Monday, July 24, 2006
Yet again I have been running by canals but this time they had nothing to do with the industrial revolution and the long distance transport of goods and raw materials. Instead I went to Amsterdam for the first time and ran beside the 17th century houses and the water. It was tremendous. I loved the sense of being in the middle of a city but it feeling peaceful and relaxed.
I like cities in the early morning, watching them as they wake up. When the place is new there is an added mystery of not knowing where you are going or what you are going to see. Running adds to the sense of exploration.
I do however have certain rules to stop me getting lost. The first is to fix some landmark, or central space and know a route from there back to my hotel (in this case I used Rembrandt Plein). The next stage is to identify a road that feeds into that place that can be used for orientation (I chose a road running due south from the square). This means you can run around until you meet this road and then find your way back quite directly.
After that it is a matter of looking at the map to get a sense of the layout of the streets (Amsterdam is quit easy because it is like a series of semi-circles ), then lacing up the trainers and running. I like to challenging myself by taking a number of random turns, all the time trying to keep an internal picture of where I have been and where I am going. I find that the risk that I might lose my way forces me to look more closely at where I am going and my surroundings.
There are dangers in that you might end up in a bad area but there is no great risk of that by the canals of Amsterdam. If worried you can always ask the concierge where not to run but I do not like to ask where to run because I want to have the sense that I am in control of my wandering. Sometimes by not going to the more obvious sites you get a better sense of place.
The value of getting to know somewhere by foot is illustrated by the fact that my wife an I came back with a really positive view of the city. We had wandered the streets and relaxed in cafes and parks. At the same time a friend of ours had visited Amsterdam on business and in some free time took a trip into the centre, with his colleagues. They asked the taxi driver to take them to a nice café where they could watch the world go by but the taxi driver could not believe that four English males did not want to got to the red light district. After that was declined he dropped them nearby at Dam Square, which was not the place they were looking for. After a short time they went back to their hotel, thinking that the city was young, noisy and full of fast food.