When Cultures Collide

A couple weeks ago I spent the day in Amsterdam, showing my elderly parents some of the sights of this vibrant, busy city.

Two distinctly unrelated things struck me.

Today I’m going to share the first with you.

Simply put, we were all amazed at exactly how bustling A’dam was.

Now I fully understand why two Americans living a peaceful retirement existence in Florida might think that. 

But I’m an expat who’s lived in Nederland for two years. I lived for many years in the heart of the Washington, DC metropolitan area.

I’ve traveled to many of the biggest and brightest cities in the world: New York, London, Paris, Mexico City, Rome, Madrid, Los Angeles and myriad others.

After taking in a day of brilliant sunshine and warm temperatures on a long holiday weekend, several hundred year-old Dutch architecture juxtaposed with sleek modern newer buildings, meandering canals, hordes of spring tourists, busy harbor, crowded Centraal Station (we took the train in and metro out, having parked near Ajax Stadium) and a whirl of busses, trams, fietsen (bikes), boats and cars (where allowed), my mother had this to say as we headed home:

‘I loved it but I’m in sensory overload.’

Now I live in Den Haag (The Hague), and while it’s a city and the seat of government, it’s not A’dam. Den Haag is a slower paced, accessible, easygoing version of a city. Block upon block of beautiful parks and woodlands and green spaces.

Beaches within easy reach – walking distance for many, a few tram or bus stops away for others. Getting around is relatively easy, including the city center with its government buildings, cultural venues, tourists sights, cafes and restaurants, and crowded shopping district.

Even driving isn’t too difficult, once you have a sense when and where the usual back-ups and rush hours slow spots are.

It’s what I’d call ‘city lite’, as opposed to the size and sheer numbers of Amsterdam. Despite having been to A’dam many times, I still think of it as ‘the big city’. A Dutch city on steroids.

So when my mother shared her impressions, I knew exactly what she was talking about. I’d experienced it, too. Which surprised me.

Negotiating Amsterdam with older parents who needed to take their time, move more slowly, stroll rather than stride and rest fairly often, I suddenly saw it in a new light: the hustling, bustling beehive of excitement and activity that it truly is.

Great fun to visit (and visit often, to be sure). I’m just not sure this ‘city lite mouse’ is ready to trade places for a ‘big city mouse’ lifestyle.

[Note: It’s funny to go over my photos from my most recent visit to A’dam and see that I’d managed to avoid taking pictures of the crowds there. It’s as if I were trying to make more room by not photographing them!]


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