‘20 to 30 minutes’
‘50 Euros is too high’
A conversation recounted between a tall brown guy and a pale, strikingly pretty girl in flowery blue two piece clothing across a glass door in the red light area close to the central rail station in Amsterdam.
I pondered for a long time over what could have been the guy’s answer to ‘Why not?’ What is he paying for? Is it something that can be quantified? And how did she arrive at the figure of 50 Euros? An experience that is so intensely personal such as pleasure, how does one arrive at a price for this? Will one man’s experience with this girl be the same as the next guy’s? Clearly not…! Contemplating on the question at 2 AM in the cold Amsterdam autumn weather amidst all those beautiful bridges tickled my fancy…You are mistaken if you think that the thought aroused me; instead I seemed to see myself from a distance as if a third person is going through these motions and I am merely watching him content and amused!
I floated this question to Ashutosh since the two of us had set out in the wee hours to roam that part of the city. He thought I was getting philosophical!
Day one: M for Museums and N for Nightlife
We (Me, Ashutosh and Nimisha) had reached Amsterdam a day before at ~10 AM to find a cloudy sky threatening to spoil our plans. However, looking back, even if it has poured cats and dogs then, it could have barely affected our high spirits and palpable excitement.
The first attraction we set out to explore was the Museum Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder. A hidden catholic church when Protestant Amsterdam had prohibited catholic celebration of mass: there couldn’t have been a more intriguing start to what this lovely city had to offer us…The hermitage museum was our next stop. Part of the Van Gogh museum’s collections (75 artworks to be precise) was on display at the hermitage museum since the former was closed for renovation. We were lucky enough to catch a glimpse.
“I keep on making what I can’t do yet in order to learn to be able to do it”
“Getting better must come through doing it and through trying”
– Vincent Van Gogh
Never someone to appreciate paintings or pay heed to the finer brushstrokes let alone the history behind works of art, Van Gogh’s life story changed my perspective completely. Starting late in his youth, Van Gogh took to art like fish to water and produced master pieces that are acclaimed to this day making him immortal and a true doyen in the world of art. The avenue of poplars in autumn belied the treasures of the city while the potato eaters and the blossoming almond tree captivated me. Later in life, Van Gogh made the transition from painting rough realistic sketches to taking inspiration from impressionism that was gaining in popularity in Paris.
The hermitage museum was hosting an exhibition (Impressionism: Sensation & Inspiration) on the impressionists of the era, many of whom were contemporaries of Van Gogh. Apart from providing a historical perspective about the evolution of art and the influence of impressionism, many paintings etched themselves in my mind’s eye and nudged me to turn inward. Indeed, how blind some of us have become in our pursuit of life’s mundane that we don’t stop to pause and admire the riches we are surrounded by. They say, beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, but I sometimes wonder where the beholder has disappeared!
We exited the hermitage museum and stepped out onto a light drizzle. Hungry and tired, we could get some energy flowing in our bodies thanks to Nimisha’s deft packing of savouries. Seeing young men and women whizzing past us on bicycles and oblivious to the eyes around, we gorged ourselves on those delicacies near a busy junction.
After a stopover at a Doner Kebab shop, we went to hostel Anne Marie where we had booked dorm beds. The hostel was cramped and could surely make do with more toilets and showers but then we had a cheap deal. We slept for a good two and half hours before waking up and heading to explore this city of sin by night. From the museumplein, we headed to Leidseplein and then to Rembrandtplein in what became a club hopping expedition. The music was good and the crowd was friendly and jovial. Security was covert and effective and we enjoyed ourselves by dancing through the night.
Day two: B for Boats, C for Cruise, Z for Zoo, H for Heineken and R for Red
On day two, we dragged ourselves up after a long night. Breakfast was not much to speak about. We decided to capitalize on the sunny weather by heading for the cruise first. The extent of happiness we had over the duration of the cruise, well, there is simply no adjective in my limited vocabulary to describe it aptly. It was as if the city was wearing its best dress just for the three of us.
A clear blue sky and a brilliantly sharp sunlight together cast the city in gentle pleasing hues. Trees appeared resplendent in their autumn wear. We went almost crazy with joy, though, to all appearances, we looked completely sane. We emerged on to the unroofed section of the boat and took in the clean fresh air. All around us, we could see the city bristling with life: some people moving about in their bikes, some tourists stopping by every once in a while to click handsome pictures and some locals waving to us from the bridges. It made for a perfect souvenir picture if only someone could have stopped time, assembled his canvas and set out to work. Alas, such things happen only in fiction.
At the Amsterdam Zoo where we headed next to have more of the good weather, we were genuinely surprised to encounter so many rare varieties of birds and reptiles. Rain played hide and seek; when it sought us, we hid ourselves inside one of the many roofed sections of the zoo to click pictures of pretty things. I am sure that years down the line, we would look back at the pictures we took then and talk about them to our friends and family.
Post lunch, we made our way toward the mysterious house boat museum and perhaps for the first time, we felt a bit letdown. Though picturesque, it is hardly museum material. From there, we went to the Heineken experience. With many interactive fun games and a fascinating story detailing the art of brewing, this is something that is not to be missed when in Amsterdam. The Heineken shire horses that are still used to draw wagons and deliver beer to some parts within the country almost transport us to another charming world. Water, hops, barley and Heineken yeast as ingredients go into the making of one of the world’s most famous beer brands. The two glasses that were handed out to us as part of the ticket, yes, I should admit they tasted special and different from the ones we usually get outside. Unfortunately we could not spend enough time at the Heineken store attached to the complex since it was nearing closing hours.
Outside, a light drizzle had started and it was getting heavier when we spotted an Indian restaurant on that same avenue. The rates were affordable and we had a sumptuous dinner with rice and curry. We got a white paste to go with the samosas we ordered. It tasted good though!
Back in the hostel, we slept for a good three and a half hours before I woke up Ashutosh. Both of us, armed with umbrellas, set out toward the city’s red light area. Behind several glass doors lining the many narrow streets of the area were girls of different nationalities, complexion, age, height and appearance. Men knocked on the doors, inquired and if satisfied, entered and the curtains were pulled across. My imagination unceasingly conjured up one slave devouring another in what can only be a losing battle. When I wrestled and extricated myself from that scary vision, in one frame, men looked like creatures on the prowl whereas in the next one, the girls behind the glass doors looked equally menacing. I confess also to conjuring up a vision of hundreds of angels who appeared suspended in midair forever beyond my reach.
In a lap dance club, we found a girl kissing a man (presumably a stranger to her until two minutes back) with an unmistakable raw passion and a distant look that affected a strange impersonal care of sorts. At 3 AM, when we were back at the central station, in a bizarre transformation, the memory of few minutes before – of the red light area and its narrow streets – took on a soft calm colour arranging itself atop the other beautiful memories of the day!
Day three: A for Art and W for Windmills
The day after, we checked out but decided to leave the luggage at the reception. We went to Rembrandt house where Rembrandt had lived and worked for almost twenty years. Demonstrations of several stages of the etching process and Rembrandt’s technique with the dry point and burin methods were very informative. At our next stop, the Jewish museum, there was a history lesson: that of the abject poverty of Jews in Amsterdam at the turn of the century and how their poverty was romanticized by some.
The Amsterdam tour guide that comes with the card describes the windmills area as “typical Holland from days gone by; it’s like walking round in the 17th century” The directions in the guide and the naming of the sights were a little misleading for this part of Amsterdam but the part about 17th century could not have been more right! Like a typical fairy tale movie scene, I expected a damsel clothed in white to emerge dancing from behind one of those gorgeous mills…We brought some souvenirs and kept clicking pictures until time ran its course and we had to bid goodbye in order to keep our date with Hamburg.