Disclaimer : Whatever you have heard about Amsterdam is all true, so put those rumours to rest. This is not a place for faint-hearted. And if you are brave enough the find your self with its city walls, there is one simple rule - whatever happens in Amsterdam, stays in Amsterdam! You will see, hear and experience things that you won't otherwise in your mundane daily life (unless you are Tony Montana reincarnation, and in that case, may I have your number? ;) ), so unless you have a stomach for it..do me a favor and cancel this page immediately. The rest of you, walk through with me.
|Lets know the city!|
Welcome to the sin-city of Europe where the girls are pretty and the coffeeshops are better than your local Starbucks, with 800,000 people and 900,000 bicycles (20,000 of them recovered every year from the canal).. Amsterdam truly lives by its motto - Leef en Laat Leven (Live and Let Live). The freedom and openness the city offers is quite an eyeopener for our myopic view on subjects we consider "taboo". Of course, it is the same interest that attracts millions of tourists every year to the city. But its Amsterdam's attitude that caught my attention the most. Overthinking, overdoing, overpleasing or 'over' anything does not exist in this city. People are very direct, and its all straight talking without any flare approach getting directly to the point. I might even call it the badass of all European cities, and it literally screams these lines - "What you lookin' at? You all a bunch of f***** a**holes. You know why? You don't have the guts to be what you wanna be? You need people like me. You need people like me so you can point your f***** fingers and say, "That's the bad guy."" And it is the same attitude one gets from the city's slogan "I Amsterdam" - self-assured, the city rather remains in the background while sending out more of a personal rather than aggrandized image that most touristy places do.
|Amsterdam in the evening with one of my hosts.|
Traveling for me is feeding my irresistible desire to understand one's very existence, and so this time I opted for knowing the locals via CouchSurfing. This is an amazing way to know and live like locals whenever you are travelling because they host your stay and if you get to be as lucky as me, they will even give you a city tour exploring the local food and drinks. Thanks to my traveling companion's excellent CS skills - we found two amazing hosts for the A'dam trip - Niels and Thies. Seasoned travellers and culinary enthusiasts themselves, I had an amazing time exploring the city and exchanging travel stories with them. Not only I had a chance to try out a beer recipe from 1400s (smoked beer, FTW!) in church converted into a pub, I also had a chance of find out how plain Bitter Ballen feels to my Indian taste buds.
|I wish all Greek tragedies ended like this! @ De Griek.|
Amsterdam is a small city and if you have good weather, you will easily cover the whole place walking or cycling in 2-3 days. Like the last time, I avoided museums this time too because I prefer the living telling me the stories than the dead (although I did cry a tear for missing out on Van Gogh.) If you are a trivia freak like me, I highly recommend travellers to take the walking tour - the guides are lively, fun, full of facts and you can opt for either Spanish or English groups. At that point, I really wished I knew Spanish because like all SSPs (Spanish Speaking People) that group was super loud and lively. Nevertheless, we had the super-nerdy Jersey boy Rob as our tour guide (nerds are fun, they always have a lot of info...almost about everything!), who apparently came to the city years ago to learn music and never left.
|The tour guide signal to assemble.|
The next few hours were torrid flow of information - Dutch East Indies company, the Wampum currencies, Louis Napoleon and how he became the "Rabbit king" of Holland, "Heldhaftig, Vastberaden, Barmhartig", the forward leaning buildings and their significance, the current parliamentary debate on the control of coffeshops, etc.etc. Did you know there is a 2 meter tall man leaving in a 5ft wide house, who can sleep only in one direction just to fit in? Thats amazing Amsterdam for you, and I have a picture to prove it.
|The patch of red bricks is your 5ft wide house - can you live there?|
Of course the tour would be in complete without a walk through the red-light district (ah, now she is getting to the point). Word of advice, keep your judgements at bay before entering this area. The ladies take their jobs seriously, and the tourists are not allowed to take pics of the display windows or else get ready to be splashed with a cup of urine. Nasty, eh? Well if you think the world's oldest profession to be a joke, get ready for the b****slap. And if you carry my luck of weird things happening to you on travels, one of the ladies might just open their windows and try to grope you. Never did a woman scare me so much in my life before! It is pointless to walk around here during the day - unless you are into fatties and the oldies, most windows are closed. However it is at dusk when the real show begins at the red neon windows - from brothels to sexshops to museums, Rossebuurt (as the locals call it) leaves nothing to your imagination. But its not seedy or dirty place. I have seen packs of men - young and old, couples holding hands giggling, groups of women celebrating hen night, families and old people pointing at shock of it all, but mostly doing what I too did the best - gawk in awe, surprise, and respect. Respect because the world indeed revolves around 11 minutes, and you don't need Paulo Coelho to tell you that. Here, however, it revolves around 15 mins for 50 euros or 2 euros for peep shows (yes, I do my research well). What fascinated me the most is the the existence of the Old Church in the same area. The story goes that sailors used to arrive here at night when they see a red-light hung out of the brothels (thats how the term 'red-light' came into being..however there is 'blue-light' area, something you will have to see it for yourself and I shall not reveal this for you ;) ). In the morning these sailors go to the Church for ablution and confess their sins from previous night before they go out to the seas. Such are the vagaries of religious sins and repentance! However, it was amusing to see how these two institutions co-existed side by side for ages serving people in their own way, and throwing more light on human nature.
|Beer cart - best way to share a ride with friends!|
It was fascinating to see a Dutch's love for cows. There was one shop dedicated to "cow" art - there were cows in different form - funky cows, police cows, statue of liberty cows, clown cows.. endless rows of cow toys on display. Something tells me this has to do with their love of cheese. They say you can recognize a Dutch by the cheese sparkled on their forehead. And why not? It is so delicious, and if I had enough time I would have gone for a cheese tasting session but instead had to satisfy myself with few minutes in Old Amsterdam cheese store. But I was happy with my loot from Amsterdam - assortment of cheese and stroopwafels.
|Mornings with Stroopwafels.|
There is no proper way to eat a cookie, but if its your first time with this caramel-layered Dutch cookie, you know this an exception to the rule. You have to place it on top of a steaming cup of coffee or tea for a minute or two. The steam needs to melt the filling to just the right amount of gooey-ness, releasing the toffee flavour without killing its deliciously crumbliness. For that, circumference of your cup need to match the cookie size unless you wanna witness a caramel Titanic every morning! But hats off to the Dutch and their sweet tooth, got me totally hooked to this two hundred year old cookie.
|Narrow, cobbled streets with brick-lined houses never seemed so welcoming.|
To be followed around by a marching band (that video needs to get deleted before it lands up in Youtube), watching theatre in a shipping container, or just hanging out with a bunch of Swedish kids sharing sandwiches and watching sunset, is just a few of the amazing memories I am bringing back home from my short stay in Amsterdam. From boarding that flight back to Hamburg till passing out exhausted in my bed was quite a hazy trip, but indeed a happy one. So given a chance, will I go back to Amsterdam? Yes, absolutely. This badass city did take my heart. So until the next adventure, Vaarwel dear readers!