Every city has its own voice. Every city has something to offer. A unique quality about it that goes beyond what it produces, or how big or populated it is. The Passenger role in this tour has taught me that the best way to enjoy any place you go, is to adapt to its rule, to listen to what it has to tell you instead of trying to dictate your experience. I have been experiencing this since the tour has started and I have recognized it subconsciously, but not until I got to Amsterdam, was I able to really forge this understanding.
I don’t want to sound like the boy who cried wolf, declaring my love and admiration for all the places I happen to tread. So please forgive me this one more time, but this time, it’s coming from a place deeper than just my heart and mind. Amsterdam is the most beautiful city (if you want to call it that) I ever experienced. From the moment I arrived, I felt it; I knew there would be some sort of impact.
Shaped like a well-spun spider web would be, in a beautiful centrifugal pattern only the teamsmanship of man and nature could have intended. It weaves a web consisting of beautiful swan and duck filled water canals, complete with house boats, mosaic stone roads, bike paths, and flanked by some of the most gorgeous buildings and architecture in the world. The homes, windows, stores and parks are enchanting and soothing with large windows for all to peep at the lavish beauty inside.
I was tired but already mesmerized at 6am when my old Montreal buddy and musical partner in crime Chris Wise picked me up at the station early Sunday morning. We walked around the streets, marveling at the beauty of each scenario that presented itself before us. Chris and I were catching up of course, but not in the way you’d’ think, he just got into describing the beauty, wonder and ease of the Amsterdam as a city as well as its people.
We walked for almost an hour and a half in the wee morning hours. I had all my gear with me, so it was a tad difficult but worth it. In the early morning light garbage was littered from the night’s partying, but the city is quick to clean. People here also party until the early morning. In fact some guy named Mustapha even tried to sell me cocaine, hash and weed in the first minute I arrived at 6am.
Chris is great at telling me about Amsterdam. He pointed out the buildings that are crooked, saying that is because it was the best and only way to haul in pianos in through the windows of the different floors. The crooked buildings jutting outwards would prevent furniture, pianos etc., from smashing against the walls. All buildings have a pulley crane on top. We got to his apartment in the west end and just hung out for a while. It’s a large complex with many rooms, but Chris has an advantage is that he has a lovely view of the city and a balcony.
The best way to discover Amsterdam, bar none, is by bicycle. This is a city that is designed in such an ingenious way, so as to ease the flow of traffic with cars, millions of bicycles everywhere, tram service that is always on point, and a metro service as well. Buses run almost all night too. It’s an easy city to get lost in but as soon as you begin to understand the layout, in relation to the river (which feeds from the north sea) and in relation to the dam square i.e. the palace, it all begins to make sense. However I could have never figured this out if Chris and I didn’t spend the entire day weaving in and out of beautiful streets, cycling through parks, city squares, canal bridges (so cute) drop bridges, and little alleyways, all the time stopping off for a bite, a few pints, or a smoke.
My first Sunday there and I was amazed observing all the people out and about, walking around well behaved dogs, gorgeous girls (strange to hear them speak this guttural Dutch language though), beautiful swans and ducks, lots of birds, pretty shops, cobblestone roads, markets, flower shops, overcast but gorgeous nonetheless.
The bike path system in Amsterdam is second to none. There is much bike traffic but also there are scooters who use the bike path. They are disruptive and annoying because the people who drive them drive fast and sometimes recklessly. I had to get used to the sound of a scooter engine speeding right up behind me or honking as it got close. They are supposed to use the streets like all other motorized vehicles but they don’t because it’s faster and or easier for them to use the side roads. I hope the city begins to enforce a law to prevent them and the tiny red cars that fit on a bike path from using them.
Chris is in love with this city as well; his second go at it making now 2 years in Amsterdam. He is here on a scholarship doing his masters in urban planning and urban geography, a subject he is fascinated and passionate about. He makes a perfect tour guide because he knows what I like to see, and has similar tastes. He also like to appreciate the finer things in life and after a few months on the road I was happy to tag along for some fine-ness myself. He would often point things out to me, about certain sights, and people. We had an amazing time on our first day, just reconnecting in this new environment. After about 6 hours of exploring by bike, we headed back to his place for a little r&r, exchanged our iTunes music (as we were both getting sick of our collections) and headed out again for round two…nighttime on our bikes!
What an interesting night it was. Our round 2 started with dinner in this little Thai restaurant at 9pm by a canal near the beautifully crafted weigh station (one of the central landmarks of Amsterdam). That was where people used to come weigh their goods before individual weighing tools came along. Dinner was so delicious; it was real Thai food, just like I remember eating in Bangkok, another city that has my heart. After dinner, we headed out for my first visit to what they call “coffee shops” in Amsterdam. For those who don’t know, a coffee shop in Amsterdam, is like a bar that serves all sorts of drinks and also serves marijuana, hash joints, and god knows what else. Another irony here is that it is legal to sell and smoke weed, but illegal to grow or harvest it, so go figure, how that one works. Perhaps they make it appear through magic!
We walked into this place Chris’ Lonely Planet had raved about due to its décor. It was like walking into an acid den! But the décor was truly amazing, like psychedelic. First you get your weed at the front counter (5 euro for a hash joint) then you can get a drink at the bar, they also make great mint Moroccan style Tea here. Then you go sit down in the lounge/den and smoke, drink, chat and listen to music. The music was ok, although I had no idea who any of the artist were. It was cool to be in there, the air was a little oppressive at first but it was interesting to see what a legalized pot world would look lie and the coffee shop is the perfect place to see it in a social and public situation where it is not stigmatized. Of course you can smoke on the streets of Amsterdam but people here don’t like it too much. It’s nice to not have it in everyone’s face all the time and it can get you in trouble regardless.
We then headed to the much-talked about and sometimes controversial red light district. I have to admit there is something really strange and uncomfortable about walking by these little shop windows selling prostitutes and sexual experiences. The network of small streets cutting into each other that emanate hues of red in the nighttime are at times a little sketchy, at times, fascinating and other times almost embarrassing. I was all flushed just trying to sneak a peek without having to make eye contact and having them gyrate or stick their butts and tits out at me (or as in one case when I looked at her face she gave me a high speed Gene Simmons style snake tongue flicker). We ended up in an even smaller red light alcove, where there were a bunch of guys just wandering around going into the rooms, talking to the girls, so they do pretty good business here on any given night. The tourism must help a lot too.
A very funny thing happened on the way back too. We were stopped by this histerical Italian woman begging us to use Chris’ phone. She and her boyfriend seemed desperate so Chris gave her his phone. She then proceeded to call this guy up and started yelling at him to the top of her lungs in Italian ( I love how italians argue) about how he didn’t come to meet them to buy the cocaine he was supposed to buy. Her boyfriend this greasy long haired Italian rocker type then told Chris and I that if he would find this guy he would shoot him in the head. Thats when Chris and I were like “oookkk. we have to go now, can I have my phone back?” But the girl wouldnt have it. She would not give Chris his phone back. She was too busy giving this guy on the other end of the line hell on the phone! It was hillarious, her boyfriend had to wrestle the phone from her grip to give it back to chris who was yeling at her for his phone. Glad we could help the coke dealers through their ordeal! Just another day in the life in Amsterdam!
Chris and I ended up in yet another pub on our massive pub crawl campaign that night, probably by 1 or 2am we were feeling pretty exhausted and pretty drunk, so we headed back to his place and I literally extinguished on the air mattress he had set up for me.
The next morning we went to the market near his place and I tried Vietnamese Lumpias for the first time (delicious) with hot sauce. Then we made a scrumptious breakfast and spared no time to head out on our metallic stallions (I rented a Dutch bicycle with the big handlebars and the back brakes). We took the mini fairy to the north side of the city just to check it out, and rode around there in a cute little compact neighborhood then headed on back in time to return the bikes and go to a place Chris has been before, a wine distillery and wine tasting lounge called believe it or not Wine and Focking. What an experience! Basically the way it works is you come into this old style bar “they’ve been waiting for us since the 16th century!” and they serve you samples of the latest distilleries and if you like it you can but the bottle. The first wine we had was the best, crisp and cool, and with juniper inside. Then we had a mixture of malts and the precursor to Gin called Jenever. It was delicious, and the wine tender was quite entertaining and knowledgeable. At this point I was totally buzzing again and it was only 3pm!
Our last little whistle stop was for yet another Dutch delicacy, raw herring with onion at a fish store nearby. I don’t think words can describe the feeling of eating raw herring, but there is nothing like it in the world, oily but delicious. It seemed to coat the lining of my stomach in a smooth and comforting way. It works very well with alcohol hence its popularity. Back at the home base to grab my stuff and head out to Dwaze Zaken the venue where I would play last night.
We both got there and it was a large and beautiful room filled with people having dinner. It was bar none one of the nicest atmospheres to play a show in on this tour. The staff, Rene, Herman, Alston and the waitresses were angels and gave Chris and I free beer and free food all night. I played to a packed room and sold a few cds as well. I also got to meet some of Chris’ Amsterdam friends and was paid a visit by an Amsterdam couple Florian and Amber, that I met at my show in Madrid. They are both amazing photographers and had seen I was playing and wanted to see more. I was happy to see some familiar faces. After the show in classic Passenger Tour style, I said my goodbyes to Chris and sank into the metro system bound for Berlin. It was amazing seeing him again and having this experience. We’ve traveled to a few places together in the past and its always a riot. It was nice to reinitiate that. I left Amsterdam and took an 11:15pm overnight to Berlin where I am now washing off the last city from my skin to prepare it for what I believe will be the crowning jewel of this trip…Berlin!
Some articles, blurbs, bloffs etc etc.
Inciendary Magazine Review (Amsterdam & Netherlands)
Retroactive Goldenplec Album Review (Ireland)