Writing as catharsis

Drugged and Damned in Amsterdam: Part 3 of Lachlan’s Exhilarating European adventure

Posted in Ranting and rambling by Lachlan R. Dale on October 7, 2010

28/06/2010 to 31/06/2010 – Amsterdam, The Netherlands

A scene from one of Amsterdam's many canals

A scene from one of Amsterdam's many canals

The more perceptive of you may have noticed that this particular entry contains but a single log for the four nights we stayed in Amsterdam. Some still may have coaxed reason from the mystery. Simply put, I enjoyed a little too much of the local coffee to keep up an extensive diary.

As soon as I arrived the Amsterdam I was confronted with clashed violently with my preconceptions. Predictably, one of my first acts was to find one of these famed coffeeshops to hang out in. I found a little place just around the corner from our hostel and a fair way away from the centre of town called Yellow Mellow which seemed as good as any (note: this coffeeshop turned out to be one of the oldest in the city, and without a doubt the best we encountered – and we encountered a great number).

Despite being perfectly legal, I initially found it very hard to relax in the coffeeshop, surrounded with a wide assortment of hash and marijuana strains. I spent the first few minutes looking around shiftily for signs of an imagined danger, though I got acclimatised myself after a while. I found it a somewhat bizarre notion that smoking or possessing marijuana outside the vicinity of a designated coffeeshop is still very illegal. In any case, I spent a very fair proportion of my time in Amsterdam inside of them reading, writing and drawing while sipping coffee. I became finely attuned to the laid-back atmosphere, and soon found myself quite attached to little Yellow Mellow.

The semi-sordid glow of Amsterdam's famed red light distict

The semi-sordid glow of Amsterdam's famed red light distict

On our first night in Amsterdam we explored the famed red light district. I was immediately struck by two things; just how small it is, and how clean it is. It did not fit the sordid, sleazy, underground, Kings-Cross-on-steroids image I had built up in my head in the slightest. From what I understand Amsterdams’ red light district has an incredibly low level of violent crime. I can honestly say that at no point in the duration of my stay in the liberal city of licentious and legal sex and drugs did I ever feel in danger, or even merely unwelcome – something I most certainly cannot say about just about every single Saturday night outing in the heart of Sydney city. Case in point; there were mothers walking around with their children in the district.

All the pubs and clubs were without security guards – absolutely unheard of back home. I encountered no obnoxiously drunk tourists or locals. I could see no one who was particularly out of control or out of line… perhaps these laws have some strange chaotic balance. Perhaps state regulated vices actually do infact remove the more criminal and undesirable elements. This was definitely a strange town, totally alien to my sensibilities.

The Dutch seem to be an incredibly happy and friendly people in spite of having their town absolutely overrun by touring jerks. I found that most pubs and coffeeshops were run by a particularly serious sort of human being. I can recall that one Dutch pub was run by a 7 foot tall Hollander who absolutely towered over patrons with an enormous bushing, curling beard, a booming, baritone voice and an extremely sunny (not to mention musical) disposition. Another establishment we frequented represented the typical Irish drive/bar, where various thick Irish accents exchanged happily heated words in a bizarrely and customarily warm way.

Van Gogh - Wheatfield with Crows (1890)

Van Gogh - Wheatfield with Crows (1890)

One essential tourist stop we ticked off the list was a visit to the Van Gogh Museum. Van Gogh became much more to me when I began to get a fascinating insight into the artist as a severely flawed and emotionally intense human being thanks to Colin Wilson’s incredible epic The Outsider (no I will not stop talking about that book – not until you read it and appreciate it like I do). The museum itself featured a few pieces that stood out as being genuinely awe inspiring in the midst of some outstandingly mediocre work from other Dutch impressionists. Van Gogh‘s ‘final work’ “Wheatfield with Crows” (which was allegedly painted at the field at which he shot himself, shortly before he sent his final words to Theo reading ‘misery will never end’) in particular sent a chill up my spine. Shortly after we visited the nearby Rijksmuseum which boasted a sizeable Rembrandt collection alongside other famous ‘Golden Age’ Dutch artists. I recall Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” being particularly impressive.

But it was not all good times with drugs, art and local culture – not by a long shot. Infact, being of Dutch heritage and being one who loves to try traditional cuisine, I was absolutely appalled with the distinct lack of traditional Dutch culture on offer in Amsterdam. Sure, there were plenty of Dutch people around, but the culture in the city of Amsterdam has degenerated into a reactionary tourist hangout haven. The dominant cuisine of the city were hamburgers and pizza. Despite looking quite hard each night we could not find a single restaurant that sold anything resembling a traditional Dutch meal, though that isn’t to say we didn’t have a few nice meals, including a delicious steak with cream and cognac sauce and Matt’s battered sol.

The sun sets on the Netherlands

The sun sets on the Netherlands

Now I would like to state for the record that the Heineken Experience is an absolutely awful tourist abortion that should be avoided at all costs, though perhaps my ‘Heineken Experience’ was tainted by additional external factors, for Matt disturbed me from my genius plan of spending an afternoon smoking joints in an enormous park, basked in the sun while reading my books to take part in this farcical branded “tour”. The tour itself consisted of a series of increasingly degrading and innovative marketing opportunities. It was as though we had stumbled into a series of advertisements and brand strategies that we had somehow mistakenly PAID TO SEE. Spending the afternoon lying in the sun near the canal would have been absolutely bliss than being forced to drink such a shitty, mass-produced beer.

Perhaps one of the highlights of Amsterdam was our chance to watch the The Netherlands football team playing Brazil to get to the Football World Cup semi-finals inside a crowded pub filled with rabid Dutchmen. Unlike the French, the Dutch clearly take their football very seriously. Every single pub or drinking venue was packed (unless deemed by locals as simply a ‘tourist’ or ‘outsider’ pub) with Dutch fans, drinking and cheering. When The Netherlands won, they proceeded to loudly parade the streets, honking horns and chanting for at least the next 8 hours. The main districts were absolutely over-run with Dutch supports that night, in some form of ‘take back the town’ movement. The general energy around the game was an awesome experience; there was a definite tension that was felt all over the city. The prospect of being in Berlin for Germany’s semi-final (and possibly final) match is a great one. The people seem electrified.

We leave for Berlin early tomorrow morning. Apparently the bus trip it 10 hours long – and we’re staying in a shared accommodation hostel. After spending the last four days smoking heavily, the notion of forced social interaction does not sit particularly well with me.


Lachlan’s Exhilarating European adventure

  1. Picturesque Paris
  2. Beers in Bruges
  3. Drugged and Damned in Amsterdam
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