By Antonio Malara
The visit to Amsterdam represents the return to travel after a break lasting more than a year. In fact, the last adventure was the one that had brought me, together with a friend, to visit Berlin, Prague and Vienna in June 2015. The waiting and expectations were high, both for the long time without traveling and because I had an incredible curiosity to see Amsterdam. Added to this was the fact that for the trip to Holland, we were able to create the group, albeit partial, of the first trip made in 2013 to the Czech Republic. In fact, only one person was missing from the call but still there were four of us, all close-knit and motivated for the new adventure. Actually my program also included a visit to Rotterdam and leaving Amsterdam we would leave again to Prague for another four days, just to celebrate the return of the group. We met directly in Amsterdam with one of our friends because he lived in northern Italy and took a direct flight from Milan, the three of us left my city with one of the cheapest flights I can remember.
What intrigued me most about Amsterdam were its famous canals but also the architecture of the houses in the center. I had seen many photos and before leaving I read many blogs because I like to know the direct experience of people. From what I had seen, Amsterdam seemed like a modern Venice to me, something that could remember the Italian city but with a different personality. Then there were the famous bikes of a city that moved in an ecological way. Added to this was the nightlife of both the Red Light District and the discos. There were all the conditions for another epic journey! Before leaving I had noticed that it had been difficult to find a good, reasonably priced hotel near the center, I hadn't noticed it there but then I understood why.
We arrived at Schipol airport around 6:40 PM and after the formalities we reunited with our friend who had landed before us. By taxi, we went to "The Student Hotel Amsterdam West" which was about a 15 minute drive from the airport, the only positive thing about the structure. In fact, the hotel had a design such as to bring people (it was a structure designed for students) to live in the common areas which, however, were very original and equipped. This was to the detriment of the rooms which were very small and with a "basic" size bed. To this, must be added the distance from the center set at 13 tram stops. Our lifestyle assumed a more central hotel but despite this, after putting down the luggage we headed straight to the center without showering and changing. We arrived at a stop behind Dam Square around 9 PM and after walking around a tall and large building, we were in the center of the square. This place was considered the center, in fact the square was very large but divided by a street where also passed the tram. We took pictures in the general excitement that was due more to being there all together than to the place itself. Soon after we crossed the street and continued with the photos under the National Monument, a fairly tall circular structure made of concrete. After a while we went to have dinner right nearby and once we finished and received the bill, we knew immediately that Amsterdam was very expensive. We wanted to experience the night and the red light district a little but not with the clothes of the trip so we went back to the hotel to shower and change.
26 tram stops later, around 1 AM we were back in the center heading towards De Wallen. The Red Light District was basically the area of the streets that overlooked one of the infinite canals, exactly the one between De Oude Kerk and Nieuvmarkt. These streets and some alleys were more or less like the others except that most of them housed the famous houses on the ground floor with the girls in lingerie behind the windows. Initially it was funny, certainly unique and exactly the same as what I had seen on newspapers and TV but live you could notice one more thing. The neighborhood was run down and dirty but the worst thing were the rooms were the girls lived, that was even worse. The interiors were visibly greasy and except for a few pretty girls, with all due respect there were people behind the window who looked like they were saying "come on, I'll pay you if you spend some time with me". As happens when you see something for the first time, you are curious and try to understand by inspecting, I personally wanted to go with one of those girls and I was trying to memorize a few decent ones to come back to later but it was very hard. If there was any pretty girl, then looking inside her room, I could only see dirt and grease. Fortunately, in the neighborhood there were also "normal" places to drink and after trying several, we stopped for a beer in what seemed less worst than the others. Although the experience did not convince any of us, however we enjoyed ourselves, in one way or another we always had reasons for a laugh. At a certain time we left, the next day at 9:15 we had the scheduled entrance to visit the Anne Frank House. That night, returning to the hotel, I understood the meaning of that article I had read about the Red Light Distric some time before. Basically the city wanted to redevelop the neighborhood by hiring the girls and limiting the area, they had rebelled through the union because they preferred to remain independent. Definitely the first night in Amsterdam was disappointing from an adult entertainment point of view but still full of laughs.
The Anne Frank house was on the way to our tram line and it was very easy to reach it but what I thought was a tourist visit turned out to be something else. I am not exaggerating to say that after the tour inside that house I came out as a different person, more aware and in a way it was a kind of self-analysis. From the outside the house looked modern but in reality looking at it carefully, it was clear that it had been "paneled". There were windows that covered from the ground floor to the first floor and a series of claddings that in the entrance part were made of aluminum. I believe this to give more the appearance of a museum and make it easily distinguishable from other homes. Punctual at 09:15 AM they let us in, inside it was forbidden to take pictures, this initially annoyed me but at the same time made me focus on what I was seeing. On the stairs, the only thing I could photograph was a large backlit image of Anna sitting at the desk and a quote from her.
From here on there is only my memory, the memories are superimposed but the sensations are always alive as if I had only visited the house yesterday. The tour followed a set route, starting from a room, photos of Anna's family and personal life were projected on the walls. In the background a voice repeated and commented more or less what we looked at on the walls. The rooms were empty of furniture, except for a few items. Passing from room to room, I learned more and more of Anna's personality, a girl like all of us with hopes and dreams but surprisingly mature for her age. In those rooms, it was like living Anna's imprisonment, experience a story in the same place she lived it was penetrating, a real thing, a sort of dramatic deja-vu but not oneiric. The secret passage that led to the hiding place was something I thought only existed in the movies. An additional and even more intimate space than the house itself, with the flavor of the prison which in that case assumed the meaning of protection.
The journey lasted about an hour and took us to a part of the building that had been used as a cafeteria, there with a view over the canal, we had breakfast all together and I personally developed the state of mind that gave me a little changed on a personal level. The reaction on leaving the Anne Frank house was one of anger! Anna was a beautiful thirteen-year-old girl, with desires and dreams like everyone else, as I was at her age. For no reason and brutally she was first kidnapped and then killed by a system that still today it is not clear how it could have been formed. In this case my narcissism was positive in the sense that if it were not for that, and therefore identifying with Anna at her age, I would not have understood the drama of what had happened. I had a twisted image of the girl given to me by my elementary school teacher, a woman with a too personal vision of Christianity who, rather than highlighting the drama of those she suffers, emphasized the violence of those who committed it. An opposite view that misrepresents the reality of the facts. In elementary school I never understood why Jesus was killed, but I knew by heart every part of the body where he was whipped. This is what happens when you have a teacher who applies a strictly personal method to children with different natures. However I was happy with that new vision and perception, before leaving we took pictures outside the house to compensate for the ones we couldn't take inside. Having regained the cheerful mood of the holiday, we left for the new destination.
Once we arrived in Dam square, we immediately took another tram that took us to the Museumplein, the large square in front of the Rijksmuseum, the national museum that was our destination that day. Right there was the famous red-white writing "I amsterdam", a place populated by tourists. Even though I had seen the sign many times, I didn't think it was that big! In general I like these installations that especially in Amsterdam, where there are practically no monuments, are a good starting point, both for photography and for entertainment. From a distance, the people climbing on the letters made an ant effect and we too enjoyed taking pictures to take home this memory that identified the city.
Aesthetically, I liked the museum very much, with its towers, large arched entrance and exposed bricks. We walked in that it was almost noon on a visit I wasn't expecting much about, however I was wrong. The "guide" was one of my friends, who, taking the audio guide, accompanied us throughout the museum. The part of the paintings was very large; from works by Van Gogh to Rembrandt to name a few, but as often happens to me, I found many interesting paintings and stories plus other installations of a non-pictorial nature. In addition to the size of some paintings that occupied entire walls, I was struck by a particular, very violent painting. It was called “The corpses of the De Witt Brothers” by Jan de Baen. Two bodies with ripped bellies hung upside down attached to a wooden structure in the middle of the woods. These two brothers were politicians and were publicly murdered and humiliated by their opponents in 1672 because they were held responsible for the misadventures that occurred in that year known as the "Year of Disaster". An exemplary punishment for a typology of living beings (politicians) that I have never conceived! As for the paintings, I was struck by another one that represented a mother with a naked baby, standing on her legs. The peculiarity was the child's musculature, it was defined and decidedly by a "bodybuilder" I don't know if it was an ironic thing or really the painter found himself in front of a genetically different child.
As for the rest, a really nice place was the Rijksmuseum Research Library. This Gothic-style room had a square plan design, three floors connected by an iron spiral staircase, with decorated railings and pillars that supported the balconies which extended along the entire height. Everything was lighted up by a glass roof and a triple window on one side. That library was a place to live, it would have been nice to take a few volumes and consult it in that unreal context. The other two very interesting installations were a large galleon that was located inside a room where were also exhibited paintings and war objects, and an old single-seater plane with double wings. Both were an interesting starting point for taking original photos and if the plane was still real, the galleon was a kind of vintage modeling, certainly a more interesting reconstruction than the plane which was still a real object.
Also in Amsterdam there was the Vapiano restaurant chain that I discovered during my trip to Berlin. We went there for lunch after visiting the Rijksmuseum and the restaurant was located at Rembrandtplein. After we finished we stayed there to spend some time in the square. This place was very nice, slightly triangular in shape, it was totally covered with green except for the central part where there was a tall statue of Rembrandt and at its feet a series of statues of soldiers. These statues were a decidedly popular entertainment, they were reproduced in life size, I believe in brass and were an incredible attraction for photos. Of course, I also enjoyed the photos and took one where it really looks like I'm holding the rifle of one of the soldiers.
The “15 Bridges View” was separated from Rembrandtplein by a large tree-lined street, very beautiful and full of restaurants, with the trees that were so large that they formed a real roof over the street. This bridge, similar to the others, had a particular characteristic; it was positioned in such a way that by standing above it it was possible to see a total of 15 bridges. With one of my friends we started to look but personally I couldn’t see all those bridges but at the insistence of my friend I got curious and I opened google maps. Actually from a technical point of view from the bridge there would be the possibility of looking towards the other 15 only that in practice it was impossible because the view was obstructed or by other bridges that were overlapped by the perspective or by trees. In any case, the area around the bridge was pleasant, full of tourists, restaurants and I personally found it more interesting to stay on the bridge and look towards the canal. In fact, hundreds of boats of all kinds passed from under the bridge and it was nice to photograph the tourists, whose legs from that perspective gave an even more interesting view than the one on the other bridges.
Still by walking, we went back to the center to spend some time in Nieuwemarkt, along the way I was trying to take some original photos of the canals but on the bridges it was full of bicycles, most of them were old and in bad condition so not poetic like those you see in some postcards. The square was another meeting place but without greenery, the only interesting thing was the large castle-shaped building positioned almost at an angle, the more I toured the city the more I realized that there were no monuments to see in Amsterdam. For that afternoon we had a special entertainment planned at a place that was on the way back to our hotel. Before leaving the center we passed in front of "The Bulldog" the popular club founded in 1975 which is famous for being one of the first cannabis shops. I believe that today, inside the restaurant, they also sell souvenirs of the same type. I appreciated the exterior of the place, very colorful in perfect psychedelic style, I limited myself to this because honestly, since school, where the boys have their first experiences with cannabis, I have always been more excited by doing other things. I remember I was about eleven years old when in middle school, day after day, I literally took apart a classic model of desk in my class, so that I could look at the legs of my then young math teacher who always wore miniskirts and pantyhose.
As I mentioned earlier, the adult entertainment place we wanted to visit was located two or three metro stops before our hotel, so it could be easily reached. The building that housed the club was nearby a few blocks from the bus stop and was on the ground floor. Once we entered, a boy from the psychopathic area was sitting at a desk positioned in the corner, he made us sit on a sofa that remained at the opposite corner from him. However, from our position we could see a long corridor that ended in a room with the door open and also gave access to other rooms. The boy started talking and in doing so he lost the psychopathic area, he made us read a brochure containing the general rules to follow in such a place. We were practical and immediately asked where the girls were to entertain us. All this time, from my position, I saw girls cleaning the room, some coming out of a door and all of them had a neglected appearance and heavy bodies. In all honesty I thought they were cleaning professionals and I mean this seriously not to make a joke. When the ex psychopath called those girls there, we first looked at each other and then after a second with a choral "no" we got up and left. I noticed that one of the girls made an incredulous and visibly offended expression, we were probably a little insensitive but we didn't do it out of malice, it was an instinct dictated by self-esteem.
That night we were very excited because after dinner we had planned to go to the disco, a place that in groups has always entertained us. With my friends there was a twenty-year history of clubbing where we made all kinds of crazy things. Our friendship had its peak of fun in this kind of place. There was a lot of expectation of repeating the same type of night but in a city like Amsterdam where, we thought, we could meet beautiful Dutch girls and have fun maybe even just drinking together. The Escape Club was located right on Rembrandtplein and in spite of the entrance, where it was not even clear that there was a club, it had a really beautiful interior. The club was well organized, from the wardrobe to the bar, it was modern and had an upper floor overlooking the dance floor. Aesthetically it was ok, but together with my friends and with the experience accumulated over the years, we immediately understood the problem that the Escape had; it was a nightclub for tourists! This was understood because people moved in small groups, each of which had a different style of clothing. In addition to this, you could see that people didn’t know how to move, in the sense that they didn’t know the place so they moved looking around like you do in a place never seen before. There was someone with a semblance of elegance, others with casual improvised looks to finish with those who had been around since the afternoon and then stopped in the center for after dinner. This negative note didn’t affect us that night, we drank and enjoyed ourselves, but it was not what we were looking for. I think we stayed there for a couple of hours, around 3 AM we took a ride to the Red Light District to see what it offered. It was even worse than the previous night, our first saturday night in Amsterdam had been disappointing even from the point of view of the nightlife, which in fact was poor.
Our sunday morning in Amsterdam was enjoyed in the classic sense, that was a day to be lived in total relaxation for this reason we woke up very late. However we had visits planned and that day after having breakfast we headed again to Museumplein where we arrived which was almost noon. Around the huge park there was not only the national museum, but also the Van Gogh Museum, a structure dedicated to the works of the great Dutch painter. Upon arrival in front of the ticket office there was an incredible queue, and it was there that I had the confirmation that the Escape Club was a tourist nightclub. In fact, in line at the ticket office there was a group of girls who were in the disco the night before and who actually had the same programs as ours. In a short time I realized that it was better to postpone the visit for after lunch and in the meantime, together with my friends, I spent time admiring and photographing all the buildings from the outside. In addition to the Vang Gogh Museum which was divided into two distinct structures, one based on a classic building but modernized with glass windows for the entire height of the building, and another which was round, modern, composed half with glass and half covered in a normal way. The structure that literally wowed me however was the Stedelijk Museum! This was a simple and complex work at the same time; it was essentially a large white cover with a glossy finish, which, starting from a height, pointed slightly upwards. In the upper part, a very high glass window served as a wall, while in the lower part, some oblique walls had the same materials as the roof. This had a very extended overhang which made the structure even more particular and "alien". To complete the modern beauty of the place, there were two other separate installations outside the structure; a wooden monolith and a large mirror cube. It was a surreal place where I spent my time taking special photos and enjoying those moments in a very particular setting.
We left the area and anticipated two visits scheduled for after lunch. We headed to Pieter Cornelisz Hoofstraat, the luxury shopping street, no to do some shopping but to see this posh street. This place at the time I saw it was not pedestrianized, which was inconceivable for me, especially in an ecological place like Amsterdam. Not only was the street open to traffic but there were also parked cars, this ruined the beauty of a place that was still characteristic. The buildings were in fact very beautiful and above all the design of the luxury shops was customized in an exemplary way. Above all I want to mention the beauty of the Chanel store, the design of which was super original. In fact, the building was "faded". The exposed brown bricks turned green starting from the first floor up to the entrance on the ground floor. The green was actually transparent because it was made of glass that recalled the design of the bricks. A place that should be seen rather than described, it was so special that any description of mine would be mediocre.
Crossing the shopping street we came to an intersection where a wide road separated us from the Vondelpark, which was our next destination. At that intersection, I noticed a detail that terrified me throughout my stay in Amsterdam; they were cargo bikes! These bikes had one or two kid's compartments in the front. As long as I saw blonde mothers with these types of bikes pedaling on straights, I just used t focus on their nice asses, but when they stopped at intersections I was terrified. In that case, in fact, when the mothers arrived a little further than the intersection line, the cargo part where the children were housed was exposed to the cars traveling along the road with right of way. It was probably normal for them, but every time I saw a cargo bike near a stop, I was anxious because I already saw the accident and the terrible end of those poor children.
The Vondelpark was a decidedly relaxing place, a green lung in a city that didn't have any bulky or tall buildings. Walking there was really pleasant and that day was also full of people sitting on the lawn made the generous size of the park even better perceived. What made our visit even more liked was the fact that we were not in a hurry, this led us to explore and have fun taking pictures of the very beautiful and colorful backgrounds. The top of the fun was when we arrived at a gazebo that was positioned in the middle of a pond taking advantage of a natural island. It was connected by a walkway which was closed by a gate. There, one of my friends, noticed how that place was very similar to one that appeared in an episode of "The Benny Hill Show". He remembered to us how Benny made girls climb over the gate by holding them and touching their asses and then he just walked in through the gate which was open. Unfortunately for us, the gate to that gazebo was closed.
We got back to the Van Gogh Museum around 2 PM and decided to go right in as there was no queue at that time. The place inside was very nice and made up of large spaces as is usually the case in these places. After taking pictures with a giant Van Gogh poster we started walking and from then on it was no longer possible to shoot. Precisely for this reason of the place I have only vague memories but for sure I remember that the place was disproportionate to the works it housed. The main one we saw was the famous "Vincent's Room in Arles", that one was the first of the three versions that Van Gogh painted, a very popular and identifying image of the painter's art. We spent about an hour inside the museum, then we stopped to eat street food near the museum area.
The next destination was the large green courtyard of Begijnhof, inside which was the oldest house in Amsterdam. We had decided to walk till there and I made an itinerary that took us through Leidseplein. This part of the city was beautiful and different from all the rest. In addition to the modern structures that housed cafes, restaurants and shops, this part used a series of canals that were more articulated in that stretch. The place was very populated and in general it gave me positive, different feelings, it was a small city inside the city. Passing from there inside of me I had decided that if I returned to Amsterdam, I would take a hotel in that area.
The characteristic thing of Begijnhof was certainly the entrance, although it was a fairly large place, it was accessed by a modest wooden door. Crossing the corridor we arrived inside the large courtyard, which in fact was the size of a square that was completely full of greenery. The oldest house was right on the left after the entrance; the house was made of wood and three floors high, with a classic sloping roof and a small entrance door on the left. The facade was almost entirely black on the front and white on one side. Probably this building had undergone many restorations over the years, to the naked eye it looked like a house like any other. After taking some photos we headed to the courtyard, this was a real sight! I have already said in other posts how I love the "Goonies" effect, in the movie, from a simple fireplace, the characters have slipped into a surreal and totally different place. In the case of Begijnhof, a few steps from the small entrance opened up a beautiful green lawn surrounded by brick houses that was the most total harmony. Triangular in shape, inside the lawn there were only two trees and a statue of Jesus I believe. For the rest there was nothing, only tourists to take pictures, but it was the simplicity that made the place unique. The colors probably played a fundamental role, the fact is that I took a lot of photos and I didn't want to leave because that environment was beautiful and relaxing. We stayed there for about twenty minutes and then with regret we left, that day we wanted to set the night a little differently, mainly we didn't want to be late as apparently in Amsterdam the nightlife was very scarce.
After staying at the hotel, that night we went to dinner and we were ready to hang out. I had an important mission, I needed to find a decent girl and spend some time with her. After dinner with my friends we started walking through the Red Light District but I was the only one with that intention because the others were definitely disgusted. After a long search, when we were by now returning to the hotel, in a side street, I noticed a blonde girl who was in a basement, I approached and started talking to her. She could have been in her early twenties, blonde and with beautiful blue eyes, she had a small but perfectly proportioned body and wore a baseball cap. After dealing with her, I went into her small room. As I undressed she was struck by the fact that I was not wearing socks, she seemed surprised but in a positive way, probably thanks to that detail she began to esteem me, it was evident because she changed her attitude toward me. Obviously I don't go into the details of what we did in the moments we spent together, but a detail must be said; for the whole time of our physical activity, she always remained with the hat on, it seemed glued to her head. I had reached another goal, certainly a minor one but still a goal, that night we went back to the hotel earlier, a night of rest also considering the plan we had for the next day; or go to visit Rotterdam.
We took advantage of the last day in Amsterdam to visit Rotterdam, I will talk about this city in the next post, however the last hours in the capital have been surprising. We returned to the station from the tour at 6:30 PM and from the train I immediately saw a structure that I didn’t know existed. It was beyond one of the large canals and it was all white. Together with the others we went out on the side of the station that overlooked the canal to admire that work of architecture. Later I found out it was the Eye Filmuseum, a museum of cinema, a modern structure that on a larger scale looked a bit like the Stedelijk Museum. This too had long windows and then the roof which at the front rises in a large overhang. Not only had I not put the place on the list of things to see from an aesthetic point of view, that place could also be interesting as a visit for its cinematic contents. Next to the museum there was the Adam Tower, a low-rise skyscraper that had the top floor offset from the rest, perhaps it was revolving. We stood there for a while taking pictures, the only consolation for missing a visit that could have been interesting.
That night we wanted to go out and mess around before departure and at the hotel, before going to dinner, a friend of mine had an intuition that saved us. An Italian guy worked in the hotel bar and my friend immediately bombarded him with questions that had a single goal; where we can find places frequented by Dutch girls. The boy wrote the names of some places on a piece of paper, the places were all near Leidseplein! I was happy that I had the right intuition about Leidseplein and I was very happy to be able to see the night version of the place. That night, all impeccably dressed, we headed to the places that I must have meticulously found on google maps. The first two we visited were almost empty, probably because it was a bit early and also considering it was monday. In the last place, which was located in a street full of restaurants, we hit the mark. After introducing ourselves to the security gorillas, we entered a room that was a large stand with a long bar table to the right. It was full of people, ninety percent were all blonde girls around 23-25 years old. They were in so many groups and it was a great sight. We started drinking at a ridiculous price, a draft beer about 2 euros. After a while I immediately met a girl who was much taller than me, when she realized that I was Italian she immediately started talking hugging me. The girl name was Florentine, she had been drinking and I understood it after kissing her a couple of times. Unfortunately, almost immediately with a melancholy look dictated by alcohol she said that she had to go, but we had time to exchange social media contacts. That night of September 2016 I sent the friend request and a message on Facebook to Florentine, even today from time to time I like to go to her page and see the unread message and the request still pending. The episode didn’t affect the night that went on with beer, photos and approaches to one group of girls after another. More than anything we were happy to have found a real place frequented by girls from Amsterdam and celebrating together the last night in the city. It was an unforgettable night like those of the old days.
For me, writing this post was like reliving the experience and time together with my friends. This was one of the important factors of the trip, the people more than the place. To this day, as I write this post, the Amsterdam experience was my last together with a group with whom I lived adventures for over twenty years. Probably because Amsterdam wasn't a busy city to visit, the fun was greater. Few commitments and things to see for the benefit of freedom and time to waste. I have always read the trip to Amsterdam from this point of view, it probably had been a city with things to see, the fun would have been less or at least it would have been reduced and we would have rested less. Amsterdam is a city to visit without great expectations from much point of view. From monuments that are not there to real adult entertainment places that are practically non-existent. If Prague is a city to live as a single person, you can go to Amsterdam with your girlfriend because you don't miss a thing. Surely if we went out more in places like Leidseplein from the beginning it would have been different but in general there is a lack of many things to promote it to a city of real fun. The sloping houses, the bridges with the bikes one on top of the other and the sexy mothers with the cargo bikes, these are some characteristics of Amsterdam. Even after years, I always see it this way; maybe today there is a Florentine who, rather than having fun in the clubs, whizzes on a cargo bike with two small children who are well over one meter in height.
Pictures: Antonio Malara
Camera: Nikon D800