Friday, December 16, 2005

Of clogs and cannabis

If one has less than 24 hours to explore a city what should one do? Hop on and off a city tour bus and see as much as two eyes can possibly see? Run from one monument to another and take as many pictures as one can – ‘This is at so-and-so bridge’, ‘Here I am at what’s-its-name Palace’. Or should one merely walk about – armed without maps or guidebooks but some good old fashioned wanderlust instead?

I chose the last option when I found myself on a 5 hour date in Amsterdam. This year, the city of windmills and clogs found itself hosting my agency’s annual Christmas shindig. And what a do it was!

Roused at the ungodly hour of 5:30am to catch a flight from London Luton to Amsterdam Schipol, I found myself sharing a cab with J and M. The former an over-enthusiastic account exec in the early stages of pregnancy and the latter my boss whose usual eloquence had been replaced by ‘I’m-not-a-morning-person’ stoicism. So while J twittered on about pregnancy caused wind, nausea and incontinence, I feigned sympathy and tried to decipher what M’s occasional grunt meant.

4 cups of coffee and a rather lesbian body frisk later I found myself on the flight. Sandwiched between K and M1 (the other big boss) I fended off questions about the caste system, female infanticide and dowry. And all this even before breakfast. Thankfully the flight was short and K’s panic attack prevented me from having to answer anything in great detail.

On landing, the big bosses insisted on doing a quick head count and roll call. At least we didn’t have to wear flashing neon badges that would identify in case we got lost. A smooth train ride later we found ourselves outside the Central Station. The map indicated that the restaurant we lunching at was a short 10 minute walk from the station. The map was lying. After trudging for half an hour along the docks through the freezing cold we finally found the place – Onassis. An Italian restaurant with a Greek name in Amsterdam. Oh well.

The lunch was lovely. Raspberry Bellinis, freshly made pastas, wine, heavenly ice creams and Babboon - the sweetest dog in the world. I hasten to add that Babboon was not on the menu but did wander about looking working hard for scraps from the table.

After a very long lunch we stumbled in to waiting cabs and were whisked off to DeWaag. Built in 1448 this old building now houses a trendy restaurant in the heart of NieuwMarkt. The big bosses M and M1 wanted to shop and N – the quiet studio boy offered to drop them off at the mall and rejoin us. We didn’t see him again till we boarded the flight – causing much debate over which nefarious activities he’d been indulging in.

Our group began ambling along the tiny back streets near NieuwMarkt and rather soon we found ourselves in Amsterdam’s famous red light area. While SoHo is in-your-face and seems a bit crude The Rossebuurt, as the locals know it, is unlike any other place and rather – nice. A lovely canal runs down the street. Old fashioned street lamps soften the red lights that illuminate the windows behind which the girls stand. Some girls sat still. Some did their nails. Others were chatting on the phone. Apart from the few gawking tourists (like us) everyone else were walking about nonchalant - as though passing a live window display at a lingerie store. Not at all the seedy, sordid place I had thought it would be.

I soon broke away from the group. I wandered alone about a small market and haggled unsuccessfully with the stall owners for some rather Dutch milk maid skirts (No corsets though). I found stores that sold cannabis lollies and drug paraphernalia of every shape and size – from the phallic to Hello Kitty Bongs. Boutiques with cutting edge Dutch design. Hippy hang outs that sold kalamkaari beadspreads and lambadi embroidered bags. A little bit of Goa in the heart of Amsterdam.

I bumped in to R and C outside a shop specialised in rude and bizarre gifts. Pen holders fashioned from plastic men bending over with their pants pulled down. The pen fits right in the… well you can guess where. A little rubber woman the size of my index finger. The packaging claimed that if you put her in water she would grow 600% in size - ideal for nights when the Mrs has a headache.

Half listening to R and C discuss N’s sexuality (they both think he’s gay) I dodged manic cyclists ( there are more chances of being mowed down by a cyclist than a tram or car) and came to the conclusion that I liked Amsterdam as much as I did the edam cheese it’s famous for.

Amsterdam doesn’t overwhelm you as Paris does with its grand buildings and boulevards. It isn’t as large and impersonal as London can be. It doesn’t make your head spin as Rome does with fountains, obelisks and stunning chapels on every street corner. Amsterdam is lovely in a quiet but quirky way. Unassuming but certainly not unprepossessing. It makes you feel welcome, at ease and at home. It allows you to soak up its ambience at your own pace. It doesn’t impose itself on you.

I suppose I’m rambling. But somehow that seems appropriate for a day spent doing nothing but just that.

31 comments:

MumbaiGirl said...

You make me want to go there. Nothing beats rambling (if the weather holds). As for the questions you were subjected to on the flight, reminded me of conversation with a senior judge...

Sujatha said...

"Amsterdam is lovely in a quiet but quirky way.... It makes you feel welcome, at ease and at home."

Agree with you. It is a lovely city. If you haven't been there before, worth another trip in spring-time.

Aparna Menon said...

A beautiful poetic prose (??) of a serene European landscape
The picture you drew was quite refreshing and reminiscing

I am a regular visitor of your blog and hope to see many more such posts

apu said...

Lovely...I can understand why you're a copywriter...

√úbermaniam said...

Wow, contrary to popular belief, women can write :-)

Falstaff said...

Lovely. What was it Browning said? "I was never out of England -- it's as if I saw it all"

alpha said...

awesome discription of the day. Man, I can't believe your agency. Here they won't even take us to dine in downtown Chicago.

MAHARAJADHIRAJ said...

Can I add a Schipol vignette here? After passing out on a plane to Am'dam I find a wheelchair waiting for me at Schipol. I refuse but figure out that the floor is walking with me. So I take the chair. Am wheeled in to a basement sick bay. After what's seems like hours gone, a stern-looking lady comes and says 'Hi, I am Doctor Posthumous!'

TomCruiseChellum said...

Vow
An early morning cab ride, pregnant with silence
Vow 2
Lying maps

No time for the flower market and the Reiks (sp correct?) where Rembrandt's nightwatchmen (not the cricketing variety)still stand vigil?
Amsterdam is exactly what you have described it as

Anjali said...

"Or should one merely walk about – armed without maps or guidebooks but some good old fashioned wanderlust instead?"

Agree with you totally. I find that walking through the streets and marketplaces is the best way to discover the 'soul' of a new city. Monuments and museums just don't do it.

And your take on Amsterdam does sound lovely :)

San said...

:) nice post

Rohin said...

"You know what they call a chicken tikka with, er, sauce on top in Tooting?"
"They don't call it a chicken tikka with sauce on top?"
"No man, they got the metric system man, they don't know what the fuck a chicken tikka is"
"So what do they call it?"
"Chicken tikka...MASALA"

- The Amsterdam Scene, The Gangs of Tooting Bec.

Your title promised some spliffs and shoes. Yet the cityscape ended with a disappointing lack of THC-intake and absolutely no Manolo clogs. For shame!

Then again, I don't read posts containing the phrase "lesbian body frisk" anywhere near as often as I should.

... said...

What I normally do while visiting a new place is plan (with the help of guidebooks and friends who live in that place) half my trip and the other half, we just walk around discovering the place. I think its always good to find out the best eating places/shopping from the locals there...

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WA said...

Great writing Shoefie.

Ash said...

What kind of Christmas shindig ?

I've only seen Amsterdam from up above ... all colorful fields with windmills, and snow-white yachts in crystal blue waters...

Srijith said...

>>Amsterdam is lovely in a quiet but quirky way.
>>It doesn’t impose itself on you.

Having lived in Amsterdam for the last one year, I have to say, you nailed it! It is an amazing city, a place that grows on you, charming you with its non-imposing style.

Deaths Head Roy said...

Great.....always dream of the place...maybe one day i will go there.....hope not with my kids tho....

thennavan said...

Your business is saying "Look East"

http://ia.rediff.com/money/2005/dec/19bspec.htm?q=tp&file=.htm

:-)

Suds said...

Hey nice entry...I have been to Amsterdam a lot of time. It is a beautiful city..Enjoy...

krishna rautela said...

yes probably the only city in the world where one wouldnt be overawed by enormity..little bylanes..canalside walkways.. and all those cyclists give u a feeling that it is possible to live in that semi urban way

Marc said...

>>Reiks (sp correct?)

Rijksmuseum :)

Interesting write up, I never looked at Amsterdam that way, I've been there quite a few times (my father lived there for the better part of his life, and nowadays I live and study a small 15 minutes train ride away from A'dam) but I've always been there for 'doing things', going to the Bijenkorf, going to family, shopping... et cetera.

Maybe I should wander around there for a day, tourist for a day, sounds like a plan :P

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

:D Thanks for stopping by everyone! Last year's office Christmas party was in Paris (I wasn't working here then), so I guess this year had to be somewhere just as exciting. 5 hours is hardly anything, but I enjoyed every moment. I left promising to return.

journeylist said...

shoefiend, came across your site through desipundit. and to borrow from the good old mcdonalds campaign, i am loving it. started reading thru your archives. can identify with some of the stuff...mumbai, jostling with gujju aunties at talwalkars, matunga maamis...

Mridula said...

Brings back such strong memories of the June of 2002 when I landed up in Amsterdam and at all wrong places :)

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