Monday, May 12, 2008

Why Amsterdam? Shouldn't I go to Paris, London, or Rome?

Why Amsterdam?

Amsterdam is the Venice of the North. With canals, culture, museums, and a great social energy of tolerance and artistic expression, Amsterdam is a cozy place to be. This is even more true of the rest of Holland, and from Amsterdam you can reach most destinations within 2 hours on the train.

My first trip to Europe was at the company expense in 2005. I liked Amsterdam so much that when I was in New York that October and quit my California-based software SE job by telephone, I flew directly to Europe for a "post-quitting" vacation.

Then in February, 2008 I found an airline fare I couldn't refuse: $407 round trip, with taxes for a direct, nonstop flight between San Francisco and Schipol, Amsterdam. I went back 3 times after that, doing anything from vacationing, looking for a job, and visiting museums.

On my 2005 and 2008 trips I also visited Luxembourg, which is a great place to go for a day or two. After seeing a few countries, I would rate Holland to be the friendliest place of the places I went, followed by Switzerland, Spain, Austria, Germany, Belgium(Walloon), France, and Luxembourg. Luxembourg is a tough place if you don't speak Luxembourgian, German, or French. The Dutch are much more accommodating.

Shouldn't I go to Paris, London, or Rome?

Yes, you should! After Amsterdam! Although, maybe you should go first. You are going to like Amsterdam so much that you may feel empty in any other city, only wanting to get on the plane the next day to return to your temporary home in Amsterdam.

Holland is by far the place where the most friendly, helpful, English speaking people live. Most Dutch also speak English, and English is generally well accepted. Just remember that the Dutch speak English, not American, so there still may be some misunderstandings.

When most people think of Europe, images of London and Paris are the first likely to enter the mind. Although it has a thriving tourist business, Amsterdam is an often overlook tourist destination. With a population between 700,000 and 800,000, you can see how it might be a little cozier than London with 8 million inhabitants. In Amsterdam you can walk most of the city in one day, and there is also an excellent tram system.

London, with its rich history, is obviously the dominant cultural influence on America if there is such a thing. We Americans may think our 200+ year history is a long one, but to Europe that was yesterday. They have been making babies and cutting down trees much longer than us. When you go to London you can see some really old things.

London is also nice because English and American are not so different that we can't understand each other, so you are saved the trouble of learning a foreign language or the pitfalls of going to a country where they don't understand you.

Paris is renowned for its romantic atmosphere, and is also a place where they understand what you say but pretend not to. Please don't misunderstand me -- famous Parisian rudeness is only a myth, which I am currently capitalizing on. Later, I shall dispel the myth by explaining how your increased humility can lead to a much more enjoyable experience.

For now, let's move to another slightly less popular tourist destination -- Amsterdam. Most all Dutch people under the age of 35 received 4-6 years of English teaching in school. English has pervaded the Dutch society so much that it is the official language of business and tourism, while Dutch is reserved for the locals -- after all most people who are not from Holland will probably have a hard time learning the language.

Holland has everything -- relaxed times, helpful natives, history, beauty, and lots of really cozy places to hang out in. Because the Dutch often don't have the money and the consumer lifestyle that we Americans have become accustomed to, they have to know how to have fun by hanging out with humans, not electronic toys and such.

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