Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Amsterdam: The Beauty of Being Alive

I love Amsterdam.  It is a city with a wonderful vibe and a relaxed feel.  The peaceful canals and the dedicated cycle paths encourage a culture of low impact living and contribute to this feeling of tranquillity.   As a visitor looking in, I feel that people here are less stressed than in many of the other big cities I have visited.  I feel that the people of Amsterdam know how to enjoy life…to make the most of the beautiful city they live in. 

We’ve booked a room in the museum district and find it quite easy to hop on the tram and make our way there, after arriving by train from London.  It has taken us all day to get here but after a short rest, we are ready to go out and enjoy the evening.  Europe comes alive at night and Amsterdam is no exception.  The lights by the canals lend an added charm to this city and we find our way to pedestrian streets buzzing with locals and tourists alike.  The restaurants spill out to the streets so patrons can enjoy the balmy summer weather with a cool beer and good food. 

Amsterdam is one of the most multicultural cities in the world with 180 nationalities calling this place home.  But with a small population of only 820,000 people it does not feel over-crowded partly because almost 60% of residents cycle each day!  I find it amazing to learn that at the last count bicycles
outnumbered the residents of this city.  It is a city that is open and accepting of many ways of living, a major drawcard to those escaping societies that demand conformity.  

It’s a bit of a cloudy start to our second day but by mid morning the city is ablaze with sunshine and we decide to treat ourselves to a 24-hour canal pass that allows us to enjoy the city at our leisure.  It’s Steve birthday and he’s been looking forward to celebrating and relaxing in Amsterdam.  On the tour we learn there are more than 2,500 houseboats on the canals and as we glide past we glimpse another way of living.  No lawns to mow or carpets to vacuum but rather time to enjoy life to the fullest.  People are relaxing on the decks of their boats, enjoying a drink, a chat and the sunshine.  Life here does not appear to be an endless list of chores to get through, a rat race to struggle through…but an opportunity to enjoy the feeling of being alive! 

The first time I visited Europe more than 17 years ago, I remember reading a sign at Stonehenge that said, “If you are Alive, Live”.   The words stayed with me and I have always strived to live a life that is attempting to extract the most of each day.  Living and enjoying the moment…rather than waiting for the weekend…waiting to retire…!  On the continent, I get the sense that many people are also striving to live life passionately. 

When I am in Europe, I feel that the English speaking Western world is far more risk-averse than the continent.  I feel that Sydney, the place I now call home is a little obsessed with rules and regulations, with health and safety, to an extent that compromises creativity.  Cyclists, the metro, buses, cars and pedestrians share the streets of Amsterdam with no policing.  I have not witnesses any road rage toward the cyclists, who get about without any helmets, often with little kids balanced on seats astride their handle bars or asleep in the carts attached which are also useful for bringing the shopping home.  I see no signs of traffic cameras or traffic cops hiding behind bushes waiting to entrap an unsuspecting driver in an unfamiliar street corner.  Big brother does not appear to be watching my every move, rather trusting that I will be responsible for own my actions but also mindful of those around me. 

In the English speaking western world, we are preoccupied with a sense of duty.   There are so many
rules to obey, duties to be fulfilled, obligations to take care of, that often we seem to forget about enjoying life.  The obsession with home ownership and the constant desire to acquire a bigger home in a ‘better’ suburb seems to take over life.  In Amsterdam, people are more preoccupied with beauty rather than duty. They live in much smaller spaces; in houseboats, in small apartments with convenient access to services and the city. 

The City itself is geared toward ensuring its citizen’s live in a way that leaves a smaller carbon footprint on the planet.  By 2025, Amsterdam aims to have cut 60% of its current CO2 emissions. The City is bringing these initiatives under the umbrella of a single campaign – New Amsterdam Climate.   The city
is launching an energy saving desk that will help small and medium businesses to reduce their footprint and save money in doing so.  An important aspect of this is modifying existing networks so that energy can not only be taken from the grid but contributed to it as well.
As explained on the I amsterdam website, The Amsterdam Waste and Energy Company is a good example of the city's ambitions, supplying green energy to all the trams, traffic lights, and municipal lighting in Amsterdam. By making the most of waste - and the heat generated in disposing it - this city-owned enterprise is currently responsible for a reduction of 350 kilo tonnes of CO2 per year, with a projection of 550 kilo tonnes per year in the near future.

The city is rewarding Amsterdammers who get rid of their cars and turn in their parking permits by giving them a free three-month public transportation pass. Those that do so by the end of the year will also receive a coupon worth €300 at any of the city's car-sharing groups.

We hear that the local Council is working toward creating office spaces with hot desks where people
can work remotely.  When the scheme is complete, every worker will be able to get to one of these centres within a 15-minute cycle ride from his residence.  There are many innovative ideas and schemes such as this and much to learn from especially for Sydneysiders.  We spend so much of our life getting to and fro from work! 

We celebrate Steve’s birthday with a wonderful meal and say goodbye to Amsterdam.  It was nice to celebrate this milestone in a City that has discovered the beauty of being alive!

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