A Tourist in Your Own Town

It’s not often you get to play (consciously, anyway) tourist in your own town. Amsterdam is, aside from the lack of sidewalks, a very tourist-friendly place: it has lovely architecture that spans the centuries, a palatable history, it’s safe, but with a bit of edge if you want it. Plenty to do and see, but also a great place to just hang out and soak up the atmosphere if that’s more your style. Even the street food is palatable to all.

But if you live here, you tend to avoid the places the tourists go. Amsterdam’s tourist season has no low point – at any given time of the year, there seem to be just as many tourists in the city as there are residents, and in August, when the Dutch flee for France, the city is almost exclusively composed of them.

But every once in a while, when we have visitors, it’s nice to alter one’s bike route to embrace what people come to see, instead of avoiding it.

My sister and brother-in-law were in town last week, in transit from skiing in Kashmir (!), and their stopover was the first part of the crystallization of culture shock, or at least their re-entry into the West.

So we, and they, took it easy, unapologetically doing what the tourists do, seeing what the tourists see. And it was lovely.

I’d be lying if I said this hadn’t been on my mind: much is at stake. I kind of feel like I have to prove to them why I left the landscape we grew up in (and they still know) for this one.

I’m erring on the side of keeping it spontaneous, but when I ride through the city and pass something I haven’t seen or been to in a long time, it gets added to an already-long mental list of possible things to do that reveal what it’s like to live here, not what it’s like to visit.

Someone, I can’t remember who, said once that you get an accurate sense or understanding of a place in a single day of being there, or after forty years of living there. Anything in between is suspect. I’m not sure if I agree, but perhaps it’s best not to overthink these things, and just let the city be what it is…