Just as September hit, so did the rain. When I arrived at the Centraal Station in Amsterdam, water was coming down from the sky in sheets. My shoes filled with water as I stood out on the street corner, trying to decipher the Dutch signs and guess which tram, metro, or bus was going in the direction of my hostel. Once my bag and I were thoroughly soaked through, I boarded a tram headed away from the center of the city.
I was staying at Generator Hostel. Housed in an old university building, the hostel had been retrofitted with modern design and included everything from funky modern art to a "secret" basement bar. I spent much more time at Generator than I ever expected to. The food was relatively inexpensive, the atmosphere was fun, and as a solo traveler it was a great opportunity to meet other people who probably spoke English.
I met all sorts of vibrant people in Amsterdam - from overexcited locals eager to speak English and compare notes on the Scandinavian countries I'd just come from, to Americans and Canadians looking for some common culture in a very foreign place. However, I spent most of my time in Amsterdam alone.
I spent both my full days in the city just wandering - clocking in 12 miles distance on foot each day. I walked by canals and gazed in shop windows, watching the throngs of tourists flit between museums and bakeries. At the end of the first day, sitting under a tree at Vondelpark and watching groups of people share food and create puffs of smoke off spliffs they'd purchased at a "coffee shop," I realized I felt more like a voyeur of Amsterdam than a participant. I also realized I didn't mind.
The center of Amsterdam felt like a city equivalent of Disney Land. A place that just exists for tourists without any real cultural heart or authentic identity. I imagine many European tourist destinations feel the same way in the summer, but what makes the center of cities like Amsterdam or Venice particularly vulnerable to having their real identity overrun is that they don't have a population which outnumbers the tourists - like London or Paris do, for example. Tourism is an economic powerhouse and a great method of cultural exchange, but I spent an entire thesis for my Global Studies major analyzing how to capture that economic benefit without sacrificing the lifestyle of the locals. It's not an easy task, and I think it's time cities like Amsterdam, Venice, Barcelona, etc., start to have those difficult conversations before they're entirely drowned out by people sporting socks and sandals.