Welcome to the Good Times

Day 1


17th July 2011

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Well, in true rock and roll style the Black Crowes farewell tour wasn't quite the end of the road. Having flown all the way to San Francisco just to see them perform their last gig ever at the Filmore they only went and announced an European extension. Fantastic! They were even coming to Manchester, a ninety minute drive away from our home. I was so excited to see them again.

Their last "last" show however was to be at the Paradisio in Amsterdam. It was too good of an excuse to visit a city we didn't really do justice on our previous visit. Six years ago it was all Van Gogh and Tulips. This time was going to be very different, this time it was going to be sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.

The journey to the airport was a little fraught.

We didn't stay overnight in an airport hotel as we usually do. An early evening flight from Manchester meant we didn't have to leave home until after lunch. (It was also Tyler’s (our grandson) fourth birthday today)

The atrocious weather didn't help the drive to the airport. It brought to mind an article we read yesterday in the Independent newspaper's Travel supplement saying that the fear of flying is completely irrational and what we should really be scared of is the increase risk of fatality on the roads. Julie should have taken a few diazepams for the drive. She was a little tense.

Against the odds we reached the airport safely.

We parked at the short stay car park and walked over to Terminal 3. This was the first flight where we were attempting to travel light with hand luggage only. We were also well prepared for this flight having checked-in on-line and already printed our boarding pass. It meant we could waltz past all the miserable passengers queuing at check-in and straight through to the security checks.

Even here we were organised and already had our fluids in see through plastic sandwich bags. Another first for this flight happened when Julie was randomly selected to go through the all new all seeing body scanner. She was told to stand in a slightly suggestive pose, legs spread apart with her feet placed on markers and her arms held above her head.

"Can they really see through your clothes?" asked Julie "or is it like those pretend X-ray specs you would get free with a comic when we were kids?"

This trip seemed to have a few recurring San Francisco themes. Outside it was pissing down with rain as it was in the Foggy City and in the departures lounge I was being mistaken for a woman again. "Here you go girls" said the Wetherspoon's waiter as he brought over our cooked breakfast. I gave him the evil eye and never saw him again.

In no time it was time to walk over to the departure gate. With 3 diazepams and 3 glasses of wine Julie was just the right side of not caring. She seemed quite happy boarding the Easy Jet plane.

She even had a good omen to cheer her on as our destination was cut to "Amsterda" by the limitations of the departures board. It was close enough to "Amser da" which means "Good Time" in Welsh. It was undoubtedly a positive sign.

On schedule we took off smoothly and pushed through the clouds. There were a few signs of fear in her face when we shook a little on the way up. "I don't want to pop my clogs" she said not realising the pun (considering our destination) until after she said it.

Being the frequent flyer that she now is, Julie was focused on the seat belt sign. She knew that once the first ping had pinged then it was a good sign because it's safe enough for the cabin crew to be mobile and the second ping releasing the seat belt is only moments away. Once that happens she begins to relax as best she can. She never takes the seat belt off though, just in case of unlikely events.

Before the trolly had reached us the pilot announced that we would be shortly starting our descent. Julie was well impressed. It only took us 55 minutes from Manchester and we had landed in Schippol airport. The last time we visited Amsterdam we travelled by train and it took us 18 hours!

With no baggage to reclaim we headed straight to the passport control. At Schippol the route took us through all the shops which was a little odd, usually they're exclusively in the departure lounge. We rushed through without stopping which must have disturbed Julie a little because by the time we reached the border control she was having a fit of hiccups. They still let her in the country though which was kind of them.

Five minutes later it was I who was in danger of being deported when I completely lost my temper with an automated ticket machine. It just wouldn't take the payment from my card. I don't know how hitting it really hard and calling it names was going to help but I was fuming.

I then turned my fury towards the banks. The same thing happened in Copenhagen trying to get a train ticket and also in Nice picking up the hire car. How difficult is it to make the card available to use internationally especially after telling them your travel plans! Anyway, I calmed down just enough to speak to a real person at the ticket counter and for €8.40 we got ourselves out of Schippol on the next train.

The journey to the Centraal station wasn't much more than 15 minutes and our hotel was only a short walk away. There was a light drizzle falling as we stepped out of the station but it didn't last long. Whilst we waited by a pedestrian crossing to reach the Damrak the heavens tore open and a turbulent sea fell on our heads. It was a biblical downpour. I had imagined a ten minute gentle stroll to our hotel on Warmoesstrat but the conditions made it a nightmare.

By the time we reached our hotel down a narrow but busy street we looked like we had fallen into the canal. Fortunately so did everyone else.

We had booked and prepaid for a small double at the Hotel CC.

We went up the elevator to the second floor. We knew we were in Amsterdam, as the lift smelt of weed as opposed to London where they smell of wee.

They weren't kidding when they described it as a small double. It was no more then 2 metres wide, just the length of the bed. It was very functional, very clean and in a great central location for its price.

It felt like a cabin on a boat or the spare room in a static caravan. In places could actually touch both side of the wall with my outstretched hands.

We weren't tired so we decided to head out for a while. There were plenty of "coffeshops" right on our doorstep but neither of us were in the mood for any of that whacky "coffee" stuff they smoke. Alcohol? Well, yes, we were fine with some of that.

Our first watering hole was just around the corner, which incidentally was a shop selling nothing but vibrators (We were on the rim of the red light district so to speak). Next door to a Fetish & Fantasy shop we stepped inside De Deugniet bar. It was cosy and lively and I enjoyed a refreshing pint of Lindeboom lager. Julie wasn't that keen on their choice of house wine and she joined me in the beer for our second round.

Driven by curiosity we left the bar and walked deeper into the district known as De Wallen, where the red lights shone. Navigating the slippery cobblestones we walked past the Oude Kerk (the Old Church) and were surprised to see it bathed in the red glow from the several windows lining the square. Saints and sinners in the same square.

Crossing the Voorburgwal canal we walked down a very congested alleyway. Busy, like Oxford Street during Boxing Day sales, it was filled with a certain type of window shopper browsing real life mannequins.

You couldn't help but look at the alluring prostitutes posturing in their white bikinis and stilettos and also peer in through their glass fronted door into their tiny private boudoir.

All they could fit into a space hardly bigger than a cupboard under the stairs was a bed, a basin, a bin and if they were lucky a chair. I guess what more does a whore need for business?

One or two booths were occupied, their curtains drawn shut. Another girl was deep in negotiation with a nervous young man with his encouraging mate behind him. It was strange to see such business out in the open.

We walked up and down the Oudezijde Achterburgwal becoming less and less curious of the ladies in the windows and instead enjoying a pleasant stroll along the canal. The atmosphere was surprisingly most relaxed.

That was in contrast to the intimidating mood we found here on our last visit on Christmas Day 2004. Junkies, dealers and pimps literally scared us away.

This time was a much better experience all round. Even the girls in the windows were far more attractive than the scary old Pros on duty that day.

We reached the Casa Rosa live sex show theatre. "Shall we?" I asked. Julie scrunched her nose up in revulsion and we moved on, crossing over the canal and walking back up the other side. On the way we fell about laughing as we past the Bananenbar (it doesn't take a genius to work out what happens in there) and we both recalled Patpong in Bangkok when this slimy guy asked us if we liked "banana and ping pong?" Neither of us fancied it then nor tonight. It would put us off a banana split for life!

A little further up at the end of the canal there was yet another live sex show venue called The Moulin Rouge. Directly opposite we stopped for cold Heineken beer inside Cafe de Zeevaart. It was really interesting inside, a cosy bar with countless football scarves from around the world draped from the ceiling.

It would have entertained me for hours but it was giving me a stiff neck.

We headed back towards the hotel through the narrow alleyway, which was still as busy, past the back to the old church and onto Warmoesstrat.

At a bar where people were literally dancing on the tables we popped in for one more round.

One became two and before it became three the bar closed and we were chucked back out to wander the streets.

All the bars were closing at 1:00am but it didn't take us long to find a nightclub called Players that was only just getting started.

We didn't last long though. Half an hour later we decided to call it a night, stopping along the way only for a kebab, or at least a vegetarian version with falafel in pita bread smothered in a spicy chilli sauce. Sat on the windowsill of a coffeeshop we ate our late night snack; Julie tucked into her tray of frites with some pleasure whilst I shoved my pita into my face and went at it with some gusto. . It was so delicious.

Halfway through I was hit by severe spice induced hiccups which brought us to to our knees in fits of giggles. It was a perfect ending to our drunken evening.

We concluded that it’s not flying, nor driving that you should be scared of but a fiery falafel.

We eventually safely made it to our room in one piece.

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