Well. Four days in Amsterdam. Where to begin? I guess at the beginning…
Five of us flew into the airport at about 2pm on Friday afternoon (local time). Another guy was turning up later so we decided to go straight into the nearest bar and wait for him – starting as we intended to continue. After a couple of hours sipping lager (although I’m not much of a lager fan, but we’ll get to that later) our sixth man turned up and – after another couple of drinks – we caught a couple of taxis to the centre of Amsterdam and into our hotels. This was where the “fun” began.
Even thinking about this now I still can’t believe what happened. Our taxi parked two cars in front of our friends’ one, and right across the road from the hotel, clearly marked with the word HOTEL above the door. The guys were half way across the road and I just assumed they had spotted us and would meet us at reception. We paid our lunatic driver (his lane discipline on the roads was notable by its absence) and crossed the road for the hotel. We went upstairs to reception and the other guys weren’t there. After looking around we surmised that they had just disappeared. The staff wanted us to pay 1000 euros to secure the three rooms we booked so, not surprisingly, we wanted the other guys to turn up and share the pain. We couldn’t get a response from their mobiles and we just couldn’t work out what had gone wrong. To cut a long story short, they hadn’t seen us and didn’t realise where the hotel was. They’d decided to use their imagination, couldn’t find it and sat down at a bar to have a drink. The holiday had begun.
Person number seven turned up and we decided to head out onto the town to get acquainted with our surroundings. I’ll try to accurately tell what we got up to but I must admit that my memory is a bit hazy already and I may be getting a bit confused. Even if I’m stone-cold sober my memory can be patchy at best.
The main highlight of the evening was touring and experiencing the red light district. If you visit Amsterdam and don’t visit the red light district then I think you’re missing the point. For those of you who don’t know, prostitution is legal in Amsterdam and so this part of the town is – as you can imagine – a real crowd puller. I was expecting sleaze and I wasn’t disappointed. You walk around these narrow streets and most windows have women showing their – ahem – assets to the glow of red lights (see the connection?). There are sex shops, peep shows, live sex shows and plenty ways to satiate all lustful desires. People stand outside the various emporiums saying anything they can to entice you to part with your cash (I have never heard the words “sucking” and “fucking” used in so many sentences). But the strangest thing of all was seeing middle-aged people walking around the place on guided tours. I mean come on. A guided tour of the red light district? It just didn’t seem right. It felt like a Hollywood parody of itself. It was surreal. My head was spinning.
After wandering around for a bit we went to a bar. If you’ve seen the film “Coyote Ugly” you will be familiar with bars that have girls dancing on the bar (I actually saw that film on a plane and didn’t listen to the sound – I swear I got the whole plot – but I digress). Take this several steps further and you have the place we were. There were topless girls serving behind the bar, almost naked (and then naked) girls dancing on top of the bar, and hardcore porno playing on two large TV screens behind the bar. By the time we left the bar I needed to surface from the red light district and get my head together. You can only take so much porno (well, I have a limit even if you don’t).
We sat outside a coffee bar and a couple of the guys took the opportunity to buy some top quality weed. For those of you who don’t know (surely everybody knows this) cannabis is legal in Amsterdam (actually, it was mentioned in Pulp Fiction so everybody knows). I had decided before I came to not take any drugs (that’s right, I decided to be a boring loser; on hindsight I realised that I’ll not be staying “clean” next time). But everyone agreed that they had bought “good shit”. I just drank lager, then remembered that I don’t like lager and – on noticing that the lager was too lagery – I switched to “white beer” which was very nice indeed thank you.
We finished up the evening playing pool and I discovered that with everybody stoned I was suddenly an unbeatable pool player. It was great, if a little false – I never usually win at pool. It was a great night in my book and my head was still trying to take in what it had experienced, especially in the red light district.
On Saturday persons number eight and nine finally turned up and we were a full complement. During the day we wandered around various parts of the town (person number seven lived there for a year and so knew the place like the back of his hand). We would stop regularly at bars and have a drink (or a coffee) and saw some lovely places and many, many canals. There’s so much more to Amsterdam than sex, as you can see from my photos. We split up from a couple of the guys and the rest of us went to a Greek restaurant to get some food. I had lamb and it was superb. I was all ready for another action-packed night.
Saturday had been allotted to be clubbing night so it was going to be a late one. And so it proved to be. A couple of the guys had some magic mushrooms and, aside from one of them having a bit of a “funny turn” and just about falling down the stairs, it was a good laugh. A few of us went back a bit earlier (3’ish) and had a kebab on route (very nice).
On Sunday we hired bikes (which we intended to do on Saturday but never got around to) and went touring. It kind of reminded me of that “Ocean Colour Scene” video for “The Day We Caught The Train” (even though they were on scooters). We were using those bikes that you have to back-pedal to stop which took a bit of getting used to. Once you get out of the centre it’s a beautiful place with some lovely architecture and – as you might expect – there are some windmills too. We got caught in a few freak rain showers which was interesting but the sights easily made up for it. A visit to the Heineken Experience was next and that was a strange one. Brewing lager is a pretty dull thing when you think about it (did I mention that I don’t like lager?) and the people of Heineken have tried to jazz it up with some 21st century technology. The interactive “bottle of beer” was fun and the coachman section was truly bizarre – no point explaining it, I’ve still not made sense of it. Still, it was better than being rained on and one of those things that you should do if you’re in the neighbourhood.
We then went for a meal at a Uruguayan steak house. And for good reason. Our tour guide (person number seven) told us that he once went to this steak house and was told by the rotund door guy that if he didn’t think it was the best steak he’d ever had that it was “on the house”. The bottom line was that he paid full price and was delighted to. We got the same patter from the guy and there was no way we could have walked past, he was just too persuasive. To explain how good a steak it was I need only say that I don’t eat beef and therefore steaks because I don’t like the meat. After eating the steak I was seriously close to ordering another one as dessert, or at least coming back for breakfast the next day. It was truly awesome and is in my top three all-time best meals list.
We spent the rest of the evening in bars around town and playing a bit more pool (my luck hadn’t worn off yet). We were all a bit knackered and eventually retired to bed aware that this was our last night. Monday was spent getting some souvenirs and then travelling home in the afternoon.
So that was the trip. My thoughts now on Amsterdam are that it is a great town. The red light district was a spectacle for me. It’s not the sort of place I’d usually go but if you’re there you’ve got to go. It has to be seen to be believed. The drug dealers and scum that follow you around to try to sell you something can be quite annoying but completely ignoring them seems to work – they all want a piece of you and if you say “no thanks” then they’ll never leave you alone. Politeness doesn’t work.
But that’s just scratching the surface of what is a beautiful city. The architecture is amazing. You have very tall and thin plain buildings sitting next to the most spectacular churches. There are beautiful parks and many romantic restaurants you can take a loved one too. The staff in bars and restaurants seemed really friendly and the atmosphere is buzzing and all about people having a good time. I was one of them. I only saw a small flash of the place but I’ve put it on my list of cities I want to explore further. The next time I’ll sample the weed though, it was bad manners not to.
I was right however, I do need another holiday to recover, but it was well worth it. The guys I went with were a great bunch and made it all the more fun. So the next time it’s suggested to me I’ll put my money on the table and go.