Lessons from My Travels: Amsterdam

iStock_000010792231SmallI always tell people that I spent a week in Amsterdam one day. Of course, I really spent one very loooooooong day in Amsterdam. And then I walked away after my day in Amsterdam saying I never wanted to travel there again. So when I pulled out my travel journal for this trip, imagine my surprise to read about the things that I really enjoyed in Amsterdam!

This story begins with a day layover in the city on my way to South Africa. Although weary after taking the overnight flight from Minneapolis to Amsterdam, I thought it would be a good idea to see a bit of the city and get some fresh air before I boarded the evening flight. When I got off the train and ventured into the city, it was a bright sunny day. Instead of heading to the Anne Frank museum as was my intent, I decided to take a walk around the city. I wandered into an outdoor photo exhibit along one of the canals, and I remember standing there simply watching the boats on the canal and drinking in the sunshine and the peacefulness of that moment.

Continuing my wandering, I came across the Rembrandthuis Museum. Not being a huge fan of Rembrandt, it had not crossed my mind that this was his city. As with so much in life, however, the more you know about a person or the history of a place, the more you appreciate it. I never knew that Rembrandt, in addition to painting, was an art dealer, buying and selling other’s works. There were demonstrations of his etchings being printed, a collection of his work, and several pieces that he had purchased as a dealer. When you visit someone’s house, you gain a perspective that changes how you see his work. When I see a Rembrandt today, it still invokes the feeling of being in his house and his work takes on new life. Such experiences help renew one’s spirit.

After leaving the museum, it was approaching dusk, so I decided to make my way back to Schiphol airport. On my map, I noticed that as I walked back to the train station De Oude Kerk (the old church) was only a block or two off my planned path. Since I love exploring old churches, I thought this would be a great way to end my day in Amsterdam. What I didn’t realize is that the route I had chosen would take me right through the heart of the red light district. Imagine my reaction—midwestern naivety surfacing—as I saw women posing in what I can only describe as display windows in various stages of undress. It’s one thing to read about places and cultures in a book; it is another to confront them head on, in living color. My journal notes that I couldn’t get out of that area fast enough.

I look back at that day and can laugh about getting lost in the red light district on my way to see a church —there is enough paradox in that story to keep me smiling for some time yet.

Yet it’s another lesson that I have let the last thirty minutes of a day in Amsterdam so color my impression of the city. Time lends clearer perspectives—and not just with travel. I wonder what other incidents in my life I need to review with a clearer perspective? When have I misremembered and misinterpreted what was really happening? Hmmm…

Perhaps I need to give Amsterdam another try.

Note: This is the third in a series of travel stories. Read about Italy and Alaska.