Disclaimer: This is a long account from the mind of a man with rambling thoughts who does not have an editor to clip things, so please bear with him.
We enter Amsterdam grabbing frites (as is tradition) and having no cellular data, making us go old school and rely on maps and directions from people.
Amsterdam is one of the most interesting cities I have ever been to, if not the most interesting. It is the rock and roll capital of the world, without the rock and roll. There is ample sex to be had and ample drugs to partake in. The atmosphere is crisp, the canals are lovely, the buildings are old, the people are friendly. It is tailor made for tourism.
We arrive at our hotel a bit earlier than check-in time and drop off our bags without seeing the room. I happen to overhear the following exchange involving the desk clerk and a fellow guest:
Guest: “Do we get beer here?”
Desk clerk: “Of course you get beer here. This is Holland.”
The mood is set.
Upon checking in, we immediately head to the famed (notorious?) Red Light District, as is wont, where it is rumored that the prostitutes parading their wares in front of open windows throw urine at you if you happened to click a photograph of them parading their wares in front of open windows. I fortunately did not have the gumption to try this out so did not get to experience this.
We end the day with some good beer at a bar, more frites, jenever (a precursor to gin native to the Netherlands) tasting at the oldest liquor distillery in Amsterdam, and an amazing Sichuan meal close to the central public transport station aptly named Centraal. Shit was on fire, yo (words that will be repeated tomorrow morning I am sure).
An interesting development.
The bathroom in our hotel room does not have a door. Apparently this is common in Europe. This is hilarious.
Survived the lack of a door to the bathroom! And as predicted, words that were said the previous night were repeated.
It’s December 31 already. Last day of the year. Damn how time has flown.
We decide to check out the Van Gogh Museum in the morning. The public transport of the city impresses us a great deal, as we realize that all we have to do is to take a tram which is literally a few hundred steps outside of our hotel to all the places which we want to visit during this trip.
The Van Gogh Museum is home to a fantastic collection of art by the painter, his inspirations and the people he inspired. It is located in the absolutely lovely Museum District of Amsterdam, along with a few other museums, the Rijksmuseum being the most popular among the lot. The line to enter the museum is a mile long and we wait it out to get tickets.
There is a specific neurological disorder known as Stendahl Syndrome, which says that if one were to be assaulted (I use this word lightly) by several beautiful works of art all at once, one experiences an intense physical reaction to what s/he has witnessed. This is absolutely true of the Van Gogh Museum. As I walk through the four floors I am accosted (this may be a better word) with so many intense pieces, which, coupled with the extremely sad story of Van Gogh’s life, leaves me speechless. Funnily enough there is an actual exhibit related specifically to the Stendahl Syndrome on one of the floors of the museum, where an artist has cleverly put up isolation booths which you can enter and take a moment to compose yourself before moving on to see the rest. The cherry on the ice cream that was this museum is their current special exhibit: a retrospective on both Edvard Munch and Van Gogh, both artists from the same period with vastly different artistic styles yet having a common thread of themes and subjects. Munch lived much longer than Van Gogh and so got to experience the recognition that Van Gogh so eagerly sought but which was awarded to him only posthumously. Better late than never, I guess.
Having spent a good part of four hours in the museum and also having bought a magnet at the gift shop, which is a tradition of sorts for me, we meet a friend and head back to our hotel to prepare for a night of unparalleled revelry.
7.30pm: Damn this public transport system. Who shuts off all transport from 8pm to 1.30am on New Years?!
8.15pm: No matter. We decide to work around this unexpected development and walk to a restaurant and bar close to the hotel.
8.30pm: They are closed. Who closes bars on New Years?!
9.15pm: Okay, the night is still young. We brave the surge pricing and take an Uber to Centraal, where we know all the revelry will be concentrated. The Uber guy, clearly afraid of going all the way in and getting caught on his way out, drops us off at a place where we think we are close to our destination. Turns out we are not and we walk for about a half hour to get there. 1 star rating.
10pm: We are ravenous at this point and are startled to see that all restaurants in the way, despite being open, are either charging inordinate amounts of money for food or have their kitchens closed. Who closes their kitchens… I could go on. In the midst of all this we lose my brother and sister-in-law to the crowd.
If you imagine our night to be a movie, this is probably the point where the heroes are at their lowest of the low, without any hope in sight. Unparalleled revelry, blah.
10.30pm: Thankfully my brother spots us from afar and catches up with us. We stumble upon a restaurant which serves burgers, which are cheap and pretty damn good. Things are looking up! This is the point of the movie where the heroes begin the process of redeeming themselves. We enter a bar on a street on which revelers are lighting crackers and throwing them into the air for them to burst, reminding us of Diwali back home. We head to the Amstel River nearby, closer to 12.
11.45pm: Fireworks everywhere. Colors everywhere. Quite a stunning spectacle. The climax of this movie is pretty damn good, if I do say so myself. A happy new year, indeed!
12.15am: We need a place to kill time until 1.30 (which is when the night buses start running) so we sneak into an Irish pub before the crowd starts dispersing and quickly grab some seats. You could do an analysis on Irish pub names as well, and you will find that ” Malone” is a name that would probably come up most often.
1.30am: Whoever decided to allow only a handful of buses at half hour intervals to take the party goers home is a massive troll. Finding it impossible to get a bus which isn’t packed like a can of sardines, we decide to yet again brave surge pricing and call for an Uber.
1.45am: A man drives up to us out of nowhere and says he will drop us at our hotel for 15 euros. Ecstatic and thanking our good fortune, but slightly wary of any serial killer tendencies, we jump in. He does not turn out to be a serial killer and we get to the hotel, 20 euros poorer but tired out of our minds and happy to get back in one piece.
Started the new year right. A fantastic brunch with easily the best omelette I’ve ever eaten, a walking tour of Amsterdam’s history with an extremely funny and personable guide (and it was free!), stumbling upon an excellent bar with great beer, discussions of national identity and language barriers, thulping ramen which is extremely soothing for a cold night, staying up to experience the famed (again, notorious?) coffee houses where the acquisition of the green is as easy as buying a Big Mac, walking through the Red Light District with a more appreciable bent of mind, consequently eating the most delicious fries, waffles and eclairs, and somehow managing to find our way back to the hotel and sleeping with the relaxing beats of good ol’ Thamizh gaanas.
Over the course of the tour, we learnt that prostitution has been around in Amsterdam for several hundreds of years as a means of income for the city courtesy tired sailors who have not seen their WAGs (or indeed, women) for months. It was legalized only in 2000 and today prostitutes get health benefits and pay taxes. Drugs on the other hand is more tricky. Apparently it is legal to sell marijuana over the counter but it is illegal to buy it from dealers, so coffee shops magically source their weed from the underground market and the cops turn a blind eye.
I tell you, if even a quarter of the major cities around the globe were half as tolerant as this one, the world would be a better place.
An amazing day.
A disastrous day.
Leaving has never been a strong suit of mine. This was especially true today as we had to wait endlessly for transport, having missed trams and trains by a whisker. It feels like an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants. We finally make it back to London and crash for the night, having watched a couple of episodes of House.
I wake up the next morning and take the train back from Kings Cross station, feeling like Harry Potter on his way to Hogwarts. I didn’t quite manage to see Platform 9 and three-quarters though, which was a mild disappointment.
It’s been a great trip, filled with new experiences, new surroundings and old friends. I’ve made memories that will last. Until next time.