Saturday, April 14, 2007

60 Hours in Amsterdam: Part II

5:30am and the phone rang for a minute straight. The darkness of Amsterdam kept the room dim as I struggled to find my cell. Wrong ringing phone. Ten seconds of silence passed and the room phone rang again until I picked up. A guy in a funny accent said, "Good morning, this is your wake up call."

Fuck me. I forgot to cancel the friggin' wake up call. When I requested it, I expected to catch a 6am train to the airport. But since I decided to stay an extra day in Amsterdam, I did not need to be woken up so early. I was suffering from short-term memory loss and I blame the hash. I had passed out only 30 or 40 minutes before and was in the middle of a weird dream where Nicky and I were in a hotel in downtown Manhattan on the morning of 9.11. Thank God that the shrill ringing of the phone woke me up.

I slept for three more hours before I flipped on the TV and watched a local Dutch station for a few minutes from the warmth of my bed. I fired up the laptop to check my email and the weather. I had a deadline due in about 36 hours and made a note to send off my column as soon as possible. I also made a second note to finish my column as soon as possible. I spent less than five minutes online in total before I decided to skip a shower.

I had bought two big bottles of water and filled up a smaller bottle to carry with me in order to cut down on European water expenses. Bottles go for 2 Euros in some places which is like $3 US. And those are bottles I'd buy for a $1 in NYC bodegas. I consume tons of water especially when I'm smoking tough and walking around a lot. With a water bottle, my iPod, The Iliad, my camera, and my stash carefully stowed away, I rushed out of the Victoria Hotel past a girl's youth soccer team that was checking out. I walked briskly to the bakery along the Damrak as a handful of tourists were sitting in cafes and eating English Breakfast consisting of beans and toast and sausages that even Daddy would have a tough time getting down.

I was greeted by the strong aroma of my impending breakfast from almost two hundred meters from the bakery. There was no line and I walked up to one of the windows. I ignored the old Dutch lady at the counter for about fifteen seconds as I admired all the different varieties of breads, pastries, and other baked goods. I eventually bought a plain croissant and a chocolate one. 2.50 Euros for breakfast was a steal.

I'm fortunate that traveling in the last year or so (especially Australia) was not a problem because of a comfortable budget that I had set for every excursion. I never felt like I couldn't do anything that presented itself. I traveled lighter knowing that if I really needed a specific item, that I could buy it wherever I went. And even if I spilled over my initial budget, I still had savings to dig into. The fear of being in a strange land with no money and no resources has since evaporated. In that aspect, traveling has been easy especially since I do not have to worry about limiting myself to less expensive places to eat, drink, and stay. And I've been very good about staying under budget. I actually spent less money in San Francisco for NYE and in Oz than I anticipated and that surplus went to fund my March Madness Vegas trip.

I made myself a challenge: Don't spend more than 50 Euros on my last day in Europe. I knew that was a nearly impossible task because of my hefty ingestion of herbal and fungi products. But I wanted to try because the attempt could be the source of great piece for a travels site or magazine one day.

So my first tip on saving money was to cut back on water expenses. Second was to spend as little money possible buying nugs in coffeeshops. That all added up and I'd end up flushing most of the local product anyway. I had plenty left over from the night before and took that with me. I decided to pop the rest of the happy Thai mushroom at even intervals so I would have to smoke less overall. I also decided that I would not drink as much beer in cafes and pubs. Booze is pricey. I was gonna brown bag it, if possible.

The 2.50 breakfast was almost for free because I used all the smaller coins that accumulated in my pocket during my travels in Monte Carlo and Holland. I had a stack of 10 cent and 20 cent coins and that covered the croissants. I old lady frowned at me as I handed her a fistload of change. I didn't care.

I discovered glass bowls with little chocolate eggs that could be found all over Amsterdam. It was the Thursday before Easter and every shop or cafe or any establishment had a glass bowl filled with chocolate wrapped in colorful foil that sat right next to the cash register. I started snagging a few here and there and the next thing I knew, the right pocket in my jacket was filled with chocolate. Throughout the day, I would nibble on the chocolate after I popped a mushroom, since they gave off a horrendous taste and I often wanted to puke - a natural reaction since I was technically ingesting poison.

I walked to Pablow Picasso coffeeshop, which opened at 8am. Before noon, it's a local tweaker hang out. The speed freaks had been up all night and knew that Picasso is one of the few places that are opened early. They also served free breakfast and abused the generosity of the weird Buddhist owner who was constantly clad in a scarf.

Picasso was multi-leveled and I could smoke upstairs without buying anything. I ordered a hot chocolate and climbed the steep staircase. In Amsterdam, most stairs were more like glorified ladders. I carefully scaled to the top and sat down at a table with a Dali-esque backgammon board painted onto the top. Two of the tweakers chain-smoked and played darts next to me. I sat and read The Iliad while I ate both my croissants and nursed the hot chocolate.

After a couple of hours of sitting in Picasso, I walked through Jordaan snapping photos while I listened to the Velvet Underground and Thelonius Monk as I made my way to the Grey Area. Not yet noon, the Grey Area was closed. I had some time to kill and walked around the corner where I found a bench near the canal. I sat and read for almost an hour until an old man with an ugly dog stopped and sat down. He told me the time and I quickly gathered my things and beelined for the Grey Area.

There were two scruffy hippies with pony tails getting leaving the Grey Area when I walked inside. The rest of the place was empty aside from one of the owners. We made small talk and bullshitted about the chilly weather. I bought a gram of the Grey Haze for 11.50. I had 37 left to stay under budget.

The Grey Area is the tiny coffeeshop with three tables and mirrored walls with stickers on them. They also have glass bongs to use for free. I picked one and ripped a few bingers before the place started to fill up with clients, mostly American hashheads looking for some decent deals.

I explored more of the Jordaan neighborhood, particularly streets I had not wandered down. I stopped by the Houseboat Museum and didn't go in. A Swedish teen tour milled around outside the museum. I continued on to the Leidseplein. My favorite waitress, who looked like Rachel Ray, was absent from Cafe Kroon. I ordered a fizzy water from a different and less perky waitress, giving her 2 Euros which included a 30 cent tip. 35 Euros left. I nibbled on chocolate eggs and read more of The Iliad.

I walked across the Leidseplein into the Grasshopper coffeeshop. Places like that are always crowded. I used their toilet and smoked in their back room that was a former jail cell. I stopped at a Travelex exchange booth down the street and cashed the last 500 Euros bill that I had in my possession. I converted that to US dollars and only got $630. Bastards. I had about a hundred or so Euros in my pocket and there was no way I'd spend that much on my last day. I had less than 18 hours before my flight departed Schipol and I was being vigilant about staying under budget.

The Dampkring was crowded when I first arrived. The line to buy goodies was ten deep thanks to the boost in popularity after being used as the backdrop in a scene from Ocean's Twelve. I headed to the bar and picked up a fizzy water. 33 Euros remaining. I picked a seat near the front window. A French couple in their 60s were puffing down on a massive joint. I giggled to myself as I sipped on my fizzy water, unwrapped a chocolate egg, munched on a mushroom, chased it with the egg, sipped the fizzy water, then took a huge drag off their joint after they passed it to me. Damn Europeans and tobacco in the spliffs. What the fuck?

We talked for about an hour. I found out than Henri was obsessed with Charlie Parker and Chet Baker. Henri was a lanky man with big hands who spoke softly. He loved all forms of jazz music and he formed a band in the 1970s. They played small clubs and cafes on the Riviera. That's where he met his wife, Olivie, a tiny woman with "benevolent eyes," as he described them. I guess they were French versions of beatnik/bohemian/hippies.

Henri and Olivie laughed when I told them about the 20 Euro cheeseburgers in Monte Carlo and kept asking me specific questions about my various experimentations with psychedelics. They were hip on mind expansion and exploring the inner workings of the self to make better art. They asked to read my writing samples. They gave me their email address (which they admitted they checked about once every three weeks).

Henri offered to take me to Prins Hendrik Hotel (across from Centraal Station) where Chet Baker may or may not have committed suicide. I heard stories that he was wasted on too much blow and smack and simply fell out the window, while other rumors suggest he was whacked.

I wished that I had more time to smoke and chat with them, but it was 4:10 and I wanted to be at the 420 Cafe by 4:20. I excused myself and rushed out. I arrived at the 4:20 cafe at exactly 4:19, sweating profusely as the chilly weather eased up a tad. I threw my stuff on a stool against the wall and ordered a green tea from the hot barmaid. The budget dwindled down to 31.50 Euros. I smoked for a bit and read more of The Iliad.

"I never should have left the Dampkring," I kept thinking. That French couple was hilarious. It's not too frequent that you meet other travelers that you could sit and bullshit for hours. They would have been cool to hang out with all night. Alas, I was in Amsterdam raging solo as Otis would say. I had no time for old French hippies who named their pets after horn players. I had escaped a few days away from the grind and I still had some serious thinking to do and also had to organize my thoughts and set up a game plan for the next few months.

One thing that was a high priority on my list was to find more time each day to write. I must have wrestled with that issue a dozen times since I departed Nice. Write more. That's always a struggle. Time is the one thing that I could not buy nor could I afford to waste.

My stomach growled like a bear fucking a monkey indicating that I was starving. I rushed out of the 420 Cafe and bought a can of Heineken for 2 Euros along with a ham and kaas sandwich on a baguette for another 5. With 24.50 left as I sat in Dam Square. I watched all the tourists take photos with the street performers. I slowly drank my beer and ate my dinner.

I walked down a street that I normally avoided and came across a coffeeshop called Barraka. Two very good looking girls sat in the front window and the eye candy suckered me inside. The place was small and crowded with long tables. A small bar was nestled in the back and a separate seating area with two couches was wedged underneath the staircase. The place featured overpriced weed and hash. Most of their top end stuff was super expensive and you had to buy at least 2 grams of anything decent. I bought the cheapest thing on the menu... Afghani hash for 7.5 Euros. It was kept in a baggie underneath a coffee cup. So ghetto.

I had 17 Euros remaining. I ate the last mushroom and chocolate as I sat underneath the stairs on a plush green couch and rolled a joint sprinkled with hashish. I smoked about two-thirds and split. The music sucked and the hot chicks hit the road.

Next up was Kandinsky's bar and cafe. I wanted to go to their coffeeshop but it was packed. I sat at the bar and drank a glass of La Chouffe. That Belgium beer cost me 2.50 Euros. I had only 14.50 left but after I counted up all the change in my pocket, it was more like 16.

I stopped back at the Grey Area and bought a gram of the Grey Mist. It was only 8.50 Euros which meant that I had about 7.50 remaining. I had enough for three drinks or four which I'd end up spending at Rokerij, Pink Floyd, and at Barney's.

When I passed the Irish Pub on Haarlemmerstraat, I noticed the broken glass on the front door. It seemed about head high and I wondered which drunk fucker got his noggin slammed into the door. When I saw the shattered glass my initial impression was, "I gotta have a drink here."

I went inside the darkened pub. A few Brits were huddled around the TV at the end of the bar as a football match played. The bartender nodded to me in that universal motion that meant, "Whaddya have?"

I asked for a glass of Amstel and he poured me a pint. That was the last of my money. I went over budget a couple of Euros because I wanted some frites with mayo and ketchup after I stumbled out of the pub. That 2.35 purchase put me over. When I decided to crash around Midnight, I had spent under 55 Euros. That was closer than I thought and I proved to myself that I could get by on a budget. If I didn't go to Barraka, I would have made it under 50.

I couldn't sleep when I got back to the hotel. I packed everything and watched Babel on PPV. I'm a big fan of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's flicks especially Amores Perros, which is one of my favorite films of all time. I eventually passed out around 3:30. I had a wake up call ready to go at 5:30am. And it seemed like I was asleep for ninety seconds when the phone rang.

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