August 1st – Red Lights

Today started at what is probably the latest get-up I’ve ever had. I awoke around eleven in the morning, blogged for a while on my Macbook, and had my final cheese sandwich (I would not be able to take the cheese any further on my trip, for lack of a fridge at the hostel tonight). I then went back to sleep. Kim eventually woke Kasper up, and we headed out… at four o clock in the evening.

We were quick to grab some more ‘traditional’ Dutch food. This time, it didn’t seem so out of place! After some chips (which were quite salty), Kasper decided that his final treat would be to show me a local park – however, reminiscent of our Teide expedition, we’d overslept, meaning we now had to make up some time. Time to be made… by BIKE. I spent a fair bit of time trying to convince Kasper otherwise (especially as I was laden down with my heavy back pack on this time). Then, something sort of occurred to me. Dutch people don’t really understand the concept of people having problems balancing – everyone in the Netherlands rides a bike, and to them it is like walking. It’s really not any great deal for them, even with the immense amount of road traffic around.

I knew Kasper could not be swayed, so against my better judgement I once more hit the road, this time on Kim’s bike (luckily, it wasn’t pink, but again the brake system didn’t work properly!) We took a casual ride through city traffic, but luckily the cycle ride was uneventful, and we dismounted and walked the final part to the park, due to a fault on Kasper’s own bike.

The park was huge – comparable to Wollaton park in Nottingham for those who know it. We walked down the park canal to a series of waterfalls, and took some photos. The heat was immense today though – we became rather tired, and decided to have a drink in a nearby cafe before making the return trip to the station.

Poor Robin – Our fourth musketeer was out of action this second day. I hope we shall get to party once again some day. Kasper’s reputation as a party animal had definitely been defended!

We left Sonsbeek Park as the sun was starting to set, and took a slightly longer route through Arnhem’s temporary bus station. I was able to get a ticket to Amsterdam for fifteen euros (roughly twelve pounds). That price still blows my mind to this day. I hopped on a double-decker train similar to the one I’d rode in on, and bid my farewells. I knew Amsterdam would be the solo part of my trip, and I would now not be seeing anyone until The Hague on Friday ( / ‘Den Haag’ – my Dutch is coming along well!)

Via way of Utrecht, I entered into Amsterdam at half past eight, as the sun set over the city.  I checked into the ‘Hotel Continental’ without incident, but found three others already in my dorms. One was an asian guy who seemed quite sated with studying a book and sleeping – odd for living in such a central location, and the fact the room was so damn hot!

I quickly headed out again though, determined to make the most of my time here. After finding La Madonna again (as well as the Sea Palace floating restaurant), I thought to myself that if I was to spend the subsequent evening eating food, then the only real night to see the Red Light District would be tonight. I wasn’t even half tired – I hadn’t been up that long anyway!

I knew Amsterdam’s city centre relatively well already – half from memory, and half from a small speedy recce. I still had difficulty finding the red light district though – I was wandering around the beautifully lit canals in the local area for quite a while before I found a bunch of chairs in the middle of a square facing a cinema screen. The screen said ‘Pro Gay’, and I thought to myself ‘I wonder what this is film is about?’. I didn’t wait around long however, but I’m pretty sure I passed the area later on, and the film was in English (it’s odd to see an English film with Dutch subtitles!)

A glow of red was the only thing that gave it away – a narrow alleyway that I would never have gone down were it not for the plethora of people in it. Hands on wallet, camera and phone, I proceeded cautiously into the current vice capital of Europe.

The alleyway was just plain surreal. You’ll hear descriptions of it, about either wall of the alley essentially being made of glass, behind of which lurk some of the most beautiful women you’ve ever seen gazing at you in their underwear. It was like walking into pandaemonium – the red lights got harsher as I went down, with the prostitutes occasionally knocking on their glass door to get your attention. I clocked the pimp (if that’s the right word?) in the middle of the alley, and I was actually kind of happy the girls had some form of protection. You know one room is being used when the curtain is closed over the glass. I was walking past one such room when a small stocky asian man shot out the door and made a speedy exit, immediately getting cheered by the lads walking past (who wouldn’t?)

Prostitution gets a sleazy rep for obvious reasons, but the art of prostitution was almost a fine art here, and you could tell by the girls. Engineered to seduce, every item of make up carefully chosen to compliment the face, every hour at the gym calculated so as not to be too bulked out. Literal sex machines – I could see the attraction! (Through the grapevine, apparently it’s 50 euros for fifteen minutes though, so dig deep – no pun intended).

The smell of weed was everywhere, predictably. Thanks to the weed card laws that are already well-seated in the country, there was next to no chance of me getting blazed tonight, so I decided to take a stroll into the main canal of the district (yes, there’s only one main canal, perhaps why it’s so hard to find). There was one area of the district where one side of the ‘alley’ was the wall of a church – the other made of glass. A very curious set-up.

But then, in a complete ‘sod it’ kind of moment that has become so popular in the last few days, I joined a queue to enter a place called ‘Casa Rosso’. It was a sex theatre – the most expensive one in the district by far. The fact it even had a queue was a compliment to it’s popularity. It was roughly thirty pounds to get in (again, no pun intended), but I figured this was probably the best show going. Audiences varied from middle-aged couples to lads out on the lash. I paid my bucks, and went inside.

I was expecting some form of dingy cabin smelling of you-know-what, but my money paid off and I walked into what was essentially an auditorium, similar in size to a cinema room. At the front there was a stage, complete with a revolving and adjustable part that could rise and fall. On the stage were the ‘acts’, just going through at twenty minutes each one by one until some ridiculous hour in the morning. It took a while for me to realise that you just left whenever you wanted to. So there I am, sat next to a load of Polish lads on a stag do, watching a full-blown sex show (who would’a knew?)

Again, despite the obvious sleazy rep, I have to say the show was actually really good! Each act was different from the other. One showgirl acted as a dominatrix, and managed to persuade a member of the audience to be her slave on the stage (the guy in front of me actually – narrow escape for me). She collared him and pranced him around, before blindfolding him and toying with him. It was like a night at JJs on a Tuesday, but more fun. The same showgirl did an African theme show later on too – got three audience members to do the conga this time. Half way through it a man in a gorilla suit snook on with a strap-on and joined the back of the conga, freaking the poor girl at the back half to death! (But everyone knew it was for fun, and it was all in good humour. Spend a few nights at aforementioned JJs and you know the difference.)

Then we had bananas, contortionists, whips, lesbians, glass sex toys and a girl who started smoking a cigar, and then began to smoke it with her youknowwhatlet’s just leave it there. But I was surprised – believe me or not, but the atmosphere was not as sleazy, dingy and repugnant as I had myself believe. Sure, I got offered cocaine once or twice whilst walking around, but that was expected. Go there looking for trouble, and I’m sure you’ll get it. But generally the atmosphere was more welcoming than I had expected. Las Americas in Tenerife had my guard up more. If I return tomorrow evening for a ‘second look’ (giggity), I still wont let my guard down, but I would certainly encourage people to experience it in some way if they ever venture here. I made it back to my dorm with my wallet, my camera and my mobile phone!

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