My new Oracle is an app called Hopper. You just type in a place you’d like to visit and it sends you alerts if the airfare goes down. When a return flight to Amsterdam came up at $599, taxes in – I took that as a sign and booked the flight.
I know travel is also good medicine for me. My family and I have travelled quite a bit since the kids were born. Adventurous travel. Like taking a 1 year-old, who insists on jumping in any body of water, to Venice.
But I haven’t travelled alone since before I met my husband. That’s 10 years ago. That poor guy has had to listen to my 10-year-old travel stories about a million times. I pull at least one out at every dinner party. He never complains, but I know it drives him nuts. That might be the biggest reason he encouraged me to go.
I freak out a bunch of times. Mostly about money. I can’t afford this. My contracts are nearly up and I have nothing new lined up. But he says,
“Just go. You need to go. Just focus on enjoying yourself. Come back happy.”
So I went. And I’ve been here since Tuesday. I’ve been writing a lot, just not blogging yet. So much has happened and I’m still processing…
It’s Saturday. A little colder and closer to rain than it has been, so I switch my plans a little and go to the Windmill. It’s a secret spot, not in any guide book or mentioned on any tourist map because that’s how cool it is. It’s a brewery that serves awesome beer and usually has a DJ or some live music. And that’s during the day! At night apparently it’s a different scene.
I don’t know what that’s like because I just heard about it.
It’s 8am, and I’m ready to go. This is the expected tourist imperative: To see as much as you can see and do as much cool stuff as you can possibly do before you get back on the plane home, where you crash from exhaustion.
That’s a super fucked up idea in a place like Amsterdam. Because the treasures of this city are not found in the museums, shopping areas or the touristy attractions in the Red Light District. It can only be found when you slow down, talk to people and explore all the little nooks and crannies. Because the Amsterdammers (is that right??) are very adept as hiding the spots they value and truly enjoy from the “must do everything” tourist.
Maybe it’s the frenetic energy that harshes their vibe or maybe they just don’t enjoy being with people who only care to know a very surfacy, outdated notion of their city and therefore their identity. Because people who live here are deeply invested in their city and seek out opportunities to have their tastes, innovations and values represented somewhere.
Suddenly getting this, I make myself a cup of tea, sit in the window of my room to people and boat watch. I’ve got music playing and I’m just watching the bustle of people on bikes, walking, jumping out of the way of some speeding scooter.
The tag line for the city is – Amsterdam: the gathering place for creatives and innovators. Or something very close to that. I saw it written on a sign on a street I haven’t been able to find again. But no matter. I got the gist and it really opened me up to the coolest thing about this city.
On my first day, I got kicked out of a restaurant for being on my phone. By the owner. Even though I was sitting alone, bothering no one.
“We inspire conversation here. When you’re glued to a screen, you can’t interact and no one can interact with you. So…” He said, pointing at the door. “Come back when you’re ready to be here.” I was stunned and eventually elated.
It was suggested that one way to get a sense of this place is to explore all the Coffee Shops in my neighbourhood. Not just to pop in and look around, but to go and really experience them. I chose to forego an I Amsterdam card for admission to all the attractions, in order to check out one or two coffee shops each day and spend a couple hours there. In “my” neighbourhood, there are 8 Coffee Shops. There are also an equal number of shops offering magic mushrooms and pot paraphernalia including gag lighters and t-shirts for the tourists. But these aren’t the ones I’m talking about.
Every coffee shop has a few similarities: they all have a pot to go option. And they all serve good coffee, alcohol and good food or at least snacks. There is always some sort of seating area. These are the the modern salons of that Bohemian era when artists, writers, philosophers – basically anyone who was mostly unemployable – met to discuss and collaborate. Beyond those details, each coffee shop has a different vibe and attracts different clientele.
My favourite one (photo) has very comfortable chairs, which are positioned in groups of various sizes in the bright and airy room in the front of the building. It’s not as smoky as some other coffee shops and they serve really good, authentic Lebanese food.
When I go there, I’m very careful not to smoke much. One thing I have in common with my new local friends is that we know how to dose our pot. A very little bit. Maybe one long toke, slows my brain down just enough to suppress my urge to talk over people when the conversations get interesting or intense and instead, hang back and really listen. I’m wise enough to contribute more to seek clarification than listen to myself talk. This is my social medicine and here it works like a charm. I have had some of the most interesting, random and magical conversations. These have often led to some major realization or perspective shift or to the discovery of some lovely secret spot.
I chose to come to Amsterdam alone and so I often smoke a little more and I become more creative and reflective. This is not a great time to be around people because I simply echo the random thoughts generated by my brain, which unless you’re ok listening to a monologue of train-of-thought rambling, I guarantee you will hate me after about 10 minutes. Here I’m wise enough to be alone to write or be creative or reflect on myself and what I’ve been manifesting in my life and why. I get a lot of personal work done and I do get some awesome ideas.
A bit more and I can’t stand and will happily glue myself to the couch and watch stupid movies that are suddenly hilarious.
When I finally leave my room, I’m relaxed and energized by my decision to just do my own thing in my own time. It’s about 11 and I’m starving. So I opt for one of the many juice bars in the neighbourhood. The one I try this morning is just over 5 blocks from my room and is super funky with Senegalese Rap music, drawing the customers in. Their combinations are, geared towards the customer who asks the waitress, “…and where is the garlic sourced from?” Everything is organic.
This juice bar is owned by Jay who claims to be a retired pirate from the Caribbean. I have learned in my time here that some of the wildest stories told here are absolutely true, so I take him at his word.
While waiting for my juice, he comes over, places his hands on my shoulders and asks me, “Are you a gypsy?”
I’m a little reluctant to answer at first because those guys don’t have the best reputation in these parts. But I say, “you know? I think I might be.”
He stands back with his hands on his hips and asks, “So what do you see in me?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve got those kinds of powers.”
He makes a dismissive sound. “It’s because you are not the warrior you’re meant to be. Look at you standing there with your chest caved in and your head down. Puff it out! When you do something, nail it.” He makes a gesture, reaching high in the air and pounding his fist like a hammer.
He comes over to me and starts vigorously massaging my body. My head, shoulders, arms, hands, chest.
I think, should I be letting this guy massage my boobs in a juice bar? But I can’t stop because I can feel something happening in my body. He massages my belly and works his way down my legs. He does it again and again. People stop in for a juice and have to wait for him to finish with me. Feeling awkward, most walk out. When he’s finished, he crosses my arms in front of me, moves to my back and embraces me tightly. He starts kissing my shoulders, my neck, the top of my head and he whispers in my ear over and over again, “Until you learn to love yourself, love yourself.”
I can’t help it, I start sobbing. In a juice bar. I just came in for a juice and now I’m crying like a fool. But I also feel taller and my belly, stronger. I strode out of the shop, forgetting to pay. I guess that pirate thing wore off on me a little. After a couple blocks, I remembered and raced back. The Pirate was waiting for me, took my money and kissed me full on the lips.
I didn’t know what to do next so I went down to the canal, found a seat in a shady little corner and opened my journal. I see a lot of people writing here. In journals, but those who frequent different restaurants than I do, still carry a laptop.
In an hour or two, if I feel like it, I’ll rent a bike and hit the Windmill.
Do magical and weird things happen to you when you travel alone??