Amsterdam: A Place Beyond Belief; Week 4 Euro Youth Travel
Posted on: July 7, 2014, by Jill Murwin
Coming into our trip I had a fixed image of Amsterdam in my mind, but it was a fractured image. On the one hand I imagined myself caught in the surge of starry-eyed tourists, drifting through streets festooned with coffee shops seeping marijuana smoke, past the windows of the red-light district, and down stained cement steps into techno-pulsing nightclubs. On the other hand I imagined storybook apartments of every color, stacked along the canals like a Van Gogh painting, their windowsills full to the brim with tulips. In reality, while both of these Amsterdam fantasies do exist, they don’t tell the full story. The Amsterdam that I discovered and came to love was a confluence of the two, and it was located just north of the city.After two days spent trying to navigate (without much success) the ringed streets of the city center, we approached the front desk of our hostel with some desperation. Determined to find the Amsterdam that we had hoped for, we asked the girl behind the counter where we should go. She smiled, and it was clear to me that we were not the first travelers to have been overwhelmed by the city within a matter of a few days. She handed us a map and told us to head to Noord Town. Still a bit doubtful we made our way to Central Station, behind which the jetty and ferry docks are located. Following her instructions, we boarded the NDSM ferry alongside fashionable locals and a flurry of bicycles. For fifteen minutes we stared quietly from the deck as the ferry crept through the harbor alongside lumbering barges, and the city center gradually disappeared from sight. All along the banks were docks tethered to keelboats, sharpies, and dinghies, and even one massive out-of-commission clipper with its square sails draped like tattered sheets along the masts. Towering above the docks were postmodern buildings straight out of a science fiction movie. The farther we drifted form the red light district, the funkier Amsterdam became. When we finally arrived at Noord Town, we had no doubt that we had found the Amsterdam we were looking for.We stepped off the ferry into what looked like a post-industrial dreamscape. To our left were scattered sheds and cargo crates that had been converted into art studios.To our right was an empty lot covered entirely with street art. From a boom box on the cement a droning bluesy tune blared. Directly ahead of us was a gang of beautiful women on speed bikes in the shadow of a massive crane that had been converted into a hotel. We made our way along the dirt path, drifting through the shade of old boat sails strung between sheds, past picnicking teens and street artists, all the while crossing paths with bicycles.Eventually we found ourselves at the foot of a massive warehouse and a large graffitied steel door. If it weren’t for the young man in front of us, we never would have know what waited inside. We followed his lead and slid the steel door open and ducked in. There we found a hidden gem, a thrift market unlike any we had ever seen. Row after row of merchants selling anything from old books to skeleton keys, from tapestries to handmade musical instruments.Through high windows shone columns of dusty light. For an hour we strolled the isles in giddy disbelief. I bought a hat and Hank a camera strap. When we finally made our way back into the daylight the anxiety of downtown had all but disintegrated.
On our way back to the ferry we heard the sound of a DJ and carefree voices. Since we weren’t in a rush to get back to the hostel, we decided to follow the sound. A short walk off the path took us to a big clear cupola with the words Noorderlicht Cafe hung across the front in wrought iron. As we got closer we discovered that the cupola had been converted into a restaurant that was presently full with customers. We made our way through the front door, ordered a beer, and walked into the back where we found a huge lawn, a stage with a DJ, a micro bar, food carts, sandpits, lawn chairs, hammocks, and hundreds of cheerful people dancing, drinking, and laughing.In talking to one of the servers we learned that all of the vegetables were locally grown and the fish locally caught. We had fish tacos, drank beers, and danced for a bit before catching the last ferry home. Leaving Noord Town felt a bit like waking up from a dream, but I assure you its a real place. If you’re in Amsterdam, its worth seeing the usual sights, but as soon as you feel claustrophobic catch the NDSM ferry to Noord Town and relax. It won’t disappoint.