So many books I’d read in the past—Anne Frank’s diary as a child, The Fault in Our Stars as a teenager and, more recently, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt—painted a picture of Amsterdam as the sort of place you arrive in without necessarily meaning to; as a city you can imagine, but which you don’t ever actually expect to end up in.
Luckily, dire and unfortunate circumstances did not lead me to it as it did them. Two friends asked if I was interested in a weekend trip, a quick reunion before one of us headed off to Greece for four months. I snapped up the offer almost without thinking—not because I’d spent years pining away for the opportunity to visit, but because it merely seemed like something fun to do. No preparation, little prior research; one “why not?” and my ticket was purchased. It wasn’t until I was on the plane, thirty minutes left before landing, that I turned to my friend and asked, “Do you know anything about the Netherlands? Do you know any Dutch at all?”
The memory of exiting Centraal Station for the first time will stay with me forever; I can still imagine it as if it happened only days ago. Stepping outside, squinting in the bright morning light, my eyes adjusted and perceived first the blue sky, and then the people, and then the trams and the water. I watched as bright boats of all shapes and sizes sailed up and down the channels, and bikers—the famous, glorious Dutch bikers—weaved briskly over bridges and through throngs of pedestrians. And there, just in the distance, were those wonderfully geometric buildings, the stuff of dreams and travel guides, juxtaposed against the iconic winding canals.
I thought my heart was going to burst; it actually existed. All of it. And somehow, whether by fate or by chance, I was there to see it.
The smell of coffee shops; the taste of waffles and poffertjes; the art, and the flowers, and the women in the Red Light District. Taking the ferry from Noord to Centraal to meet friends for a beer in the evening. Listening to stories of cars and bikes and intoxicated visitors slipping into the waterways. Laughing, talking, strolling along the canals, feeling young and fortunate to simply end up in places. This is the feeling that defines Amsterdam for me—impossible luck and incredible bliss.