The clearest day we've had yet meant for the coldest. A lack of any cloud cover meant even the vague few degrees Amsterdam had been hanging onto were quickly lost to the icy wind that began to sweep through.
After a quick burger dinner, I made my way to the Red Light District, just east of Amsterdam Centraal, one of the most famed spots in Europe. This wasn't even my first time here, in fact I still remembered exactly how to get to district from the centre of the city, as I am fortunately privileged enough to have been able to visit earlier this year as well.
But this was a totally different experience, one which I have mixed feelings about. The night began bleak. Walking into one of the main streets I was shocked by the total lack of people, it seemed there was about an eighth of the visitors I had previously experienced in June. Granted, this is one of the coldest nights I've experienced since living in Scotland, I was still surprised at how barren everything felt. It wasn't just the lack of people, most windows were shut, the bars were relatively quiet and the lingering smell of pot throughout the region was a fraction of the strength I had remembered.
But alas, I am still getting over the jetlag. Maybe it just felt later than it really was. This is Friday night for god's sake! I decided to stick it out a little longer, keeping Leidsplein in the back of my mind as a backup.
My first port of call was the busiest cafe (not to be confused with a coffee shop) I could find that still had at least a seat at the bar. I was immediately greeted by a woman who could only be described as the most hard, far Eastern European wog granny you could imagine. I swear you could feel the heat of the vodka on her breath as she said "hallo, vat do you want?" My pint of Heineken was slammed down on the bar in front of me with the same vigour I'm sure she chopped wood for her fireplace with just last week, and the roaring laughter of her equally tough cousins reverberated through the right side of my body. It was an interesting first stop. But I decided to continue the search shortly after.
The Red Light District is an interesting place. It is a quintessential tourist attraction. That's what it is. Imagine a really big museum, and each of the exhibits are weird little bars and seedy peep shows. The visitors are all either voyeurs, massive stoners, the seriously drug fucked or gross old couples who seem to love the sex toy stores.
I kept walking. Did another loop. Things were looking busier but not busy enough yet, I still wasn't ready to call it. Following another loop around, I found myself at Lindeboom, a rather large bar for the area with eight beers on tap and high ceilings with Art Deco light fixtures. It wasn't too bad actually. A relatively large amount of space, good atmosphere, although their house lager left a little to be desired.
While preparing to move to stop number three however, things got interesting. With barely two sips left of my beer, a relatively older lady comes up to my bench thing and introduces herself as an entertainer. Oh god, alarm bells ringing already. But this is the red light district, not like I'm here often. I decided to hear her out. My original fears were quickly quelled, turns out she was just a weird old lady who performed some style of tarot like reading based on numbers found in your birthdate and name. Through very broken English, I vaguely picked up the gist of what she thought was going on, but it was clear to anyone other than her that she was just talking about numbers and how they meant things about you. I think the bar staff let her float around cause they feel bad for her, or maybe she's someone's mum. "Let me give you an example" "okay, only if that's not gonna cost me any money" "no no no don't worry" "sure then, go ahead." It's not like I was talking to anyone else anyway. In the end, something about me apparently making a good nurse or teacher. Maybe that might be accurate for the Hamish born on 06/02/95.... Time for stop number three.
In the mean time however, my basic Dutch is coming along rather nicely. I can now say I understand the basics. 'Hij drinkt bier en eet brood' could probably be an accurate description of my very much down to basics, budget diet since arriving in holland. But even those who'd never read Dutch could probably decipher what that says. Ben, Ik, hebt etc etc all come easily now though, meaning signs, menus and more are significantly easier to understand. Serious props to the Duolingo app, it's astonishingly effective.
I've again spent a while walking to find the third spot. I'm looking for something more exotic, the kind of bar you can only find in Amsterdam. I've already had well too many beers to sample some of the local product tonight myself, but have spent some time on the lookout for something a little more interesting.
It's 9:54 and I've arrived at the third call in for tonight. Easily the best one so far, extremely chill and eclectic. First of all, they have ADO Den Haag playing some other team on telly, everyone is getting around the football which is always fun. Holland banned smoking in bars in 2012 I believe, but this apparently stops nobody. The group next to me are paying €2 per head to smoke as many cigarettes as they want in here, apparently enough people do that whenever they get busted (every couple of weeks) this fund covers the fine. They just keep paying it every so often. But it gets better. The bar cat just came up and sat on my lap, then took a seat at the stool next to me. He seemed really chill, and was a cool addition to the night for sure.
Amsterdam is an incredible city. Everything about it is thoroughly enjoyable. But it's not all glamorous. It's a little bit dirty, you can see the oil that helps the cogs turn round every night and keep the city running. Amsterdam can provide the most cultural experience you could expect but also can show you the depths of human depravity. But in a way, that's kind of what I like about it. There's no bullshit in Amsterdam. There's no taboo around sex, weed, alcohol or anything. If you want something, you just go find it and get it, no worries. Amsterdam is the kind of place where somewhere as filthy as the red light district can be surrounded with beautiful cathedrals and churches. It's a truly beautiful contrast, and no matter the problems, I wouldn't change it for anything. The Kofieshops, the cafes, everything. There just seems to be no problems here.
Amsterdam will always remain one of my favourite cities.