A week or so ago, I attempted a meme about travel (you can read it here) and it gave me an idea. I have decided to pepper my usual inane garbage with a few posts about my favourite cities but with a bit more detail.
I would like to start with Amsterdam, a city that I absolutely love.
Amsterdam will always have a place in my heart as the first city I visited outside the UK. I was 20 years old and completely naïve, so naïve in fact that I had absolutely no idea about its reputation and why it was, and still is, a favourite location for stag parties.
Since that first visit all of those years ago, I have returned to the city so many times that I have lost count. I was lucky enough to work on two separate projects in the city with work, resulting in countless trips. I have also returned on a couple of lads’ weekends, a city break with W, my ex-wife, and with Mrs PM as well as a stag party.
Here are a few highlights of my trips and some of my favourite places:
(1) On my first visit there, I walked out of Centraal Station with my mate Steve and my first conversation with a Dutch man was this:
Dutch Man: Hello – do you speak English?
Naïve PM (grinning inanely) : Yes – YES I DO!
Dutch Man: Want to buy some hashish?
(2) The reputation of the Red Light area in Amsterdam in legendary and on my first visit I walked around with my mouth wide open in shock at the graphic and extremely hard core pornographic magazines. What’s more, I was flabbergasted by the fact that women sold their bodies for money so openly in shop windows. When I was working there, every single person who came out for the first time wanted to go to the Red Light Area and in the end I was so fed up of endless strolls around there with shocked individuals that I would pop into a bar and wait for them, rather than walk around yet again. When I was with W, we strolled around and were invited to go to a Sex Show. I politely declined and the guy said:
“Oh come on! Tonight it is audience participation and couples are definitely most welcome”.
We, of course, declined.
The funniest thing I saw there was a bunch of Japanese gentlemen standing staring at one of the shop windows. After a couple of minutes, another Japanese gentleman came out of the shop window, having sampled the local delights, and was greeted by rapturous applause from his fellow countrymen.
(3) My favourite bar in Amsterdam is Café Gollem, a small bar with a plethora of beers from all over the world. It is only a small bar but it is always absolutely packed, particularly at weekends. Here I sampled Belgian beers for the very first time and I haven’t looked back since. If you visit Amsterdam, I recommend you to check out Café Gollem if you like decent beer in a laid back environment.
(4) My first trip, as I said, was legendary. On our last day there two major things happened. Let me tell you about the first. Steve and I were backpacking so we sought cheap accommodation and ended up in a real dive masquerading as a hotel on the edge of the Red Light area. The place supplied breakfast (well when I say “breakfast” I mean a roll, some ham, some cheese and a coffee) and with a hangover, I nursed my coffee with all of the other travellers. After a while, a woman who I presumed was the owner came in and started to scream at one of the other guests, a young hippy with major dreadlocks who looked as if he were high on some drug or another. I took no notice until I heard this:
Angry Woman: I want you out NOW!!!
Hippy Guest: Chill out, man.
Angry Woman: CHILL OUT???? It wasn’t ME who shot my friend.
Hippy Guest: Chill out, man. It was an accident. We were playing Russian Roulette. He’s not DEAD! I’ll pick him up from the hospital later. We’ll be fine.
(5) The second thing occurred on that day, not long before we were about to leave the city. We had three hours to wait before our train left for Munich. As we strolled around the city, a man approached and said:
“Have you got time to take part in a survey?”
Steve and I shrugged and agreed so that we could kill time without having to spend money. We sat down and filled in what turned out to be a Personality Test and at the end were invited to chat with "one of our experts”. I answered all of the multiple choice questions and after five minutes or so was invited to chat with a very attractive Dutch lady. After telling me that I was a “people person” who “cared about his fellow man”, the conversation went something like this:
Woman: When are you leaving Amsterdam?
Naïve PM: Later today.
Woman: You mustn’t – you must come back here.
Naïve PM: Why?
Woman: Your test shows that you are suicidal; you have problems. We can help. We have this course …
Naïve PM: Hang on – excuse me! What do you mean “suicidal”?
Woman: Your answers reveal that you are very sad and depressed. You may not believe it but you are. There is a darkness inside you that we need to help you with. And we can help you if you stay...
Naïve PM: No I’m not depressed. I’m very happy. What on earth did I say that makes you think that I’m going to top myself?
After ten minutes or so of disagreeing with the woman, she finally agreed that I could leave without having to be escorted out of the building by a guardian angel. She tried to sell me a book and I refused (well I had little money).
As I left the building, paranoia kicked in and I actually started to question myself. Am I really going to commit suicide? Am I really so depressed that I need to go on suicide watch?
Steve was waiting.
“How did it go?” he asked.
I didn’t want to tell him that I was potentially going to hurl myself in front of a bus. Steve didn’t wait for my answer. He continued:
“You’ll love this,” he laughed. “Apparently I am about to KILL myself. Can you believe that? Pharrking charlatans. They should talk to that arse who shot his mate.”
I laughed and told him that I, too, was a suicide risk.
The book they tried to sell us was Dianetics by L.Ron Hubbard.
Yes, that’s right – this was an attempt to recruit myself and Steve into the Church of Scientology.
(6) If you go to the Amsterdam you must visit the Anne Frank house. I have never been to a place where the memories of the tiny house are so intense that they are almost tangible. Every single person who walked around the tiny house and museum did so in utter silence, contemplating the atrocities of the Second World War and how a little Dutch girl’s diary helped to give a sense of that terrible time.
(7) If you like art, the Rijksmuseum is the place for you. I was working on my own for the weekend and staying near there and, because the weather was dreadful, I thought I would pass an hour or two looking at some paintings. Five hours later, I was still in there and I hadn’t seen half of the place. And I am not a big fan of art at all.
(8) My last visit there was in 2009 when I went on a stag party. The groom was a policeman and four of the group were also British bobbies. And boy can they drink. I spent the weekend trying to stay relatively sober but also, because I had been there before, acting as a tour guide. The sad thing was we all had to wear the same T shirt – complete with porn star name on the back. For the duration of that weekend I became Jake Sin.
I could tell you a lot more, but this post is already quite long so I will leave it at that for now. Suffice it to say, I know that I have not seen the last of Amsterdam and I look forward to my next visit to the city – whenever that may be.
I recommend you visit if you ever get the chance – even if you want to avoid the Red Light area. There is so much to see – the bars, the canals, the restaurants and, best of all, the people who are among the friendliest and most laid back I have ever met on my travels.
I’ll leave you with some photos from my last trip there.
Next time, dear reader, I will bring you back a gift – some tulips!