Amsterdam: Blowing my headJune 26, 2008
To SummarizeJuly 6, 2008
It was my last day in Amsterdam (and the last full day I had on my vacation) and I was wide open for it to be a good one. We had some breakfast at the apartment to save money and to save room for the constant feedline of munchies that would ensue. We were in a great location with a direct route from our aparment to the heart of downtown. Forthat first 5 minutes on our bikes we would know just where we were. Heading out was always much easier than getting back. There was construction on the southwest bound stretch of Clercqstraat that forced us onto the tram tracks for about 400 meters. The first time I had to ride it was my first day on a bike in this city. I was so consumed with avoiding wedging a tire in the tracks that I didn’t hear the bell on the tram until it was directly behind me. I wonder how many tourists get creamed on their bikes in a year’s time.
Please and Thank you
It’s hard to get a feel for what the locals here are like because the city is just overrun by tourists. The locals are likely the ones that are most annoyed with the tourists, even me. In Amsterdam, I ran into some bitterness at the fact that I could only speak English. Alstublieft is the only word that I learned in Dutch and I’m still not sure what it means. Cythia thought that it might mean “please”, but it’s been said to me when someone gives me my change… so maybe it’s some kind of “Thank You” as well(?). I’m still not sure.
Our first stop was the condom store that we’d pressed our faces on the window of two nights before. It was on Warmostraat (or something) which isn’t really too hard to remember… because it’s at least “warm” when one is doning a condom! I really had no idea how creative condoms could be before. Of course I knew they would have every color of the rainbow, day glow, every viscosity, every size, ridges and bumps, and a whole variety of other textures. But you really haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen the potential to have your lover’s member topped with a windmill, scuba diver head, sea monster, mushroom, dragon, little dutch doll… the list goes on. These are all hand painted condoms each on display on it’s own little pedastal. What a nice cross over between grown up sex and childhood fun with your playroom toys! Now… why didn’t I buy one? There’s a sign that says that they are novelties and aren’t meant to be used for actual protection. There are also signs that say no photography, but Cynthia snuck one in anyway… and for that we are so lucky!
This is, hands down, the very best shopping spot on the trip. If I’d had any idea before I left I would have mapped out all of the vintage stores and spent every day I had visiting them. After seeing the quality and quantity of other people’s throwaways I saw no real reason to shop for new stuff. I’m scheming a way to save up my entire shopping budget for my next trip to Amsterdam…. but I don’t know when or IF that might be, so I just have to enjoy the few things I did purchase.
The Market and more shopping
Again, we cast ourselves back out into the complicated web of rounded and angled streets with ridiculous names. Or next stop was the market. We took a wrong turn and found ourselves on the opposite end of town… ahhh the scenic route! We pass by the port for the boats that run touristy canal trips and I yelled ahead to Cynthia, because I knew that boat trips were a running theme of her own travel story. She declined and ushered me forward. I thought that we might as well stop since we were right there and had at least 3 hours to catch the market, but Cynthia reminded me that it might take 3 hours to FIND the market. She had a good point. So we pushed ahead and found a canal that flowed in our direction to travel next to. Canal’s don’t change names or directions suddenly, so they are a perfect pathfinder.
We locked up our bikes–first with the light-duty back wheel lock that’s part of the bike and then with the heavy chain through the frame and the front wheel, to a post or at least to each other. When I looked up after locking up, I saw, not two steps away, a stand selling fries. The light that is cast through the awning makes everything look as golden as the deep fried potatoes smell. There was no doubt, this was our next snack. They had four toppings to choose from: Ketchup, Curry, this pickly stuff and Mayonaise. When in Rome….! There’s nothing like a cone of fries cooked to a perfect crisp in transfats and topped with a puddle of mayonaise. I knew how bad that was for me, but it was totally worth it and I don’t regret it for a second.
They had everything at the market. It wasn’t a flea market, but a market where you could buy new stuff at a huge discount. Of course, there was tons of crap, too, but I’a trained shopper that knows just how to find the treasures. Imediately, I found one. I am know the owner of a leather jacket that looks like I was born in it. I also picked up some crap… but they are accessories (stockings and some dangley shiny belt thing) where crap is permissable.
Another Coffee Shop Diversion
After we got the shopping, the crowds, the haggling and the walking out of our systems, we decided to pick up some stuff for a picnic. I needed to go to the ATM, so Cynthia and I picked a meeting spot, the Coffee Shop not a few meters from where we stood. Finding an ATM was a task and by the time I got back to Katsu, the coffee shop, Cynthia had made a new friend. She had already had a taste of our latest purchase and flavor of the day. Our new friend was from London (I think) and had recently moved to Amsterdam. I can’t tell you much more about him, because I’m a girl that actually puts the subtitles on when I’m watching British films (I always wait for the DVD to come out so that I have this option). And once our new friend shared a splif with us, I had to give up on even trying to understand anything that he was saying at all… or caring about anything that anyone else was saying for that matter. I just sat back and soaked in the atmosphere. This was the coolest little coffee shop I’d been in so far. It is well outside of the city center, so the percentage of tourists inside, was lower than usual. It felt like a little neighborhood bar, but of course there’s no booze. There were pictures of patrons, sometimes with their children, stappled to the beams on the low hanging ceiling. An albumn that I used to own, by African Head Charge was playing adding to a general tribal, jungle, other worldly feeling. Also adding to this feeling was the taste of “Black Widow” that I had just had. The day before at Any Day, the server (not sure of this person’s official title) told us that you only want to have “White Widow” if there was nothing else that you wanted to accomplish all day. This was not the feeling I was seeking, but you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, so I found myself sampling something with a name on the dark side of the variety we were warned against. Huh Huh…. uh, huh… hmmmm… oh….wha? My conversation skills suffered, but my brain’s visual intake skills were all over it. The woman behind the bar at Katsu was most amazing to watch. Someone should really make a movie or short film staring her. She was probably in her mid 40s. She had a skinnier than Rosie Perez look about her, but even tougher and a little darker. This place was busy, it seemed a favorite to the locals. I sat next to the edge of the bar, which served as the take out counter. This woman could take an order, make a bag, roll a joint for someone at the bar and make change ALL AT THE SAME TIME. I was amazed.
After that we ventured to the park for our picnic of bread, cheese and a single can of beer. Our picnic skills had deteriorated a bit. Besides the beligerent homeless people lining the historic mounument on the knoll near where we sat, I was the only person drinking. You don’t see as many people drinking or smoking tobaco in Amsterdam. Cynthia says “it’s a pot culture,” and I imagine that this is true.
After that we headed back to the apartment to change clothes and head out for the night. But first, I took myself an hour nap, compliments of the Black Window.
We headed out around 9pm and hit the pub near our place. I like to get a little local flavor and since we weren’t couch surfing here, we really hadn’t gotten that yet. We probably shouldn’t have stopped because your options for dinner sersiously deteriorate after 9pm. We eneded up having overpriced thai food in the city center. Cynthia and our neighbor Ginger from Austrailia decided to head home after a little photo shoot.
Our personal Dutch tour guide, Robert and I moved forward with our plans to go dancing. We went to Studio 80 and he convinced the door man to let me check out the scene before we paid our 10 Euro to enter. Robert had told me that it was Techno Minimal and that sounded like a gamble to me. I didn’t want to blow my one Amsterdam dancing night on the wrong place. I made it 10 feet inside before I recongnized the sound. It was psytrance night and we had just stumbled on it. Psytrance is more known in Europe than in the US. I’d been dancing to it for the last 4 years. The music went from OK to kind of OK to really good and back to kind of OK again. The longer I was there the more I realized that it was kind of like home, except for the personal familiarity I have at home with the DJs and the people. It was like the European version of the same scene. Black walls, day glow art, black light, the older people were more hippy, the younger peope more gothic… It felt homey… but then I realized that I didn’t want homey. I could get homey at home! So before I ruined myself for the next day, we left. It was 2:30 am, we had been there for 3 hours, but Robert was still disapointed in my endurance. He was a gentleman and rode me one last time through the red light district and biked with me back to my hood and close t my home. I didn’t realize until the next day that I still owed him 10 Euro.
I almost died
The next day we barely had time to pack our bags, return our bikes and take a tram back to our place to load up like pack mules. After dragging our belongings to the tram tracks we waited patiently for our tram to the train station. It arrived and pulled forward a bit to make room for the next. We hurried along and Cynthia barely made it. I made it even more barely. When I’m in a hurry, I pick up and carry my bag… the wheels didn’t do so well on the cobblestone roads and were starting to get wonkier by the day. As I stepped one foot onto the tram, the doors closed, wedging me between them. There’s no safety feature on these doors to sense my presence and release me. They had me and they had me good. First I laughed and so did everyone with a decent vantage point. But we all stopped laughing when we realized that the driver still didn’t know that I was there. The kodak moment had passed and I was struck with panic that the tram would start moving. The Dutch people started shouting to the driver. Cynthia looked terrified when she turned toward the front of the long tram to where the driver must have been and at the top of her lungs yelled, “Alstublieft!!!” The doors opened and I was free.
On the way out
Our final train ride served lunch and wine and coffee, which we milked for all it was worth. Our suplement for this leg of the trip added up to about 50 American Dollars. We arrived in Paris at 7pm and stayed in our first hotel, which was very close by to the train. Not even the cheap hotel by the station is ordinary in Paris. Nothing is.
We had our final picnic at the Pont Neuf and walked over to the Pont des Arts to say good-bye to the place and the hoards of strangers that could be friends. I slept 4 hours and made my plane.
Goodbye Europe! I’ll see you in my dreams.