From the Rhineland north into The Netherlands. We were wished luck on our travels by a particularly outgoing Düsseldorfer on the train. He was excited to be home after a short stint in Algeria. I will assume he had some preconceived notion of what three 20-something Americans were going to get themselves up to in Amsterdam. He may have ultimately been a little surprised by the following reality:
A little bewildered by the construction in front of the train station, we eventually followed our map to Bob’s Youth Hostel. The lobby was in the basement of a typical Amsterdam apartment building topped with a stepped gable (always love the gables). We descended into a dank cave populated by low furniture decorated with reclining bodies. You can’t smoke tobacco indoors, but you can smoke marijuana, and the lobby residents were taking full advantage of the opportunity.
We received our keys and a complicated set of instructions detailing where we would find our room. The directions involved a coffee shop (code for “Pot Shop”) called “The Doors” and a steep, narrow flight of stairs that deterred residents from becoming too intoxicated if they ever wanted to find their beds. We soberly found ours and dropped our bags and lined up for our first shower in 40 hours (please remember we climbed a mountain and explored the Rhineland in that time). We had to do all of this pretty quietly since a roommate was sacked out in bed at 8 PM. Crazy nights in Amsterdam.
I should note that we never really saw this man awake. He was apparently very tired, and always seemed to have a new bag of chips or cookies to take to bed. I won’t presume to speculate on what he was doing with his waking hours, or why he might have been suffering from the munchies, but I doubt it involved the Van Gogh Museum.
Since it was Father’s Day, we spent some time checking in on the home front. I had the distinct pleasure of a broken-up conversation with Dad as I stood on a street in Amsterdam with the pot smoke wafting from the hostel lobby below. Fortunately there were no red lights in view to make the scene even more surreal.
By the time we were clean (I got to finally take a gander at the spectacular shades of mauve my ankle had put on display) and in the good graces of our fathers, it was time to get some food into our systems. Unfortunately, it was nearing 11PM and most restaurants and cafés were shutting down their kitchens. After a hungry, but lovely, hike past the canals and jigsawed gables of central Amsterdam we finally settled on the only glowing restaurant in sight: a felafel joint. So Dutch.
The sole cook and cashier took his time getting our dinner together giving us plenty of opportunity to people watch as a possibly intoxicated or potentially crazy man wandered in and out of the establishment in pursuit of a cheeseburger. We made short work of our meal when it finally arrived, and set off in the direction of a more typical late-night Amsterdam draw: the red light district.
In 1810 Napoleon needed to keep his soldiers healthy, so he started regulating prostitution to stem the spread of venereal disease. Ever since, Amsterdam has been known for its obvious - and legal - sex trade. Instead of walking the streets or staking corners, the prostitutes of Amsterdam rent windows that face the street. These windows are lit with red lights (they come by the name of the district pretty honestly). The renter then silently hawks her…um… wares.
Everyone who visits the city passes through at some point, usually out of simple curiosity. We walked past sex shops and bars until the first red lights appeared. Women dressed in lingerie or bikinis posed and beckoned from the windows. One knocked on the glass then opened the door to lure me in. Little did she know I hadn’t the desire, health, or funds to take on such an experience.
Most men walk by with a sheepish glance. Some stop to look and consider then move on. The whole process was weirdly subdued. Because of the glass, there are no catcalls. Most of the bars are cavernous and little sound emanated from within. We quickly walked the streets of the district. I'll admit to being a little surprised by the appearances of the prostitutes. My extensive knowledge of historical musicals has taught me that women-of-the-night are usually unkempt and have cockney accents. These women were clean (antiseptically so per city regulations) and not showing any more skin then you find on an American beach (that may be too much or too little depending on your tastes). Only a small percentage is actually Dutch. The others are Eastern European, Asian, and North African. Thus no cockney accents. Bummer. After seeing enough red light, thickly caked make-up, and English bachelor parties, we decided to find out what Dutch beer tastes like.
Turns out it tastes a lot like Belgian beer. We sat on a bench outside a microbrewery and sipped our beverages (mine looked like a chemistry experiment with an Erlenmeyer flask supported by a wooden handle). We tried not to act as tired as we felt as we ruminated on the historical district we had just swept through. With last call it was time to call it a night and make plans to sleep-in…until 8:18 AM. There was art to see and bikes to ride!
Please note this entry is not as thoroughly illustrated as I might like because photography is not allowed in the Red Light District so I didn't schlep my camera for our first night in Amsterdam. I just wish I could show you what my beverage's class looked like.