Stranger in a not strange but definately unfamilliar land

Amsterdam Travel Blog

 › entry 13 of 16 › view all entries

I woke up and headed out to the common area to get a tea and a juice. One of the owners was there, bent over a map with two young men pointing out various attractions to them. It shortly became obvious that all of them happened to be 'coffee shops'.

While I can't for the life of me remember their names, these were a pair of kids from the US on the patented 'just turned 18, just graduated' binge and purge tour of Europe. The entire seriously bad teenage comedy scenario in a nutshell. One was a pure high hound... he wanted to try every high and don every drug. His goal in Amsterdam was Peyote, even though it's not even vaguely legal there. Effectively, the 14 bazillion different kinds of legal things he could get there were not good enough for him.

His friend, much more quiet and polite, had a self-imposed mandate to spend an hour (or 7 1/2 awkward minutes) in a red light booth. And he was firmly convinced that his girlfriend had given him permission. (Pop quiz: Admiral Akbar says what?) Poor lil' feller's in for a surprise. Or he was seven years ago, when all of this happened.

We all ended up heading int o Amsterdam together, and so we stuck together for a while. We stopped for some breakfast, and then went exploring. Out first 4 stops were 'smart drug' shops, where Cheech kept trying to get a line on peyote, which everyone explained was not generally available for sale. Finally we reached a 'coffee shop', where true to form Cheech started asking for peyote again, while his quiet friend perused the marijuana menu and I had a coffee and hoped on the Interweb for emails. Things start to get a wee bit Hollywood from this point on.

To begin with, both of the guys ordered 'space cake' while we were in the coffee shop. This is relatively plain vanilla cake baked with butter than has been infused with THC.  The sedate one took about a bite and a half and didn't like it, while his boisterous buddy plowed through his own before attacking the bulk of his friend's. We then hit the road. About 15 minutes later, Cake Boy decides he's had enough... we've spent at least 73 minutes looking for peyote, and he'd had a bunch of pot cake and he wasn't high he was beginning to think that the Amsterdam was a total rip off. He decided that he was going to head back to the camp, stopping to do some groceries on the way. And with that he headed off vaguely in the direction we'd come from.

While he made some effort to pay attention to the interesting historical and cultural things I pointed out, the Quiet One was fidgeting. It didn't take long before ever second he asked was whether I thought 'this street leads to the red light district' or not. In order to placate him,. we went down every second likely looking street. By about then tenth or so, I was beginning to wonder where it was myself. By the 20th, I wanted to find it nearly as bad as he did. We'd been walking for a good couple of hours and we couldn't for the life of us find it. We'd past a lot of strip clubs and sex shops, which I had assumed meant we were close but could never actually find the district itself.

We eventually headed back to the camp, where we hung out with a couple of other guests and the owner for a few hours. Finally, about 6 hours after we'd last seen him, Cheech shows up. Seems he'd gotten on the train and was about halfway back to camp when the cake had kicked in. He got off at the right stop, and got on the right bus which took him into the town nearest the camp where he could get some groceries. He'd then gotten on the wrong bus leaving the town, which took him on a long round about route to Utrecht, about 25 Km away. Upon arriving there, he managed to get on the bus which brought him back to the train station, where he promptly caught the wrong bus headed back to Utrecht. Now, after about 5 hours he was starting to get panicky, as he got on the bus back to the train station. He arrived, and before he had a chance to think, one of the owners of the camp approached him and offered him a lift back (as part of their services, they run an hourly shuttle back and forth to the train station.) By his own admission, he was practically in tears at that point. And by the end of his story, most of us were as well.

Undaunted by my day of getting lost, I ventured back into Amsterdam that evening. I found a nice little British style pub overlooking the canals and just sat there watching people go by. It was more residential area, so the foot traffic slowed to a near standstill as twilight approached, so I paid my tab and ventured out. As I tried to trace my way back to the train station, I became aware of a press of people moving down the alleyways to my right. There seemed to be a lot of activity, so I began to gravitate in that direction. I approached the rear of the crowd, and was focused so intently on it that I hadn't paid any attention to my surroundings. It was then that I realized that I was facing a store window full of mannequin in lingerie.  It took me a further few seconds to realize that they were moving and that one of them had just winked at me. I found the secret to the Amsterdam Red Light district.. to find it you must not seek it.

No, but seriously, we'd actually crossed through the red light district maybe 15-20 times earlier that day  but the fact that it was early meant that almost none of the women would have been working, and the red neon lights wouldn't have been visible in the daylight anyhow.In any event, I knew how to get there, and I would weigh the moral decision of whether or not to tell the guy in the morning. For the time being, I was going to enjoy the show. It didn't take me long to realize that people traveling in groups were free from harassment, and that men traveling along were targets. If by chance they strayed too close to the doors, a girl would reach out, tentacle style, and pull him inside. 5-7 minutes later, he would stumble back out into the street, a goofy guilty grin on his face and his pockets turned out. In order to avoid their fate, I would stay very close to groups of people... sometimes elderly tourist groups, and at other times rowdy roving bachelor parties from the UK.  This kept me safe for a good little while, but at one point the two groups I was shadowing dissolved into darkness, leaving me alone and vulnerable. I took that as a cue to leave.

I made my way by train to the station where I got on the right bus (first try!) and crashed out.

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photo by: pearcetoyou