Now, I’ve been to Amsterdam before, but under quite different circumstances, and with my family. Understandably, this particular jaunt avoided Amsterdam’s more infamous attractions, and focussed rather more on museums and historical sites (apart from one memorably awkward instance when my granddad and I wandered into the red light district, but that’s another story). But this time would be different. This time I was going with my friends Will, Dave and Mark, staying in a youth hostel and exercising our independence in one of the most exciting and debauched cities in the world.
It sort of worked.
As soon as we arrived, we tried to get to grips with the public transport system, and found it infinitely confusing. We found that on the trams you could only buy an hour return ticket, but there was no real mechanism to prevent you from just getting on the bus and then just leaving without paying. Obviously we were good citizens and didn’t take advantage, but I was struck that this was a very different kind of place — where in Britain would they trust you like that? Soon we were at the hostel, The Flying Pig Uptown, and this too was a new experience for me — I’d never stayed in a hostel before. I’ll be honest, I found the relaxed attitude and informality a little jarring at first, but soon I got used to it and really enjoyed the friendly, casual atmosphere there. After a brief unpack we hit up a cheap Italian place for some food, then went to one of Amsterdam’s ‘Brown Cafes’ for a few drinks and some cards. We found this great little place (it didn’t seem to have a name) full of both locals and a couple of tourists, and we stayed there until closing. During our time there we sampled a drink unique to the Netherlands and Belgium, ‘Jenever’, a potent drink distilled from Juniper berries. English gin evolved from the drink, and I quite enjoyed it — it was very strong but malty, and warmed me up for the evening.
Upon returning to the hostel, hoping to get acquainted with our room-mates, we were surprised to find them all tucked up in bed. Instead, we went down to the hostel bar (which was also pretty quiet) before we called it a night.
The next morning we got up at an almost unholy hour for teenage males (10!!!!) to take advantage of our included breakfast, before taking to the pavements to explore the city a little. Unfortunately we’d picked a week of poor weather to travel, so torrential rain put paid to our cheerful ramblings, and after we’d seen the War Memorial in Dam square (and one sodden magician attempting to perform) we took shelter in the ‘Oude Kerk’ (Old Church) of Amsterdam. This church was first consecrated in 1306 but now placed rather incongruously in the main red light district. The Oude Kerk has this massive carved wooden infrastructure, very different from anything I’d seen before and very impressive even though it was going through one of many renovations due to years of disuse. Much of the stained glass had also obviously been pretty beaten up, but it was still quite engaging (although admittedly we paid more attention to avoid the rain outside). Once the rain had eased off a little we headed out and accidentally (honest) plunged straight into the heart of the red light district. Admittedly it was a Tuesday afternoon, so it wasn’t exactly the last days of Rome out there, but we still saw an awful lot of what Amsterdam had to offer. If I’m entirely truthful, I found it a bit off-putting having all these scantily clad women staring at me from less than a metre away behind glass. It was hard not to feel like a bit of a perv just by being there. The rest of the district was a mass of sex shops, sex theatres and weed cafes, but mixed in with very ordinary homes and businesses. I thought that there was a great sitcom idea in the man who opened a bike shop in between two brothels. Make him a strict Roman Catholic and we have a series!
The next day was our day of debauchery, starting with us taking a swing at The Sex Museum. The result was slightly harrowing, not helped by the pneumatic dummy of a flasher or the overweight, naked prostitute dummy that shot out of a wall screaming at me (but didn’t seem to be triggered by ANYONE ELSE). I was also slightly traumatised by all the ancient plates and artefacts decorated with sexual images and phalluses, realising the extent that museums had concealed from me over the years. Still, the Victorian porn was quite funny. Great muttonchops! After all this excitement we reckoned we could use a stiff drink, so we undertook a seven-hour bar crawl. Maybe a bit of overkill, but it was a lot of fun. We flitted between six different clubs and bars, taking what free drinks we could, even if it was just a manly white wine or a cinnamon shot. It was a great night, with loads of great happenings like Dave’s success with some young ladies from Sheffield uni (one, a Cambridge resident, seemed determined to tear into me for being an Oxford student — does the rivalry extend to residents? I didn’t think it did), and Will taking two stomach punches from bouncers for free drinks (one of which he gave to a tall Australian girl like a chump, who disappeared straight afterwards). We found ourselves scraping the barrel of what burger king had to offer at 3 in the morning before we retired to our hostel to further demonize ourselves in the eyes of our room-mates by being noisy. An appropriate end to the night, I think.
To be continued…