Saturday, April 23, 2016

One Night in Amsterdam

1am, Nieuwenmarkt: I’ve been walking for the past 10 minutes and my legs were straining and my hands were slightly shaking.
It’s been a whirlwind 24 hours for me: I woke up at around 7am and then spent nearly three hours on a train from Seville to Madrid. A few hours of loitering around the Spanish capital came next and then another three hours of flight time to Amsterdam. As soon as I arrived in the city, I went through the motions of checking in at a local hostel, having a fancy dinner and walking around the city’s canal square.
I checked my watch and the time in fact read as 1am. I touched my face and gave it a weak pat. It was official, I was in Amsterdam. I have successfully embarked on a risky adventure with a devil may care attitude, to this city I know nothing about, against my better judgment.
I have made no previous bookings, and I researched nothing about Amsterdam but I have a vague idea of which places to check out given my limited time here (I only had about 12 hours or so).
I have met so many strangers and locals in the past few hours and they have in fact recommended for me to go check out the Red Light District or The Rossebuurt as the locals know it, which was already high in my personal “places-to-go” list.
Trying to keep warm on that cold autumn night, I placed my hand inside my pockets, steeled myself and walked the few blocks from Nieuwenmarkt to the Red Light District.
The Red Light District
Unbeknownst to the general tourist community, there are in fact three distinct Red Light Districts in Amsterdam and I was heading to the main area called Wallatjest located between the Central Station and the popular shopping district of Nieuwendijk. The other two are located near Raaduistraat and Rijksmuseum.
As I walked towards the main Rossebuurt, I was astounded by the sheer number of people heading towards that same direction. It was a Friday night, so no surprise there for the Dutch crowd but I could also recognize tourists/travelers from North America and other parts of Europe. There were also several Korean and Japanese. Again, I was the only Filipino, no surprise there either.
I guess it would also be prudent for me to disclose that I had company heading to the district.
I met Klaas on board the Iberia flight that took me from Madrid to Holland. He’s a businessman who’s had some business in Spain and he was traveling to Haarlemstraat and eventually back to The Hague. His plans changed though as we enjoyed our on-board discussion/debate on The Netherlands’s high tolerance policy on drugs, pornography and prostitution.
It was him who brought up the idea of spending the next 10 hours not sleeping, but just roaming around the city.
I was thinking, if I was going to spend one night in Amsterdam, i’d rather spent it with a tall, blonde guy who fancies me. Our itinerary was set.
We made our way towards the Rossebuurt and when I saw it, I was totally shocked.
Of course, I have heard stories of how open and tolerant Amsterdam is but seeing it face to face still caused some disorientation on my part. I have been to some other RLDs in other countries but the one in Amsterdam is the most extreme I have ever seen and experienced.
There were sex shops selling all sorts of S&M, and leather paraphernalia such as dildos, vibrators and stuff. Window prostitutes line up the street and I guess since prostitution is legal (since 2000), they felt no need to hide in the dark.
They wore the skimpiest outfits I have ever seen and some wore some kinds costume, I guess to outdo the nearby competition.
It tickled me pink whenever a window closes signaling the fact that they have business going on.
I tried to take photos of the window prostitutes, but Klaas warned me against it. Apparently, along with the labor rights of prostitutes comes privacy rights and it is discouraged for anyone to try and take photos of them during their ‘office hours”
The smell of cannabis or marijuana filled my lungs as we walked further down the streets and alleys filled with pubs, dancing halls and midnight restaurants.
It was past 2am and of course, most of the souvenir shops were closed  but there were a few shops selling cannabis still open for business.
Get this, there is a 5 gram limit in the purchase of marijuana in Amsterdam and it is sold to 18 year-olds and above. But what from I saw, shop owners weren’t really checking so someone can buy 5 grams from you and another 5grams from the next stall.
Klass is Dutch so of course, it would be natural for him to partake some sticks and join in the mass pot session happening in RLD.
 To be honest, I was really tempted to give in to his flirtations but the conservative person in me prevailed and I politely declined. I did busy myself though with mugs and mugs of Hoegarden and Amstel Bier.
Not giving a care in the world, Klaas and I danced to our heart’s desire and finished several mugs.
We hopped to several bars, with the names escaping me in my intoxicated state. All i could remember was every shop had the Grolsch sign (not too helpful i know, hahaha).
We talked about different topics ranging from bicyles, Van gogh to commodities training, to love, to life after death, to taxes, to backpacking in Thailand. It was a rollercoaster of a discussion and I guess, for two people as drunk as us, it made complete sense.
Most clubs/bars in Amsterdam, even in the RLD close up at around 4am. We stayed in one of the bars until the head waiter had to wave us off.
Lovers Canal 
Dawn was breaking but Klaas and I still can’t get enough of each other.
We made our way to the Lover’s Canal in front of the perpetually busy Centraal Station. The cruise itself won’t start until 10 am so we had to contend by sitting on the banks of the canal and hold hands while sharing stories about us, our likes, our mood swings, places we want to visit someday.
Amsterdam at night is just so enchanting. The colorful 14th century buildings are reflected in the city’s many canals. The bridges over these canals are lit up with old lamp posts giving off a romantic glow.
The scene is straight out of a romance novel.
If you must know, yes, we kissed (several times). Amsterdam is also quite tolerant to homosexuality as evidenced by the multitudes of gay clubs/bars in Warmoestraat, Zeedijk, Amsterl and Kerkstraat.
After half an hour, Klaas approached one of the locals riding a bike and borrowed one. He just wanted to take me on a bike stroll even for a few minutes. A visit to Amsterdam, he cautioned, would not be complete without renting a bike and traversing the city’s confusing streets. He gave the local a few euros and we were on our way.
(I took that statement to heart and rented a bike in the morning to horrible, disastrous results).
We biked around Nieuwendijk and Warmoestraat filled with gay clubs and pubs laughing all the while. We promised to return the bike after 10 minutes, so we circled back and headed to the lovers canal.
Klaas needed to go to his apartment in Haarlemstraat before proceeding to The Hague so we had to part at around 6am.
Our separation was bittersweet since we know, it would be impossible to continue seeing each other or even talking. Apparently, he is one of the few people on the planet wihout Facebook. (Yes, I checked using his business card). Therefore, our goodbyes were final.
He walked me to the Starbucks Oosterdoksstraat at around 6:30 (still dark), said his goodbyes, gave me a final kiss, and joined the throngs of people walking towards the train platforms.
I gave a final wave, which he didnt see as he was busy joining the commuting crowd. I guess, that was for the best since I know that there would be no chance for us to ever meet again.
A view of the Centraal Station at 7am.


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