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How Much For Your Wings?

 

19th July 2011

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We woke ridiculously early for someone who had crawled into bed so late. After only six hours sleep we were both not totally wide-awake but awake nonetheless.

With free wi-fi access to the internet we spent the morning searching for breakfast, googling "best Dutch pancake House in Amsterdam". Of the several suggetions that returned we settled on Sara's Pancake House on Raadhuisstraat. It was a good distance away but in the area we wanted to explore today.

With a great view overlooking the Damrak from our hotel window we could see clear blue skies brightening our day.

So at 10am we left Hotel CC and headed West across the city.

Our route took us along the back of the Royal Palace of Amsterdam where up on it's roof was Atlas with the world on his shoulders.

We crossed the road to the striking neo-gothic Magna Plaza, a former Post Office of all things and now a shopping centre. The Raadhuisstraat street began here heading out of town.

Amsterdam's wonderful onion skin canal planning meant we crossed Singel and then Herengracht canals in quick succession.

Sara's Pancake House was just on the left in the midst budget hotels and bars. It was a popular place with most tables already taken so we decided to sit outside and watch the world go by.

That may sound quite idyllic, sitting outside a pavement cafe people watching but the truth was we mostly watched the heavy traffic trundle past. Raadhuisstraat was one of the key roads cutting across the canal rings.

It felt like an age before anyone came to take our order. Eventually a surly waitress appeared with the menus and then disappeared again.

We had plenty of time to choose, change our minds, then revert back to what we originally fancied in the first place by the time she returned to take our order.

Julie often confuses people by going off menu and requesting modifications to what's on offer. Today however she completely threw the waitress by simply asking for something in the wrong order.

"I'd like the Sugar & Lemon pancake" she asked.

The waitress looked at Julie as if she had asked for kangaroo testicles and was thinking "that's not on the menu?" before working it out and saying "Ah, yes, the Lemon & Sugar. OK"

I opted for the delicious sounding banana and blueberry and to avoid any confusion I pointed with exaggerated fingers to the menu.

Another long wait passed before she returned with our pancakes. They looked great on the plate and tasted really scrumptious but they were cold.

Well, they weren't even cold. They were that tepid in between temperature with some parts almost reaching luke warm and others decidedly stone cold.

Best pancakes in Amsterdam? They could have been but they weren't.

With breakfast over and done with, we began to think about where to have supper. We walked around the block, down Herengracht canal and across Hartenstraat and Reestrat to find an Italian Fine Dining restaurant called Bussia.

The menu looked spectacular if a little expensive. Although at one end of the scale we could have had a bowl of Spinach Gnocchi in a watercress and Scamorza sauce for just €16, or at the opposite end you could have their 6 course dinner with a selection of wine for €100 per person.

We also passed the bar and cafe of the Pulitzer Hotel. Julie and I reminisced fondly about the delicious breakfasts we enjoyed there when we stayed in 2004.

We followed the Prisengracht canal until we reached the Westerkerk. On the whole it wasn't a particularly pretty Protestant church but it had a few notable embellishments.

Its spire was topped by an incredibly ornate Imperial Crown of Maximillian I.

In addition to being the head of the Hapsburg House of Austria he also held the title of Holy Roman Emperor, a role bestowed by the Pope as a protector of the catholic church.

How it ever found itself crowning a protestant church I don't know? The 85 metre tower also proudly displayed the city's coat of arms, the triple X symbol, not representing Amsterdam's sex industry but the cross of St. Andrew who was crucified on a diagonal cross.

Whilst the rest of the exterior wasn't anything to get excited about the inside was even less stimulating. The austere interior was intentional as not to distract the faithful from their worship.

Again there were one or two objects bringing some life to the otherwise stark white washed walls. The pipe organ with its painted shutters and the golden candelabras were a much need distraction.

A small plaque on the wall commemorates the fact that Rembrandt's final resting place is reputedly in the Westerkerk, although they freely admit that his actual burial place has not been discovered.

It's in here somewhere amongst all the other paupers.

He ended his days a sad and penniless artist having outlived his son Titus who is also buried here.

Moving on we continued along Prisengracht past a very very long queue waiting to get into Anne Frank's House. Julie and I had visited here on our last visit and practically had the place to ourselves so we had no real desire to join the back of the queue. We couldn't imagine how busy it would be inside the small hideout.

Another recollection of our previous visit was a cafe called Spanjer & Van Twist where we enjoyed our food so much we went back the following night.

Memories of their goat cheese and red pepper lasagne were drawing us back again to have a look at their menu. We found it quite easily along Leliegracht, a canal cutting across the rings.

Their menu, written on a chalk board outside, was all double Dutch to us. So we reached for our iPhone and used google translate to work out some of the dishes. Doperwtensoep was pea soup and the Raviloi gevuld met Aubergine en Blauwe Kaas was ravioli filled with aubergine and blue cheese.

We were very tempted to have lunch here but having eaten only an hour ago we couldn't possibly fit in another meal. It was a "definite maybe" for tonight though. The cafe had tables outside overlooking the Leliegracht canal so we stayed a while and had a coffee.

It was a nice spot, peaceful and relaxing, watching graceful swans and a few plastic carrier bags float past. To be fair it was the first bit of litter we had noticed in the canals.

Equally chilled and caffined up we made our way back crossing the inner rings towards the centrum.

Along the way we debated whether or not we should find a coffeeshop and partake in some smoking. Despite my pothead looks I'm not a big fan of the stuff but with legislation already in place for next year to force all coffeeshops to become member only clubs with only Dutch residents eligible to join then it was now or never.

With our minds made up we walked down Warmoesstraat on the lookout for an inviting den.

The one that caught our fancy was called The Greenhouse Effect. It drew our attention because it offered healthy fruit juices with your smoke.

We nervously walked in, not really knowing the protocol. Julie sat down at a table as I walked down the juice bar at the end of this very narrow room. It felt like I was walking down the length of a train carriage.

The barman/dealer asked me what I would like. "Something mellow" I asked not wanting to over do it.

"Hash or Marijuanha?" he then asked. I didn't know there was a bloody difference other than demographics but I said "Hash" without hesitation.

Behind him was a rack full of pre-rolled joints, all with wonderful names like Lemon Haze, White Widow and Temple Balls. "How'sh 'bout de Polm" he recommended. I didn't have a clue what the hell he said and looked at him as if he had just said "Flippety floppety floo" I hesitated and went "Umm ..... which one's the best?"

"The Shooper Aphgan. It'sh good."

"Yeah, that sounds great and can I have an orange juice with that, oh and a lighter."

He reached for the Super Afghan pre-rolled, mixed with tobacco and safely protected inside a plastic tube. It was great value at only €3.

I sat back down and lit up. As I inhaled for the first time a Gil Scott-Heron song began to play. "You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out.... the Revolution will not be televised" My ears pricked up as the lyrics of this powerful political song were recited (rather than sung) over hand bashed bongo rhythms.

Gil Scott Heron died in May aged 62. I had never heard of him before until then when a friend from work introduced me to his music.

I handed Julie the perfectly rolled reefer and she had a puff. We giggled like naughty children. I then handed her the camera to capture the experience on film so to speak.

I sucked in deeply again, getting a great red glow at the end of my joint for the shot. Julie took the photo but when we looked at the preview screen it was well out of focus. "I'll take another one" she said. Another deep breath, another classic burning glow, another fuzzy photo. "Just one more" she said. That one didn't turn out right either.

Finally at the fourth attempt we had the photo in the bag. By the time Gil Scott Heron had just finished the second song on his Greatest Hits album I had smoked half the joint (and that's the fat half). Julie had blown a few smoke signals and felt fine. I'd been sucking on the damn thing as if I was trying to finish a thick milkshake bit I also felt fine.

Then out of nowhere a blistering heat wave suddenly hit me. My internal thermostat was all messed up and I was in meltdown, sweating severely. "Is it hot in here?" I asked. I was perspiring profusely from every pore, especially my head. I took my jacket off but it didn't really make a difference.

I put out the joint, I'd had enough.

"You OK?" asked a concerned Julie struggling to contain her laughter. "No wonder they call this the fucking Greenhouse." I moaned which made us laugh out loud even more. The sweat was now dripping off the end of my nose onto the table. I could feel it trickling down my chest as I sat hunched over with my elbows on the table supporting my head which had suddenly decided to feel very heavy.

"Maybe we should go back to the room" suggested Julie. Despite my exaggerated perspiration and increasingly detached body I felt quite in control of my mind. In fact I was very clear and perfectly coherent when I said "I don't think I can move my legs".

I felt completely anaesthetised. I'm sure I could have stuck pins in my legs without flinching. We both struggled between the hilarity and seriousness of the situation. (That's happened once before after I got dehydrated in a sauna and my face cramped. I tried to speak but I couldn't move my mouth. Julie couldn't stop laughing despite worrying I was going to have a heart attack.)

I noticed that the comfy pew near the open window had just become free. I was determined to take the few steps over to it to catch any cool breeze that wafted in.

I stood up; Julie took my coat and carried the drinks. I just had to carry myself. I took one step, swallowed hard and shuffled across the room like a thunderbird puppet, accompanied by song no. 8, Pieces of a Man.

Safely propped up against the funky fabric wall I soon cooled down and slipped deep into my own thoughts about the meaning of life, love and Gil Scott-Heron. What does it all mean?

Julie laughed less and worried more as I shook my head each time she asked me if I was ready to walk to the hotel. The pot induced paralysis wasn't wearing off.

"I think I need to lie down" I said.

Half an hour later after some penetrative introspection, emerging a more enlightened soul I was ready to attempt the walk back to the hotel, all 100 metres away. I walked down Warmoesstraat like I was Buzz Aldrin with each exaggerated step devoid of gravity. I leaned heavily on Julie for support.

I was so relieved when we made it our room and I fell into the safety crash barrier of our bed.

Whilst I lay sprawled on the bed falling head over heels in love with a reggae song called "Down On My Knees" playing on VH-1, Julie googled "the dangers of smoking hash".

There was little mention of excessive sweating but most importantly no mention of anyone dying so she stopped worrying about that.

Then there was a knock on the door, a persistent knock. It was our cleaner. She insisted on coming in and replenishing our towels & toilet rolls.

 

She even tried to get me off the bed so she could make it but Julie explained that there was no chance of moving me. I just lay there staring out the window. I didn't even acknowledge she was in the room. She soon got the message.

Over the course of the next two hours I slowly regained some basic coordination but still didn't feel confident enough to walk. In the end however I had to force myself to get up and stumble out like Ozzy Osbourne on a bad day, all jittery and unsteady.

I was relieved when Julie suggested we should stop for lunch somewhere. I didn't have far to struggle as just around the corner, the one with the vibrator shop, we parked ourselves outside a bar called Cafe Heffer. Sharing a bowl of chips and a cheese toastie really sorted me out. I felt a lot better with food in my stomach. Although I had to leave my beer, I just couldn't face it.

We walked across to the street called Damrak looking back and admiring the wonderful pick and mix architecture of the town houses overlooking the expanse of water also known as the Damrak.

Our hotel occupied one or two of them. We couldn't quite work out which window was ours.

We continued walking up Damrak (the street) and about halfway towards the Centraal Station we came across the Venustempel, the world's first Sex Museum. Curiosity got the better of us and we just had to have a look. After paying our €4 we entered and were greeted by a plaster statue of Venus the Roman goddess of love.

It had the feel of a proper museum as several ancient sexual artefacts entertained us as we were drawn further inside. The primitive wooden dildo was interesting as was the ingenious mechanically operated ivory dildo using a rotary manual drill to recreate a piston motion. Incredible.

A little further up was a scene from old Amsterdam celebrating the oldest profession in the world with red lights in the windows and a wax figure of Mata Hari with some of her gentlemen callers. I'm not too sure what the point was of the dirty old man in his rain coat flashing at everyone nor the wax model of sex symbol Marilyn Monroe having her skirt lifted by the "subway draft" but it was all good fun.

Upstairs we browsed through hundreds of saucy Victorian photographs. I was surprised as to how explicit 19th century pornography could get! (If they were Dutch then they wouldn't be "Victorians" would they? As that's a specifically British classification. For the Dutch do they call the era the Williamian period as they had three William Kings in a row. Anyway ... back to the sex.)

There were also hundreds of more recent black and white photographs, gathered together from private collections. Judging by the dodgy hairstyles and the tan lines they were circa 1970.

On the next floor, having climbed up another flight of steps, I took advantage of a few chairs and took the weight off my weary legs. I hadn't realised but either side of me like two erotic bookends were these enormous plastic penises. In fact I think they were chairs themselves as you could have sat on the testicles with the six foot shaft rising above your head. That would have been a hilarious photo op if only I had my camera with me.

Back on the ground floor and before we left, we entered a dimly lit back room filled with images taken from the more extreme side of sex. Nothing too shocking just the longest penis, largest breast, some S&M brutality, a few fetish freakiness and even some equine and canine bestiality ... wow, there are some terribly misguided people in this world.

We eventually left having spent an entertaining half an hour strolling around its three floors. All that excitement had taken its toll on me and I needed another lie down so it was back to our hotel room before I fell over.

I spent another few hours in the recovery position before heading back out again, this time in search of supper. We had decided to return to Spanjer & Van Twist.

The walk over to Leliegracht wasn't too strenuous as we took it all at a very slow stroll admiring the pretty canals along the way. With the darkness descending and the street lights reflected in the water the canals looked even more beautiful.

We hadn't booked a table so we were mightily relieved when we walked in and there were a few spare. We hadn't a Plan B if they were full.

They had a veg lasagne on their menu which once again sent my taste buds dancing at the memory of our last visit here.

When it came to ordering however they had sold out of the lasagne. A bit deflated at not re-enacting our previous glories I opted for the blue cheese ravioli .

Julie went for the Dutch Stew, then after ordering it she asked the waiter "What is it?"

"But you've already ordered it?!" he said, trying his best to not laugh out loud. I offered my suggestion that it contained gerbils and guinea pigs which pushed him over the edge and he broke down into hysterical laughter.

It turned out to be a tasty beef stew not to dissimilar to lopscows my mum use to make.

We were glad we came back here to Spanjer & Van Twist. The food was delicious and it had a very welcoming atmosphere. We left full and content.

During the stroll back towards the hotel we plucked up enough Dutch courage to continue into the Red Light District and see a Live Sex Show. We argued that we had already done the drugs and rock and roll, so we should complete the Amsterdam trilogy.

We couldn't have timed our arrival at the Moulin Rouge any better. There wasn't a queue outside as the theatre had already filled up for the next show. With it being standing room only they offered us €10 discount off their €35 entrance fee which also came with two drink tokens.

Stepping inside we struggled in the dark to find somewhere to stand without obstructing someone else's view of the small stage. We eventually settled on the corner of the L shaped room, not far from the action.

The first performer stepped up and she did a classic feather routine teasing the audience in between two large pink ostrich feather fans.

She then went beyond the burlesque stepping down off the stage, picking on a poor unsuspecting member of the audience and slapping him across the face with her breasts. He wasn't expecting it and everybody fell about laughing at his expense. It was soon followed by an "Oh My God" moment when she returned to the stage and squirted the audience with her lactating breasts. We stood there mouth opened, in shock of course rather than wanting to catch some milk.

Next up was a pole dancer who invited up onto the stage a member of the audience and then gave him a lap dance. He was plucked from a large group who all laughed at his embarrassment. The audience then howled with laughter when he was told to take off his top and lie down on the floor whilst the stripper inserted a permanent marker where good girls shouldn't and with exceptional dexterity and pelvic strength she wrote "Sexy Boy" on his torso.

The third act exploded onto the stage stripping with a swagger to some loud rock music. Once naked, which didn't take her long, another member of the audience was selected for ritual humiliation and was handed the end of a tape to hold. She then danced around pulling out metres and metres of the tape out of her handy dispenser and tying the poor bloke up with it.

Moving swiftly on the next performer was rounding up quite a crowd to join her on stage. She had already selected two males and a female before heading in our direction. We both looked at each other with utter fear in our eyes. Thankfully she continued past us picking two others. The five mortified unvolunteers lined up on stage where each one was made to dance a little and then bite a piece of banana placed in various intimate positions off the body of the naked dancer.

The final act of the evening involved the first male performer. His participation was needed because this was the "live sex" part of the show. We couldn't quite believe it but we stood speechless whilst not more than two metres away a couple were shagging on stage. Unsurprisingly this act did not involve any audience participation.

And that was it. Show over. It had lasted about an hour and had been entertaining enough although we probably won't be doing it again. We can cross that off our list.

All the way back to the hotel we kept on saying "we shouldn't have another drink, we're up early tomorrow". Every bar we passed we almost gave in each time before one or the other reminding ourselves that travelling home with a hangover would not be clever.

We did well, reaching our hotel without a falling off the wagon once and were safely tucked up in bed by midnight.

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