Photo by Bert Kaufmann
Amsterdam has the liveliness of a major city while also exuding its own charm, or gezellig, in the local parlance. Gezellig describes the friendliness of the people, the intimacy, and warmth that emanates even on a cloudy, damp day, whether at a quiet cafe or bass-thumping gay bar. Gezellig makes the streets worth wandering and getting completely lost on, finding yourself in a garden courtyard or a long, narrow cobblestone street with only a stray cat to keep you company.
Best of all, you can see it by bike if you're brave enough to negotiate pedestrians, drivers, narrow streets, canals, and other tourists on two wheels. But don't worry: you'll be in good company.
The age of the city is displayed in the patina of old guild houses, gondolas, and memorials for those lost during World War II, including the Homomonument, honoring LGBT people who died at the hands of the Nazis and as the result of persecution everywhere. Meanwhile, contemporary fixtures like the EYE Film Institute (EYEFilm.nl), or the simultaneously modern yet cathedral-like Rijksmuseum (RijksMuseum.nl), which reopened this spring after a lengthy renovation, offer thought-provoking and interactive experiences. Rembrandt, Van Gogh, and Mondrian are just some of the artistic heavyweights who have been inspired by the city's history, landscape, and people, and their works are on display at the Museum Het Rembrandthuis (Rembrandthuis.nl), Van Gogh Museum (VanGoghMuseum.nl), and the Rijksmuseum.
A trip to Amsterdam would not be complete without perusing the Negen Straatjes (De9Straatjes.nl), or "Nine Streets." Though the city has many charming streets with small shops and unique independent boutiques, the Negen Straatjes are special. Here, one feels transported into a tiny town in the Dutch countryside, and just a few streets away is the Jordaan, another newly rejuvenated area with art galleries and small shops.
The Netherlands is a progressive country with marriage equality and gay rights laws. Gay couples are free to hold hands comfortably on the street. But before that was the norm, Café t' Mandje, situated on the city's oldest street, Zeedijk, is one of Europe's oldest gay bars. It was established by Bet van Beeren, a lesbian whose sister, Greet, took over the bar after Bet's death in 1967. The bar shut its doors in 1982, but Greet decided to honor her sister's legacy by making sure it was renovated before she died in 2007. Zeedijk Street may be full of tourists and locals running errands nowadays, but the bar remains an intimate landmark for the local gay community. So raise a pint to history and freedom, because Proost! You're in Amsterdam.