Tuesday, April 10, 2007

60 Hours in Amsterdam: Part I

I was worried that the Air France ticket agent in Nice was going to send my bags to Paris. He kept asking me if I was going to Paris and I responded with "Amsterdam" everytime he asked.

I booked a KLM (Dutch Royal Airlines) flight from Nice to Amsterdam but that particular segment was in conjunction with Air France. So although I was billed by KLM, I was virtually flying on Air France.

The security line at Aeroport Cote d'Azur featured several people who blatantly ignored the rules. They'd have to walk through the metal detector three or four times before they were cleared. One woman was snooty and giving off the vibe, "I'm rich. I'm old. I'm French and I don't have to put up with your stinking peasant asses." She argued with the French security guards for five minutes while they tried to get her to take off all her jewelry.

I finally made it through security and found Stephen from Gutshot, a member of the British poker media, sitting at a cafe near my gate. He was heading back home to London. We originally met at the WSOP in Las Vegas last summer and I spent a lot of time talking about similar interests in media row at Monte Carlo. Turns out he might be one of the biggest baseball fans in the United Kingdom. We bullshitted for a few minutes before he boarded his flight.

Neither Air France nor KLM flew me to Amsterdam. Both were too busy or delayed for that flight and ended up handing over operations to Martin Air. I had no idea if that was a Dutch or French airline. All I can tell you was that their seats were cramped. At least I had the entire row (and last three rows for that matter) to myself.

I knew 50% of the passengers on my flight. It was about 40 people in all and most of them were Dutch or Swedish poker pros or media reps heading on home. There were a few well named European pros on my flight, a famous Swedish pop singer who has been playing a ton of poker (and may or may not be dating a Swedish pro), and random bloggers and writers from Holland and Sweden. I had about an hour or so of sleep and was burnt out on poker, so I avoided the lot of them as the congregated at the gate for another delayed flight. I waved hello and made some small talk but all I wanted to do was to avoid all things poker and arrive into Amsterdam as quickly as possible.

I barely touched my meal... apple slices, yogurt, and a cheese sandwich on a whole wheat bun. There was packaged OJ and a few cookies which were the highlight. All I did was listen to John Coltrane and James Brown on my iPod and look out the window as we flew over the French Alps and Switzerland. I fell asleep for a few minutes and when I woke up, we were about fifteen minutes outside of Amsterdam.

The European Union thing was nice because I avoided any passport control areas and walked off my flight down to baggage claim. My bag magically appeared as my paranoia over the Air France was all self-fabricated. I quickly left that area and wandered in the train station. I bought my fare and it was right around 5pm on Tuesday. I was caught in rush hour on my train to Centraal Station. By the time the train arrived in downtown Amsterdam, I'd had exactly 36 hours of R&R before I had to leave for the airport at 6am on Thursday morning.

I originally booked the Amsterdam side trip with Tim aka the Poker Shrink. He threw out his back in Las Vegas and was unable to make the gig in Monte Carlo which also meant his side trip was canceled as well. I had two nights booked in the Victoria Hotel, one of Amsterdam's swankiest hotels and the closest to Central Station. That's where Nicky and I stayed last November.

It took about five minutes to check into my room and I almost got the same room as last time. Nicky and I were in 566 and I was given 565. I dropped off my bags, tossed some cash and my passport in the safe, and added a jacket to the fleece I was wearing since it was chilly in Amsterdam. I took a book to read and my camera. No cellphones. No watches. That was it.

I stopped off at one of those tourist t-shirt shops to stock up on supplies. The glass pipes were expensive (around 20 Euros). I found a wooden grinder for 7 Euros and bought a lighter for 1 Euro. I decided to grind up my own weed and roll joints. Papers and filters were free in coffeeshops.

I walked into my first coffeeshop at around 5:45. It was the 420 Cafe and I first discovered it with Briana in September of 2005. I was on my way to Barcelona for a writing assignment and stopped off in Amsterdam for two days. Briana took the train up from Paris and arrived one night early. She wandered around the Damark and spotted the 420 Cafe down one of the alleys. She assumed by the name that it would be a place to score some weed and hash. She was right.

Considering it's location to Centraal Station, the 420 Cafe has reasonable prices. What I liked about it the most was that they sold NYC Diesel and it wasn't even the most expensive thing on the menu. Their drinks were low priced and they used to serve beer. Amsterdam enacted a new law where establishments that sold marijuana or hash could no longer serve liquor and beer. They went back to an old rule where only bars and restaurants served booze and where coffeeshops could only sell pot and hash and only serve non-alchololic drinks.

The 420 Cafe featured really hot Dutch bar maids and glasses of Amstel for 1.80 Euros. I had been craving both since my last trip 4.5 months ago. When I walked into the cafe, they had upside down glasses over the taps as one British tourist quizzed the blonde bartender why he couldn't get a pint of beer with his hash joint. She explained to him the new laws as he ordered a bottle of Coca-cola instead.

I wandered into the back and one of the the owners (who looked like Geroge Carlin and I'm pretty sure is an American or Cannuck) manned the weed counter. I didn't even look at the menu and asked for a gram of NYC Diesel. I sat down at the bar as I inspected my purchase and ordered mineral water. They call it fizzy water in Monte Carlo and England. They called it "water with gas" in Amsterdam.

"Water?" asked the barmaid. "Do you want that with gas?"

It's a weird question and I shrugged my shoulders. Gas it is. I really wanted a glass of Amstel to wash down the weed. I rolled a couple of joints and sipped my gassy water. An Irish guy sitting a the table nearby asked to borrow the wooden grinder. When he returned it he asked to take a look at my book. I had about a hundred pages left of The Tender Bar a memoir by J.R. Moehringer. Nicky had bought it on her way to Amsterdam last November. Fitting that I should finish it while I was there a few months later.

I walked down towards Dam Square and noticed that I had not really eaten all day. I grabbed frites with mayonaise from one of the stands and ate a half of ham and kaas sandwich on a baguette. Total price for dinner was around 5 Euros. The sun was still out at 7:30pm. I wandered over to Grey Area on Oude Leliestraat (Quickie Dutch lesson: Oude Leliestraat = Old Lelie Street) to pick up some of my favorite strain of weed but the smaller coffeeshop was closed. Fuck.

I whirled around and walked back to Dam Square. I popped into an internet cafe and sent an email to my brother and Nicky. I told them that I arrived safely in Amsterdam and would be avoiding the internet until I got back. I wandered into one of the overpriced cafes and pubs off of Dam Square. I didn't care. I was thirsty for some liquor. I sat down at the bar in the Euro Pub. I drank a pint of Bavaria beer for 5 Euros. The guy sitting next to me looked like and sounded like Hank Hill from King of the Hill. He was from Texas and in town for a day before he headed to one of those runaway Soviet republics. He was sent in to close a big oil deal.

I bought him a round and he bought me two in return. I had four beers in total as we talked about the pros and cons of business travel. He's been on the road for almost twenty years and he said it made him have a stronger love for Texas, especially his home. We also talked baseball for a bit. Afterwards my last beer, I said good-bye and told him to walk around the corner and get a blow job from a Romanian hooker.

I headed over to Pink Floyd coffeeshop and did not find any Buddha's Sister. I settled on the Mako Haze. It was better than average and I smoked one joint before I went around the corner to take a piss. All those beers caught up with me and I felt a good ratio of being stoned:drunk.

Nicky told me that I had to visit Barney's. It was a block or two down the street from Pink Floyd and we never managed to wander over to that street. Barney's cafe is on the corner and next to that was the coffeeshop. Both served amazing breakfast according to word on the street and several guidebooks.

Barney's was popular because it was one of the only places in town that sold the strain that won the infamous Cannabis Cup two years running. In 2005, a strain called Willie Nelson won while last year it was G13. I bought a gram of Willie Nelson for 11 Euros and found the only empty seat in the place against the wall next to the vaporizer. Barney's was packed tight with people getting lit up. I rolled a joint, smoked 2/3 of it, then hit the street. I walked around for about a half hour through the Jordaan district while I finished off the joint.

I found myself in the Rokerij. They have four shops in all and I had never been to the one of Singel Street. It was very dark and decorated in a Picasso meets Africa theme. Since it's a chain, the prices tend to be a little more expensive. I ordered a water with gas and bought a gram of Laughing Buddha. By that point, the biggest drawback of rolling joints was that you couldn't get the full taste of the strains, like you could in a pipe or a bong. I made a note to find a cheap pipe the next day.

It was around 11:15pm when I noticed the clock near the bathroom. I expected it to be about 1 or 2am. I had no way of telling time and kept wandering around. I was exhausted and headed back to my room. I decided to rest up for a bit then either start writing or go back out. I figured I'd get an hour nap. That didn't happen.

* * * * *

The first time I woke up was at 7am. I had slept for seven straight hours and that had not happened since I got back from Australia and slept off a month of hangovers at Nicky's. I had been logging insane hours in Monte Carlo and barely slept. My body told me something... that I was in desperate need of rest. I was also bummed out because I had less than a day in Amsterdam. I decided to price return flights to New York on Friday instead of Thursday. I figured they would be outrageously expensive but had to check anyway.

The first time I called Delta, they told me the fare differential would be about 150 Euros plus another 150 Euros as a change fee. I told them I'd think about it and hung up. I took a dump, jumped in the shower, smoked a couple of hits and then called back. I decided to stay an extra day. That's when I found out the price changed... in my favor. Not only was it less, it cost me about 130 Euros in all to change it. Talk about a nice swing in my favor.

I had to find a hotel room for another night and checked online. I found something around the corner for 90 Euros and the couple of hostels I looked at were booked. I went downstairs to get a rate and that's when they told me I had a credit. Apparently I booked the room for three nights and canceled one night online when the EPT Championships were extended a day and I had to stay in Monte Carlo through Tuesday instead of Monday. But, the Victoria did not get notification of the cancellation so they already billed my credit card for three nights instead of two. Since I had paid for three nights already, I didn't have to go through any trouble of getting the extra night.

It would only cost me 130 Euros to stay an extra 24 hours. Best deal I got all trip.

I wrote for a bit and by then it was closer to 9am. I grabbed my iPod and walked down to the bakery near Dam Square for breakfast. I ate a plain croissant and pocketed a chocolate one. I wandered over to Grey Area which was still closed. I later found out it opens up at noon.

I discovered a cheap souvenir shop that sold me a glass pipe for 8 Euros. I walked up to Barney's which was open early. I bought one gram of the G-13, the latest prize winning pot, from a guy who looked like Eddie Vedder. The G-13 tasted pretty damn good. Not even 10am and I was baked out of my tits. I ordered an orange juice from the girl at the counter who looked like a hipper version of Winona Ryder (circa Reality Bites) asked me about the book I carried. I let her thumb through The Tender Bar and she joked that she should write one about working in coffeeshops.

I walked through Jordaan district again. Instead of night, it was in the day and I cranked up my iPod and listened to a couple of Phish bootlegs. That neighborhood features plenty of smaller cafes and art galleries. It was not very crowded, just a couple of locals and very few tourists. I'd pick a random street and walk along the canal, checking out the houses and stopping every few moments to sit on stoops to munch on the croissant and think.

"This would be a great place to live someday," was the thought that kept running through my mind.

I found myself near the Leidseplein after my detour through Jordaan. I sat down at one of the cafes and drank a beer while I read my book. My waitress was the Dutch version of Rachel Ray and I expected her to whip something up for me in the back. She didn't and left me alone.

I wanted to smoke and walked into the Rokerij a few blocks away on Leidestraat. I picked up a gram of NL50x Haze and drank a hot chocolate as they played a couple of Elliot Smith songs. A table of French guys with one hot American chick next to me had troubles rolling a hash joint. They asked for my help and I did my best. They were smoking tobacco and hashish and I offered them a toot of weed and hash in my bowl. They offered me a hit from the joint I rolled. I normally avoid tobacco, but I did not want to be rude so I took a couple of hits.

The hash made me hungry. I was starving and ate a bowl of pasta Bolognese at one of the Italian joints next to the Rokerij. It cost me 8.50 Euros and I left 10 in all. I listened to a Grateful Dead bootleg from Winterland in 1977 as I walked through the flower district and over to the Red Light District. Groups of Russian teens, old Japanese women, and middle-aged German tourists were wandering through the hooker zone gawking at the day workers. The Red Light District has become more like a freak show than anything else.

I found the Jolly Joker coffeeshop and took a pic for the Joker. I wandered inside and decided to just buy a drink to cut down on weed expenses. I had enough of a stash by that point and didn't need any more product. I drank a coffee up in the loft area and smoked tough while I finished the book.

I walked back to my hotel to drop off my book, my iPod, and a large bottle of water that I bought. I also dropped off excess herbage and just carried a little. I added a second jacket because it was getting chilly and slipped a pad and pen into my pocket.

I wandered back over to the 420 Cafe. Another hot Dutch barmaid said hello as soon as I entered. I ordered water with gas and sat in the front window. I smoked while a family of four stood in front in the alley and watched. The kids were 6 and 9 years old or somewhere around there and their parents let them watch. The father carefully explained what was going on before they walked away.

I walked over to the Grey Area for 4:20. It was finally open and I avoided the high ticket items and bought the Grey Mist. For 8.50 Euros a gram, it's the best buy in Amsterdam and by far my favorite strain. The Grey Area is super small and features mirrored walls with stickers on them. There are three small tables and a tiny counter along the wall with three bar stools. You can seat less than 15 people there and a total of 20 people can be in that space at once. I was surprised to found a spot along the wall as I fired up the Grey Mist and stared at the stickers.

The coffeeshop is owned by two Americans and they have plenty of famous bands and musicans stop by. The Willie Nelson picture is hilarious, if you can find it. And the picture of the guys from Phish hanging out at the Grey Area always gives me goosebumps.

Two wasted American college girls sat at the small table near me. They struggled to take pics of each other. At one point they handed the camera to me and I snapped a couple of photos for them. They asked me how to get to some club that I never heard of before.

I left the Grey Area and wandered back through Jordaan past the galleries and over to Pink Floyd. Nicky and I spent plenty of time there in November. The music was good with penty of classic rock. They have three stories which means plenty of room to hang out. I also like crowded coffeeshops or multi-level ones because you can get away with getting high in those places without buying their product. I'd just buy a drink (water, juice, coffee, hot chocolate) for under 2 Euros and sit in the corner to blaze up.

I sat next to a 40 plus year old German woman with her teenaged nephew and his girlfriend. They were fun to talk with and we must have bullshitted for an hour or so. They invited me to dinner and I declined. I wandered back down to Dam Square and bought frites and a half of ham and kaas sandwich. My second consecutive five Euro dinner.

I went back into my room to rest for a bit and checked my email. I told Derek and Nicky that I was sticking around another day. I watched a little Dutch TV and they had an interview with Flava Flav on a local station.

I chatted with Nicky on Skype for a few minutes and decided to go back out and buy magic mushrooms. That's when Wednesday got even more blurry. I picked up Thai happy mushrooms at La Canna and popped a few as I chased them with a Kit Kat bar. I wandered around the city for a couple of hours. I got a beer at Kadinsky's cafe which is right across the alley from their coffeeshop. The had La Chouffe which is a Belgium beer I was told to drink by a woman I met in Monte Carlo.

As the shrooms kicked in, I stopped off at crowded hash bars where I didn't buy anything, but found a corner to smoke in and check out the scene. That included Dampkring, Kandinsky, and Abraxis. The music being played at those coffeeshops were an interesting mix and featured random fusion music such as Euro-techno-house-hip-hop or then you'd hear old school reggae.

I walked into the Free Adam coffeeshop and it was packed with rastas. I had not been there since my first trip to Amsterdam with Senor. The prices was expensive with overpriced hash and bud. I settled upon the cheapest thing on the menu; a chunk of Nepali hash. A fat black guy with the longest dreads I had ever seen weighed it out for me.

I sat near the front window and smoked a little of the Nepali hash and ended up giving the rest to a Spanish guy sitting next to me. He handed me a copy of Homer's The Iliad. It was an English version and he said I could have it in exchange for the hash. I agreed and we laughed for five straight minutes when we realized that we had variations of the same name. He was a Pablo. The shrooms were definitely working.

It was close to 2am when I wandered down Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal and stopped at Resin coffeeshop. I had not seen the place before and I loved the name. The place was empty and I bought a gram of AK47 and some mineral water for 10 Euros in all. I sat down and smoked a bowl before I decided to bust out the Grey Mist. I finished the rest of that off and read about fifty pages of The Iliad before I left. I realized that the Resin was the 11th coffeeshop I visited and smoked in that day. I was super tired and needed one more to tie my record. That's when I pushed myself to stay awake and walked down the street into Double Reggae. It had the mural of Jim Morrison on the window and I bought a bag of something I had no idea what it was. When I'd wake up the next day, that bag was the only one I could not account for since I had been carefully labeling my bags.

I stumbled into my hotel and carefully tried to recall the 12 coffeeshops I went to. Barney's. Rokerij (Leidestraat). Jolly Joker. 420 Cafe. Grey Area. Pink Floyd. Free Adam. Dampkring. Kadinsky. Abraxis. Resin. Double Reggae. I also bought shrooms at the smart shop attached to La Canna, but never went inside to smoke. The list of 12 coffeeshops was the last thing I remember writing before I passed out with my clothes on.

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