When I was 18 years old, I lived in a small town called Wel on a study abroad program as an Emerson College undergrad. That town in Holland was so indistinguishable, you couldn’t find it on a map, and farm animals outnumbered humans. We lived in a secluded 16th-century castle, though traveled extensively, and I was well immersed in local culture, even able to carry a basic Dutch conversation without today’s handy translator apps.
While Wel was only two convenient hours from Amsterdam, I only visited there a mere handful of times. I wasn’t particularly fond of Amsterdam. It was uninspiring and seedy—chockfull of shady smoke shops with virtually no luxury hotels and mediocre restaurants, heavily relying on museums, canals, and the notorious Red Light District to woo travelers, and nothing more. Amsterdam wasn’t moving like Paris, Rome, Prague, and other top European cities.