They say that first impressions count for plenty, and an arrival at Amsterdam’s Central Station sets the tone for a first visit to the Dutch city.
Within only an hour of the train pulling in to the station, I had had enough adventures to prove this was a city whose gay life was unlike that of any other city in the world.
Minutes after alighting from Central Station, I was at the Black Tulip Hotel, which bills itself as Europe’s most luxurious leather hotel.
Once through the door and at check-in, the adventure began. Behind the desk was an array of aromas and sex toys for sale, while a TV played porn.
The smiling and leather-clad hotel manager Jurrich handed an agreement form across the office desk. Among the list of dos and don’ts were rules about not using Crisco in the rooms and about how to use the slings.
With a cheeky grin, Jurrich uttered the ultimate understatement, Bet you’ve never sighted anything like this before at the Hyatt.
Once in my rooms, there was no confusing it for the Amsterdam Hyatt. With a sling hanging above the bed, a flogging bench in the other, and a lock-up cage over the bathroom, this room was built for action.
A little overwhelmed about how to put all the equipment in the room to use, I decided I needed to venture out to explore the local area. The city is built over a criss-cross of canals which gives it a unique character, with almost every street fronting on to a waterway.
As I was walking alongside one canal, a muscled American wearing nothing but a cheeky smile and a leather jockstrap was cleaning his windows. He leant out and introduced himself as Steve.
Flashing a multitude of teeth, he announced, You are going to have a great time here. Over the coming days, it was the same smile I saw from him in many locations around the city, each time wearing a different leather outfit.
Adjoining the Red Light District is the main gay strip, the Warmoesstraat, with its endless array of bars, sex shops, dope coffee shops and speciality gay leather stores like Mr B.
There I met Jimmy, a Scottish tattooist, who offered to show me his favourite parts of Amsterdam over the coming days.
The Warmoesstraat boasts a strip of gay bars like the Eagle, Argos, Dirty Dicks, Cuckoo’s Nest, Cockring, Web, The Stablemaster and Cockring, and each has a unique character.
The Stablemaster is famous for its jack-off parties, while barman Daniel at Dirty Dicks is notorious for the way he screams at customers. While entry is free, it is essential for the sake of Daniel’s temper that a drink is purchased on the way in and regularly throughout the night.
Cockring attracts a younger crowd, with plenty of twinky strippers shedding their clothes for live sex shows.
One thing the clubs all appear to have in common is backrooms. In fact, some bars feel like waiting rooms for the activity in the back areas. Just as the drinking is constant, so is the traffic in and out of the backrooms.
It was much the same at the dance party Perverts at the Exit nightclub. The dancefloor had been curtained off down the middle, with one side for dancing, the other side equipped with slings and condoms.
Almost alone on the dancefloor, I could see that the other side of the floor was packed with bodies writhing to more than the rhythms of the music.
While the city is like a treasure trove for gay visitors looking for a fun time, its cultural features are abundant. The tulip market in the south side creates a winning explosion of colour, while the Van Gogh Museum is small enough for you to enjoy its delights without being overwhelmed by the range of extraordinary works.
The Amsterdam Museum in the centre of the town is a reminder of what the city has survived through the ages, particularly in the past century. The Resistance Museum, the Jewish Museum and The Anne Frank House are the most chilling reminders of the darkest days of Nazi occupation and the lengths people went to just to stay alive.
On the banks of the canal behind the Anne Frank House is the Homomonument, a three-triangle memorial to honour the persecution of homosexuals, particularly the 50,000 sent to Nazi death camps during the war.
One of the triangles juts out into a canal and I saw it was covered in wreaths and messages of love for loved ones of the past.
Steve, the toothy American in the leather-jock, was right with his prediction -“ Amsterdam did offer a great time. But it is too good a city to let all its other charms be lost in a haze of dope smoke among the fast pace of gay bars and dance parties.
Amsterdam has much more to offer, and along the canals, in the side streets with their eclectic array of shops and history museums and in the faces of the friendly locals is where you’re most likely to find it.
For more information about the Black Tulip Hotel visit its website.