AMSTERDAM :: IN THE LAND OF BICYCLES AND SMOKE
Contributor :: Courtney Phillips
It’s a strange feeling being in a city that bears no resemblance to anything familiar. People gliding past, lost in their thoughts. What was once snow, now slush, splatters up the tall black winter boots that everybody except me seems to be wearing. Could they tell I was a stranger in their country?
Was the awe and apprehension on my face easily read? The foreign words on the signs that I knew to be Dutch looked more like a child had been given full rein to make up words using my native alphabet. I listened with my eyes closed, and took in the hustle and bustle that whirred around me in the airport.
I could make out few words. The Dutch language sounds like somebody gargling molasses, and what I did recognise was grossly distorted. Opening my eyes, I prepared for what I knew was going to be a confusing adventure to my hotel. Determined not to take the easy way out, I bought a street map from a local newsagent and set out into the chilly afternoon rush hour.
The first thing I noticed as I walked through the main streets of Amsterdam was the distinct lack of cars and noise and fumes that spew from their exhausts. Here it was replaced by the light “thurrup” of bicycle bells signalling to one another of pending approach. So used to the heaving madness of inner city London I was rendered motionless for a brief moment while my brain adjusted to the feeling of being underwhelmed rather than overstimulated.
I found my hotel with surprising ease and set about fixing myself up a little in the bathroom. I opened my bag, found my roughly scribbled notes on where to go in Amsterdam that I had written a few days earlier with a chance meeting of a man in the pub. He suggested some cafes that would be perfect for a newcomer.
As I approached the Mellow Yellow Coffee Shop with its soft yellow sign swinging lightly in the winter wind, I felt that familiar rush of excitement, one that had been building up over the past few weeks like a volcano in the pit of my belly. The interior resembled a scene from a Jimi Hendrix after party.
Masses of cushions littered the wooden floorboards. The dim lighting meant the sweet thick plumes of white smoke seemed to hang around the heads of patrons for an eternity. Music beating rhythmically in the background, customers nodded in time while carrying out conversations.
I made my way to the counter and smiled nervously at the unfamiliar face before me. I softly asked which one she personally preferred. Sweeping the roughly cut bangs out of her eyes, she looked at me for longer than would normally be polite, as if trying to gauge my potential. Smiling to herself, she turned her back to me and scanned a long thin finger down the mass of drawers neatly labeled in Dutch.
I was beginning to feel my nerves strangle my guts as the fair-haired woman placed the container between us. “This won The High Times 2005 Awards” she said, the words stuttering out of her mouth in a blitz of broken English. “Perfect” I replied, bursting with anticipation.
We exchanged currency and in return for my €20 I received 3 extra long blunts wrapped in a variety of candy flavours, a strong short black coffee beautifully presented in a demitasse cup with a hand painted marijuana leaf delicately drawn on the side, and a small plastic bag containing what many believe is the secret to eternal life.
I spotted an empty booth in a far corner, the perfect position to sit and observe the comings and goings of a Dutch coffee shop on a rainy Saturday morning. I slid into the booth, carefully, as to keep the cup from falling away from the saucer. Propping myself up against a huge velveteen cushion I proceeded to examine the contents of my purchase.
With practiced hands I rolled my first joint in the promised land of Amsterdam. For a long time I had waited for the chance to explore The Dam. I had eagerly listened to many stories of intrepid journeys to canal-scattered landscapes of the capital city, all the while fantacising about the day when I too could join the ranks of those who had travelled before me. I had arrived. I sat. Slowly inhaling the thick sweet smoke; gazing through squinted eyes at my surroundings.
The place was buzzing with life, just above the music I could make out several different accents, none of which I recognised as my own. At the counter a couple of fresh-faced Dutch girls sat side by side. Their heads were almost touching as they poured over a magazine, smirking together as one pointed out what I can only assume was a picture of the latest celebrity to be caught without her war paint.
Further, a middle-aged couple spoke in a low murmur, the female of the two curling long brunette locks around her finger as she sat in silence waiting for her turn to talk. It struck me that there were no gangs of twenty something students or tourists taking advantage of Amsterdam’s relaxed laws. A part of me had expected such a place to be a madhouse. On the contrary, most of the patrons were over 30, all of whom seemed to be there to enjoy the quiet atmosphere and each other’s company.
My head was starting to spin as I finished off the coffee and stubbed out the remaining joint. Gathering my belongings, I nodded to the fair-haired woman behind the counter. Our eyes met as she winked farewell. I stepped out into the real world once again. The snow had ceased and the clouds were beginning to part. The sun made an appearance as its long rays dusted the ground in light. I turned away from the store and flung my bag over my shoulder, and smiled to myself as I mentally ticked off another task on my bucket list.
// ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Courtney Phillips :: Contributor
Writing has been the best form of expression for this globe trotting trouble maker, one that has nurtured me since childhood. Seeing people, places and things that spoken word nor photograph could ever even come close to capturing, pen to paper has been my best friend. My experiences are ones of pure grit as well as extreme beauty, they are humanity. 10 years have past since my first adventure asked me on a date, today I’m 30. I’m a full time Professional Writing and Editing Student, and I’m sober…. this should be interesting.