A Day in Amsterdam During COVID-19: Cafés and Protests

Two and a half months later on June 1st 2020, cafés and restaurants could now open again in the Netherlands. The country was united in waiting to reclaim this bit of freedom. At the same time, violence in the US has sparked outrage around the world. The Dutch are not ones to stay quiet.

I was in Amsterdam yesterday as all of this was happening. You can imagine how it felt to finally sit at a “terrasje” (outside a cafe) again, while all you can talk about is how shitty everything is.

Sara, my girlfriend, and I took the train from Amsterdam to Utrecht. We wanted to use to the day to see a friend, and experience the city while there were still no tourists there. We had planned a responsible day of fun with lots of social distancing in mind.

Visiting Amsterdam in June during the coronavirus crisis.

The train was surprisingly empty. We were afraid that everyone would use today, a holiday in the Netherlands, to make a short trip somewhere. Thankfully that wasn’t the case, and it was actually a manageable journey. I hadn’t taken public transport since mid-March. As a city person who likes to travel, I never thought I’d be saying that about a period in my twenties. I normally use public transport almost daily.

But these are strange times. On the bright side, the relative quietness continued into the city of Amsterdam. As Sara and I made our way from Amstel Station to the city center, we really got to enjoy the fact that there weren’t any tourists around.

Normally, the city is FULL of them, and you can barely walk two blocks in the center without bumping into someone who wasn’t paying attention because they were trying to take their 97th photo on a bridge. I don’t blame them really, the city is just so pretty.

On June 1st, even with all the terrasjes open, Amsterdam was fairly quiet. Which made the city incredibly beautiful, and somehow, the fact that it was less crowded didn’t take away from how lively the atmosphere was.

The surreally empty city of Amsterdam with no tourists due to COVID-19.

As you can tell from the picture, it didn’t stop the Dutch from enjoying a nice summer day. People were still out on their boats, biking around, and of course, enjoying their newfound ability to get a coffee or beer at a café while sitting outside.

I have to clarify here, the cafés all had their tables outside so that they could maintain the recommended 1.5 meter distance. You’re also less likely to get infected with COVID-19 outside. Which just made everything that much more gezellig. I hadn’t seen people sit outside enjoying themselves in ages!

I don’t know what it is about Dutch people and their boats, but it’s been a thing for centuries in the Netherlands, and I love it!

You can imagine that these active Dutch people enjoying the city still made Amsterdam feel lively even without the usual boat loads of tourists. Now, I’m just going to come out and say it, the city honestly felt SO MUCH BETTER without them.

Canals, boats, bikes, and buildings around Amsterdam’s empty streets.

I don’t hate tourists—I am one myself for good part of the year usually—but Amsterdam suffers a bit from just how many tourists visit the city each day. The local culture gets a bit lost in it. Amsterdam is a gem of a city, but without the local culture, some of the charm is lost. No one who lives in Amsterdam really likes it that the tourists have taken over their favorite spots. I had that happen all the time when I lived there.

The thing that surprised me the most was that the Dutch didn’t all just rush to all the cafés at once. In fact, there were many empty tables at the places we passed by. We were almost sure that there wouldn’t be any seats remaining at the café that we were planning on going to, but that was just not the case. There wasn’t a line, and there was one table outside that was unoccupied for most of the time we were there.

Drinking a couple of beers outside at a café watching people on the street pass by is a wonderful feeling that I had missed so much. I always say that I fall in love with places, and the thing that I really love is being able to get lost in my thoughts over a drink at a cute café. If this is not your first time on my blog, you probably know that about me.

The best part about sipping my beer in the sun yesterday was being joined by others in the feeling that we were all in this together, and that we were all going to do our best to enjoy our freedom responsibly. As an expat who moved to the Netherlands only last year, I haven’t had too many of these moments where I truly felt like I was part of the Dutch community. But this was one of those moments. It did help that I was with Sara. When I’m with her, I do feel “more Dutch”.

Later in the day, things took a bit of a turn when we decided to join in the Black Lives Matter protest in Amsterdam on Dam Square. I’m not going to go into the details of the events that sparked this protest here, mostly because they’re too painful for me to recount. What was interesting is that because these events occurred in America, as an American expat living in the Netherlands, the protest only furthered my feeling of belonging.

Black Lives Matter Protest in Amsterdam on Dam Square.

Sara and I hesitated going to the protest even though we really wanted to speak up for the cause. You can guess why we were hesitating— protests aren’t exactly a place where you can maintain a 1.5 meter distance from each other, and this was something we had more or less successfully been able to do in the past two and a half months.

But this was important.

So we joined in, and we were floored by how many people showed up. It was encouraging to see so many people care, and yet, we were terrified the whole time because it felt so wrong to be standing butt to butt with other people. We didn’t end up staying long.

Later that night on the news, we saw the country reporting the protest as being a more important right that the COVID-29 emergency right now. Both Sara and I still had mixed feelings about the physical aspect of the protest, but it was comforting to see that the country as a whole viewed protesting as an important part of our right as citizens of the country (and of the world???).

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