I know it’s silly to choose favorites, but by nature we like to compare things. Our identities are developed through our preferences. Paris has been my favorite city since I first went there in 1985. Every other city I’ve been to is held up against the City of Lights and pales in comparison. Until Amsterdam.
I visited Amsterdam twice in this last year and last June, I could feel it catching up to Paris as my favorite city. In March, I finally capitulated and admitted that my desire to live there is real. Ever since my first visit to Amsterdam in 1988, I’ve wanted to stay there longer.
Because I like to understand and analyze things, I’m going to do a city-to-city comparison. Let's look at the appeal of both of these compelling cities.
Amsterdam is a city of style – the architecture, the show windows, the people, the canals, all provide an urban landscape of charm and beauty. And, Amsterdam residents have a habit of keeping their windows un-curtained, so passersby can peek in and check out their excellent style. Parisians, and the French in general, are famous for their shuttered windows.
Paris is huge and impressive – the wide boulevards, the grand buildings, the enormous parks are all designed to instill awe and wonder in us wee pedestrians.
Paris’s beauty and elegance instills in me a desire to be more classy, to wear designer clothing and to have impeccable manners and style.
In Amsterdam, I feel comfortable as I am. I’m not self-conscious of my red sneakers and jeans. I don’t feel the need to dress up and be my ‘better self.’
Paris has been part of my life since I began studying French in 1982. Her history is familiar to me, her stories part of my own past.
Amsterdam offers a new historic landscape to discover; I know very little about her history other than the Anne Frank story and the fact that Amsterdam was a refuge (like Paris) for all kinds of freaks and weirdos that were shunned elsewhere. (Is it a surprise that I love these havens of wackiness?)
Paris has, of course, the best pastries anywhere. Often imitated, never replicated, the croissants, bread and artful pastries can’t be beat. And then there’s the cheese and wine.
I haven’t had enough time to discover the culinary delights of Amsterdam. I did find a few vegetarian restaurants, imbibed some delicious coffee and a fresh croissant at an Italian café, and thoroughly enjoyed the organic market.
Both cities have their watery arteries, which I thoroughly enjoy. Give me a canal, a river, a lake and I’m happy. (Creativity is fueled by water!)
I have to say that Paris’s parks seem to surpass those of Amsterdam. I have spent a good amount of time tracking down Paris’s pockets of green. It’s the only way I can stay sane in the dense and intense concrete urban environment.
The Vondelpark in Amsterdam is vast, but when I was there in March it hadn’t emerged from its winter slumber, and the rampant construction made it feel more like a construction zone than a park. With more time, I know I would find the city’s sweet green spots.
I’ve been able to partake in my favorite activity in Amsterdam, but not Paris: bike riding. Next time I am in Europe I vow to have a credit card that has the chip that allows me to rent a bike through Paris’s Velib program.
Both cities have an abundance of bookstores, and bookstores with English books. Yippee!
Paris doesn’t yet have a le Cool guide, which is a shame. I thoroughly enjoyed the Amsterdam le Cool guide, which even had references to where to pee in the city, an issue not to be dismissed lightly!
Of course, in both of these cities I am a stranger, a visitor, skimming the surface. It’s a surface judgment on a place without a real experience of living there, interacting with the people, wading through the local bureaucracy.
Perhaps it’s my life-long love affair with France that has me turn to new landscapes. When I left on my trip, I wanted to expand beyond francophilia. I mean, France is great and all, but it’s not the only country worth visiting. My journey to Europe was an extension of my degree in West European Studies. I learned tons about Portugal, and a bit about Spain, Italy, England and Holland.
I met an American woman in Amsterdam who also has a home in Paris. What a perfect combination: time in Paris, time in Amsterdam, a way to enjoy both cities. If I didn’t have to choose a favorite, I’d go back and forth between the two.
Other elements that need more study: the museums, the music scene, the freebies, yoga studios, the possibilities of integrating into the culture, and more. I’ll just have to go back and investigate further.
What’s your favorite city, and have you ever been torn between two cities like this?