Home Page


The Netherlands

London to Amsterdam

My first night in Amsterdam

May 2000 —

I lived in Amsterdam from May until December of 2000.

I arrived in Amsterdam by train from Cologne where I'd spent my first night in Europe in a castle on the top of a hill outside of Bad Breisig.

Off the train, a young fellow came up to me with a flyer that advertised a tourist hostel. I took the flyer and moved on. I had booked three weeks on a houseboat, via an internet company. A moment later, a young woman accosted me, also carrying a handful of flyers. She proceeded to offer to bring me to the hostel that she was representing. Well, she was cute enough, and I was all alone, and in fact I had my doubts about the accommodation I'd booked — maybe this was a good idea. I didn't know nor have any idea anyhow where the houseboat was — only the address. I didn't really even know how much use that would be to me.

We walked through part of the red-light district. There, along both sides of a canal, women sat behind glass dressed in lingerie — women of all color, shape and size. I saw live-sex theaters. I saw the most tasteless piece of art in my experience — a three-foot marble penis pointing upward. Its balls were polished-marble spheres floating and spinning on water-pressure in hemi-spherical bowls.

At the hostel, I booked a bed for the night. I put my small backpack in locked storage and took a claim check. I set out to find my houseboat.

I was running a day late. I'd not planned the night in Germany, but had been invited there by my friend Ian and his girlfriend Christina when I had met them in London, at the tail end of their tour of Britain on their way back to the United States.

So, hoping I still had accommodation (if in fact it had been legitimate at all) I set out to find the canal Nieuwe Prinsengracht.

The Metro, the underground line, runs in one line right about out to where I needed to go, so I took it. I don't remember that it was that difficult to find. I was happy to discover that the place was lovely. Willem, the owner of the boat, turned out to be quite a friendly fellow, and easy-going. Good surprise. He scolded me a bit for being a day late, and I told him I'd tried to call. We settled it in a matter of moments. I paid him, and he gave me a copy of the key to the front door.

So, then, I headed back deeper into the center of town, to go get my backpack and bring it to the houseboat.

I had to get it that night. I had been coming down with a bit of an ear infection that had started to develop somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean. My intuition was that I was going to accomplish this — to get my pack to the houseboat — and that I was going to sleep for a while.

But I felt alright. I might not have been aglow with the energy that might have gripped me had I felt entirely well, but I had a buzz that was counteracting the fatiguing effect associated with the illness. At least, that's obvious to me now, remembering how much I walked that night.

I decided to walk, in fact, instead of taking the Metro again. Naturally, in any unknown city, walking an impromptu path is likely to be time-consuming. In Amsterdam, well.... Yeah. Anyhow.

The concentric streets — the ones on either side of the long, semicircular canals — are narrow, curved, but predictable. The radial streets (there are about two of them) are straight and wide. In between, connecting the bulk of the area between the long canals and many shorter ones, are short streets with no preference for any compass point. Walk around two corners of unknown angle and the disorientation becomes noticeable. Three, it becomes definitive.

Well, oh, and besides that, I had decided to stop at a coffeeshop. Near the river Amstel, I stopped at a place called "Coffeeshop The Saint." I bought a piece of hashish called Dutch blonde, and I smoked some of it there, in a small pipe that I borrowed from behind the counter. This hash was not really conducive to smoking in a pipe, as it was of a variety known as "polm;" effectively a dusty tan crumble that is really only suitable for rolling in a joint with tobacco, in European fashion.

But, it worked. Then, I proceeded to get very very lost in downtown Amsterdam.

First, I had to find the hostel. That, effectively, was a matter of walking around until I stumbled upon it. This I accomplished by finding several of the same places more than once, and then not going the same direction upon leaving that place. It didn't matter to me because I was having a good time, and because I'd already checked in with Willem, and because at no point did I ever feel in danger. Never. And I made it through some seedy areas. Never did I feel in danger.

I visited Amsterdam a couple of times a few years later when I was living in Nijmegen, and again once when when I flew from Ireland to visit with an American friend who was in Utrecht for a christening ceremony.

I don't know how long it took me to find the hostel. I did find it, though — by stumbling upon it. I never did ask anybody for directions, and I don't know why. I think I was feeling especially introverted and silent. Maybe I didn't think it would be useful, or maybe I just wanted to walk around.

I do know that I I toured Amsterdam on foot that night for about six hours.

I did find the houseboat again, of course, late that night. I went to bed and slept most of the next couple of days, drinking a lot of water and going out only to get food at the nearest deli.