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.