For those of us who spend our lives travelling, sometimes the dates, time changes and even the similarities throw us off balance. Making a phone call or answering a WhatsApp message gets complicated because we forget that when we’re finishing our day, our family members are just starting theirs. Between flights and layovers, agreeing on a schedule is difficult, but at least we learn something priceless: we become very flexible.
Enjoying this flexibility, which came from take-offs and landings, changes of suitcase, temperature and water, I find myself today looking at a calendar hung on a white wall and with longing, I run my index finger over the dates marked in red: Christmas, New Year’s Eve and the New Year.
What would happen if you spent Christmas away from home one year?
I smile from ear to ear and I make a decision, looking at the compass in my hand.
This year, my suitcase and I are destined to travel to experience this special time in another part of the world, far from home and the typical Spanish Christmas food, a little further north, in the beautiful city of Amsterdam.
The first thing to do is to find a place to stay which makes us feel comfortable and secure and afterwards, to explore the city, firstly with map in hand and then without the map, to allow ourselves to be swept along by those passing by, the shouting, the laughing, the smells and the colourful signs.
Walking around a new city is a gift for the senses. Different faces cross paths on our way, another language, other ways of dressing, styling hair and even walking.
Using a bike instead of a car, little colourful houses squeezed into a row, smiling at the canal, large windows displaying huge Christmas trees inside the houses and even those typical Christmas stockings, straight out of a movie, hanging on the fireplace, opposite which a family sits on their white carpet.
In the streets of this city, the smells mix together: chocolate, churros, kebab… I let myself be carried away by the carol singers on the streets in the different neighbourhoods, in a city which is as diverse as it is cosmopolitan, and I enjoy choosing figurines in its welcoming squares, where the Christmas markets, lit up and full of traditional Christmas spirit, take over all four sides.
It’s a luxury to go from market to market, discovering the city between the Leidseplein, Leidsestraat and Koningsplein squares and the small, picturesque Rembrandtplein square.
As night falls, I decide to follow the light trails which illuminate the city with carefully chosen decorations while I taste the traditional olliebollen and poffertjes and arrive at a large ice rink, where people of all ages wearing woolly Santa hats have fun falling over and getting back up, laughing the whole time.
I discover, in this way, three big ice rinks, the one on Leidseplein, the one on Museumplein and the most famous one, the Jaap Eden rink.
After having done a few fancy moves on the ice rink, still wobbling and seeing my breath in Holland’s freezing cold winter, I stumble upon Dam Square and while I drink a hot chocolate, I gaze admiringly at the big Christmas tree which plays a star role in this city’s Christmas celebrations year after year.
So as not to get homesick, I look for Christmas concerts such as those offered by the Philharmonic Orchestra and the Dutch symphony orchestra in the Concertgebouw or the smaller concerts which take place in the Basilica of St Nicholas, located right next to the Central Station.
And if you miss the Spanish tradition of eating twelve grapes in Madrid’s Plaza de Sol, Amsterdam fills up with Dutch people from different regions and globetrotters like me who want to experience the arrival of the New Year in the country’s capital. So, Dam Square prepares for the New Year with live music and fireworks and we can go to dance afterwards in Rembrandtplein or Leidseplein, where the city’s nightclubs, pubs and bars are open until dawn.
In the end, I understand that Christmas is also a brilliant time to travel and so I let myself get carried away.