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Published: January 6th 2019
Traveling is addictive. I know, because I’m willing to spend money I don’t have, dismiss my family and my job to disappear on a whim, and tolerate loads of discomfort and pain just to get my fix. I’m so deep in, there’s no kicking it now.
Hello, my name is Andrea, and I’m a travel junkie.
According to the cartoons of my childhood, teleporting should be a thing by now. But it’s not.
So, layovers have become my essential travel tool. Those long haul 18+ hours flights, seated in coach, are the true definition of hell. But. Can’t stop. Won’t stop.
I love Amsterdam and it has become my preferred halfway point for any African or Middle Eastern excursion. Years ago, I loathed this stopover and I simply referred to Schiphol as Shit Hole.
Then one day I ventured out of the terminal and discovered Amsterdam is layover gold!
Autumn is definitely the most beautiful time of year to visit Holland. The briskness of the air, the fall foliage reflecting off the dark waterways, the way the sun sits low in the sky, with everyone bustling about, bike bells clanging, gloved hands carrying steaming cups
Amsterdam - Not Just Cheese & Dykes
Red light district in full swing on a Sat night in October
of tea. And I quite literally will never get enough Stroopwaffles.
Winnipeg, my travel buddy, insists we spend a few days in Amsterdam before heading back to Canada. I was chuffed. Still riding the high from my fantastic Barcelona 50th
birthday week, I wasn’t quite ready to go home yet.
Upon arrival, we take the airport train to the waterfront station and board the number 13 tram to take us further aloft. This is where it all went pear shaped. We made the mistake of relying on Google maps to narrow down our Air BnB. We wandered around Oud West for hours with heavy luggage trying to find Farffenuggensloop Straat
or something like that. Simultaneously, our phones run out of charge.
We walked past farmers markets and children playing in parks, anyone Dutch we encounter is abrupt until they realize we are Canadian. Then they switch to polite English and help us. In fact, one old lady takes me by the hand and leads us to an approximate destination.
I’m exhausted from dodging commuters, who whiz by on bikes with gigantic scarves wrapped around their obnoxiously happy faces. Everyone here is so fit and healthy,
and they know it. No matter where I stand, I’m in their way. We finally locate our Air BnB.
Little did we know the owner was a complete nut job.
I should have guessed from his profile picture. It shows him cheek to cheek with himself in a mirror. Honestly, when I booked it, I thought it was a picture of a lovely gay couple. Nope.
It was Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
He scolds us for being late but chivalrously grabs my huge backpack and hauls it up his steep staircase to the second floor. My charged phone chimes with 26 messages from him.
Our room is a comfy, minimalist space with the softest of twin beds. And in the hallway are two water closets. A tiny shared toilet and a tiny shared shower. Adequate, but just don't try to shave your legs in there.
Overall, well worth the $80 per night.
Dr. J opens the fridge to show off his stash of cheeses, bread, condiments and meats, with milk and yogurts. Help ourselves.
A fully stocked coffee and tea bar too. Actually, you could cook a gourmet meal if you were
My kind of place
so inclined. Dr. J, hands over keys and departs, telling us he’ll be back for our final night.
We spend the next couple days exploring every nook and cranny of Amsterdam. Museums of wartime, cheese and sex, Anne Frank house, Van Gogh gallery, Heineken brewery, we also rented bikes to tour the dykes and windmills, hung out in parks & coffee shops, tried on wooden shoes, and did a few hop on hop off boat rides.
Even all around our quaint Air BnB neighborhood were lovely ethnic restaurants and shops, cozy pubs, and flea markets. We had a tram pass, but we preferred to walk everywhere. The weather was beautiful.
Our last night, on a crisp clear Saturday, we left the house late to grab the convenient tram just around the corner, and were quickly deposited right into the seedy underbelly of the Red Light district.
Winnie insists on visiting one of the Bulldog coffee shops to buy a t shirt for her brother and perhaps to check out the botanicals on offer. I don't partake usually, but I'm willing to sit for a beer and tolerate the hipster ambiance for a little contact high. Next
How do you decide
a stroll to check out the sex and head shops.
This is Winnie’s first time here, so what she says goes. Her next request is for the Heineken booze cruise, but we can't find where to get on.
Some drunk dudes try to coax us onto their boat, saying their ride was a far superior experience. Wink wink. I would have boarded but Winnie has a strong stranger-danger reaction to them. Weird. It’s usually me.
Back in the Red Light district, I’m sorry to report, but it's a sad state of affairs. I actually felt sorry for the prostitutes standing expressionless in their velvety windows. How it must feel to be ogled by droves of men on a bachelor crawl. The girls are glazed over as they sway naked to music they can only hear, in a glowing red back light.
Winnie and I are mesmerized by this spectacle of testosterone, we stand aloft as men gather around the picture windows, only to have a door swing out, with one of the men clutched and dragged in.
His mates, left behind to hoot and cheer. A thick curtain draws shut and there is an anticipatory
A great travel bud, I’m very lucky to know her
hush that casts over the crowd. They wait. Minutes later, the door swings open and the man stumbles out looking like he's been through a washing cycle. All theatrics, I'm sure. Lots of jeering and high fives as they make off down the lane to the next place.
Winnie and I casually push our way into a crowded outdoor pub to enjoy a plate of nachos with beers...for only 66 Euros. Gasp!
Is nothing cheap here?
On the plus, I do like how Amsterdam is geared towards a 4 season lifestyle, many local patrons circle heat lamps and cover themselves in the throws provided, hunkering down for long people-watching sessions out on the lively canals.
I’m fully aware I’m too old for nightclubs or raves, but Winnie talks me into one anyway. She’s 10 years younger than me, but even she came away feeling old and dirty. There should be a sign on the club entrance, No one over 30 allowed in. Yes even you, the one having a midlife crisis.
We return to our Air BnB, a feat in itself, as Google gets us horribly lost again. The trams won't go where we think
Smiley Happy Commuters
There are a lot of fit healthy Dutch in Amsterdam
they go, the little man in the information booth tells us construction detours are to blame. At least it isn't us.
I’ve said it before, I'm anything but directionally challenged. But I swear, every street and building in Amsterdam West has the same name and facade...further enhanced under my newly foggy haze...of the purple kind.
We are greeted by our new flat mate who’s taken up residence on the 3rd floor. He is a fellow Canadian from Hong Kong and is cooking up a pot of brussels sprouts for some reason. We open a bottle of Rioja and dig into our smoked gouda, when our host magically re-appears.
Dr. Jekll’s body language is odd, he’s a little off, maybe just high. He takes 3 glugs from his glass of wine, and transforms into this mad scientist. His face distorts. One of his eyeballs creeps to the side of his head.
Dr. J is now Mr. Hyde.
Both Winnie and I give each other that weary but knowingly glance. We are familiar with this level of crazy. Without speaking a word we’ve already mutually agreed to ride this one out and see where it takes us.
Red Light Church
If you can’t beat them, join them right?
Mr. Hyde disappears from his kitchen, returning with three more bottles of cheap white wine. Ok. Now I sense trouble brewing
. He guzzles from each bottle while he holds us voluntarily hostage for the next few hours.
We are amused by him at first, it's all sarcastic Dutch banter and wit, very similar to playing a game of trivia. But we know it's only a matter of time before it gets weird.
At one point, he attempts to cram pickled herring with raw onions down my throat. Normally, I would consider such action an assault, but in his misguided, drunken defense he was super keen to teach me about Dutch customs. And actually, the fish was very tasty.
When he isn't babbling mathematical gibberish, he’s proclaiming obscure quotes we know aren’t his.
Our Hong Kong flat mate is a financier by trade and is intrigued enough to naively challenge him. This just sends Mr. Hyde into a tirade of mathematical nonsense. He stands over him and yells incoherently. I glance over to see our young flat mate’s petrified eyes darting wildly. Mr. Hyde sees this too, and becomes defeated. He sits down hard and
strange days indeed
Nothing like a little hangover panakooks to start the day
gives himself a talking, as an attempt to normalize the room. No one dare make any sudden movements.
Five minutes later he’s screaming at us again because we don’t know the composer for Bausch's overture to Orpheus & Eurydice.
Winnie is first to tire of Mr. Hyde’s one man show and retreats to our bedroom. I go off second, especially when he starts to throw the empty wine bottles against the kitchen wall, yelling political rants between Dutch and English, and what I think might be Polish.
Our Hong Kong flat mate whispers fearfully through our locked door that he’ll provide protection for us girls. Not to worry.
We have to laugh. We tell him we are both prison guards in a maximum security lockup. Challenged daily by the criminally insane. We reassure him that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a piece of cake in our eyes. Relieved, our flat mate retreats to his 3rd
I did put a chair against our door before I crawled into bed. Winnie reports Mr. Hyde sat outside it all night reviling stories of his glory days. I had earplugs in.
The next morning, I walk
Where’s your ear?
Poor old Van Gogh, tripping on Absenthe. Paints amazing landscapes though
into the kitchen and Dr. Jekyll is there, sheepishly cleaning up the bottle shards and quietly muttering to himself.
His next guests have already arrived, four elderly twangy Americans that are already bitching about the size of the WC, and the steep staircases, and the distance they had to walk from the Tram. One of them suddenly realizes her wallet is gone, pick-pocketed on the metro. Drama ensues. If they hadn’t been "so American" from the get go, I would have probably warned them off about Dr. J and Mr. Hyde.
We call an Uber to Schiphol for our red-eye odyssey back to Canada. Our Hong Kong flat mate comes running out of the house and jumps into our car, I guess he’s not willing to risk another two nights with our charming host.
We all have a good laugh reliving our Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde experience. I’m not even sure if he should get a good review or a bad one. The Uber driver overhears our conversation and shares a few bizarre incidents he’s privy of from our notorious Air BnB host.
At this point, I’m starting to realize we may have escaped the
Local Dudes Hanging
Although I’m pretty sure they are selling drugs, they didn’t keep a very low profile. When in Amsterdam.
Air BnB without being dismembered, and eaten. Whew.
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