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7/4/01 – Those Lights Make My Skin Look Pale…

First I have to say that I loathe French keyboards with a fiery passion born of a thousand suns. {First I have to sqy thqt I loqthe French keyboqrds zith q fiery pqssion born of q thousqnd suns:}  <– This being the same sentence touch-typed like I usually do.  I'm forced to hunt and peck like a child and don't get me started on punctuation.  Their layout makes each sentence an ordeal worthy of Sisaphus. (Yes I did too know that off the top of my head, I'm educated and stuff)

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I traveled from London to Amsterdam by a series of trains and ferrys.  Due to the interchanges, I was far from rested when I finally dragged into Central Station at 4AM.  Naturally, no hostels were open and those that were had no rooms available.

I spent an excruciating morning trudging up one canal and down another until the saintly and omnipresent Internet Cafe chain Easy Everything rode to the rescue.  With two central locations in the city proper, it was a perfect place to wile away a few hours. (plus at 5AM you get 4 hours for just 5 Guilders = $10)

The low-end but perfectly suitable hostel I settled in was located on the outskirts of the red-light district, humorously across the way from a Gay Porn theatre. That's just about all I'll say about that, except for a few thoughts.

The RL district is surreal in that you'll be walking along a quaint little canal lined by pleasant row homes when you turn a corner and are faced with naked women pressed against glass. (along with the sweaty foreign men rooted in place gawking)  Beyond this, tourist groups wander the alleys and drug dealers approach you at every step offering a collection of no-doubt top notch chemical fun.

For the longest time, I was confused by their cries of “Charley!  Coka?”  At first I thought it pertained to my passing resemblance to actor and drug connesuier Charlie Sheen.  This theory was dashed by a hilarious group of English football hooligans who were puzzled by it as well.  Apparently, “Charley!” is a local legend who used to drift the streets of Amsterdam buying up drugs too keep them out of young children's hands.

This legend, of course, has not been confirmed.

As a backpacker, I found the company slightly lacking in Amsterdam as the cafes left my fellow young people in no state to carry on a conversation.  Ultimately, I found myself both more responsive and more interesting to talk too.  I did meet an interesting Italian named Alex and we traded advice and stories about traveling, as well as our home countries.

The real highlight of my stay, which stretched two nights/three days until my train Sunday evening, were the museums.  A dazzling array of material and content can be found in Amsterdam, from Rembrandt's house to the Rikjsmuseum which houses the over-hyped “Nightwatch” and a spectacular collection of furnishings, china, dollhouses and artwork.

Having attended a magnificent Rembrandt show in Edinburg focusing on his women, I found it synchronistic to visit his home and see his ‘masterpiece' within 48 hours.  (I happen to prefer some of his etchings and religious scenes to the rather anti-climactic “Nightwatch”)

Beyond this, the Van Gogh museum houses a dizzying collection of this master conceptualist and other interesting works done in the same vein and time. Right next door to the Van Gogh is the modern art museum which delighted me with all varieties of installations and concepts.

Definitely a must-see, in my opinion are Zandvliet's large scale, nearly absracted landscapes which if I was to any extent an art snob I could describe in overbearing and sophisticated blather.  All I can tell you is that I found them endlessly fascinating, prompting a second trip right before my train.

Also at the modern art museum was another piece of synchronicity.  I'd hate to ruin the effect but needless to say that the Tate Modern in London has an animatronic piano installation that is perfectly complimented by this second piano themed sculpture. It was a connection that I could only make because of the bredth and extent of this trip.  One of the joys of backpacking, I'm discovering is forging your own connections between things.

Visiting all these museums will be greatly enhanced by purchasing the National Museum Card. (which will require a passport sized photo you'll be able to buy from booths just about everywhere)  The card speeds transactions and covers entry costs at a wide variety of museums.

Not covered by the pass, but still haunting and worthwhile, is Anne Frank's home.  Rather, the house in which they hid for years during the occupation. It's chilling to walk through rooms that had been the only refuge in Europe during the war.

As for finding a language barrier in Amsterdam… it's unlikely.  Just about everyone in the tourist and surrounding areas speaks excellent or passable English.

On the other hand, the nightlife in Amsterdam is rather limited.  That is to say bars, a few casinos, some rather unappealing clubs and the RL district are all I could dig up.  After wearing holes in my feet the first night walking around, I queried a record shop about the music scene and learned it had pretty much vanished in the last year.  Although I did meet a group of girls who were as dismayed by this as I was.

Those're the highlights of my time in the Netherlands.  All in all, a nice enough country but in retrospect I would've only spent one night and two days there.  If you're not a hormonal, dope-smoker it may not hold your attention.

On to gay Paris… hopefully without the chaps.

Last Updated on December 3, 2018 by Dave Lee