Faces Abroad: Amsterdam

October 19, 2010 at 12:40 PM | Posted in Do something whydoncha, Faces Abroad, Globetrotter, Travel | 1 Comment

Amsterdam. The city just brings delight the instance the name is uttered. Why? No, it’s not the contraband or the beautiful residents or even the plastic women gyrating among the red lights. This city is the people and these people were my favorite. This city excited me. It inspired me and most importantly, it welcomed me. I had a bit of trouble when I flew in from London to Central Station, Amsterdam. I didn’t write down the address or how to get to the Flying Pig Hostel. So I was unequivocally, assed out. I shlepped around the train station for awhile then I looked up and saw a sign for the Hard Rock Cafe located at Leidseplein. YAS! they MUST have an internet cafe at this so-called Leidseplein! Thank you globalization and modern day American imperialism. I hopped on one of the trams listed on the sign to get to Leidseplein. Hopped off, into the rainy evening and there was an internet cafe…conveniently located in a coffee shop/bar. Oh joy! Ironically, my hostel was a three minute walk from Leidseplein so I lucked out. As I was exiting the bar, a bouncer playfully moved my suitcase to the side. I gave him an unenthused look, he tried to save face by recommending a place for me to eat. He excitedly suggested next door because they had “great burgers” this was met by another unenthused look. I yelled, “You think I came all the way to Amsterdam to eat burgers???” He apologized profusely (this is fun!) he pointed me in the direction of an “authentic” Dutch restaurant and bid me good luck and to not be a stranger (yea, ok, too late) I couldn’t find his  fake recommendation and none of the other “pizza” “Italian” “Indian” and “Asian” neon signs appealed to me. I walked around a bit and peered into a quiet restaurant that said “Dutch food” I looked inside and there were attractive blond patrons. Jackpot! This is the real deal! This is what I ate:

Giant meatball and endive mashed potatoes

After gorging myself, I rolled out onto the street and  hopped on the tram and practiced my clumsy Dutch when I attempted to say the street the hostel was on. I then got a clue, pulled out my paper to show the street I was seeking,”Vossiusstraat.” “Ah it’s next stop”, the driver said. I hhaphazardly looked for a euro, he said “no, no, no, it’s next stop.” I looked at him graciously (that euro is a bottle of hard liquor water) I fell off the tram into the cold, rainy, damp, dark night and of course, didn’t know where to go. I asked a lady if she knew where the street was, she pointed me in the right direction. Finally I reached the hostel and I was ready to mingle! Red light district bound! I changed clothes, tied and buttoned up my coat and plopped on my scarves and gloves and hopped on the back of the tram and tried to blend in. I took an educated guess about where to get off. I walked into a casino and asked the doorman where the famous district was. He laughed and said “Red light district is for men” I scowled and said “Why not for women? It’s equal opportunity fun!” He laughed and showed me where to go. I stopped in a bar and started chatting with the bartenders and ended up staying there the whole entire night. These are my new buds:


Brooke and Dimitri!! The Aussies just got engaged a few days prior in Greece on their 6 week holiday! (Dimitri's family hails from Greece)

Hungarian bartender on the left is a transplant, she doesn't know any Dutch and loves Amsterdam. She was very happy she just got Uitkering for her baby because her daughter's father's visa expired and he had to go back to Hungary. Denis on the right, his parents are Romanian-Armenian and emigrated from Turkey. He knows 5 languages, his father owns the bar and is a diamond setter. His celeb crushes are Beyonce, Alicia Keys and J-Lo. He listens to Chris Brown and Jah Cure and would love to visit NY but has reservations on if people will like him or accept him. I said he would be just fine.

Lucie and Tim are an Aussie couple. They recently moved to Amsterdam and we were discussing the outrageous rents in major cities. They bartend and said it was very rare they had a day off together.

So we can fast forward to the next morning errrr—-afternoon. Summed up in, Van Gogh museum, pancakes, (recommended by the NY times) and other touristy stuffs:

Famous structure

Van Gogh Museum

Endive, ham, Camembert cheese and raspberry sauce pancakes

…and then the REAL fun began when I went to rent a bike. I rented the bike for 24 hours starting at around 7pm that very night. Before I left, I told the salesperson I would definitely take his recommendation and go to Paradiso that night to party. Wobbly, I went onto the Red Light district again. I parked my bike and stopped into a coffee shop and happened on a few characters.

Lil' Wayne is that you?

Aussie transplant. He explained to me how there really is little racial tension among black and white in Amsterdam. He said if someone sees a black person they just think you're Dutch. He said the real problems are with the Moroccans. He described a few situations where him and his girlfriend were harassed my Moroccans and his disdain was very apparent. He went on to say that they are very arrogant and rude and ride their mopeds in the bike lanes and obnoxiously run people over. He maintains he doesn't think all Moroccans are bad but his bad experiences have jaded him a bit. He added that if I go more into the northern of Holland "the Dutch people are even taller and blonder."

In the coffeeshop, the Aussie bartender told me the best sections of the red light district to see so off I went, into the rain, no less. I got lost within minutes. Confession, I can’t direct myself out of a paper bag, this is my travel Achilles heel. You would think living in NYC and traveling I would be a map pro. Hell to the nah. I am the direct opposite. So it’s cold, rainy, I was no longer in the red light district and I had no clue where the street I parked my bike was. I did see some swans though:

Swans in the canal

I was com-pleet-ly lost and was getting quite hungry so I stopped at a pizza stand and chatted with the owner. He was from Pakistan and said he moved to Amsterdam because he wanted a change. He likes it there and made sure to tell me he would have never let his wife or girlfriend travel alone and can’t believe my boyfriend let me. I laughed in his face.  “Oh I didn’t think I was anyone’s prisoner.” He said he didn’t mean it like that but said traveling together is better than traveling alone. I said maybe, maybe not. He told me which direction to go for the District. I asked if he frequented, he unashamedly nodded and said “Yea there’s nothing wrong with looking. True.

My Amsterdam Pizza Chat

I walked around for kicks and happened upon three  guys outside a bar. I asked them if they happened to know which direction the district was. (You can tell just how great I am at directions eh?) Two of them shrugged and said they didn’t know in broken English. The one who did know English stepped forward and said “No, I’m from Rotterdam, we’re here for the weekend, so I’m not too familiar with these parts.” I narrowed my eyes at the broken english speakers and asked in Spanish, if they spoke Spanish. They both grinned and said YES! They were from the Dominican Republic. I laughed and said “Huh? How’d you get all the way over here.” They said they had a friend here and asked me the same question. I told them they should come to New York sometime, and go t Washington Heights, they’ll feel like they never left home. I bid them goodbye.  Against my better judgment, I unapologetically opened my map, a huge rule I made for myself in my travels. I try never to fully open a map at any time in public. I never want to appear as a easy target lost tourist. I turned around a saw two curly-haired Dutch men. I looked at them then turned to my map. Looked at them, then turned away. Side-eyed them, then finally walked up to them and pointed at a street on the map. Do you know where that is? The taller man smiled and said “You have no clue where you are, do you?” I laughed and said “Of course I do! I’m just trying to find my bike!” They were both smiling now. They talked among themselves about the best route to get to my bike and then I blurted out, “I want to see the rest of the red light district first.”  They laughed heartily and said “Ok let’s go.” We all ventured down the district and walked past the windows and I looked around. They stared at me to see my expression and laughed more. We went to a bar to get out of the rain. I noticed they wore no rain gear. Michel wore Prada sneakers and a trendy windbreaker. Marc wore a flannel shirt. They were best friends and Marc just moved to Spain because his wife couldn’t take the Dutch weather anymore. He kept his apartment and visits Michel once a month.

Best friends. Michel, closest to the camera. Marc in the flannel.

Michel insisted I had to take my coat off or I’d freeze when I went outside. I instantly asked if he had any kids, because he sounded very parently at that point. He laughed again (they sure loved to laugh) and said yes, a seven year old. I asked about his wife. He said he has a girlfriend and a baby mama. I asked if he planned on marrying ever. He shrugged and said “I’m not the marrying kind. Me and my girlfriend have an open relationship.” “Oh” I nodded “You like to live fast and free, I can dig it.” Marc laughed. I then cleared my throat and prepared to tell my premeditated joke. I asked them if they ever heard of the band Led Zeppelin. They said sure, of course. Then I asked “Do you think they got their name from ‘Leidseplein'” Both Marc and Michel stopped, thought about it and double over in laughter. They had never thought about it that way and said “yes they very well could have gotten their name from it.” They asked where I planned to go that night. I said “Paradiso” and they both hmmmm-ed in unison. “Paradiso is getting younger and younger.” I demanded, “well what does that mean?” Michel said it was perfect for me. We left to go to another bar so the two friends could play pool. I perched on a bar chair. There were three men sitting to my right. I said “hi.” They said hi back and I cleared my throat and again laid my Led Zeppelin gem on them. Michel came over right in the middle of my delivery and egged me on. The men had the same uproarious response as Michel and Marc. We then got to talking about Amsterdam’s diversity. The three men were from Suriname and said a lot of the black people there were from the Dutch Antilles. They asked me if I knew were Suriname was. I scoffed and laughed haughtily, “OF COURSE I KNOW WHERE IT IS!” I screamed, “I’m Panamanian!” (apparently I did a lot of screaming on this trip, if I remember accurately) Their eyes lit up. “COOL!” one of them said. I asked “Well, since it’s a West Indian haven, where is all the roti then? Huh?” They said “Are you kidding me, there’s roti shops everywhere!” I pouted. “I didn’t see any!” He said “You’ll see them tomorrow.”

The oldest of the three, he looked about 60, asked me why I was traveling solo. I said because I wanted to. The three men were aghast that any woman would do such a thing. The older gentleman said it was dangerous for me to travel alone, and added I was a Cosby kid. “I am NOT,” I retorted. They responded by laughing and saying unanimously that I very well was. I pointed out everyone was really friendly in Amsterdam and he agreed, then took the conversation to a different level. He said although the Dutch are friendly it was really difficult living in Amsterdam from the 60’s onward. He asked me did I know what “evils the Dutch were doing in Africa” and I said “Oh apartheid.” He nodded his head vigorously and got very serious and said “Yes, and I was living here with the same people who were oppressing people like me.” He looked at Michel and said “his people.” I zipped my lips and looked at Michel, turning my head ever so slightly to see his expression, Michel nodded in agreement with the gentleman. Then the older gentleman broke the silence and said “It’s not all his people who are like that so he’s cool,”  he then laughed and then everyone laughed. Phew. I wasn’t prepared for such heavy talk but it was a unique perspective to discuss. We left the bar soon after the three men wishing me well on the rest of my trip. Michel and Marc embraced and we all parted ways. Michel hopped on his bike and I shared a cab to Paradiso with Marc. Marc lived near Paradiso.

A 15 minute line wait and a 6 euro entrance fee later, I was in Paradiso. I was greeted with Prince, Michael Jackson and Biggie blaring. Not in that order but the crowd was live. I sat down for a bit and when I finally decided to dance some guy shouted oh you’re finally gonna dance? I asked what was it to him? He put up his hands show he was harmless and said he just wanted to make sure everyone was having fun. Again I reiterated my question and laughed. His name was “Knowledje” he was an MC. I partied all night with his crew. I have no clue when that party ended but I was sad Amsterdam had to end at all.

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  1. […] was very warm. A nice change from the harsh weather of London, Prague and Amsterdam. I hoped on a tram Jack advised would take me to the museum area. I walked around. The architecture […]


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