I first remember visiting Amsterdam when I was fairly young - I'm guessing it would have been in the summer of 1983. I only can guess at the date because one of the very, very few things I can remember was going to see Friday the 13th Part 3: 3D at a huge movie theater somewhere off the Leidseplein. That's right, a bad American horror movie. My little brother Tim was always a huge fan of horror movies, and we had to go... hey, it was in 3D, and we were presumably whingeing about having to go see another goddam Rembrandt or something. I had a blast - largely because the movie was subtitled in Dutch. I remember laughing about "Sterf! Sterf!" for days - even now, Tim can remember that scene from the movie.
But other than that? Well, I bought a couple of Dutch-English dictionaries. I had just started learning German in 1981 - in seventh grade - and I was fascinated by the close relationship between Dutch, English, and German. This eventually led to a minor in Dutch in all but name during my studies at Berkeley - here's an interesting bit of trivia for you: I first met Les Wright, author of The Bear Book, when I was a 17 year old freshman at Cal. He'd signed up for the Dutch 1 class presumably to help him gain access to some gender studies related archives at the university of Utrecht; I signed up for it just because I was interested in the language.
Anyhow, that first visit... I probably saw some hints of gayness going on at the time; I vaguely remember seeing erotic postcards of some sort at a newsstand, but that's about it. Hey, I was young, probably 13 or so at the time. And that's it; that's all I really remember.
The next time I remember going to Amsterdam was with Mark, presumably just after Christmas in 1991. He flew United [free buddy pass]; I flew American to Frankfurt, because it was cheap. I took along my old Leading Edge Model D PC with me - I was planning on leaving it at a friend's flat in Aachen. I had tried to call ahead and book a place for us to stay - there was some hotel he'd stayed at before with Todd - but they didn't have any rooms, and I was kind of hesitant to use the phone at the ASUC [where I worked] too much, because I didn't want to get caught. I figured it couldn't be too difficult to find a place to stay in Amsterdam.
Boy, was I ever wrong. Mark got into town about ten hours before I did [after all, I had to get a train to Amsterdam from Frankfurt], and he looked all over town for some place to stay. Every last goddam hostel was booked up - even Bob's. We wound up staying at a place called the Sleep In - it was a school gymnasium that was filled with bunk beds with plastic mattresses on them. Ugh. It was so fucking cold and miserable there... unbelievable. At least I found Mark easily enough after getting off the train; we stashed our stuff at the Sleep In and then went to the Café Pink Floyd to get some space cake.
Space cake, for those of you who aren't familiar with it, is generally some kind of sponge or other cake with hash oil added to it. It's apparently not as easy to come by these days due to too many tourists eating it and not having any idea of what they're in for. Now, I have taken drugs in my life - fewer then ten time. I just don't think about it much, although on the rare occasion I have indulged. How was it? Well... it could've been better. I had an OK time, but frankly, sitting on a plastic mattress on a bunk bed in a freezing cold high school gym listening to a Walkman is not the best way to spend time when you're really, really high. I always expected I'd try something like that again, but only if I had a nice, warm, private room instead of a fucking plastic mattress.
The next morning, I was in a foul mood - I'd caught cold wandering the streets of Amsterdam on a chilly December morning. We made a perfunctory attempt at sightseeing - all I have that remains is a picture of me at the Homomonument; everything else was out of our price range at the time. Mark and I soon decided that perhaps it'd be a good idea to go someplace cheaper and warmer - I thought it'd easiest just to get to Aachen. Jan and Micha, my friends [Micha was my "host sister" when I was an AFS exchange student in Germany back in 1985] who lived in Aachen at the time [they were med students at the university] were actually in Venice Beach, CA at the time, visiting Jan's sister - but our mutual friend Ulrike, with whom I'd gone to the Arno Schmidt convention in Portland, Oregon in 1991, had a key. All I had to do was stop by her flat and get the key. I remember taking the train to Maastricht, where Mark thoughtfully let me rest in a restaurant. I think I probably had bami goreng - I remember not being able to get much of it down; it was packed into an empty yoghurt container which we then took to Germany. Anyhow, from there we took a branch line to a small train station in Aachen. This line is no longer in service as of 2001.
Once there, we got the key - and found that the heater had broken in Micha's flat. This, well, this totally, utterly sucked. We spent the night freezing our asses off, and, worse yet, got into an argument over whether or not I was stealing the covers. [For the record, yes, I was, but I was really sick!] I spent much of the next morning yelling at the repair company who'd "fixed" the heater a few weeks earlier; thankfully, they came by and fixed it again that afternoon, but things were already going further downhill between Mark and myself. I was still sicker than hell, crankier than usual... I remember yelling at him for daring to cross a street when the light was red. Not pretty. After about forty-eight hours there, Mark had had enough and took off back to the States. Me, I decided that I wasn't having much fun either; somehow, I convinced American Airlines to rebook my ticket so that I could leave in a week. I then made a quick trip to Radebeul, Berlin, and Leipzig, with a stop in Essen to see my host family, and then it was home to Berkeley. [I then remember going to Venice Beach to see Jan and Micha, and stopping in Soledad to get a cake for my brother's birthday, but that's another story.]
The next time I went to Amsterdam was with Dan in April of 1996. We stayed at the Hotel Singel, near the flower market. We travelled to Amsterdam on the Eurostar with my friend Adam. I don't think we saw too much of the city that time, other than a trip to the Stedelijk Museum [the city's modern art museum]. It was only for a few days, and Dan flew back to San Francisco at the end of the weekend. [Me, I then went on to Brussels and then Germany and Switzerland for a few days.] Now, one of the odder things about Dan and me is this: we met almost ten years ago, in the Spring of 1994, but never really dated. By the fall of 1994, we were living with sinnabor in a rented house in Belmont, CA; by the summer of 1995, we'd moved out and gotten our own apartment in San Francisco. We were still figuring things out - it wasn't entirely clear that we'd settle down with each other. Heck, it wasn't until we bought the house in San José in 1997 that we shared the same bed. Anyhow, that April, we wound up in Amsterdam. I vaguely remember Dan being angry for some of that trip - for example, the week prior in London, he was mad at me for suggesting he'd had too much to drink and that he shouldn't go home with someone else [he's since apologized, by the way :)]. Once in Amsterdam, things had calmed down a bit [especially after a great week long road trip to Scotland], but there was still something strange there.
Part of the problem was simply that I have always been uncomfortable with sex clubs, dark rooms, gay bars, etc. Amsterdam is quite obviously filled with these things - and they seem to be quite popular. It's probably just me, but I'm still surprised that when you say you're going to Amsterdam - as sinnabor did in his journal recently - you seem to get all kinds of recommendations along the lines of "there's a great group sex party, the dark rooms here are great, and don't forget the sauna". For the record, I have never had sex in Amsterdam. The closest I think I ever came was when I ran into Pugsly and Earl the morning I was leaving for Cologne in August 2001, but I'll get to that in a bit. Every time I'm there, I've had a lot of fun doing everything but (a) drugs and (b) having sex.
Dan, on the other hand, has always been far more comfortable with that sort of thing. To go off on another tangent, so was Mark. When we were there, he was really, really excited about seeing Bears in the streets, and couldn't wait to go to this bar that had just opened, the Web ["Europe's only FF bar", yikes - this is how it was being marketed] so that he could meet some Bears. Me, well, the thought just kinda scared me. Anyhow, we did go out to the Argos that night - my first experience in a Dutch gay bar. It was OK, but I don't remember much of it. I better remember the "wine and cheese canal cruise" we did the other night we were there - it was all you can drink South African wine with tiny cubes of Gouda. We met two other guys on the boat and proceeded to demolish every last bottle of wine on the boat. Later on that evening, after drinking even more in cafés around town, and finding much to my horror that I'd just bought unfiltered cigarettes, I spent a good twenty minutes puking into the hotel room sink at the Agora. I'll never, ever forget trying to push bits of undigested cheese through the holes in the sink's built-in drainer. Disgusting. And to think Dan got up the next morning at 5 AM to get to the airport to go home; me, I checked out and then met Adam for a coffee. Badly hung over, I wound up in Brussels, where I slept in the "Jacques Brel" youth hostel, but again, that's another story.
The next time I went must have been in 1997. My buddy Mike Ramsey [who was living in Phoenix at the time - he's now in Pittsburgh] and I somehow got the idea to go to the Cologne bear event that year. Of course, I had to spin it out into a slightly longer trip than that; we met in Amsterdam, where we stayed a couple of nights at a place called the Jordaan Canal House. This was fine, although frankly the nearby church bells didn't help my insomnia. We did go to the Argos that weekend; I met a very handsome Bear from Denver, but of course sex was not in the cards. I think we wound up talking about database systems or something. Ah well. The most memorable thing to happen that time was kind of horrifying: when I took a shower the next morning, I shed so much body hair that it clogged the drain in this ancient canal house. It then started overflowing - which I didn't notice - and then ran through the ceiling into the room below, drenching some Englishmen who were trying to sleep at the time. Oops. That was embarassing. At least I didn't have to pay for the damage.
[The rest of the trip went well, save for a hugely ridiculous episode at a gay bar in Paris which is worthy of a post at some point in the future. Let's just say that I wound up in the lobby of a Parisian apartment building at 4 in the morning, stuck behind a door that wouldn't open from the inside. The bear night in Cologne was a success; it was also my first visit to a gay sauna (and last as of this writing).]
In December of 1998 Dan and I went to visit my parents in Moldova. On the way back, we managed a 24 hour layover in Amsterdam. We splurged and got a room at the Radisson SAS; when we checked in, the friendly concierge asked us if we'd eaten. We said no, so she suggested that perhaps she could book us a table somewhere? Hell yeah! She booked us a table at Indrapura, and a new tradition was born. I've eaten there nearly every trip since. [You may also recall that this was also the place where I first bought a bottle of wine to go with my meal - in this case a Caliterra merlot from Chile.]
December of 1999 saw me travelling to Amsterdam by myself - I had some extra time off and made a decision to run over to Kiel, Germany to see my friend Bret [whom I met in 1985 - another long story!]. Bret is originally from St. Louis, but wound up emigrating to Germany. We met at language camp [shhh, not band camp] in August 1985; we were both exchange students that year. Anyhow, I stayed at the Golden Bear for the first time for a few days, starting on Christmas Day; it was definitely the kind of hotel I wished I'd had when I was there with Mark all those years ago. The room was cheap - these days, they're a bit more expensive at about $60 a night, but that's still really cheap for Amsterdam - and I had a blast, being financially able for the first time in my life to visit any and/or all museums, which I promptly did. This was also the first time I came home with a souvenir: a set of nesting bowls from the Stedelijk Museum, now gathering dust in the linen closet. [I have no idea where to put them in the new house.]
On December 2, 2000, mamoosh, Dan, and Matthew's then partner Dan, and I landed in Amsterdam, again for a 24 hour layover. We checked in to the Sheraton at the airport - my God that was a nice hotel - and then headed into town for dinner at Indrapura. Mmmm, good. Afterwards, we just wandered around - and wound up at Coffeeshop The Otherside, which is apparently Amsterdam's only gay smoking café. Dan was pretty wasted [not Dan-the-marmot, but the other Dan]; I had a hit or two off his joint, which wasn't enough to get me stoned, only enough to make me run to Albert Heijn and buy chocolate pudding, which I ate on the way back to the airport that night.
Almost immediately after getting back to California, a ridiculous cheap fare sale happened on United, so Dan and I got on a plane for Amsterdam just three weeks later. My parents flew over to meet us for Christmas dinner - we had a traditional Scottish meal for Christmas Eve, and then a traditional Dutch meal on Christmas Day. It even snowed! My aunt Jan made it as well - Christmas 2000 was a real success. Spent a lot of time in museums while we were there - Damien Hirst had just put up some new work at the Stedelijk, and the van Gogh museum had a really interesting exhibit where they tried to replicate various 19th century lighting technologies so as to give you a better idea of how van Gogh's paintings would have looked when they were originally painted. Cool! [We then went to Kiel for New Year's, which was a wonderful experience.] We then got the train back to Amsterdam, stayed a night at an airport hotel where we watched The Big Lebowski in Dutch [w00t], and then headed home.
I next stayed a week at the Golden Bear in August 2001. I spent a lot of time just walking around the city, and took a long day trip to the Kröller-Müller museum. Didn't go to any bars, didn't have sex, didn't do drugs... did watch a lot of TV to brush up on my Dutch! This was the week after I quit my job at Netscape, btw - oh, and this was when I ran into m_f_patterson and Earl the morning I left. They'd just arrived from Italy - I think - and remembered me from a holiday party in Phoenix. I was really excited to be talking to these two handsome gentlemen - and also disappointed that my plane was leaving for London in just two hours. Ah well.
So that's my Amsterdam. I'm really intrigued to see how it's going to be this year - it'll be great to spend a few days there with someone like Brian, who's not only a lot of fun, but who's probably going to be doing things I wouldn't ordinarily do, like going to the Thermos Day Sauna or checking out the dark rooms. I wonder if I'll come with, or if I'll just stay in the room, watch TV, and plan the next day's museum visits...