How much is the girly in the window?!! Amsterdam.
2007-06-04 to 2007-06-07
Ah Amsterdam, what a twisted little city you are! This place is mad! Their ultra liberal views gives the place a sense of debauchery not seen since the fall of the Roman Empire! I found my room and got chatting to a guy who told me about his first evening in the Dam and his dalliance with some of the local ahem, `herbs`!!
He`d gone for a few beers and once he`d established that the nightlife didn`t usually kick off until midnight, he decided to go to a coffeeshop (where you`ll never see even a bean of coffee) and innocently he ordered a beer. He was told by a distinctly perturbed owner that they weren`t allowed sell beer in the coffeeshops anymore because of the upcoming smoking bans in bars rule.
He ordered a `mild` (if Dutch people even understand the term) joint and sat down to enjoy it with two random blokes he met in there. After about two puffs he said that he felt like someone had filled his feet with lead so he got up and started to play some of the worst pool ever played! Games went on for ages as the pockets seem to move around the table as fast as the balls!
Shortly later, he was cooked. That was it, he had to get out of the place and go for a head clearing walk. He walked around the block a few times, getting progressively more paranoid that he looked like a walking victim for a mugger (I could empathise after my Barcelona stint!). He stopped into a McDonald`s for some water and a burger and that was when the voices started. He was convinced that everyone in the place was plotting against him so he decided that enough was enough it was time to go home.
Of course however, the `voices` went with him and he stumbled around looking for his hostel with four distinct yet conflicting voices clambering around his brain looking for expression.
There was the encouraging one that kept giving him timely pick-me-ups every time he saw a familiar house, sign or bus stop. Well done son, you will be home soon, keep going, you`re doing just fine etc etc
Of course, beside that voice was the admonishing, exasperated one, clearly over stating the obvious, `Well you wouldn`t need so much encouragement if you didn`t get so wasted you idiot`…. `This is a basic walk home but you have turned it into Mission Impossible, ya eejit` The tut-tutting continued but this was, he assured me, much better than the third voice…
The other voice was that of extreme paranoia, an absolutely assured sense of demise, a foreboding of some terrible fate that was awaiting around each corner. This was how he was going to die, stumbling around a foreign city with his mind altered with hallucinatory drugs, of that he was certain. But all the time, over this cacophony of voices, there was a constant buffer of laughter!
His fourth voice was cackling away in the background, like a mental patient laughing at a joke from one of his imaginary friends! Haha, you are so wasted, look at you! Hahaha, you`re going mental very quickly but very definitely and all I can do is laugh at you!
When he got back to our room, the night before I got there, he climbed into bed but was then entirely convinced that his roommates were all drug dealers and they were going to throw him out of the third floor window for no other reason than they could. So he spent over an hour moving his feet so that they didn`t feel so leaden and clenching and unclenching his fists for what he was sure to be a fight to the death.
OK THEN! I think I will stick with the beer, thanks very much!
I walked around Amsterdam the next day, running the gauntlet which is crossing the roads over here. It`s worse than Vietnam! If the cars don`t get you, the trams will. And if you somehow avoid them, then the cyclists can come out of anywhere! A frantic swing of your head about 6 times precedes any crossing of a street. Everyone has bikes over here and the locks are massive too (God be with the days when you locked your bike up with those rubbishy combination locks!).
The Van Gogh museum was very impressive (even if I couldn`t get Don McLean`s `Starry, starry night` out of my head for the day!). I have to say I developed an appreciation for the nutjob. He was a manic depressive and was into self mutilation (a la his severed left ear lobe) but he was truly an amazing painter, even though he got little or no recognition while he was alive.
Someone else who was made famous after their unfortunate demise was Anne Frank and I went to check out her house where she and her family hid for years before they were informed on and sent to a concentration camp to die. I met a young Aussie girl there who emphatically pronounced that she was into hard drugs and dancing (and this just after she had told me her name!) which terminated our friendship long before it had a chance to begin!
I got a call from Laura (who I`d met in Athens and Venice) who said that she was in the Dam too so we went out for a few drinks. She`d been on the Red Light district tour the night before but she was happy to take me around and point out the various hot spots in the most infamous prostitution area on the planet. It was surreal, streets and streets of women standing in the windows, showered in a seedy red glow. And they weren`t the lethargic, seen it all, passive prostitutes, oh no, they were chomping at the bit, every bit the `how much is that doggy in the window` full on, if they had tails they would have been wagging!
All major cities (and most of the minor ones too for that matter) have workers in the worlds oldest profession but they are weathered and weary, life has dealt them some poor cards for the most part and this is where they have ended up, rarely by choice. The thing that got to me was how `happy` (if that can even be used in this context) they seemed to be, laughing with each other and the punters.
We shuffled around (I have rarely been so thankful of having company, particularly a girl, as I was at that time) and looked at these women, and the thought of being in a museum struck me! Except the `art` on show was willing to engage with you in a completely different way than Van Gogh`s sunflowers had done earlier! Some of the girls were actually very attractive which I suppose surprised me a little, here, with their Union and regular health checks, this is an actual financial reality and viable profession. Still, I can`t imagine too many Richard Gere`s turn up to `save` them from this life… “So, Daddy, how did you and Mommy meet?!!”
As an aside, one of the free info packs for tourists on the city had this guy`s opinions on his favourite restaurants, bars, museums etc. Then he intimated which of the sex shows, lap dances etc were the best and then he reliably informed us as to which of the escort agencies had the best women, the fastest delivery and the best value! Now that is the kind of attention to detail that you just don`t get in the Lonely Planet!
I saw cops walking around and I tried to imagine their morning roll call…. “Ok everybody, there has been some extreme littering going on in the south of the city and blatant abandonmentness of bikes around the universities that we need to clamp down on. The fact that everyone is high as a kite on marijuana and are indulging openly in paid for sexual activities does not need to concern you!”
So I left Amsterdam, enlightened and impressed. The tram system gives the city a real old world feel but they attitudes to drugs and prostitution are very new age.
I`ll tack on here that I went to Brussels in Belgium for the night. Suffice to say that Billy Connolly would struggle to find something funny to say about this city so I am not even going to try. The next day I went to the bus station and after buying a ticket to Lille (after a last minute flirtation with Zurich) I decided on a whim (there`s that word again!) to get a refund and just head to Paris instead without accomodation!
Turning up to one of the world`s great cities unannounced… hmmm, not usually the best advice but it would be boring if I did things easily!
How Gay Paris lived up to its name!