Cafés

Matt left for Spain on Friday, leaving me to my own devices for my last weekend in Amsterdam. Yesterday I went to Café Thijssen and sat for a while, reading, watching people, listening to a guitarist belt out David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” Afterwards I walked the streets of the Jordaan district, resolving not to go back to the apartment until I had made it all the way through Panda Bear’s “Tomboy.” That plus two Washed Out tracks later, I climbed the steep red velvet stairs and called it a day of sightseeing.

If there’s one thing this trip is teaching me, it’s that I’m settling into myself nicely. Matt, bless him, spent a fair bit of our time together asking me if I was doing the things I wanted to do and seeing the things I wanted to see. I had to keep reassuring him that I was having a perfectly great time simply being in the city for an extended period.

This trip, my third and longest in Europe, has unfolded in a way wholly unlike my last. In 2009 I jumped from England to Scotland to Ireland to France to the Netherlands within a two-and-a-half-week period, during which my ex and I crammed in multiple museum visits, sightseeing tours, dinners out, pub crawls, club nights, and haunted walks. A fun time, for the most part, but by the end I was buzzing from the information overload.

I’ve been thinking about what I wanted out of this trip, and I think it was the opportunity to calm down, to take in a far-off country in segments, to watch it go by over the course of a month and appreciate what daily life must be like for its residents. I wanted to experience living here, so I haven’t treated Amsterdam as much of a tourist destination – no pub crawls, no guided tours, no trying to check off top 10 lists in the DK guide book. I’ve largely been working, hitting up the supermarket for food, and otherwise experiencing Amsterdam in nicely doled out intervals. Matt and Kim have been nice enough to show me a thing or two about their lives here, and I consider that invaluable.

I also wanted to reconnect with a friend I’ve known for over 13 years, a guy I consider to be one of the best friends I’ve ever had. Matt remains someone I can talk with effortlessly. Funny how rare that is, and how much time I spend worrying in my daily life about finding people I can genuinely connect with when it’s so damned easy with him. I think of myself as a decent enough communicator, adaptable, caring, affable given the chance. With Matt, I know my words are taken in with interest and compassion and a deep-down willingness to engage. I try my best to give him the same in return. Such a rarity. Worth crossing the world for.

But I wanted to talk about cafés. I flew all the way to Europe to sit down. To exchange small talk with Dutch waiters and baristas. To crack open a book and sit in the sunshine and watch the early autumn leaves fall and find out that ordering a double espresso will get me something resembling my accustomed coffee, in a cup, with a ginger cookie. I will always remember the way it feels to hold a small spoon and stir a cappuccino on Brouwersgracht, how to portion out whipped cream along with forkfuls of apple pie. The way too many La Chouffes can sneak up on you while you’re watching coots swim in the canal by Cafe ‘t Smalle. I’m grateful to have this information, at least as grateful as I am to have caught sight of famous artworks in the Louvre.

Lately I’ve been talking a lot like a travelogue. I suppose I like the idea that I may be able to impart some advice on how to see the world. There are so many little things that the big giant things can force us to miss if we put too much thought into travel. If I can offer one piece of advice in all my meager wanderings, here it is: don’t let them. Slow down. Have a seat. Order your piece of pie, take a deep breath, and pay attention. You’ll be rewarded with memories you couldn’t possibly have seen coming.

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About Joel Crary

Joel Crary is a 30'ish 21st century writer living in Vancouver, British Columbia. He enjoys films, mostly. View all posts by Joel Crary

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