Rembrandtplein is bustling. Some people catch the twinkling eye of a toe- tapping accordion player, who’s entertaining diners outside one of the square’s many bars. They smile as the tune he’s playing registers. It’s a sped-up, camped-up, Dutched-up version of New York, New York.
Rembrandt must be spinning in his grave, a local moans as he scans the tourist-filled horizon.
I contemplate doing a little jig to the infectious strains of New York, New York; decide against it, and wander into a caf?A few minutes pass while I try to work out whether I need to order at the counter or not. A staff member appears and starts chatting to me in Dutch. Sorry, I say, I only speak English.
Sure, no problem! she smiles, What would you like?
Sure, no problem could be Amsterdam’s tagline. It seems that, given any problem -“ anything at all -“ this city has it sorted. Streetwalkers giving the locals and tourists grief? Pop them in a shop window. Drug laws need reform? Sell the softer ones over the counter. Lesbians and gay men discriminated against? Sanction same-sex unions. Squatters who refuse to budge? Accept that they have rights too. The occasional cadaver found floating (with tell-tale open trousers) in a canal? Install appropriate receptacle on every popular corner to minimise the chances of (stoned, male) tourists drowning while relieving themselves.
Of course, Amsterdam’s solutions to such social problems aren’t perfect -“ but at least they try. The Dutch are known for their pragmatism as much as their progressiveness and these characteristics enhance the good times that are here to be had. The city is abuzz, with a sense of freedom that’s palpable. Nothing is a problem -¦ and anything is possible.
The gay capital of Europe offers many a camp moment, and more. It’s a beautiful, historic and happy place. I spent most of the weekend just walking around in a daze, breathing it in, soaking it up.
When I couldn’t stand the blister-induced pain any longer, I sought a reprieve aboard a boat. A canal tour of Amsterdam is all but compulsory. Around three million people do the circuit every year. There’s a big range of floating options, from do-it-yourself paddleboats to floating ?a carte restaurants, with cosy lovers’ cruises in between.
I chose a middle-of-the-range cruise, with pre-recorded commentary in Dutch and English, and a captain who’d navigated the narrow waters so often he barely bothered to steer the ship. The passengers were a mix of middle-aged couples and, well, me. It was pleasant enough, and I disembarked knowing quite a bit about the city, thanks to the voice-on-tape.
Also de rigueur in Amsterdam is a visit to the red light district and a smoke or space cake. I didn’t partake in either. The thought of gawking at the women offended my feminist sensibilities (even the guidebooks remind visitors that the red light district is not a zoo). The dope I can only enjoy on familiar turf, lest I pass out or do the paranoid thing.
Instead, I did the more standard versions of window-shopping and caf?opping. In between walking and grazing, I marvelled at the glorious architecture, queued for the must-see museums, cruised the Vondelpark (a.k.a. Fondelpark because of the local propensity to get one’s gear off during summer), chatted to the locals, rode the trams, watched the buskers in Dam Square and day-dreamed about staying for good.
Amsterdam’s nightlife is of course wild, with gay bars, dance parties and squat parties galore, plus a very healthy leather scene. The city was recently voted best dance city in Europe, rating second in the world overall after Miami. Amsterdam has a host of similar accolades, for a range of reasons. It has the best airport in the world, too.
Let’s not forget the world’s first memorial to persecuted gays and lesbians, the Homomonument. I took a moment to contemplate its quiet intensity, as a boat full of gay men passed by, busily capturing the moment on their camcorder.
Nearby is the Pink Point of Presence -“ an information kiosk and souvenir shop that aims to increase gay and lesbian visibility in Amsterdam. Not that this is at all necessary -“ the whole city is just teeming with poofs and dykes. I watched, bemused, as straight tourists looked at the T-shirts on display, tilting their heads to the left and the right till they finally figured out what those graphics meant.
I explored the gay areas -“ Reguliersdwars-straat, Warmoesstraat, Amstel and Kerkstraat -“ and trekked over to Saarein, a lesbian caf?n Elandsstraat. Here, I giggled when my hummus dip landed on the table in the shape of a pair of breasts, with two black olives for the nipples. I smiled as the woman with the deep, sexy voice leant across me to light the candle on the table, for a little bit of atmosphere. It was almost 10 o’clock, not even dark yet, and it felt like it never would be.
Story courtesy of Gay Travel Guides.