In the last two weeks, I’ve been on five planes and visited three countries – two of which I’d never been to before (the other was Paris). While I would love to live such a prolific jetsetting life on my own dime and time, these three trips were made for business. But that doesn’t in any way detract from the wonder of exploring new cultures.
The first trip was a brief jaunt to Amsterdam to attend an awards ceremony. (Somehow I helped to get our company and one of our products nominated for a European business award, which was nice!) We didn’t win, but I definitely can’t complain about the flash of international glamour that came my way as a result of the nominations. And I’ll tell you one thing – after flying in especially for the event, it’s hard not to get caught up in the moment as the nominations are read out and there’s that intoxicating glimmer of a chance you’ll be picked. It’s electric. I don’t know how Leonardo DiCaprio managed to contain his “gracious loser” face so well for so many Oscars ceremonies. What a pro.
Trophies aside, we were put up in the Amsterdam Hilton, which as well as being a nice enough place was also something of an honour: It happened to be the hotel that John Lennon and Yoko Ono had the first of their ‘bed ins’ for peace in the late 1960s. As a big fan of the Fab Four, I loved that the very same hotel I spent a night in is namechecked in The Beatles song The Ballad of John and Yoko:
Drove from Paris to the Amsterdam Hilton,
Talking in our beds for a week.
The newspapers said, “Say what you doing in bed?”
I said, “We’re only trying to get us some peace”.
But no matter how iconic or luxurious the hotel, to stay in one for too long while you’re abroad is a crime. Hotels seldom represent their locations accurately. You need to escape from them. And in the few hours before I had to get suited and booted for the ceremony, that’s what I did.
Strolling down the wide, flat and inviting streets of Amsterdam, it’s easy to see why Amsterdam would appeal to artists and peacemongers like Lennon et al. There’s life flowing through these streets as gently and respectfully as the canals that glide alongside them.
There’s also an abundance of cyclists – laziness doesn’t appear to be much of an option in Amsterdam especially if you’re a tourist looking to cross the roads, untrained when it comes to watching out for oncoming trams and bikes in their own lanes as well as the usual influx of (electric and hybrid) automobiles. It’s like being let outside onto the road for the first time as a kid – you need to get your bearings before you step out. “Stop, look, listen”. But that’s what one should always do in a new place anyway; otherwise how will you experience something new?
It’s refreshing to see a city that is bustling but in a more personal manner – without every single person remaining anonymously enclosed in a metal box as they make their way from A to B. Unlike most big cities, cars are relegated. With its masses of coffee shops, bakeries, bars and cultural areas, there seems to always be a reason to hop off your bike and prolong your trip with a chance to soak up the local delights. When I’ve more time, I’ll be sure to do just that.
In a relatively short amount of time, Amsterdam presented itself to me as the kind of place I could really see myself coming back to in order to properly explore it (as I only had one night there this time). I have an affinity with all things Italian (and can see myself retiring next to some vineyard over there), and was surprised to find a different sort of affinity with Amsterdam. It’s got that European intrigue that forms ideal backdrops for John Le Carre stories but also casts a calming spell that allows the brain to wander free from the usual shackles. And if it’s good enough for John Lennon, it’s good enough for me.