A friend, an MIT professor, lived in Amsterdam for a year or so back in his late 20s. It was an important experience for him, one he remembers fondly. When I told him we would be moving here, he quickly gave me his thoughts about where to live and what to do and see. Among these many things was one unique and brilliant idea (he is an MIT professor, after all). He said, “You need to learn to row. On the Amstel.”
He was not the first person to suggest this activity to me. As you know if you know me, I’m on the taller end of the spectrum. When I started college I was approached to join the crew team, but after attending an information session, I opted out. Later, a coworker who was a rower told me that I had “the perfect body” for rowing. (No, it was not meant to be a pick-up line.) I figured if I had “the perfect body” for something, then I should DO that thing, right? Still, an attempt to learn to row in Boston, on the Charles, about 10 years ago, was unsuccessful, largely due to the (poor) quality of the instruction.
But I was not about to give up! After all, I now live in a city of water and canals, and the Amstel is about 3 minutes from my house, and wouldn’t it be great to be out on the water, learning something new? Yes! And so I found myself at the Roeicentrum Burlagebrug tonight, taking my first rowing class. On the Amstel.
Much to my surprise, we were in the boats and on the water within the first 15 minutes. First, we had a quick lesson on an indoor stationary boat, where we learned how to get in and out (harder than you’d think), and how to position our oars and execute a stroke (exactly as hard as you think). But then we got a boat out from the shed and we were off! My four-person boat only had 3 people today. It was me and two nice Dutchies, a man and a woman who seem to know each other. Our instructor, Nico, is young but very good and totally unflappable.
I was closest to the instructor and was in the “lead” position, so the others had to follow me and try to stay with my pace and rhythm. It took a while to get it right. There’s a lot to remember and a lot of movement that needs to be coordinated. The level of focus required is surprising – it’s not as if I can sit back and enjoy the scenery. But we had some stretches where we got it together and it felt fluid and smooth. Not bad for a first time out!
There have been a few moments during my time here when my perspective has shifted, and a different way of seeing the city presented itself to me. One was when I got my bicycle and started cycling. Tonight was another of those moments. Even if I couldn’t look around and take in the city, being on the river seemed to connect me to the lifeblood of Amsterdam in a way that I haven’t experienced before. And it was wonderful.