Amsterdam is a compact city, relatively easy to navigate and not overwhelming in size, yet packed with new and surprising discoveries, even for someone like me, brought up along its fabled canals.
Going around town with photographer Matt Peyton last week gave me an opportunity to see my own city through someone else's eyes, to explore it all over again, and to be made aware of its quirks by some of his reactions.
First thing to know about Amsterdam is that it’s all about the bicycle—sturdy, pedal-powered machines that come in two main varieties: the regular one-seater, often fitted out with extra kiddie seats to carry as many as three, or the variety that pushes a wooden box in which anything can be transported, from more children to dogs and plants. Single or in packs, cyclists dominate the streets of Amsterdam and can be quite intimidating; they showed no respect for our rental scooters on which we crisscrossed town.
On the plus side, bicycles and bicyclists often look great in pictures, especially when set against the city’s other major feature: water. It’s not just the concentric circles of canals in the old city center, lined with patrician townhouses and warehouses dating from Amsterdam’s Golden Age in the 17th century, that make water such a presence. Even the newest of developments have their canals, ponds and bridges. Matt had an unerring eye for local kids, indulging in some watery summer fun or adults lounging on the water’s edge, sipping a macchiato or a Chardonnay.
It was a thankful task to go around looking for pretty pictures in a city that has often changed little from how it was painted by the Old Dutch masters. But some very interesting sights can be found in the more recent neighborhoods too, even if more recent means the 1920s. I came across a marvelous Art Deco church in the East of town that I had never noticed before. And the heavily hipster beach in the still-under-construction IJburg development was new to me too.
There are some Amsterdam clichés that hold true (bikes and canals, for instance) but even for a local there are new places and spaces. - Ferry Biedermann