Leaving Amsterdam on a high
We reached Amsterdam at about 8pm, having caught the train from Bruges via Antwerp. The sky was that kind of milky white that seems to last forever on summer evenings in Europe. We checked into the lovely Mauro Mansion, its kind and oh-so-Dutch receptionists helping us up the steep flight of steps with gruff efficiency.
Having dumped our luggage, we set out to search for some dinner, and to get a taste of the Netherland’s infamous metropolis. The sun had set by the time we wandered the streets, which were beginning to heave with throngs of other visitors. Judging by the crowds, Amsterdam is a place where you go when you’re male, British and looking for a good time. In fact what stood out to us was the homogeneity of the crowd – there simply weren’t many people other than working-class British men (from 18 to 80 years of age) looking to get stoned, laid, or both.
I guess we shouldn’t have been surprised – Britain is just a short hop across the channel, and every country needs its outlet – Bali, Ibiza and Cancun all come to mind. The wide availability of drugs and paid sex was perhaps the least shocking part of all for us – it’s very “in-your-face”, but what did you expect when coming to Amsterdam? What was shocking about Amsterdam was the apparent absence of others – the city at night seemed to have been taken over by a particular breed of outsider.
We woke the next morning wondering if we had only seem one side of Amsterdam in our quick initial wander – surely there was some more “city” to be seen, rather than a hash-and-sex Disneyland for the easily excited. We walked the length of one of the canals, out past the Van Gogh Museum, and back towards the train station. The city is indeed pretty – quaint neighbourhoods line the canals; cobblestones track over bridges adorned with colourful flower boxes; pubs spill out on to street corners where locals and tourists sip away and make merry.
There was a lot of diversity on the street, but we began to notice the same trend again – scores of pubs occupied by drunken British louts, and not many others. It was becoming a depressingly similar impression to the one we had developed the pervious night. Perhaps Amsterdam’s economy, reluctantly but necessarily, thrives on this trade, and perhaps the “real” locals have their own haunts away from the grossness of the centre. Because it was difficult to understand how any Amsterdamer who was proud of their city could tolerate the constant usage of their metropolis as a playland for seediness. Amsterdam was, for us, beginning to feel like a city which had been raped – it had been taken over by others simply for the purpose of pleasure (and power) – people come, use her streets and dens, and then leave.
And perhaps this is all part of what makes Amsterdam Amsterdam – the fact that many locals are not as invested in the local “trade” as some foreigners. The fact that no-one seems to bat an eyelid as they walk past the scores of young men sizing up their catch for the night. The fact that the streets are filled with all sorts – but of all the same sort – at the same time. The fact that no-one seems to care. I spent most of my second day in Amsterdam wondering about this; whether my opinions on the city really mattered, because that’s the whole point – it just is, and it doesn’t really matter.
We had wanted to at least “like” Amsterdam, and although there were parts of the city which were “nice”, we were still waiting to make memories there. It wasn’t until that night that finally stopped by one of the city’s coffeeshops and decided to sample the local flavour. We were on a whistle-stop tour, and it was our last night there, as we floated around the red-light district after dark, passing sex shows and loaded cake shops, we wondered whether this was the best way to enjoy Amsterdam – not to try and figure it out, but rather, to let your cares float away and whimsically step from street to picturesque street.
Sure, we just passed a group of men talking about “pussy” in the most misogynistic way imaginable. A yes, that was a 14 year old with his parents who just walked into that peep show. And that woman just passed out on the street all alone, with no-one to help, much less identify her. But for better or for worse, we were leaving Amsterdam on a high.