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aimless in amsterdam

Today I’m going to tackle Amsterdam on my own.

Blake shows me the map and points at all the straats, gradts and pleins and tells me where they lead to. I nod like I have a clue what she’s talking about.

One of the things I like to do in a new city (and Amsterdam is for all intents and purposes, new to me), is to go out and wander going whichever direction looks coolest and then figure out where I was on a map later. I’ve tried plotting a day on the map beforehand, but the end result (getting lost) is always the same, so why not just save on the preparation time?

The first thing I see that leads me to believe I’m heading in the wrong direction are huge parking garages in modern buildings. So I turn right. This is a lovely little treelined, area with canals and a lot of the signs say “Jordan”, but I don’t know why. I start seeing little bakerys, little cafes, little shops, little coffee shops. more canals and know I’m headed in the right direction.

I’m starting to notice something unusual…men are checking me out. Men of all ages, not just the decrepit ones. Not only that, a lot of them look really good. One of them is breathtaking (seriously, I can’t breathe when I pass him), with dark blondish hair and smoldering blue eyes. I can even overlook the fact that he’s a bum he’s so gorgeous.

I start to think maybe there’s hope for the old girl after all. Maybe there’s a chance I will have sex again in my life time. I mean maybe there’s a chance I’ll have sex in my lifetime, mom. Of course, I’ll have to move to Amsterdam, but hey, I’m homeless. I’ll tie my belongings to a stick, hop a train and find a refrigerator box. Actually a stove box might be better, it gets cold up here.

I find myself in a pedestrian zone with a whole bunch of little shops, but for some reason, I don’t like it. I walk quickly up the street towards what turns out to be a big square with a church with a big “kiev” poster out front, Madame Tussauds and some other huge building. I head back towards the canals where it’s more peaceful.

But I’m growing weak with hunger. And I have no idea where a good place to eat is. I stop at every place and stare, too faint and indecisive to go in. Finally I choose a little outdoor place on a corner by a canal because the sandwiches look delicious and so does the guy sitting outside having a coffee. I sit down next to him and he smiles and says hello in Dutch. Dang, I wish I knew some dutch. I smile back and not knowing what else to do, look for something in my camera bag. He returns to his newspaper. He helps me order. I thank him and look for something in my camera bag. He helps me order dessert. I thank him and look for something in my camera bag. The sandwich is quite delicious. I wish I could remember the name of the place, but I’ll just refer to it as the good sandwich place with the cute guy I could’ve had if I only knew Dutch. I refuse to even consider the possibility that he was nice to me as one is nice to an elderly lady who is having problems. I smile and say goodbye to him, and search my camera bag one last time.

Fortified, I hit the canals.

I remember seeing the Amsterdam historical museum nearby and head in what I believe is the direction. I wind up walking by a coffee shop the Dutch guy on the train recommended—Abraxas (at least that’s what I think he said, who can tell with those accents?). I decide to check it out, despite the fact I feel a little weird going in alone. I sit down and self-consciously survey the surroundings and clientele. It’s very casual with people from all walks of life. Some rasta types, college backpacker types, Ed Begley Jr types and regular old tourist types. Before I know it, I’ve become best friends with the people at the next table. They’re three alums from the Thunderbird school of business who are having their annual reunion in Amsterdam. All three of them live in London and all work in investment banking in one capacity or another. Jessica wants to quit and become a writer and meeting me is some sort of signal from the universe. Is the universe signaling me to become an investment banker?

When I find myself in a jewelry store with them picking out a necklace for Lloyd’s new girlfriend of three months (but he thinks it’s serious), I know it’s time to go to the museum.

I find my way to the museum with the skill of a local. And promptly get lost in the museum. 

The Amsterdam historical museum doesn’t contain art per se. It displays things pertaining to Amsterdam’s history. Some of the displays are sort of interactive, like a recreated 15th century room that the visitor can enter in and make themselves at home for a moment. During the Anne Frank portion of the museum, I stand in front of a roped off section contemplating it’s meaning. Is it a display showing how the Jews were isolated? Turns out it’s just a roped off portion of the museum. When I realize my mistake, I laugh out loud—probably not the best thing to do in the Anne Frank section.

After the people who give me dirty looks pass, I somehow lose my sense of direction. I feel like I’m in one of those crazy houses where all the planes don’t meet perpendicularly. I pass another roped off portion, and see two Japanese people on the other side, one riding a standing bike (a display, I believe), the other taking her picture. Are they a display? If they’re a display, why are they Japanese? Wouldn’t they be Dutch? Unless the display was about when the Japanese came here after world war II. Did the Japanese come here during WW II? I read the description babout how the bike riding thing in Holland started out as a playful protest against gridlock. Maybe the fact that the Japanese are riding the bike is a playful response to the onslaught of Japanese automobiles in the world?

I can’t stand it any more and ask the Japanese point blank if they’re a part of the display. I interpret their look of confusion, surprise and horror as an inability to speak English. Of course, it’s entirely possible their reaction is based on the fact that they DO speak English.

Their shocked, confused, horrified reaction shocks, confuses and horrifies me to the point that I lurch off in the opposite direction, like a drunk on a floor that’s shifting.

I find three plastic chairs in the next room. They’re facing a TV screen. Peace at last. I sit down and watch the screen. It seems to be a list of destinations and departure times. I look at all the cool destinations and I wish I was going somewhere cool and exotic. Ah, Madrid, Casablanca, Bangkok. Rio. Finally I realize I’m sitting in a display about Schipnol airport and I already AM someplace cool.

I feel as though I’ve been in the museum an eternity. I finally find my way out and stumble out into the light of day. It’s almost 4:30, so I head back towards Al and Blake’s. Through the bloomenmarket (the flower market) and the red light district, where scantily clad women (I think they’re women) stand in the window and try to sell their rather unattractive wares. I consider this might be a career opportunity for me since my old body still looks much better than most of these bodies for sale. But when I see a hooker gesture to a prospective client “five euros”, I decide advertising pays better.

Once again, I realize I’ve made a wrong turn and head in the opposite direction.

I fall in love about four more times before I get back to the apartment. I reverse direction about six.

Later that evening, as Al, Blake and I wander the streets and canals at twilight, I think Amsterdam truly is like Disneyland for adults. I expect to hear children singing “it’s a small world after all” around the next corner. Instead, we find a restaurant named Barok. I have perfect pink lamb with couscous and this amazing layered pancake dessert (these Dutch know their pancakes).  I don’t know if it was the lack of potatoes, or the “coffee” I had earlier, but it was one of the best meals I’ve ever had.

2 Responses

  1. As ever, a pleasure to read.

    Did you make it to Stockholm and/or Venice? I’d love to see the LAS take on Europe’s foremost canal cities.



  2. Thanks, PHM.
    I’ve never been to Stockholm…didn’t realize it has canals (but I didn’t know Paris had a canal until recently). Love Venice, but it could use a few coffee shops.
    Stayed tuned for Croatia…

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