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 AMSTERDAM NOTES

A page of articles about this beautiful and sometimes maligned city.
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2001
I first visited Amsterdam some thirty years ago and have been back every now and then, the last time in 1997. It is time for another visit. I will be passing through in July on my way to Germany, but will have no time to linger, and the Autum is pencilled in for a trip to India.. I'm sure the city will wait.
On my first visit, coming from the homophobic, repressed United Kingdon, Amsterdam was a breath of fresh air. Today London probably has a much better gay scene and even better saunas but the Dutch city still has a charm despite the drugs, the graffiti and the scruffiness which has overtaken it. 

AMSTERDAM IN AUTUMN (WRITTEN 1995)

 AMSTERDAM OCTOBER 1997

SOME USEFUL LINKS ABOUT AMSTERDAM


AMSTERDAM IN AUTUMN
(written in 1995)

British Midland had whisked me from wet old London to wet old Amsterdam efficiently and in comfort. Amsterdam airport looked like a bomb site with so much building work going on. I couldn't find the railway station. I had arrived with all the confidence of a regular visitor and here I was stumbling over breeze blocks looking for a train.

A friendly native pointed me in the right direction using the perfect english every dutchman seems to use. The train was fast, quiet and comfortable and reminded me again how quickly we at home are letting out public transport go to pot. Coming out of Amsterdam central station, I had a feeling of meeting an old friend. Over the years I have visited the city many times and it is a place I never get tired of. It's not quite the clean place it was. There is a lot of grafiti and there seems to be no attempt to clean it even when it disfigures private residences.

This time I notice less drug pushers on the street as I walk across the Damrak on my way from the station to my hotel. Maybe I'm getting older and look less like a potential customer. It takes a little while to get used to the trams which speed through the street like earthbound jumbo jets. I was bought up in a midlands city which still had trams and loved them, so I ought to be used to them but I still find myself almost getting mown down by them.

The Hotel hadn't changed. The Unique still looks the same and feels the same. As I booked late I had to settle for a large double room but as I'm spending a week in it, maybe it's for the best.

The first time I came to the city I couldn't believe the ease with which one could bring back company for the night to the hotels. I remember a guy who said he was a poet and other a telephone engineer. This time I'm not looking for company and the large double bed will be unsullied for a week by 'goings on'. Pity, I'm sure it has over the years been witness to a lot of very happy moments. The Unique also has some rather interesting chrome and leather chairs in the rooms  which have in the past been useful, but this time will be used simply to sit in.

So I hit the town. I do a quick tour round the bars which are open and find that unlike London where breweries seem to refit their pubs at regular intervals, in Holland the attitude seems to be, if it's OK, leave it alone. Drinking also has to be modified. Pints are out for the most part and the beer comes in the silly little glasses with a lot of foam on the top. I used to think that continental beer was strong and a small glass had as much alcohol as a British pint. Now it seems that in Holland too, the brewers have been using the watering can and there is little alcohol left. 

Bottled beer is better value often costing the same as a glass of tap beer. Time your visit right to the Monopole bar and you will get a small snack offered. It's a custom which goes back a long time. Happy hours can be found, Die Spyker bar being a good example but it doesn't seem to attract a flood of customers. I find that an evening drinking need a bit of food mixed in and the croquettes sold in automats just the thing at about 50p a time. God knows what they contain but they are crispy on the outside and soft within. Just like someone I know !

Food is in fact a bit of a problem. On the whole it is much more expensive than in London but you can survive quite well at a modest price. The streets around the Leiseplein area are packed with reasonable priced places serving all kinds of cuisine and the Burger King Whopper meal will always fill a hole if the pocket is getting empty. I didn't have much luck with an Indian meal. The sauce in a Chicken Korma had the look and taste of custard and cost around £18 with a beer, starter and sweet. The Pizza trade seems to be controlled by one company, or perhaps organisation. Every Pizza place looks the same and while the Pizzas are OK they are no  bargain. I didn't find a Pizza Hut. Perhaps they don't fancy their chances against the competition.

I did lot's of the museums including the Jewish museum which I hadn't visited before. I also visited the replica of a Dutch East Indiaman at the maritime museum which was now open for visitors. This had been built as a kind of work creation scheme for unemployed youngsters. I tried to imagine the expression on the faces of the British cabinet if one of their number suggested building a full size replica of a historic sailing ship under a YTS scheme. Our hangers and floggers would have heart attacks.

By the way Dutch museums are very cruisy. 

The week passed very pleasantly. The rain did stop after a couple of days. I got bitten my midges as usual (it's all the water). One day people even came out to sunbathe, the sun being so warm. I got through a lot of beer. I met a lot of people from all over the world over extended breakfast in the Unique hotels compact, well O.K. small dining area.  I got propositioned a few times which was good for the ego but also a reminder of how time has changed a lot of things below the surface. I didn't visit the Saunas this time but my breakfast informants assured me they had had a lot of fun. For myself, they would have stretched my will power too much.

I flew back courtesy of British Midland and did manage to find the airport O.K. when I got off the train. An airport is harder to lose than a railway station it seems. Back home the dirty old tube train took me from the airport to my humble flat. It had been a good week and I look forward to my next visit to the queen of a city, the tart with the heart.



Photograph taken at Tram Museum

AMSTERDAM SEPTEMBER 1997

Itís two years since I was in this city last and it really hasnít changed that much. The
airport is a little less like a building site but apart from that I feel quite at home. I
decide to walk to the Hotel, the Unique again ! but it pours with rain and I end up
sheltering under the awnings of a cafe for about half an hour. Eventually I make it
into  a Burger King and settle for a hot chocolate and a whopper. I canít understand
why the bean burgers they sell in London, are not sold here. 

When the rain stops, I make it to the hotel. This time I have a room at the back. Not
quite as well appointed as usual but OK for a few days. Itís Autumn again and most of the serious tourists have left the city making it much quieter but of course the weather is a little more unreliable. Still the sun does come out and I love just walking in this city.

The first day I visit the Tram Museum. Perhaps the reason I love trams is because,
Leicester the city where I grew up, used to have a superb network of trams covering
the whole city Even as a young kid I knew all the routes and never got lost. I love
riding them especially when they got onto stretches of dedicated track and the driver could and did put his foot down so these wooden monsters rock and rolled along the track at what seemed like a dangerously fast speed. It beat any roller coaster ride.

Like most European cities, Amsterdam kept itís trams, updated them and preserved the best in a museum with a working stretch of line where the old trams still carry ordinary passengers along with the many tourists. Great.

I also made a return visit to the Jewish museum. I am not Jewish but still find this a
very moving place especially the exhibits which show how mundane the persecution
was during the occupation. Receipts for rewards for handing over Jews which look
like receipts from the dry cleaners, bland wall posters prohibiting this or that  which
could be advertising a school bring and buy sale but which were to have devastating effects on human lives.

I visit the memorial to the Homosexuals who died in the Nazi camps, and place some flowers on the sharp angular step which sticks out into the canal. In London such a memorial would be vandalised in days so little respect do so many people have for us. I sat for a couple of hours just contemplating the past and the present. I react badly to homophobia whether it comes from the mouths of noble lords and ladies in the house of Lords, Middle Eastern despots or rabid right wing Christian fundamentalists in the United States. In a place like this one can see the results of their thoughts turned into practice. It is a place every gay man should visit when in the city.

During the evening I had a strange encounter. I was picked up by a youngish man,
enjoyed a drink with him and then went in a taxi back to his place. Everything seemed to go OK as the clothes came off but then he asked me to kill him. Now it could be part of some sex game but frankly not mine. I thought and still think he was serious. He said his life was useless and he wanted to end it all. I left and found myself in a part of the city I did not know at two in the morning. I just walked in the direction of the centre, eventually picked up a canal with a name I recognised  and followed it round until I recognised the area where I was staying. I went to bed a little disturbed but safe. I hope the young man is still alive and it was a game, but Iím still not sure.

As a way of relaxing I spend some eight hours in the Sauna. I normally avoid these.
As an older man I know my body is in reasonable shape for my age but compared
with the sheer beauty of many of the young men in the Sauna, I feel very self
conscious. Strangely I soon lose the feeling and just enjoy the heat, the showers, the
water and I begin to relax. I donít seek out sexual contact but a little comes, enough
to help my confidence. Next time I am here I will come again.

The pubs havenít changed very much and to boost my confidence I get two offers to
go home with local guys. Difficulty is both lived in towns some way away and
although public transport is excellent I did not go and they couldnít come back to the
hotel due to working the next day. Never mind, it was good for the ego.

Snacks still served at the Metropole, but as I sat outside watching the world go by I
have to admit that although itís a beautiful city and very relaxing, if itís a really active
gay scene you are looking for, London now beats it hands down. Amsterdam has the advantage of being compact and walkable but it does all feel a bit dated.

I fly back after my short stay and know I will return but for the first time, I missed
London.

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SOME USEFUL WEB LINKS
FOR AMSTERDAM


The Thermos Saunas

Hotel Golden Bear (was the Unique)

Gay and Lesbian World Fun Maps.

Centre Apartments, Amsterdam

Michael's Boys Escorts

Bed and Breakfast in private houses

Rubens B & B

Black Tulip Guest House (leather)

Mr.B (shop)



 

 

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