Parallels - Dispatches from Europe
Amsterdam is beautiful. Anyone who goes there and has half decent eyesight will tell you that. To powerwalk down any street without taking in the 14th, 16th, or 18th century architecture, so well preserved, would be almost sinful. Everything is impeccably symmetrical, perfectly designed. Newer buildings are just as pleasing to the eye as the vintage stuff. It was technically my third time in Amsterdam. I’d been in the Amsterdam airport twice before – once for a three-hour layover, once waiting to be picked up by car and taken to The Hague. I was finally back, ready to embrace the city I’d mostly just seen from above, while landing, and even that impressed me.
“You’re from Tennessee???”
Those words burst out of me with an eagerness prompted partly by a few hefty gulps from the bottle of wine I was sharing with a friend, but mostly because I could not believe that in the StayOkay hostel in Amsterdam, I had somehow come across someone from my state. He was staying there too, just a few doors down from me.
“I go to UTK.”
University of Tennessee Knoxville! My cousin’s ex-girlfriend goes there! So do a ton of my high school classmates!
As I expressed this, the door of the pregame room opened and a friend of mine stepped into the hallway where this conversation was occurring.
“I lived in Knoxville for seven years!”
No. Fucking. Way. Do you know how close Knoxville is to Nashville, my hometown? It’s so close! I was truly freaking out at this point. How could the world be this small? I was in Europe, ready for my new experiences and my European adventure, but here I was in a hallway of Americans, two of them from the same state as me.
It was about 11 PM and cold. We exited the tram and shivered our way to the entrance of Club Nyx, the gay club we had chosen for the evening. It felt…not that different from a night out in Nashville or Boston, celebrating a birthday or the end of a semester. Nobody checked our IDs and there were very convenient lockers at the entrance, but that’s about it. That’s not to say my friends and I didn’t have an amazing time – the music was great and the club had three floors, all of which I danced on at some point during the night.
I don’t know what I was expecting. Maybe Amsterdam has a certain connotation, promising crazy adventures and unforgettable memories. Or maybe the location itself is the story. I could already hear myself, six months later: “Oh my god, do you remember that time we chatted up that bartender in Amsterdam?”
The most significant part of that sentence that future me was bound to utter was actually the word “Amsterdam.” The location was pretty much the only thing that granted it significance beyond a fun memory.
My weekend in Amsterdam was really, really good. I went to museums, learned about Dutch history and culture, and enjoyed my nights out on the town. But it didn’t change me. I didn’t have a life-altering experience. Maybe three months in Europe will forever alter my life. I’m sure I’ll be a different person by the end of this semester. But my weekend in Amsterdam taught me that “Europe” isn’t just going to happen to me – I have to happen to it.