I’ve called Brooklyn, NY home for over a decade. I’ve seen bodegas transformed into upholstered, hipster-friendly bars that marketed themselves as “retro”, “robust”, “dog-friendly”, “low-key saloons” showcasing an eclectic range of live music, burlesque shows, and other entertainment.
Fun fact: Brooklyn was originally derived from Breukelen, a town in The Netherlands, in the province of Utrecht.
“Could this be home?” I pondered as I wandered the deserted street, Spuistraat, admiring the charming and distinct Dutch architecture, taking in the beckoning sunshine and blue sky.
Let’s backtrack a bit.
I arrived in Amsterdam. A hedonist’s haven. The irritable man at the transportation information desk sold me a train ticket to Amsterdam Centraal. “Don’t distract me while I’m counting,” he scolded after I suggested switching my 20 euro bill for the exact amount. “Thank you!” I said, offering my phoniest smile before snatching my ticket.
I shuffled along, hungry and exhausted. My 12lb backpack weighing me down. You know that thing that happens when you’re caught in the way of an oncoming pedestrian, so you do that awkward dance before one of you decides to remain still so the other could finally walk by? Well, this woman was a nonconforming opponent and after the brief, awkward encounter assumed that I would give her way. Sure. Go ahead. Not the best first encounters. Are the Dutch always this irritable? The answer is no. They’ve got legalized marijuana.
The commute took less than an hour.
“Do you speak English?” I asked the first non-threatening looking person I found. “Yes!” He eagerly responded. He pointed me to the exit, then offered some vague direction on how to find the street of my hostel’s address. It was 6PM and already dark out. I hadn’t realized that my first experience of Amsterdam would be a Friday evening. These are important things to note.
The hostel was a 5-minute walk from Amsterdam Centraal. It wasn’t exactly the red light district but there were a few nude ladies of the night positioned beneath a red light; Awaiting the gaze of a desperate, lonely window shopper.
In the absence of an elevator, I hauled my backpack up to the fourth floor. This would’ve sucked even more if it were luggage. The dorm was deserted. Pleasant solitude. After sending out the obligatory messages to loved ones, informing them that I’d arrived safely, I soon realized I hadn’t really eaten all day. I stepped out to find food. Something nearby with veggie options.
I found a coffee shop. Not like the Brooklyn coffee shops where you’d find hipsters (sometimes me) typing away on their MacBooks while chugging a 16 oz. cup of something caffeinated (in my case, chocolatey and espresso-infused). Amsterdam coffee shops are usually for the consumption of weed and although I had no intentions of consuming any of it, I went in any way and nourished myself with pita chips and hummus and a bottle of Heineken. Bob Marley memorabilia littered the place while some obscure rap music filled what was left of the atmosphere. A soon-to-be bride and her rowdy entourage walked in and joined me at the bar. The bridesmaid gushed about how much she loved my hair.
“No, you cannot touch it.”
A sunny day in Amsterdam is very much like a summer day in Brooklyn– Overcrowded, diverse, keen faces, and lots of tourists.
First stop, The Pancake Bakery, because I can be such a sucker for tourist attractions. I ordered the Dutch pancakes, served with a side of ice cream and regret.
After having spent 5 hours at Rijksmuseum, the City Sightseeing tour boat served as my Uber to and from locations since the drop off points were conveniently all over the Centrum.
Couldn’t get a clear shot of “I Amsterdam”, an ad agency’s brilliant art project-cum-touristic site. The tourists seemed to all flock toward the iconic exhibit at all hours, I dare say it seemed more popular than Rijksmuseum, where the works of Rembrandt and Van Gogh hung elegantly against ashen walls.
That evening I had a Texan-sized vegan dinner at De Bolhoed, a hole in the wall canalside cafe. Indulged in one of De Bolhoed’s desserts and then later, bodega stroopwafels because European carbs love my body.
My first Amsterdam nightlife encounter was Dwaze Zaken, a quirky cafe offering small meals and live music. I tried the platter of Dutch cheeses and a local red while listening to the soulful lyrics of a tall, peculiar man dressed in a monochromatic ensemble and a black top hat. My spirit animal.
The following evening I was serenaded by a student group’s free jam at Bimhuis. Overlooking the canal, this jazz joint is pretty damn sexy. “We don’t have rye whiskey. Sorry.” Scotch it is then. Not the most on-trend set of performers, with the exception of the Sinatra impersonator, garbed in a fitted suit, combat boots, and a beanie. “Fly me to the moon.”
My last day in Amsterdam was spent avoiding social media. Or at least I tried. Declined to witness the aftermath of an election which would continue to haunt me long after. It drizzled all day. I apprehensively ventured out to an unsavory laundromat to get some laundry done before heading to Budapest the following day. I lost 10 euros attempting to operate the machines. I headed back to the hostel with my dirty laundry and stayed in for the remainder of the day.
Cheered up a bit after an evening of local Dutch beer consumption at Café Papeneiland, a small, very rustic canalside cafe. I climbed the spiral staircase to the second floor which was less crowded and a bit more intimate. The chatter from the lively group downstairs slowly crept to the second floor, permeating the room with a feeling of normalcy.
This concludes highlights of my time in Amsterdam.