This was the first place that I didnít know how to speak the language. My lack of speaking skills was comforted somewhat by the fact that I met a Canadian by the name of Colin on the Bus from London (rail-pass wasnít valid in the UK). He was travelling solo as well, and was headed to Amsterdam for about 10 days. We decided to search out places together.
We got to Amsterdam in the early morning hours, and tried to find the Flying Pig hostel, which was rumored to be good. Well, we didnít know that there were 2 "Flying Pig" hostels, one that parties hard, and the other one which we ultimately found and stayed at. We had a tough time finding it. After several botched attempts at communication, we figured out on our own where we wanted to go. When we got there, it was a real cool hostel. In hindsight, I'm glad we found this one instead of the other "Flying Pig". We met very cool people (which I'm sure we would have at the other one too), but it was more relaxed, right next to a nice park, and only a 10-15 minute walk from the red light district. The first thing to hit me, was walking down to the bar (in the basement of the hostel) at about 11am, trying to ask what we could order to eat or drink, and having to wait until the bartender, Jerry, was done inhaling his joint before we had his undivided attention and could ask him anything. I donít even remember what we ordered. Once you got used to this kind of scene, everything in Amsterdam seemed normal.
Colin and I went out to the district that night just to check things out. It was
crazy as we expected. Colin was a real nice guy, perhaps too nice. Street pushers
would come up offering everything that was illegal (which in Amsterdam, isn't much).
Colin would reply "Sorry, I'm not interested, but thank you". No Colin. Walk by them. The pushers would then follow us for blocks as Colin would apologize for not wanting drugs. They'd ask why he didnít want them, and would have a good rebuttal for any reason that Colin had.
Colin: "I donít have enough money"
Pusher: "How much do you have?"
Colin: "10 guilders"
Pusher: "Thatís enough, give it to me, here's your stuff".
Colin: "No, thank you, I'm not interested".
Finally, after the 3rd pusher followed us, I grabbed Colin by the collar and dragged him in to a bar. Any bar. Pushers donít go inside bars, for some reason. Some sort of reverse-vampire syndrome, perhaps.
The bar we stumbled into was deserted except for the one girl working behind the bar. She was about 23, and was all about Guns-n-Roses. She had "Use Your Illusion" playing (number II, I think), and was wearing the concert t-shirt. Originally she was from the US, but had been in Amsterdam for sometime now. As this was the first place we had gone in to, we were not familiar with the whole Amsterdam way of life, and decided to ask our new G'n'R friend. So we asked "can you just go in to any coffee shop, and just buy anything"? She nonchalantly whips out a CD carrying case (the vinyl kind that can hold 60 or so CDs) and throws it on the bar, and says "or you can buy it here". Inside each CD pocket were different types of hash, pot, and mushrooms, all listed by potency and the effect each would give. For instance, mushrooms would be categorized by "good visuals" or "intense thoughts". So on and so forth. We found that some places gave these descriptions, and some did not. Every place had their goods listed by potency, from "least potent" to "you'd better have someone to carry you home". After a beer, we left that bar and headed for a coffee shop.
Inside the coffee shop we met a guy from NYC who was on a year assignment with his company and had been in Amsterdam for 7 months. Strangely enough, he couldnít mention a single place to go. Colin and I would ask "So, wheres the best club to go to, or bar, or coffee shop?". His answer was a slurred "Oh, you know, anywhere is good". In 7 months, thatís all he had learned. Ok.
Later that night, we went back to the hostel and met a whole bunch of cool people, one of which was a girl from DC, who knew a co-worker of mine at UUNET. Small world.
The next day, Colin and I went to see a couple museums, one was a modern museum,
and the other was the Rijks Museum, a famous classical museum in Amsterdam.
They had quite a few neat displays, mostly antique furniture, which didn't really
impress me. However, the paintings were awesome. They had a couple Vermeers, and
a bunch of Rembrants, including "Night Watch" which is one of (if not THE) most famous
of Rembrants paintings. 2 of the largest rooms in the museum were dedicated to this
painting. One room analyzed it in great detail, the other had the 10foot by 20foot
painting hanging by itself.
That night, on the recommendation of the girl from DC, we went to a bar called "The Noon". We were looking for it, and got lost trying to find it. Then we gave up and tried to find our way home, accidentally headed the opposite way than home, and ran in to the bar. The reason why we were looking for it was because the girl had told us that the owner was from DC. I figured I'd go say hi. I was lucky if I got that much in with this guy. He pretty much talked non stopÖ for the whole 45 minutes I was in there. I went in, and told him I was from DC. That was about all I said. He began to go off about DC cops, the American legal system, its flaws, the corruption, and his involvement and arrests with it. He said this all (it was a long story) and he said it fast. Occasionally, he would stop long enough to say "Hey, wanna bong hit? No? Ok, so like I was sayingÖ..". Basically, he was on probation for a drug charge and told the judge that instead of being on probation, he'd leave the country and not come back, the judge said that would be fine. He came to Amsterdam, bought a coffee shop and lives his dream by getting high all day long and selling pot. He appeared happy, and I was happy to see that he found his dream.
The next day, about 10 of us from the hostel set out to see the Heineken factory
Sure, you get to tour the factory, but the real gem is that you get to
drink afterwards. Basically, it costs 2 guilders to get in (thatís about a buck).
The tour is 45 minutes and is kind of neat, and afterwards you get to drink for one
hour, as many Heinekens as you can pound. They try to deter heavy drinking by only
offering the tours in the morning. Well, that plan didnít quite work with us.
We got pretty slammed and got kicked out at 11am, on to the streets.
We walked to a coffee shop, and chilled there for the rest of the afternoon.
On my last night there, I really wanted to check out the district. Unfortunately, most of the friends I had made were staying for 7 or 10 days, and did not have much desire to leave the hostel when they had things there to keep them amused. They figured they'd see it later, and I doubt they ever did. I was about to check it out alone when I ran in to some girls from Australia who were headed out, and said I was free to join them. There was 5 of them. 4 girls and one guy. The girls were interested in seeing a sex show. To be honest, I was extremely curious, so I was keen on the idea. To make it clear, these were not sleazy girls by any stretch of the imagination. Very nice, very proper people who wanted to experience Amsterdam for what it was famous for, a theory which I agreed with. We found a place that had a show for 35 guilders, ($17), and the guy sold us on the fact that for that price, we would have the special privilege of being allowed to go in and out all night. This sounded reasonable. We could go in and see the show, come out and go to a bar, and then go back if we wanted to. Well, we went in ,and it was more amusing than anything else. There were people doing just what you'd expect, but they worked it in to a little skit, which just made it amusing. I wouldnít even say it came close to being erotic. After about 30 minutes, we decided to find a bar.
We went in to a bar that had a lot of windows, and faced about 15 prostitutes on the other side of the street. We would watch as men would walk up to the doors. Some would knock, talk, and walk away. Others would enter, the shades would be drawn, and they would walk out 5 minutes later. At the longest. For those that aren't familiar with the Amsterdam way, each girl rents a "storefront" window where they stand in undergarments. If they have a customer come in, they draw the curtains while conducting business, and then open the curtains after the customer leaves. They make their money on volume. The one other guy in the group I was with was dating one of the 4 girls in our group, and at her request, we went up to a window to request a rate schedule. We were all curious. Basically it was 50 guilders ($25) that could get you any service requested. After hanging out at this bar, and walking the streets for a little bit, checking out all the weird places, we decided to head back to the show. We were ready for another dose of laughter. We walked up to the door, and as we were about to enter, the guy at the door says "Why do you want to go back in, itís the same stuff you've already seen!!??". This, coming from the exact same guy who just over an hour ago, sold us on the fact that we could go in and out all night for one low price. Slimeball. We went back in more to spite him than anything else. It was the same show, same people, same skit. This time, it wasnít as amusing, as we'd seen it before. We left, and headed back to the hostel, satisfied that we'd seen and experienced the Amsterdam that it was known to be.
The coolest people that I met in Amsterdam were these 4 other people from Australia. The two guys in this group had gone to London and bought a van and decided to drive it down the coasts of Portugal, Spain, the south of France, and Italy just surfing at every beach along the way. They were joined by a couple of female friends later in their trip. Once it got too cold to surf, they began to travel the interior of Europe. They were all so much fun. After Amsterdam, the 2 guys were headed back to London to sell the van (so they could go on Safari in Morocco) and the girls had a few days to kill while the guys sold the van so they decided to meet up with me in Paris.
Some of the neat things I noticed about Amsterdam: This city has a lot of bikes (left).
They have bike lanes which run along the streets along with these little bike
stop lights (right -- please click!). All the bikes look like they're from 1920, and they're all one-speeds.
Its amazing how in the district all the trains, cars, busses, bikes, and pedestrians all
work on the same streets without any recognizable pattern or order. All the sodas and
juices are really small. About half the 12oz size you'd normally get, or maybe smaller.
Pot shops aren't allowed to sell beer, but bars are allowed to sell pot. Everyone in
Amsterdam is pretty much stoned most or all of the time. There's gambling all over the
place. There are sex shops selling everything conceivable. There's many canals (left) in
Amsterdam, and the city as a whole is very attractive.
The architecture is very old.
The trains to leave the city are packed, perhaps just because of the holidays, but
they're jammed. People are in the aisles, etc. The street lights (and some stop
lights) have lighted ads on them, some for McDonalds, and some for Escort services.
All advertising is uncensored.
This was a cool farmers market we went to.
Next it was on to Paris via a stopoff in...