Amsterdam is a city that demands to be seen in autumn.
By day, the rich orange, green and mustard hues which cloak the parks and drape the canal banks provide a feeling of warmth and comfort that envelopes the city and by night a hazy tea-light candle glow from the plethora of intimate little bars and cafes permeates deep within those present.
There is but one word to describe all this. The Dutch call it gezellig, ‘cozy’ or ‘quaint’, although our English equivalents do little to convey its true meaning.
Add to this the seemingly effortless way Amsterdammers glide around on their chic, old-fashioned bicycles and the gentle rhythm this seems to set to the pace of life and you could be forgiven for thinking you had fallen asleep and awoken in an enchanted fairy tale land. Everything seems so nostalgic and dreamlike, yet familiar and reassuring.
And it was this gezellig side to Amsterdam that I set out to explore, at a pace dictated by the city itself.
First stop: a private tour by bike from the city’s Centraal station up past the library, over the bridge and on, following the canal, to some of the university’s oldest buildings. The experience of travelling sidesaddle pillion on the back of a bike offered not only a delightful, time-saving way of taking in the main sights, whilst serving as an impromptu core and leg workout, it also kept in with the pace of the city: brisk and purposeful yet not rushed and flustered. Although not born with the innate art of looking graceful on the back of a bicycle that it seems that the Dutch have; always somehow managing to put out my hip or get hair in my face, I thoroughly enjoyed my exhilarating little jaunts by bike through the city, placing as I did blind faith that my friend wouldn’t crash us head first into the crowds of bewildered tourists.
The city’s Vondelpark, named after 17th Century author Joost van den Vondel, was our next stop: a truly delightful way to spend an afternoon, with a maze of little paths and alleyways to explore, fountains and rose gardens to admire, and – for those like us with an adventurous spirit- a wooden children’s play den to traverse. We finished our visit with drinks at the stylish Café-Restaurant Vertigo, formally the city’s Filmmuseum: an ideal people watching spot.
Feeling peckish we grabbed a stroopwafel from the stalls in Dam Square before hitching a ride on a big Ferris wheel to enjoy a panoramic view from the top.
Amsterdam is so picturesque and pretty in autumn that you will easily forgive the city if you find yourself caught out in the rain as we did. On more than one occasion when soaked we sought refuge in some of the city’s most delightful, hidden gems, including Bar Jones, where I was tempted inside by the prospect of Pimms.
With the last tram gone, we ended our night balanced precariously three to a bike cycling through the silent city. Really, only the Dutch could manage to cycle home drunk and still, somehow, make it gezellig.