One never writes about a place before one goes there. That would be silly. But after I've been there I'm always trying to recapture what my expectations had been so I can compare the to the reality of the place. Next time I go somewhere perhaps I should write about it before I get there. (:
Anyway, this wasn't my first time in Amderdam, I'd been there once before, also for about 24 hours. I know I had foolishly imagined I'd be able to see windmills from within the city (nope), but I hadn't been prepared for canals and how beautiful the city is. Also I had this amusing image of the pot "coffee shops" as looking like Starbucks. In fact they more closely resemble dive bars run by stoners ... which I suppose is what they are. Anyway, let's get back into narrative form:
Picture of a canal from my 2012 visit
Wednesday, May 27th - "Excuse me sir, you're going to have to check one of those, there's only one item of carry on allowed per passenger" the Norwegian Air flight attendant informed me as I attempted to enter the gate in Copenhagen. Normally I'm not one to argue, but in this case I knew I was well within my rights:
"I thought we could have one carry on and one 'small personal item that fits under the seat' -- this [indicating my roller-luggage bag] is my carry on, and this [indicating my small backpack which really had nearly nothing in it] is my personal item"
"Well, yes," she said, "but we're really low on room."
"Okay, well you can check this then," I said, giving her my almost-empty backpack. I wasn't trying to be saucy, I had just made the automatic decision based on the fact that my laptop was in my roller luggage and I will not be parted with it. But looking back on it, her look of disappointment at not succeeding in making me check my big bag is kind of amusing.
"Okay leave it at the base of the boarding stairs" she said, while putting a tag on it, with a look that conveyed that this conversation had become distateful.
Arriving at the base of the boarding stairs on the tarmac, I found no other luggage and no flight attendant. I aim to behave, but I was not about to leave my bag, even if empty, randomly on the tarmac where I had no indication anyone would do anything with it. So I boarded with it. Perhaps as some sort of curse, however, two wheels popped off my roller luggage (bought by the side of the road in Addis Ababa) as I climbed the stairs. One wheel I was able to capture but one went rolling off across the tarmac and I didn't feel like chasing it.
Last time I was in Amsterdam it took nearly three hours to figure out how to get out of the airport and I, fatigued from a long flight already, was nearly reduced to weeping before I finally got out. So I was rather afraid on this occasion.
But as it happens I made it to the ground transportation area, connected to some free wifi, found the website of the hostel my compatriots were staying in, and found the directions on their website how to get there from the airport. Caught the specified bus with no problem .... though once I got to the designated stop I discovered two things: My luggage had lost its last wheel at some point on the journey, and the bastardly directions just said "it's just a five minute walk from here!" without specifying a direction. I had the address but the street name didn't match the street I was on (it was down a side street it turns out!). My first impulse was to ask a local... but they were all speeding by on bicycles! Finally I had to use precious precious drops of international roaming data to find it on a map on my phone.
Shortly after I arrived at the hotel the other guys did. They'd all arrived earlier and had been out somewhere when I arrived. There were ten of us altogether, and we'd gotten a ten bed room in the hostel to ourselves. Recall that this was all for my friend Mark's bachelor party.
As we got ready to go out for the evening, one of the guys distributed matching t-shirts to all of us (I don't know if this is a bachelor party tradition in the states as well, I've never actually been to any other bachelor party), and then, one of Mark's neighbors in Germany started to pull out a princess costume, at which point Mark uttered one of the enduring quotes of the entire trip: "Ohhh nooo.... is this about to get GERMAN weird?"
Apparently it's a German tradition to make the bachelor dress really silly!! Mark, usually pretty down for anything, actually managed to weasel out of wearing it out, which I suppose was for the best because the Amsterdamians (or the people we encountered anyway, who may have been mostly tourists) didn't seem nearly as down for amusing hijinks as you'd think. Later on, when we were out drinking in Frankfurt on Friday night, we'd actually see a number of bachelor parties with a bachelor in a suitably embarrassing outfit, so I guess we just did it in the wrong place.
Another German tradition is for the bachelor to sell little mini bottles of alcohol to random people for 1 euro each, (to "earn his keep" I think?). They even sell boxes of mini bottles for this express purpose and his neighbor had brought it. As it happens NO ONE was willing to buy one from him in Amsterdam. Again, people were no fun. I suppose they're all drugged out and paranoid in Amsterdam?
Our hostel (Flying Pig, Uptown) was a bit of a walk to downtown and the red light district. One of the guys had a pedometer on his phone that said he had walked 16 kilometers by the end of the day, but I'm not sure I buy that. I suppose that's including his every step back and forth and around and all but still.
Early on in our long walk I noticed a drugged out character going along with us, randomly laughing and singing and acting like someone totally drugged out. Normal thing while heading downtown in Amsterdam, didn't think anything of it. But many blocks later, after we'd sped up and slowed down and even stopped on countless occasions, I suddenly realized he was STILL keeping pace with us, so I loudly announced to the group "oh hey, I found the pickpocket!" while indicating him, and he was gone in a flash. The one time I came really close to being pickpocketed a similar strategy had been employed, a guy seemingly wasted late at night in Barcelona had put one arm around me and his other in my pocket. Never dismiss the seemingly obviously impaired.
The red light district is a trip. I'm not gonna lie there's some real eye candy in there, and then the next window has some scary beast you can't unsee. I'm pretty sure I saw she-hulk. The women wait scarcely clothed in little closet-like alcoves with glass doors and when a guy hesitates in front of them for even a moment the door springs open and they reach out their tentacle-like arms and pull him in like some sort of trap-door spider. One must carefully avoid making eye contact or they will hypnotize you and pull you in. Also, while I didn't see it myself, the guys swear they saw in a lower basement level window a dude with boobs, gyrating and clutching himself in a speedo.
All in all though our night wasn't really as crazy as I had kind of expected. Back in the hostel bar I had a good conversation with a hippie girl from Tennessee until the Australian night manager (blonde curly hair like some kind of x-games pretty-boy) intentionally "cock-blocked" me, as they say, because he wanted her himself and was bitter she had left off talking to him to talk to me. (he later bragged about this to one of our group -- "that's how you play the game mate"). Dick.
Thursday, May 28th - In the morning we made the long walk back to the train station, which was tedious with my now-wheeless luggage, but once there we were able to put our luggage in lockers. Then we toured the original Heineken brewery. I've been on plenty brewery tours before but what was funny about this one was that I'm pretty sure they made the tour with people on drugs in mind. There were all sorts of audio-visual displays with flashing lights and immersive sounds, including one segment that was sort of a "ride" in which by virtue of a floor that moved you were made to feel like you were following barley through the process of brewing -- the room temperature went up and the lights went all warm red when the barley was cooked, droplets of water spritzed us when it was dumped into the vats of water... definitely would be an interesting experience for people on drugs.
One last sight was this strange clock tower, with weird symbols on it, which upon seeing I said "I don't REMEMBER doing any drugs but that clock tower...". After examining it one finds its just the letters N, O, & W in different combinations, but why does the W remain the same in orientation to the middle while the N does not? And it clearly wasnt' a clock because the hand was moving back and forth. Eventually after I posted about it someone informed me it was a wind gauge, but only after a number of dolts tried to tell me it was a compass (why have a compass with a moving hand on a fixed object? Why have a compass on a vertical surface? come-on people).
And then we were off! On the high speed ICE train to Frankfurt, at some points reaching 280+ kilometers per hour (174mph)!