Down cobblestone alleys, over canals amongst centuries old buildings, like giants towering over, the intoxicating aroma of pancakes and weed permeate the air. The faint whispers for Charlie or coca in my ear, and the not so subtle incessant pounding on glass doorways from the flaunting porn star like girls as I mosey through the streets barely putting one foot in front of the other, captivated by the mesmerizing aura set off by the glow of the red lights. I’m back, round two… Amsterdam!
The Anne Frank House, no thanks, the line was astronomical even for this time of year. Van Gogh Museum, Heineken Brewery Tour. Nope and nope, well I walked by at least, if that counts for anything. Not a fan of line ups or tourists traps (falling for one in an attempt to be social, it was sadly an hour of my life I will never get back). I chose to take the slower pace of life, sitting in cafes and coffee shops (yes, they’re different, simply coffee shops have a more unique menu, generally no food) just taking in the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of this promiscuous city.
Staying at The Flying Pig Downtown hostel, I was right in the district this time. A relaxed and laid back environment, where travellers could chill out in the smoking room, some people forgetting the caliber of the pot, they became so incapacitated I swear they never left, and a bar with the cheapest bottle of beer (2 for 4 euros) I could find. Amsterdam in general is quite expensive to drink, charging way too much for Heineken thinking it’s better than it is, and for a mixed drink, 4 euros for a shot and 2 more for the coke. I’ve never seen a bigger scam, well that’s a lie, but nonetheless. This was probably all in all a good thing for me, giving my liver a bit of a break.
Surprised by the haze my head was in last time, I found myself actually capable of navigating my way through the city. Somehow I actually found my way back to the places I remembered so vividly, as if instead of returning I just woke up from a six year dream and continued my trip. The city was etched into my brain, permanent and unchanging. First things first, I cross Dam Square, down a narrow alley, containing a calming herbal scent, and following my nose, it’s just up ahead. An oval sign, lit up with fluorescent neon lights screaming out Abraxas. Upon entering this hobbit hole like shop, all weights fall from my shoulders as I’m greeted with your not so average menu. Discussing and purchasing some of their wares, I order an Americano and the best juice I’ve ever had, Looza. Personally I prefer the banana, pear and mango, but they all deserve equal merit. After returning from my first trip, I hunted this sweet nectar down, driving to the US (at that point my only legitimate reason for ever going) to find it, I just needed another taste. Managing to balance everything while I slowly made my way up the coil of stairs, I settled in to renew myself in the art of rolling.
Sitting in these shops is otherworldly, time slides by as I slip into a state of trance. I watch life pass by before my half open eyes, observing, in what I feel is deep thought, yet feeling unable to take part, as if looking through a window. Listening from a distance to giggles from nowhere, rambling of forgotten points and the odd, ‘Hey bro, can I borrow your lighter,’ I’m perfectly content with my coffee, looza, spliff and wandering mind. Continuing to puff away, I zoom out on the microscope, falling further and further away. Currently as I sat in a state of limbo, or at least extremely unmotivated, slowly but surely focus comes back and hunger draws near. A new dilemma approaches … what to EAT.
With way too many ideas floating through my head at once, I remember Chipsy King. Primarily a French fry joint, I figured I couldn’t go wrong with a Dutch classic and typical stoner food. Thick cut, pre-blanched, perfectly crispy exterior, light and fluffy interior, these people know their fries. Finished only with mayonnaise, peanut satay sauce and chopped onions. Sure you could get ketchup, but why do something stupid like that. Not that I don’t have my hands full, I find myself being drawn somewhere else. Subconsciously I know what I want and realize I shouldn’t think anymore and leave it up to my stomach, letting my feet just carry me forward. They’ll take me where I need to go, and they did. Poffertjes, tiny little Dutch pancakes. Like taking a bite of a cloud coated in butter, dusted with powdered sugar, my mouth had an orgasm drooling from the side, leaving them more enticing than most of the girls in the windows. I prepared myself for a coma and ordered another lot.
Waking up clear headed and hungry, there was two things wrong with this picture. I was in Amsterdam, at least this was an easy fix. Heading out in the opposite direction, and while crossing over a canal I noticed a line for another long established Dutch street food. These lines I’m okay with, just means it has to be good. Lightly brined herring with chopped onions and sweet and sour pickle, eaten by itself or on a bun. As I walked away taking my first bite, I reared to a halt and got back in line for another, imagining what it would be like in a maki roll, something I’ll have to experiment with. Getting my fill, I worked my way towards Dampkring, quite a famous coffee shop for, well the obvious.
My sweet tooth is kicking back in again, so I grab a Stoopwafel (the Dutch caramel syrup waffle cookie) for the directionless walk I’m embarking on. Crossing Dam Square, through the horde of pigeons, I just about back hand one away as it thinks I’m going to let it land on me for some of my Stroopwafel. Little does it know, I will 1- fight to the death for this cookie, and 2- I eat pigeon. There is plenty of other stupid tourists who think it is fun for them to land on you, and get a picture taken looking like the crazy bird lady from Home Alone 2. I myself, don’t see the joy in having flying shit rats all over my arms and head. Personally I prefer them not full of garbage and in a savoury pigeon pie.
Cheese, holy shit, it was everywhere, the cheese. I found a quaint little shop, Reypenaer offering a tasting of six cheeses, hand washed and aged under a master’s eye. Two goat and four cow’s milk cheeses produced in their warehouse. Already a fan of the goat cheeses I have tried, once again I was leaning towards the Wyngaard Chevre Gris. Aged ten months, with an ivory colour, scent of crème fraiche and slightly granular with a drier texture. Once the tasting concluded we were left to our own devices for five minutes or so to finish up our wine and port. This was a poor move for both parties involved. I ate as much free cheese as I could in that time frame making a six cheese fondue in my stomach, but this also led to me being unable to have a proper bowel movement the following day.
It was time to go under the gun again, the slow cat scratch as ink is imbedded into my skin. The timeless and only real souvenir I need this time, I couldn’t wait, the first of many as I travel the world. The only downside is the price point, but being as it is Amsterdam, I couldn’t expect much less. It’s like paying for a brand name, the novelty of it all. Not to mention, a place where most of their business comes from ‘well planned out’, drunk and high decisions, so they were able to get away with it in this city of carnal sins.
As I sit on the second floor of another coffee shop, watching the sun set over the horizon, the red lights begin to take over and the curtains slide open exposing the naked flesh of a multitude of women … well for the most part anyways. A little bit of whatever gives you that rise can be found here. It might be down a dark alley, only noticeable while exuding that warm luminescent glow from its hidden entrance welcoming all willing. Even though I’ve been here once before, there’s something about prostitutes in windows that never gets old, just my perception that changes. At the age of 19, being my first extended trip away from home with only a good friend, I thought of this as nothing but a spectacle and joke, a good laugh as I walked by. Now with a better understanding of the way things work, I felt a sense of remorse for these women, for having to resort to such lengths to support themselves, or even worse, forced into such a trade. One can only imagine the bullshit that weighs on this job and the person. Banging profusely on their windows, heckling with drunks, enduring blatant laughing and pointing, it would run someone into the ground. Unfortunately it is far from a perfect world out there, but try to keep in mind that this is not a choice they would make if other options were available.
Before I leave this kingdom of pleasure for years to come, I wander the streets one final time soaking in the atmosphere of a city that is like no other I’ve visited. I gorge on all things bliss, putting myself into dream state until I awaken again in Amsterdam for round three.