If you’ve spent much time on my blog, chances are you’ve gleaned that I had an unconventional upbringing. Born and raised in a church missionary organization, I spent the first 20 years of my life traveling with my parents and helping with their service projects in over 25 countries. We slept on bunk beds, cots, and concrete floors. I’ve been served meals containing animals I had never thought of as “food” before… And I’ve been immersed in more cultures than most children these days have gaming consoles!
Most of the places I’ve lived in are dear to my heart, and had a deep, lasting impact on who I am today as a woman, and a citizen of this vast, amazing globe we call home. From Russia, to Thailand, to Jamaica and Germany, my horizons have been tugged and stretched to extreme proportions. But the one place that truly impacted me the most – the city I left my heart in! – was Amsterdam, where I lived at age 13.
Today, after many years and more stamps on my passport, I am journeying back to that wild, historic, and diverse city once again. And I wonder: has the city that impacted me so much as a blossoming teenager, changed over the years as much as I have? I can’t wait to find out!
What I Remember #1: the Food
Near the school I attended while my parents studied and worked in Amsterdam, stood a candy shop. And it wasn’t just any candy shop; it was made-right-here luscious goodness, the likes of which I had never tasted in my 13 years of life! I’ll never forget my first bite of Kabelspekken, the multi-colored twisted marshmallow sticks that quickly became my number-one treat. Sure, you can get marshmallows in the United States… But these were different! Made with real sugar and fruits, instead of corn syrup and food colorings, these colorful rainbows of happiness changed my world.
“Why don’t we have candy like this back home?” I asked my mom.
“American candy is made cheaply, with chemicals and artificial ingredients,” she told me. “This… This is real!” Mind. Blown. My taste for American candy would never be the same!
Besides the awesome candy, my favorite thing to do at lunch time was to run up the block with my classmates to the nearest snack bar, and order “frites mit saus” (fries with sauce.) To my teenage brain, these were perfection in a meal: hot and creamy on the inside, just the right amount of salty crunch on the outside, and ohhhhh that amazing creamy fry sauce! Like a cross between ranch and mayonnaise, but that doesn’t even come close to describing its awesomeness. For years afterwards we tried multiple kitchen attempts at duplicating the taste, but were never truly able to nail it.
Will the fries and sauce taste as amazing to me now, as they did back when I was a teen? I’m about to find out… Delicious and creamy/salty, exactly as I remember. <3 Best fries in the world. Even my husband was surprised at how much he enjoyed them!
What I Remember #2: the Sights
I adore architecture and history, and Amsterdam is one of the best places in the world to observe both! As a kid, I was fascinated by the Dutch buildings; their distinct designs, spires, arches, and the way all the buildings fit so closely together.
“Why do they all tilt forward?” I remember asking, observing how the fronts of many older buildings lean out at the top. A local person explained to me that this was how they moved furniture pieces up to the top stories: by hooking a pulley or rope system to things, and hauling them straight up to the top, instead of trying to pull and tug them through narrow hallways and winding staircases. Brilliant!
Dutch buildings are beautiful. Check out this small mall below, called the Magna Plaza, that was once a post office designed by local architect P.C. Peters in 1899. In recent years, it has been transformed into a shopping complex, its original structure and details still stunning visitors and locals alike.
I love the walking streets, and although public transportation is inexpensive easy to navigate, for me nothing beats the joy of exploring this vast, beautiful city on foot. When I was a child, it felt like miles and miles, and we did much of it by bus or bike. But now, with a map and a comfy pair of shoes, I find the city is easily walkable and fascinating to explore!
What I Remember #3: the People
I adore the diversity in Amsterdam. It’s such a beautiful blend of humanity from across the globe! If you stand a while in Central Station and just listen, you’re guaranteed to hear chatter from a dozen different nations… At least! I’ve met people from Egypt, Dubai, New Zealand, England, France, Canada, Germany, and China. Because Amsterdam is such a hub of activity and a popular tourist destination, the city is packed with folks of all ages and nationalities.
And everyone gets along! Seriously! Sure, there must be times that rudeness happens, or racism rears its ugly head now & again… But for the most part everywhere I explored in the city I saw only politeness, kindness, and good manners.
Case in point: One evening while my husband was still at work past dinner time, I found my way to a quaint, lovely little pub that was advertising a tasty dinner special of soup, main course, and wine for 20 Eu. It was packed with people, which is always a good sign, considering it was still quite early for supper.
I asked the waiter for his suggestions of the tastiest soup on the menu, and he told me how much Amsterdamers love their split-pea-with-ham soup in the wintertime. Satisfied with that traditional yumminess, I settled in for a relaxing meal. That is, until I noticed a table-full of men who kept sneaking glances at me while I ate.
I ignored them and minded my own business, but eventually one of the braver fellows in their group sidled over and cleared his throat to get my attention.
“Pardon me, miss, but could I trouble you to inquire if you’re waiting for someone?” Such manners! I assured him with a polite smile that my husband was working late, and I would be joining him after dinner.
“Oh, my apologies then! You are quite lovely and if you were alone we’d invite you to join us. But do please forgive me if I offended you, and enjoy your evening!”
Oh my goodness, most polite rejection-taking EVER! I had to laugh. Offended? Um, no.
I found the same politeness in every situation across the city, in cafés, shops, train stations, and crowded city streets. I was never once treated with any rudeness, or talked down to for being a tourist. It felt like the entire city was happy to see us, and ready to be our friend.
As my husband and I walked through the streets Saturday night, full of BBQ chicken dinner from legendary local hotspot Bier Fabriek, high on love and surrounded by throngs of party-goers and fellow adventurers, I turned to him and sighed, “Oh, I really love it here… I would definitely move back in a heart beat!”
That’s the moment I knew; the moment everything I remembered from my childhood, and everything I had experienced on this visit, came together in a rush of joy.
As we boarded the train the next day to head back to the airport, my heart heavy and longing for more time to explore and immerse myself in this beautiful city, I realized the truth: I had left my heart in Amsterdam, all over again!
Tot ziens, Amsterdam… Until next time.
TanyaRead more fun travel stories stories like mine, as part of Get Your Guide’s #ileftmyheartin campaign at GetYourGuide.com!