There were several things we did, and you can do, in an effort to get to know our new city. In fact, most of the things I’m about to describe to you were things we were already doing on a regular basis before we moved, so this aspect of the move wasn’t a lifestyle change for us; more a change of scenery.
Once off the plane, with bags dumped at the hotel, key in our pocket, we went for a walk. We were determined to see our first canal. It was only days later when I figured out which canal it even was! (Herengracht, for the curious.)
It’s one of the best things you can do for really getting a feel for the place you’re now going to be calling home. There is so much atmosphere to be absorbed from walking around and just seeing everything there is to see.
I can’t thank google maps enough for giving me a good solid grounding in orienting myself on the ground, and in what the streets looked like and felt like. Before we moved I’d spent weeks walking up and down the tree lined streets, just getting used to how Amsterdam felt and figuring out which direction the important landmarks were in. This combined with my trusty pocket map got us a long way in the first few months.
Walking the streets also gives you time to absorb all the sights, and what’s going on around you in a way that buses, trams, and even the ever present bicycles in Amsterdam, don’t. All other modes of transport fall afoul of moving too quickly past things that you want to be able to observe.
I’d spent a lot of time before moving researching both Amsterdam and the Netherlands via anything I could get my hands on. Initially this was Wikipaedia, but it was followed closely by a couple of Lonely Planet guides, Expatica, DutchNews.nl, and of course grilling my wonderful Sister-In-Law who’s Dutch.
I had a good idea of what I wanted to see and experience when I got here. It all helped, if only so that I had something to do with myself when feeling a little lost in the first year. And I still haven’t ticked everything I want to see off my lists! (Probably why the posts keep coming!)
So we began by going to tourist venues to help us get a feel for the local culture. Some of the museums we went to were more educational than others, depending on your perspective! You’ll probably find, as we did, that the places you gravitate towards will be the kinds of things you like doing, as will people you want to meet/be friends with. This provides a wonderful opportunity to make new friends as well!
Himself and I are huge fans of people watching. You can learn so much about a city and what moves its populace just by watching them. In Sydney we used to do this a lot at Darling Harbour. In Amsterdam the café culture is a deeply ingrained part of everyday life, so there are innumerable cafés with sidewalk seating in which to relax over a coffee, orange juice, or beer and just watch the parade of humanity passing you by. Of course, different cafés give different social perspectives, and it can be a wonderful way to absorb several hours without realizing it!
City council websites not only give you a list of events which you can attend, but give you a good idea of what is important to the city’s inhabitants. Whether it be the arts, sports or even just what public holidays they have and why, it can be a good grounding to begin learning from. They are also a wonderful resource of free events in which to immerse yourself!
Getting to know your new city can be a daunting prospect. Whether it’s a big city or a country town, whether it’s across the country or across the world, there’ll be new things to get used to. Whether you incorporate them into your daily life, or merely view yourself as a transplant and continue doing everything as close as possible to how you used to do it, I think you’ll have the most fun if you get out there and get active!