My first trip to Amsterdam nearly didn’t happen. I was working a hard-core property job at the time and the boss was refusing to let me take just one day off.
A group of friends I’d met and travelled with in Australia earlier that year had planned a reunion on Dutch soil; something we’d spoken about many times over stubbies on the beach and barbies in our Melbourne yard. I’d be damned if I was going to miss it.
I begged and pleaded for days, I even threatened to leave (there was banter in there somewhere, and funnily enough I did leave two months later.) Finally – he let it happen. There was a silver lining to the extortionate last minute weekend airfare; this life-thief of a job paid very, very well so I just turned a blind eye while trying not to spit my tea on the keyboard at the sight of the price. There was no choice – I NEEDED TO GO TO AMSTERDAM RIGHT THAT SECOND. So I did, and to this day it’s probably one of the best investments I’ve ever made.
So, a Dutchman, a Frenchman, a German man and an English (wo)man do Amsterdam. Sounds like the beginning of a great joke right?! It was – that’s for sure…
Like all great stories, it wasn’t a smooth start. It was about 10pm on Friday night in the summer of 2006. With my huge (and frankly, totally OTT and ridiculous-for-two-days) backpack, I excitedly boarded the train to Centraal Station, frantically trying to contact my friends who I hoped would be waiting for me. But my phone wouldn’t work. What the hell was I going to do? I knew the city was crazy (a massive understatement to what I was about to experience) and had absolutely no idea how I would find them. Those were the days when pigeons were still delivering notes and a phone was two cups and a piece of string…..there definitely was no Facebook or Twitter to get hold of them so without my phone, I was pretty stuffed.
As usual, I winged it. I had no choice and I just hoped they’d be there.
It had been a while since I’d ventured to Europe. The smells, the vibe, the hustle and the air seething with a rich and deep culture filled me with joy. It was comfortable, I felt like I belonged and knew this would be a weekend to remember. As I walked out of the huge station entrance, the soggy, warm evening air hit me and the atmosphere put an uncontrollable smile on my face. Within 5 seconds my name was called and like a bunch of over–excited kids, crazy laughter and hugs were on the menu – they were there to greet me and that’s where it all began. We sat on the side of the river, catching up, chilling and laughing some more. It was great to be together again. And my Dutch friend was still wide-mouthed and in shock, wondering how on earth I was sitting in front of him when I wasn’t supposed to be there.
So let’s not forget I had the biggest backpack ever made for an average sized human woman, filled with enough nonsense for a 3 week trek. Where would be the best place to go? Red Light District of course. (Note sarcasm)
Who has been to the Red Light District on a Friday night? If you have, you’ll be wondering what on earth I was playing at and probably laughing and pointing, throwing virtual tomatoes at me, and I’ll take that for my naïvety. If you haven’t, let me give you the scene: hundreds of people and bikes coming at you from every direction with just about enough room in front of you to avoid tasting the back of a sweaty neck. It is an attack on the senses – your eyes don’t know where to look and your ears struggle to decipher all the random comments from passers-by. The place was buzzing, clouds of happy grey smog lingered in the air while various genres of loud music came from every bar and coffeeshop. People were dancing in the streets, scantily dressed ladies in windows, groups jamming by the canals on acoustics, shy couples and bulshy stag groups vied for space. There was every nationality and walk of life you could imagine. Waffles and pizza galore teased my tummy but I just had to find somewhere to plonk down and watch the world go by as opposed to being part that world while being shoved from pillar to post with my backpack. But then what do I see? Three generations of a very well to do family, happy snapping and eating ice-cream, grandma taking a closer look into the red-lit windows and knocking on them for a chat. WTF was going on, what was my name, where was I and what year was it?! This was the weirdest place I’d ever encountered and I loved it.
We found a perch in a lesser known coffeeshop (I love travelling with locals, easier to steer clear of the tourists!) We were still giggling like children, I’m not sure if the three of us who had never been knew what to expect; everything we heard was crazy, but this was taking the micky and I think with a mix of nerves, excitement and exhaustion (on my part) we had no choice but to open our minds and take ‘Dam on the chin, for everything she was and more. No more expectations, we just went with the flow.
That flow also included a dog trying to steal my friend’s bag from under the table (all at the demand of his master, of course). Said bag was safely kept. Phew
This all happened within an hour of arriving.
In the early hours of the morning, only a cab seemed viable for our journey home. Of course, THAT wasn’t going to be normal, was it? Picture this: Harry Potter with tattoos covering his all visible body parts, seat back and as low as they go, a fat (should have been from a joke shop) spliff and underground rap blasting from his crackley boot speakers, waving joyfully at police officers as he speeds us home. Apart from more recent trips to Amsterdam, I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much in my life, and certainly not from fear. He spoke to us all the way home but I don’t remember a word he said, I just remember being unable to answer him through the tears and laughter. Only in Amsterdam.
The rest of the two days were spent doing all the usual ‘first time in Amsterdam’ activities including a ridiculous pantomime-esque sex show while seated on old church pews, a house party, an art gallery of some description, wandering aimlessly for hours, chilling on the pretty canals and thousands of belly laughs to boot.
This trip was full of WTF moments and to my dying day I’ll never forget it.
I’ve been to Amsterdam numerous times since then, I’ve now lost count. One thing is for sure; you never have the same trip twice. Every single visit has been completely different and I’ve never got bored – some of the best museum’s in the world reside here, the scenery is stunning and there are culinary delights at every turn. There is always something to see, do and explore for every kind of traveller.
One thing is for sure, it is a very different city to what it was 9 years ago in many respects; it’s safer, cleaner, a lot less unsavoury characters, the RL windows have more than halved and surprisingly, weekends are even more hectic than I remember (I tend to stick to weekdays now, regardless of luggage!) It certainly has a less seedy side to it than it once had.
Are you planning on going to Amsterdam any time soon? I have an interactive guide to Amsterdam coming out this Monday 24th August 2015!!! Leave a message in the comments if you’re interested in a copy and I’ll be sure to let you know first! Or would you like to review the book? Give me a shout! There are forty unique things to do from mainstream to the more quirky, off-the-beaten–path activities too with enough to cover five full days. Click here for more info.
Have you ever been to Amsterdam, what were your first impressions? I’d love to hear them all!!
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