Compared to other cities, getting myself oriented in Amsterdam has been quite a challenge.
The city’s circumferential layout lends itself to a very special logic of navigation. The circular street-pattern of the inner-city canal belt leads to a lot of confusion: things that at first seem far from each other are in fact very close.
One of the first steps in getting to know Amsterdam’s layout is to relate things to the centre of the half-circle: Centraal Station. First, realize that Central Station isn’t precisely at the centre, but is slightly to the west – this is essential to eventually making sense of the city.
As Centraal Station is the anchor of initial orientation, an understanding of the city emerges as radiating lines of experience that extend from the centre out and into the periphery. Be careful though. Understanding the city this way leads to a fragmented and incomplete picture of Amsterdam, and to the confusion of distance between things described above.
One of the most gratifying things is when you connect the space between these radiating lines, realizing that two things you previously thought were in different parts of Amsterdam are indeed side by side. After two months here, I find this is happening more and more.
I am learning this systematic and uniquely-laid out city in a systematic and unique way.