Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Travel Tuesday - Amsterdam

This edition of Travel Tuesday is dedicated to what I consider the craziest city I've ever been in; Amsterdam.

Everybody knows all about what it's famous for, the infamous Red Light District. It has alot more to offer but this a blog, not a guidebook, so let's concentrate on that. I first went to Amsterdam in late April of 1999. I was single then and usually stayed at Youth Hostels when I traveled. Not only are they cheap, but they're great places to meet other travelers to hang out (and drink) with. It adds tremendously to the travel experience. So I got a room at one of the hostels in Amsterdam that happened to be right smack dab in the middle of the RLD. It cost 20 guilder (10 bucks) a night and featured a bed and a shower. After checking in, I was eager to take in as much of Amsterdam as I could. I found a great English style pub called the Old Salt that has the perfect location for people watching as it's right on the corner of two busy cross streets. It was a beautiful day and the huge windows were all open, which pretty much made it an open air bar. I sat there for about 3 hours drinking Guinness and just watching the goings-on. I saw guys paying for the ladies in the window. I saw guys picking up...well, let's just say they looked like women, but they weren't. I saw a few good fights. I saw plenty of junkies, and even had a couple people approach me and ask me "what I needed". The choices included such luminaries as hashish, smack, rock, or just plain weed, as well as pretty much any other exotic substance you can think of. I just said I wasn't interested and they left me alone though, so it was never scary or dangerous (I've found that even if you're alone, if you come across like someone who knows what they're doing as opposed to a ignorant tourist, people don't really bother you. Of course, it helps to be a man and to look like you're in pretty good shape. I've been through some of the seediest areas in Europe and never had a problem. I can only speculate that this is why). The RLD in Amsterdam is really not too bad though. By now, it's actually become somewhat of a tourist attraction. I even saw a few tour guides take their groups through and point out some of the strange things there. After a few hours, it gets old, and I took off to explore the city a bit. I went to the Heineken Brewery, but it was closed. I soon discovered that while the RLD is the place for mischief and revelry, the best nightlife is found in the Leidesplein area.
Upon waking up the next morning, I discovered that staying at a youth hostel in the middle of the RLD was not the best idea I've ever had. It was a YMCA style, which means there were about 50 beds in the dorm room I was in. It was hot and very humid. When I woke the next morning, the windows were steamed up, and the room smelled like what can only be described as a combination of alcohol, hash, weed, B/O, and very bad ass. It was so bad that I showered, grabbed my bag and got the hell outta dodge as fast as possible. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was Queen's Day, which is The Netherlands' big holiday. Queen's Day is the best day to go to Amsterdam. Someday in the future, I'll do a separate post on Queen's Day.

The second time I went to Amsterdam was equally as crazy. It was December 30th, 1999. I had made no plans for the millenium celebration (I seldom make plans), and was starting to panic. The world was supposed to end, so where does one go to celebrate the end of the world as we know it? You got it. Amsterdam. I talked a few other guys into grabbing a train with me. We had no reservations and no place to stay, but what the hell? We were young, crazy, and the world was gonna end, so we didn't need a place to sleep. Our plan was to party all night and - assuming the Y2K bug didn't cause the end of civilization - take the first train back to Germany. Unfortunately, 2 million other people had the same idea. We got there fine and quickly got our drink on. Then, much to our chagrin, we discovered that almost all of the bars closed at 11pm so everyone could enjoy the celebration. We made the best of it and walked around for a few more hours, mostly watching an epic brawl that had started among a bunch of Turks in the RLD. Eventually it got extremely cold so we headed to the train station thinking we would just crash there until the first train left in the morning. The city had other ideas; they locked the train station to prevent people from crashing there until the first train left in the morning. We said screw it, we'll crash outside the train station with all the hippies and bicycles (if you've been to Amsterdam, you know what I'm talking about). So I climb up on the window sill, rest my legs on the nearest bike and start to drift off. I get woken up by something moving under my legs. I look down in time to see a junkie squatting under my outstretched legs, his crack pipe blazing away. After a few seconds, he looked up at me and saw me giving him a "are you kidding me?!" look. Must have scared him, because he crawls out, jumps up, and scurries off without a word.

And that's Amsterdam.


Anonymous said...

Rik, funny lol!

Yeah the RLD (red light district) is a tourist attraction. There was this black hooker weighing more than 200 kilos sitting in that dang red lighted window with her string bikini. Oh god, i was dang shocked! lol! Whats interesting are also the sex toy shops, they are soo hilarious!!! I have an entry on this RLD thing in my blog, check the "By Popular Demand", a new section under the Dutch Sneak Preview... Look into the entry, "Sex Talk, Sex Job, Sex Trade".

Rembrandtplein is also a great place for entertainment and hanging out. And Dutchman and I are going to Leidseplein for a date tomorrow! We have tickets to this Boom Chicago theater and bar/restaurant. They have stand up theatrical-comedy shows. It's owned by an American by the way... and everything there is in English hehe. We will probably grab some of those patat-frites (not healthy!) before the show starts, no time to it on a posh restaurant since I will be getting off from work.

Junkies are also a tourist attraction lol. They have rights haha. I think in the past the government wanted them locked but they devised a different plan by legalizing weed/hash and also by giving an alternative drug (forgot the name) where they can get for free from junkie support centers in every city. These junkies too has a fulltime job, he not only sell you weed/hash but can also sell you a used bike under €50!

And NL is big with firecrackers during New Years. The Dutch are wild with it.

Aside from Queens Day on 30 April, the Annual Gay Pride parade is also fun. Happens in August, very colorful and full of entertainment and merriness. The whole centrum is practically closed down! But I doubt if you will be interested to watch this, unless you bring Virginia along. My Dutchman wasn't that excited when I dragged him, lol. But he obliged, he was safe with me :-)


elentári said...

Hello there, I'm from Holland (Haarlem, not so far away from Amsterdam), and I must say I enjoy reading 'foreigners' points of view on what I call my country! It's quite unique I think that you got to experience Dutch queens day, it's really a big event, not only in Amsterdam but in the whole country! Anyway, hope you enjoyed Amsterdam:)!

Rik said...

MissT: I sometimes envy you guys being able to go into Amsterdam for a night out, but then I remember that I can do the same with Venice, so it all evens out. I can only imagine what the Gay Day thing must be like. They were represented quite well on Queen's Day when I was there. There was a group of them in a 4th or 5th floor apartment overlooking the main street going from the station the the Damplatz place - they were hanging out of the window with a huge sign that said "WE NEED MEN!". I think I have a picture, I'll have to try and find it. It was pretty funny.

Elentari: I did have a great time there on Queen's Day. I even bought an Ajax clock for 1 guilder from one of the people seeling all their stuff on the street for a friend back home. As I recall, Haarlem is the main tulip city, isn't it? I've always wanted to do the Nijmegan march. Hopefully I'll have a chance before I leave Europe eventually. And I love watching the Dutch national futball team. Love everything from the style of play to the cool orange uni's!

Anonymous said...

I think I know which Youth Hostel you mentioned. The name in Dutch language was Jeugdherberg, but it has changed about one or two years ago to Stay Okay. I have ever worked at that Youth Hostel YMCA but not in Amsterdam, just closed by my house. I find the new name Stay Okay not really nice heheh...I know all the activities YMCA usually offers, I worked there for a year till I really got enough of its work *to wake up at 06:30 AM is difficult eh? coz I had to be there at 07:00 AM yep yep..too early!!* Have u ever smoked weeds then? I do lol....I was addicted to it about a year ago, or probably 2 years ago, but now I use it just when I feel I want to.


Anonymous said...

eh I meant YMCA = NJHC - Nederlandse JeugdHerberg C *i dont know what C means heheh forgot it*


Dutched Pinay on Expatriation said...

rik, the area where the tulips are is called haarlemermeer. the fields are in lisse and hillegom near where i work and also near to schiphol airport. beautiful! if u are in NL between april and early may, go take the train to haarlem, and take the tulips ride (via NS, the dutch national train)! from haarlem to leiden and vice versa. a 30 minute one way ride and all you see are fields and patches of tulips in different colors.

u should check the annual gay pride parade (they parade with boats in the canals). it is sooo fun and its a BIG tourist attraction. the gays are in their costume. i was sooo amused with some of them dressing up in S&M attire. that was scary! lol! but in the streets, u see all kinds of people from heteros, hetero couples, old people, kids, teenagers, business people, decent people, junkies.... etc. so the gay celebration thing isnt only with gays but a city feast.

Rik said...

Echa: I was never able to smoke weed because in the military, we would have random drug tests. Never really cared to try it anyway. Ever see Pulp Fiction? I love the part where John Travolta is telling Samuel Jackson about the drug scene in Amsterdam!

MissT: I actually might take a trip up there around April. If so, I'll definitely check it out. I'm thinking about planning a weekend trip for Queen's Day if the dates work out.

Anonymous said...

oh yeah i forgot it lol

i actually come from army's family; my dad, uncle, grandfather, were army :)