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Published: December 10th 2009
I woke early from my booze-enhanced slumber and made my way to the train station to board the first available train to Amsterdam. A mixture of anticipation and uncertainty cluttered my mind as I awaited my steel chariot. What would Amsterdam be like? Will it be everything I dreamed of? Is anything there illegal? How is a Canadian who grew up in a relatively conservative and prudent society expected to react to its’ very antithesis? The amount of questions running through my now sober mind would drive others to great binges of drugs and alcohol. However, I am not a normal person. I can evade the evil necessities of life. I can say no to drugs. I am a strong man.... well at least I thought so until I travelled to Disneyland for Adults.
As the train inched towards the ‘Dam I gazed out the window at the landscape as it passed by. My eyes blurred in technicolour as the bullet train sped past endless fields of violets and daffodils. It seemed like fitting practice for the next few days. As we cruised along, I felt like the little child whose eyes are plastered to the backseat window of his parent’s woody wagon as they drove up the road to Disneyland. The number of images running through his puny little head would overload most circuits. Riding the rides…playing (paying) with (for) Minnie…eating all of the fun foods like cotton candy, candied apples, magic mushrooms or downing endless jugs of cool, smooth Dutch lager. My anticipation continued to build as the train station drew closer.
Prior to going to Amsterdam, the only thing I knew about the city was either learned from rumour or concocted in the warped recesses of my mind. Amsterdam…the city of drugs, prostitutes, stinky ovens and that the artist who went and fool cut his own ear off. Laws? Bah! There are no laws in Amsterdam. Morals…sorry, come again? Oh, one other thing, when I thought of Holland I imagined my train travelling alongside a massive dike, then in the distance I see little boys in lederhosen and wooden shoes doing their civic duty by plugging the holes with their plump little fingers. Chug…chugga, chugga, chugga…cho.choooo! Upon arrival, I would quickly discover that there was much more to the city, than I originally thought.
Suddenly, upon approach I awoke from my dreamy zombie-like snooze and noticed something quite unexpected. The capital of Holland reminded me of someplace all too familiar. It looked like my hometown. ?? Yes, as we passed through the suburbs, modern commercial offices and corporate headquarters were lined up one after another. Xerox, Apple Computer, Shell, Sony. They were all there. There were no medieval aged structures lining the approach. Instead of stone, I got glass and steel. This was quite unexpected. I was just in Brussels, Bruges and Ghent. In those cities, every building looked like it was constructed hundreds of years ago. As we approached Amsterdam all I saw were new ones. Quite odd. Thankfully, all this changed when we entered the old city centre.
My train arrived at approximately 1 PM. By 1:05 PM, already pick-pocketed. What a terrible start to my few day scheduled stay in Holland. Unfortunately, I was only able to pocket 25 Guilders from my unsuspecting victim. Next time, I will target someone more affluent. Stepping out onto the platform, I was hounded by a gang of punks begging me to stay at their “Five Star” hostel. During my ride from Bruges, I used the time to survey the bible and identify which hostel was to be my home during my stay. I chose a most accommodating establishment called, Durty Nellys Irish Pub and Hostel. Just the concept of sleeping right atop kegs of lovely Guinness seemed the most logical fit for my short stay. Soon after losing the hostel folks, I was accosted by another series of locals. The next troupe tried to flog a hodgepodge of chemical and organic drugs to me. I ignored this lot too, albeit less enthusiastically, and continued on my way. However, I did promise to “visit” with them later.
My hunt for Durty Nelly’s Inn continued. Finally, after traversing down a litter strewn alleyway, I found my Dam Valhalla. Upon entry to the pub, I managed to get an old haggard Irish lady to attend to my request for a place to sleep. The snaggle-toothed paddy grunted something and pointed to a nearby stairwell. I scaled the stairs and found my waiting dormitory. Excellent. My cot was nestled amongst 15 others in the room. First impressions? 16 people? Smells like a bad idea to me. For safety purposes, I chose the bunk closest to the open window in the corner. I unloaded my gear and quickly set out to explore the city with a prime objective…the famous Amsterdam Red Light District.
Upon stepping into the city streets, I found that Amsterdam was an extremely vibrant city. The streets were bustling with tourists and I saw Dutch merchants of all ethnicities selling their wares in a market-like atmosphere. It was almost like a trip down Yonge Street in the late eighties with the wide assortment of head shops and poster stores. Each shop was chock full of crap with tourists flocking to load down their luggage with cheap garbage trinkets and paper thin T-shirts. One pleasant aspect of the city that made up for the dingy flea market atmosphere was the fact that the grimy establishments were bordered by the most beautiful array of canals. During my tour, my search for the red light district followed the entire length of the intercity water route. The canals were built in a semi circle format. I started my walk at the beginning of the canal system just outside the train station and followed the entire length of the semicircle until after four hours I found myself at the other end. My search took all afternoon searching. I was tired. My feet hurt and it was only when I thought I was home when I tumbled over and into the world's most well renowned carnal haven. I should be ashamed of myself. Four hours of walking to find the Red Light District located but one block to the east from my hostel? I am fricking useless.
Bla…bla…bla…whine…whine…walk here…walk there…
Come on. I know that you are waiting for it. Sitting there on the edge of your seat, patiently waiting for me to dish out the real goods? Ok..ask? Ask, for christ sakes! “The whores? What about the dazzling walking human cesspools? Tell me about the blondes, the brunettes, those leggy Asians…tell me about the famous Amsterdam hookers.” Well, before I start…here is the scene. A quaint canal separates a deceivingly serene series of boutique-like shops. Trees are planted along the edges of the canal and benches are placed at regular intervals. It is nice. Then, as you walk along the canal, you notice something out of the corner of your eye. It is just at the limit of your peripheral vision. I turned to look. Nothing…wait…just at the edge of the curtain is an eyeball and a waving hand. Attached to the eye and the hand was a head which, as I continued to focus in, was found to be connected to a mostly naked body. She was summoning me inside to get a ‘real’ Amsterdam souvenir. (And I am not talking about a t-shirt that says, ‘My Brother went to Amsterdam and all he came back with was The HIV’)
Unfortunately, I must have rambled down the discount sector of the Red Light District. The ones working in my section were monstrosities. One rather spacious specimen must have a second job as a deep sea trawler from the size of her fishnet lingere. No undersized turbot could get caught in that mess of nylon and polyester. Yuck! I decided to return later in the evening and check out the real Red Light atmosphere in the moonlight. I had a better plan to waste away the afternoon. Go to the pub and satisfy my other urges…the urge to have an ice cold pint.
After a few cold ones, I rewarded my efforts with a nice long nap. By the time I awoke, the number of roommates had increased to about twelve other people chattering away in the surrounding bunks. Among the crowd, there was a fellow from Chile, an out of work Irishman (how uncommon?), a Gung-Ho Yank from LA and two pretty young ladies from Austria. (Innsbruck, Tirol) After meeting and greeting one another, we collectively determined that we were all hungry and went out for some Dam' food. Our gaggle of tourist misfits eventually descended upon an Italian Restaurant. This was the tenth restaurant in our search for sustenance. The first nine were priced too outrageous for our meagre budgets.
When a budget conscious tourist embarks on a quest for food in a tourist mecca, a battle is wages between his wallet and his belly. The further he walks, looking for that bargain meal, the hungrier he gets. However, he must acknowledge that some minor compromises must be made in his quest for an inexpensive meal. Firstly, with cheap food comes cheap service. Secondly, with cheap food comes cheap food. Reading from the menu, I chose the most economical of dishes. I ordered the AlphaGhetti. As it was an Italian restaurant, I thought that pasta should be as non-complex as buns in a burger joint. However, 45 minutes passed as my plate was prepared and finally delivered. With great fanfare, a bowl of burnt noodles was placed before me. Recalling back to my childhood, my mother made me learn to cook when I was six years old. I couldn’t tell time and I still didn’t burn my Zoodles. These ya-hoos called themselves an ‘Italian restaurant’ and burnt my frickin pasta. Thankfully, my meal was the best of the bunch. Gung-Ho the Yank stood up for the team by verbally berated our servers for their obscene level of service and putrid culinary concoctions. For once, I was happy to have a yappy, USA-centric, opinionated Yank at my table.
For dessert, our tribe wandered over to the casino. Gung-Ho was whining about it for at least an hour. He wanted to win ‘big cash’. Being a stingy Scot, I would rather keep my Gilders close and did not feel the need to use my Amsterdam money by whipping it out and sticking it in something. However, the group broke down and convalesced. Fifteen minutes later: Bankroll Bernie lost his $50 bucks and I was found hauling on a monster stogie with $40 worth of chips bulging in my pocket. So, what does one do when they are in Amsterdam and they realize they suddenly have a pocketful of cash?
‘Eh man…’ow you be doin’ me friend? ‘ave some ganja man?” Mary Jane! Drugs! I was obligated to buy a big bag of dope for all my newfound friends!! It was off to the Excalibur Coffee House for a big bowl of …‘Coffee’. The Excalibur is one of the more famous locations in the red light whereupon one can acquire whatever stimulants or depressants or combination thereof desired. I chose the more herbal of the psychedelic remedies and purchased a few rolled J’s. Paco, Mel, Veronica and I sucked back a few lungs full of the smoky gold, laid back and let ourselves go. Oh, yeah…quite a trip after all. I did my imitation of a shop-vac as I inhaled from the rollie. Stoned? Fuckin’ right dude!! Mel and Veronica? They decided to take the same train to Stonerville as I was on. The others just sat back and watched. Abstainers? Understandably, I returned a perplexed look upon my visage. Being Yanks, they probably thought that after one toke their brains would start to emit an odour of fried eggs. I lost the thought, decided to let the issue go, and continued on with my ‘trip’. Sitting back with Mel and Veronica, we giggled the night away like a bunch of little school girls (which was not much of a stretch for the girls as they were in fact, schoolgirls.)
Believe this? 1 AM!! 1 AM we were ushered out of the establishment. Apparently Amsterdam closes their bars and coffee houses at 1AM. Sure, the district is littered with after-hours speakeasies but come on…1 AM. It was like we were in fifties Toronto. This place confuses me. How can the most liberalised city in the western world roll up its carpets and close its’ doors just a few hours after the street lights go on? As it was way too early to crash, our troupe of street urchins resorted to hanging out on the porch steps of the local stores and chatting. Wait, Gung and I did decide on a little wander. Our hike led us to…where else but back to survey the red light district. I wanted to scan the hustle and bustle of the women of the night during their rush hour. And what a difference! The big fat hookers were replaced with legions of luxurious, leggy blondes from where else…but Lapland! Meow!! After losing about a litre of water to a severe drool problem, I became dehydrated and returned to Nellies for a late night pint and eventually crashed for the evening.
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