Sitting here in the comfortable grey city of Amsterdam, sipping a cappuccino at a café in an alley, with a pretty red flowerpot in front of me and a sweet couple celebrating what must be an anniversary beside me. I sit on a wooden bench with a small wooden table on the side patio. Across the way is one of Amsterdam’s many canals. A bright graffiti decorating the brick wall in front of me, and of course several cute bikes leaned up against it. A gaggle of hooligan boys walked by just a moment ago, before stopping to pause outside of “Club 21- Thai Massage” with a heart saying “love” above the sign. They stop, and one of them hesitantly enters. The rest wait outside, with their arms crossed like guards.
Though I’m tired, I’m glad I took the train into the city here. I love the feeling of traveling. Sitting outside with the breeze on my face, watching the Dutch pass by on their bicycles. The city is beautiful, with a classic European feel of wide streets, canals, alleys, and beautiful architecture adorned in gold. It feels old, and quaint, but young. Backpackers spot the streets, and cute older people ride by in their bicycles decked out to look like gardens, or strange creatures. Tanned, blonde 20-somethings speed by on motorbikes, weaving in and out of the foot traffic.
There are weed cafes and headshops, but they’re not as prevalent as I would’ve expected. Apparently, the city has cracked down a bit on weed—foreigners are supposedly no longer allowed to purchase? Not sure. Speaking of addicting things, I did wander into the Old Amsterdam Cheese shop, where every type of their 20+ cheeses was on sample. It’s funny how you can see the same cheese in a Trader Joes at home, but then again the forces of globalization should no longer surprise me at this point. I also took note of a Starbucks in the Amsterdam central train station, and a Maoz falafel joint packed with Europeans. The accents here are adorable: clicking, dipping, and sing-songing. The Dutch seem very friendly, and nurturing on my first impression.
I’ve now gulped down my cappuccino, sweet with sugar at the bottom, and stopped to ponder how I’ve gotten to where I am. After a 7.5 hour plane ride from John F Kennedy, I’m in Europe. It’s amazing how quickly one can be in a totally different setting. Just this morning, I was rushing around the house, despairing over the job decision, and hugging Melissa goodbye. Benji, Ellie, and Melissa saw me off this afternoon—Benji clapping and cheering as I hoisted my backpack on my back and walked out the door on Baltic Street. So easy! Just put on a backpack, head to the train station, and go! I guess I’m a veteran traveler now.
I had a nice nap in the Amsterdam airport—they, like most foreign hubs, realize that weary travelers will have long layovers that are much more pleasantly spent napping on reclining chairs with a soundtrack of “rain sounds” and a screen of peaceful scenes from the city. I kicked off my shoes & socks, swaddled myself in the stolen airport blanket, wrapped a spare long sleeve shirt around my eyes and passed out in my pink neck pillow. Ahhh.
In an hour, I’ll meet my friend Yardena for a beer on the main tourist drag. On my way over, I wandered by accident into the red light district, which straddles another canal. I had no idea, but turning my head left I suddenly was startled by the sight of a scantily clad woman in a window. I thought she was a mannequin, but then she moved! Her eyes falsely wide, painted red lips, cliché lingerie getup. How strange! I awkwardly stumbled along, and then noticed that on every side of me were these girls in the windows. Some of them beckoning to men in suits passing by, but many of them looking bored and texting on their cell phones. Some sat in pouf chairs, and some stood in tall stilettos. I looked to my right, and two dirty swans floated, cleaning themselves in the canal. I hurried along, not knowing what to make of things, but feeling uncomfortable. Every man I passed in the street was a suspect… some looked old and decrepit, some dignified, but most looked young, straggly, & and excited.
As I walked along past erotic and exotic sex shops, peep shows, and “room for rent” signs, I wondered whether I should turn down an alley and escape. But I was also transfixed. Advertised on every woman-less dark window was a list of three or four women’s names, with phone numbers. I saw some large women, some young and sorority-like, but the strangest sight was a woman who turned to face me as I passed. She looked about seventy, with large sagging breasts and dyed brown hair. Hanging from her weathered mouth was a cigarette, her legs encased in fishnet and her eyes lined in thick black kohl. Startled, I scurried onward… needing to meet Yardena.
A short, but interesting visit in Amsterdam. Next up, Jerusalem!