It’s funny how a moment of boredom can somehow become an eye-opening experience. I was sitting in a plane on my way back from Italy. The meal service had come and gone and I’d finished reading the inflight magazine. Feeling a bit bored, I took a peek at what my neighbour was reading. It was a beautiful guidebook of Amsterdam, full of elaborate descriptions and colourful illustrations. I felt myself smirk when I noticed what he was reading about: Amsterdam’s red light district. <Sigh>… “that’s what they all come to see don’t they? Such a pity as Amsterdam has got so much more going for it”, I thought rather smugly. However, as he flipped through the pages of the book, my smugness turned to wonder. I started to sit upright and my eyes grew wide. I thought I knew my city well but there, in my neighbour’s guidebook, were fascinating descriptions of places I’d never heard of before!
A slight sense of shame floated through my mind – I am, after all, a travel blogger and I’ve lived in Amsterdam for twenty years. I don’t expect to know every single nook and corner of my city but these were places that sounded absolutely amazing, such as the ‘Ons Lieve Heer Op Zolder‘ church and the hidden courtyards of the ‘Claes Claesz Hofje’. I consoled myself with the thought that tourists, armed with guidebooks, printouts from their online research and podcasts, are often better informed about a certain city than most locals. Locals live and work there, often have their preferred areas and tend to shun other parts of the city that aren’t related to their social activities or jobs.
How well do I know my city?
My experience on the plane got me thinking seriously about how well I know my city. I could give a decent walking tour of the city to visiting friends, showing them the highlights and Amsterdam’s most photogenic spots. I could take them on a fun boat tour along Amsterdam’s beautiful canals. However, this experience triggered a deeper interest in the city I live in. I consider my knowledge of the city as pretty good but it dawned on me that maybe, I was too focused on exotic places far and away, while there were many more places to explore in and around Amsterdam… right in my own backyard!
I’ve since decided to make a conscious effort to get to know my city better. Last weekend, I went on a beautiful bike ride through the city’s northern fringe for the first time. I’ve promised myself that I will do this more often. I’ll hop on a bike or go for a stroll in the various neighbourhoods and discover the many hidden gems of this wonderful city. Who knows, my next source of inspiration may be just around the corner!