with all its positive and negative facets. At the end of the day I decided that Amsterdam was like the famous spaghetti western starring Clint Eastwood: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Its good side is by far the most evident. Wonderful architecture, friendly people, colourful nature, and the fact that it is actually a world in miniature. Its ugly side finds its greatest expression in the amount of rubbish there is and the smell that fills the city in the morning, a consequence of yet another night of partying by locals and tourists. Like anyone or anywhere that matters, Amsterdam also has something wicked about it. Something forbidden, something the subconscious is ashamed of.
Before setting off to Amsterdam, I read up about the city. Apparently it's not safe to wander around alone in the evening, because of the risk of mugging. Apparently the "love vendors" will sometimes drag you forcibly into their booths, if you are too friendly to them. The fact is, however, that I used to feel far more at risk at student parties in Ljubljana bars than I do here. Amsterdam is not intimidating and is certainly not out to take advantage of you. If anything, the opposite is true. It can hardly wait to give you everything it has to offer. And that really is a lot.
It is just after ten o'clock in the evening and I'm sitting in my room. I look at the canal, and at the people with their colourful umbrellas. If you thought that rain would keep people off the streets here, you couldn't be more wrong. Life goes on just like every other day. Monday to Friday, rain or shine. Nothing bothers this city, it simply carries on full steam ahead.
My first visit to Amsterdam focused on the centre of the city. On its people and the stories it writes. This isn't just a place to spend a week in, or even two or three – this is a place where you could actually live. Because it offers absolutely everything you expect from a true metropolis. If you want nature, go to one of its many parks. These are scattered throughout the city centre. If you want the bustle of urban life, you'll find it on the main tram line. If you want shopping, there are entire streets dedicated to every type of shopper and every pocket. If you want something genuinely local, you'll find it in the market. As for culture, where do I begin? Every few metres in the city centre you come across another museum.
People tend to complicate life unnecessarily. If you travel by car, it will take you a little under 13 hours to get to Amsterdam, assuming you don't stop on the way. It took me just over three hours to get from my own front door to Schiphol Airport. I love the fact that I can "save" almost a whole day in both directions, giving me more time to spend with my family.
Someone has just started singing beneath my window. I expect they have a good reason to. Come to think of it, merely the fact of being in this wonderful place at this very moment is a good enough reason. Yesterday I was woken up at a little before seven in the morning by a man on the pavement outside my hotel shouting "I like you, Amsterdam!" at the top of his voice. I know just how he feels, so I can't blame him too much for this unwanted alarm call. As my brother said to me on the way to the airport: "No one goes to Amsterdam to sleep." And he's right. Sleeping would be a colossal waste of time here. This city never sleeps. And it is almost impossible to say goodbye to it.