At the end of April, I booked a few days in Amsterdam coinciding with Semana Santa in Spain. Upon arriving in the city, I stopped for a bite and drink before searching for my hostel and was engaged by the waiter, “yesterday was crazy, right?!”
“Oh, you didn’t come for Queens Day? You missed a massive party!”
Timing is important
I had forgotten rule # 1 of travel research: timing makes a big difference. Don’t go to Madrid in August. Don’t show up in New Orleans during Mardi Gras without booking a place to stay in advance. And a new addition to my personal timing list: don’t show up somewhere the day after their biggest festival of the year. As the hoards of party-goers began to evacuate the city, dazed and hungover, I was left with an Amsterdam that was a little sleepier, a little dirtier and still a whole lot more crowded than it would have been otherwise.
Party all the time?
Nevertheless, Amsterdam is surely known as a party destination year-round and that was still apparent even if it was a bit toned down. While I was there, flocks of bachelorettes in hen-party scavenger hunts ran around town, gangs of dudes in town for birthday parties loitered in the Red Light district but it seemed to me, a bit like Las Vegas. Many people go to Las Vegas to have fun and damnit, they aren’t going home without reenacting at least one scene from The Hangover and live-updating Facebook with 20 pictures of themselves “having fun” so everyone back home knows just how much fun is being had! (Can you tell I’m not a fan of Vegas?) After paying exorbitantly for a beer and observing the novelties of a much more permissive society (you know what I’m talking about, my pervy stoner friends), I felt like folks around me appeared to be busy just convincing themselves they were having fun more than actually doing anything at all.
The Good Life
When you tire of that scene (which I definitely did… quickly), getting out of the center will show you a glimpse of real life. Which, as it appears to me, seemed to be the really good life. Impeccably dressed men ride bicycles down quiet streets, groups of friends lounge in boats floating down canals and couples stroll down tree lined streets past brightly colored houses. This is the Amsterdam I came to see. Its livable and progressive. At once timeless and modern. Don’t be blinded by the bright flashing lights of the tourist center! But hey, that’s a universal travel truth, really.
Have you been to Amsterdam? What did you think? Am I missing the party spirit?