Chapter 8: The Bite of the White Widow

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October 9th 2010
Published: October 15th 2010
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Again, as I start this entry, am I in Berlin. It is nice to have here a computer where payment is not necessary, and there is no worry that you will leave behind a card reader or memory stick. It eases the mind into a state where writing flows a little more naturally and one isn't tasked with checking periodically how much this is costing them. Hence the back to back posts.

It was hard to leave Bruges, to be honest. For one, I don't think any of us slept particulalrly well on our Bruges beds. Then there were the hostel stairs up to our room, a winding affair with wickedly polished steps. Think Bruges' belfry but with more backpacks. And then the fact that we were trying to catch a 10:30am train after a night of card games and drinking. But, we did manage to leave Bruges. So far, despite our best efforts, we have not missed a single train we have tried to catch, even if impulsively. It's a true wonder to me. Hopefully, we will be back to Bruges to indulge again in it's small town charm, gothic period good looks, and marvelous cultural heritage at a later date. At least for now, I can shelve my disappointment at having only one day because we were en route to Amsterdam, a place I had long been anticipating.

Our train route carted us back to Brussels before we could catch the train to Amsterdam, but we were in the city of canals before too long. The sun was out, the town a bustle of activity, and the tram to our hostel packed to the gills with angry looking older women, unkept younger men, and backpackers complete with backpacks. Cramped would be an understatement, as from our square foot of space on the tram (that is one square foot for all 3 of us), we couldn't tell which stop we were at, and the dutch pronunciation wasn't helping. By some remarkable act of Providence, we got off at our stop. The hostel was only a short jaunt from Leidseplein, one of the major shopping areas of uptown Amsterdam. Stepping off the tram was both literally and figuratively a breath of fresh air. The sky was blue, the trees were green, and the temperarture was perfect. I can only imagine it was how Judy Garland must have felt stepping out of the farmhouse when she landed in Oz. We touched down at home base, made our beds, and went to look around for some.....things.

Author's note: If you have (somehow) an impression of me where I don't drink or smoke weed and would like to keep that perfect (and incorrect) image in your head for the remainder of our friendship or professional relationship, then do not bother finishing this chapter. Know only that we had a great time in Amsterdam, and that I'd love to come back sometime. For the rest of you, know that going forward, you hopefully won't learn things you never knew, but rather will hear in more detail about the things I keep under wraps back home. And that'll do it for the disclaimer.

So, the first thing we set out for was weed. Lets be honest, this is one of the many things Amsterdam is famous for, and being that I try whatever experiences I can in life, it was hard to pass this up. So, we went up the street and around the corner to a seedy looking coffeeshop (what they call weed stores in Amsterdam) called Tweedy's. The inside looked like one of those neighborhood bars where all the locals go to sit around, drink too much, and attempt to blur whatever troubles are rolling around inside their heads. Not really our kind of place, so we made ourselves scarce, deciding to pick up 3 prerolled joints (because, gifted though I am in some things, rolling joints is not one of them) and take them back to the hostel's designated smoking room. I don't really know why they have a smoking room. It's not to keep the smell in there, because the whole bar reeks of pot 24/7. Regardless, we took a seat on the couch, lit up, and smoked some Amsterdam weed. And it was good. A nice, light high good for keeping conversation and not making one too lazy to go enjoy the city. We had walked around before smoking, seen the many canals and countless bikes of Amsterdam, but being tired from the previous night, decided that tonight was about chilling out at the hostel. We grabbed a couple Becks around 9 after the high had worn off and then hit the hay shortly afterwards. Afterall, Jared was pretty sick by this point, and it was catching up to the rest of us, so the easier we took it, the better. Before I hit the hay though, I did have an interesting experience. I was laying in bed, trying to crash out when these two italian girls came into the room. I had exchanged brief introductions with them, both of us wielding the other's language as though it were a sword too heavy to hold. They both came in around 11pm, laughing and giggling about something (in Amsterdam, you just don't ask what other people are on), all in all being pretty loud. But hey, I'm an easy going guy, and if cute italian girls are going to have a good time, I can let it slide. But then it got more interesting. Totally disregarding the presence of anyone else in our 12 person room, they started playing music at a moderate level, stripped down to their.....let's say bedtime wardrobe....and starting dancing around like they were at a slumber party. I gave up trying to sleep after about 5 minutes for several reasons: for one, it was too loud to get any sleeping done, and two, I'm a red-blooded, heterosexual male. Do the math. Eventually, around 12:30am it quieted down, and I finally got to sleep with a smile on my face. Welcome to Amsterdam, I suppose.

The good times kept rolling as I awoke to find that the Minnesota Vikings had finally pulled out a win! Granted, it was against the Detroit Lions, who didn't even have their QB, but I'll take what I can get at this point. However, when I got up, I found to my dismay that the weather was not nearly as beautiful as it had been the previous day. The clear blue sky was not clogged with clouds as far as the eye could see, and the rain, while not pouring, was coming down enough for a raincoat. With this in mind, we elected today as an indoor day. The first thing we did with our indoor day was to walk outside (wait...what?) to the famed Red Light District (referred to from this point as the RLD). It was a bit of a walk from our hostel to downtown, around 25 minutes, and on a rainy Sunday afternoon, it would be a little much to expect the hookers out and about. But truthfully, that first day, we didn't see any. I guessed that since it was a Sunday and all that they were probably at church. We eventually stumbled upon the Amsterdam Dungeon (dramatic organ in the background, followed by a flash of lightning, and the crack of thunder). For those who have not seen this anywhere, which could be a lot of you, the Dungeon chain of tourist attractions puts a goofy spin on the horror stories and urban legends of the area, taking the group of tourists through scene after scene of mocked up, overly ridiculous horror. We bought a combo ticket so we could also, later that week, go see Madam Tussaud's wax museum. But, after the cry of "Good luck! You'll need it!" from the ticket counter, we entered the elevator into the depths of hell.

The doors opened, and we stepped out into the smoke filled passages, looking at the grotesque figures covered in red paint and staring at the dead bodies until one of them jolted upright at shouted, subsequently freaking out whoever had been careless enough to assume the body deceased. Afterall, the people at the counter had sworn we would need good luck. We walked into the first main room, a touture chamber, where we were met by a garbed women, swearing we were all doomed and that a terrifying man was to arrive and torture us until death's sweet embrace arrived. If I haven't said this enough, the place was goofy. Like going to a pioneer village where everyone pretends it's 1776 or whatever, down to the last ridiculous accent. You can either go with it, or be skeptical, but since thats no fun, we opted for the former. The garbed women pulled a guy from the audience and demanded his tongue for some fake looking torture device. But, he was a total girl about it, and even after repeated attempts, would not yield his tongue for the demonstration. There is no excuse for that level of cowardice from a 28 year old male. The room then went dark, a booming voice shouted at us, our chairs rocked, and just like that, we were being ushered into the next room by a friendly looking bar tender character. He sat us all down at the bar, and started talking. The gist of his act was that he was 'warning' us about people known as soul merchants, those who would drug unwilling bodies and sell them to slave ships for a profit, and about how these merchants would do whatever they could to get you on board, using friendship or trickery, or free drinks, or drugs, or all of these to get you on a ship bound for terrible thing. He said all of this with an unyieldingly wistful grin about him. Then he pointed at me. "You!" he said. "What is your name?" I answered. "You have the strong look of a sailor about you....have you ever thought of joining a ship, sailing the open seas looking for glory, treasure....women?". Trying to play along, I said I got sea sick easily. After chastizing me for a moment, he asked me to sign my name to a chalkboard, so that he may remember it for a later date. Knowing I couldn't leave this room without agreeing, I approached and signed my name. Moments later, the bottom section of the chalk board that read 'free beer' but only moments ago, fell down revealing a contract. I had sold myself to a soul merchant. I sat back down, pondering how I would ever survive this turn of events, when I was offered a choice. I could take a free drink from the soul merchant, and save everyone else from joining my fate, or I could wait and they would all come with me. Though I contemplated waiting, thinking to myself 'Well, misery DOES love company', I decided to do the right thing. I stepped up, reached for the drink, and was greeted with a loud TOO LATE. And thats how I sold us all to a pirate ship.

From there, it was room after room of goofy fun. We went to a pirate ship, worked as slaves for a bit. Jared contracted the plague and was promptly operated on. After a mutiny struck the ship, we moved (somehow) to Rembrant's studio to learn his dark secret. I guess he sold his 2nd wife to a workers camp or something. Wasn't that impressed with his 'dark secret'. From there it was to a room where things shook and moved again, hearing some old ghost tale from a dutch girl with an english accent. We went to a courtroom after that, where a pretty funny judge character picked us out of the crowd and condemned us all for one thing or another. Me and Jared got nailed for crimes against fashion (guilty as charged), and Tori for being American. After that was the hall of mirrors. This was actually pretty cool as, when you have an entire area filled with mirrors, you can get lost and disoriented very quickly. We all wandered around for a long time, eventually finding that there was no exit, and that the entrance had vanished too. Until one of the mirrors opened to reveal a door and we walked out. From there it was one more room detailing the black plague to us, and then on to the roller coaster. Sorta. We walked down to where the coaster was supposed to be, but there was no operator. After minutes of waiting in confusion, the magic more or less gone by now, we had to leave that area, find the emergency exit, and complain that the roller coaster operator had taken a liberty with his lunch break. Eventually, we boarded the coaster, got our one big drop out of it, and were on our way to the next big thing.

On our way to look for a coffeeshop known as the Blue Bird, we found another one whose name I cannot recall. We had decided that before Madam Tussauds, we would like to be high, so we walked in, bought a joint, a dime bag of white widow (one of my favorite strains), and 3 pieces of space, and enjoyed our down time. The shop owner was a quirky and friendly dude, who wanted to talk with us about where were from and what we were doing. When you have so many coffeeshops in Amsterdam, I'm sure the only way to distinguish yourself is with your customer service. We got to Madam T's around 5, and they were closing up, telling us to come back at a later date as our combo tickets would be good for months. So, we went back to the hostel for a nap, being tired from all that dungeon stomping earlier. On the way home, we stopped by a theater to see what was playing, and decided to come back that night around 9:30pm with our space cake and see Machete, the new Robert Rodriguez over-the-top gore fest. We met up around 7 and went to grab some dinner. We walked to Mr. Tang's Chinese Bistro for some very upscale chinese cuisine, though it took a little longer than we would have liked. I had some delicious chicken saate. Jared had some tasty crispy duck, and Tori had sweet and sour pork, served in a hollowed out half of a pineapple. However, we were now running late for our movie, so eating our space cake and jogging, we booked it to the movie theater. We got in our seats just as the previews started rolling, watching an interesting looking movie with Casey Affleck among other films. Then the movie started.

I cannot say this loud enough for you all to understand, but I guess I'll try. You must go see Machete. Absolutely must. It is the most ridiculous, over the top, hilarious movie I have seen in years. I realize I saw it on space cake, but I truly don't think it will drop in rating when I inevitably see it again. Every character is a true gift to the audience, with a particularly good cameo by Robert DeNiro. Every outrageous scene is topped almost 20 minutes later by something even crazier. And the humor is top notch, ranging from the outrageously graphic and impossible kills to a no holds barred jab at the immigration policies in America. And the space cake made it even better. It's a body high with space cake, so while your mind is intact, every explosion heard through the speakers can also be felt in the body. It's truly an experience I will miss not being able to do more often, but such is life. We left the movie very happy and walked home and relived some of the movie's crazier moments with much laughter. Hitting the hay felt great as well, and by 12:30, I was asleep. A great way to celebrate the halfway point in this journey of ours. Hard to believe it's already the halfway point...

The next day was much less interesting. The weather was still pretty miserable, so we went out to a nearby pancake house for some dutch pancakes. I went for the sweetness of a pancake with strawberries, while Jared went for pancakes with a different type of fruit, and Tori went for a traditional full english. Afterwards, it was laundry time like you wouldn't believe. Our last set of clean clothes we had been wearing for roughly four days, and it was showing...or rather smelling. So, we did a load of laundry, being hurried along the whole way by an overly gruff laundry store owner. Being that we were the only ones there, we didn't think there was a need to rush, but obviously he did, so we were done soon afterwards. We grabbed some food from the nearby market, smoked a little bit more, and then took the evening to just relax in our rooms, get some reading done, and just crash out early as our colds were in full swing by this point.

The next morning, the sun was back, and not a day too soon, as after the chill of yesterday, we were ready to go out and experience Amsterdam as much as possible before the weather took another nasty turn. First stop? Macbike to rent a couple bikes for the day. As much fun as we all had walking around Amsterdam, the bike holds the most power. Truly, there are more bikes than cars in Amsterdam, which changes the right of way laws just a tad. Cars yield to bikes, as do pedestrians and occasionally even trains. Bikes are king, and we were ready for the royal treatment. We hopped on our bikes and followed the route we planned to the Artis Zoo, Amsterdam's big zoo. We parked our bikes and decided that before we hit the zoo, it might not be a terrible idea to get high before hand. I recognize this is becoming a reoccurring trend, but when in Rome, you do as the Romans do. We went to the actual Blue Bird this time (it was literally around the corner from the place we went to the other we missed it the first time I can only guess), and met up with one of the proprietors. A very helpful guy, he took our original plan to buy joints and smoke them and turned it into a much better plan. We ended up getting a good sized bag of White Widow, a powerful and delicious strain of weed that I had heard of, but never tried. In addition to this turn, we also were taught how to use a vaporizer, which was another first for me and the gang. We smoked as we were shown, and before long, the sun was shining brighter, the grass was greener, and life was fantastic. Leaving our bikes securely chained up, we headed into the zoo.

The Artis Zoo was, understandly, hard to navigate. Being high has never helped my sense of direction, and without much of a map, we more or less just wandered around, checking out all of the animal exhibits and watching excited dutch children pointing at animals and having an all around great time. There was a particular animal that stuck out in my mind as something of a super star, and that was the Lion. We wandered up to his pen, and he was lounging with his lady friend in the shade, comfortable in the corner. As more people started to gather around the pen, the lion gave a knowing look to his lady, stood up, and walked out onto a fallen tree that was acting as a bridge between two rocks. With the tree as his vantage point, he came out and stretched long and hard as the nearby cameras snapped away. He opened his mouth in a big yawn as well, taking his time, soaking up all the attention. He knew how cool he was, without question. After the crowd dispersed, he returned to his corner and continued to lounge. Quite the creature truthfully, even if he was a little egocentric. Among the other sights in the zoo were a small family of elephants, a bespecaled bear, a very awesome reptile house (with the biggest tortoise and crocodile I've ever seen....seriously, Lake Placid shit), and what appeared to be a very sad gorilla. He had his back to the crowd the whole time, his head hanging and his arms crossed. He didn't seem to be in the right frame of mind to be appreciated...maybe he had something else on his mind. Regardless, being in a place like the zoo while high was a really fun experience. It adds, if not a new dimension to viewing animals, then a different one.

Following our 2 or 3 hours at the zoo, we headed back to grab our bikes and we biked to Madam Tussard's Wax Museum. An interesting place, it was filled from head to toe with famous celebrities and interesting oddities. I may or may not have shamelessly cupped the butt of a wax Beyonce. But besides having a moderate collection of wax celebrities, the place didn't blow me away. We headed out from there and took our bikes to Vondelpark, the park close to our hostel and hands down, the Amsterdam Park. From there, I split off from the group and just biked around by myself for about 45 minutes. Truly, it was amazing. Something so simple as getting to ride a bike around a park was cathartic to a great extent. Besides loving just being able to ride a bike and listen to my music, this moment of my trip was, for me, the quintessential Amsterdam thing to do. For a split second, I felt perfectly I belonged exactly where I was in that moment. It was a great feeling, but fleeting as soon afterwards I met back up with the gang, and we headed home. We returned our bikes, walked the short distance back home, and spent the evening relaxing at the hostel.

The next morning, we started the day in the best way possible: with a trip to the Heiniken Brewery. The Heiniken experience was something to behold...much like a trip to a less crazy Wonka factory. Besides seeing some of the equipment used to make the beer, tasting the wort, and seeing the beer horses, we did get 3 free Heinikens, and they were probably the freshest Heinikens we will ever taste. We even we treated to what was called 'Heiniken Extra Cold', Heiniken beer from the draft at exactly 0 degrees celcius. I have to say, it was about as good a Heiniken as I will ever have. After spending money at the gift shop, we headed to a place recommended to us by one of Jared's friends, the Grasshopper. A restaurant on top and a coffeeshop on the bottom, the Grasshopper prides itself on being the one stop on your list for quality food and weed. Seeing as we were nearing our last days in Amsterdam, we decided to buy ourselves some Amsterdam hash, regarded almost universally as among the best hash money can buy. We smoked one of our three hash joints there, and I can happily say that it was prime stuff. Within two puffs, you can feel it working, and it hits you hard without immobilizing you. We wandered around after leaving the Grasshopper and, after a long walk, we found the Sex Museum of Amsterdam. A weird place that you really must see instead of being told about it. With that in mind, it is a bizzare place that celebrates sex in every form, especially in some of it's weirder and more perverted forms. We ended the night drinking at the hostel, grabbing a couple pitchers of Beck's and grabbing a table with a couple of australian guys. It was too loud to hear their names, but it think it was something along the line of Koops and Pink. Koops and Pink proceeded to teach us our now favorite card game, Shit Head. The rest of the night was spent playing drinking games with anyone willing to join our table with a beer, which ended up being a pretty big group of people. The night ended around 2am, which was fine with me as I was pretty done by then.

Our last day was uneventful. I was up at 9:30am, and with an empty room. Literally, every bed had been full when I went to bed, and when I woke up, every single bed was emptied and the bags taken to checkout. With a whole room to myself, I showered, worked out, cleaned up, and took some much needed 'me time'. I listened to music and read until about noon, and then I went and checked on Jared and Tori, who were up and doing their own stuff. The day played out in a chill way. In an attempt to get rid of our hugh back stash of weed, we smoked a good portion or it and went back to Vondelpark. I spent the first hour listening to This American Life with Ira Glass. a very quality program. We started walking around an hour later, played on a few playgrouds (some of which were pretty elaborate), and eventually headed home. We stayed in with a few beer for our last night. Nothing too crazy, just like our whole stay in Amsterdam.

In the end, I loved my time in Amsterdam. It reminded me of Portland in many ways, and for one day, I felt like I could happily live there without any complications. Vondelpark was the high point for me for a stay with so many positive things to mention. I hope to be back one day and do exactly the same thing again. But for now, we head to Hamburg for our next adventure.

Signing off from Winchester, England


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