A’dam, weed and rats

We were left near Amsterdam’s train station. Two days of hardships and messed up routes seemed to be over. Here it is, a city to which hardly anyone comes with pure intent and a clear conscience, and even fewer of those who arrive here return home with all that traits. It seemed that everything was just like the beginning of a Hunter Thompson novel, albeit in a bit lighter version of it.

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“We need to save time, we’ll spend one day here and move on. Our host is waiting for us in Brussels.”

“I don’t give a shit about your host. We’re finally here in this goddamn Amsterdam. Am-ster-dam. Do you understand? Brussels can wait, Luxembourg can wait, damn, everything can wait until I explore this city inside out.”

The host was really waiting for us in Belgium; however, we still had no place to spend the night here, in the Netherlands. On our way to A’dam this was the last thing were concerned about. No, to say it better: we didn’t care about anything at all neither give a damn no shit. Hosts, breakfasts – what is it? Here, we have Amsterdam, which had been the topic of our last two days. Everything that had happened before appeared to be just like a toy, a test, an artificial thing. It was some kind of a boot camp, sort of training, and now we just needed to pass the main test – to give ourselves a shot to feel this city. Or just get lost in it, which, in fact, is not a lousy option.

The first minutes in the city center were filled with some obscure euphoria. You’re leaving the train station as if you’re getting into one large apartment, where parties are thrown 24/7 and almost everyone can get there. Haven’t brought your own stuff? Don’t worry, there’s always someone who can get you anything you want. Some man approaches you near the station; he asks whether you have some tobacco. You refuse, but he doesn’t care. He asks girls next to us, they hand him over a pack. He takes some in his one hand and in the other man’s holding a few euros for his saviors. Right on the spot, he mixes all this with weed and lit his joint. You can smoke here wherever you want.

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Nobody is in a hurry. A’dam is still getting ready for the dusk. For all the fun and everything for which the majority comes here, starts at night. We should have been chilling here in a special way, carpe diem, and all that kind of stuff. However, none of us hadn’t taken into account: in order to perceive this city correctly and adequately, you have to sleep at least for a little while, have at least a few ounces of strength, or at least, this same adequacy, because in the end, you ought to have at least something to get rid of when the night comes.

We were walking somewhere in the center then we’d entered one of the local fast foods to charge our phones and grab something to eat. Strange things were happening in our heads, as if we had already visited a coffee shop, used everything we got there and dived into the general atmosphere of carelessness and relative lack of control. Although, it was less than an hour from the moment of our arrival.

“Maybe let’s look for some hostels?”

The cheapest option should have been around 30 euros for each of us. Two beds in a common room for twelve people, a common shower and an imitation of the kitchen. Among bonuses was its location in the heart of the historical center, among minuses – there was no certainty that our maps were leading us the right way. We were standing on a narrow street, in front of the possible entrance. A butcher from one of the local shops was finishing his rolled cigarette. It’s a strange habit – to go for a smoke break with an ax. Surprisingly, his smoke resembled ordinary cigarette’s smell. And as we were moving forward on the route made up by our smartphone, a thick trail of the pot scent was following us. We were knocking at the door for the third time.

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“What do you want?”

A young man of twenty years had appeared at the doorstep. A short buzz cut, tattoos all over his face, baggy clothes. Remote control from a TV was constantly spinning in his left hand. He looked like a member of some Mexican gang, or at least as its candidate for membership. The only thing that was spoiling the impression was his smallness and the absence of any facial hair. Because of this, all his gangster look resembled childish attempts to look like an adult.

“We would like to book two places for this night.”

“We have only one, but I can advise you of another hostel.”

To our surprise, the “gangster” was quite polite and even a somewhat caring person. He apologized for the lack of places and offered us to buy some weed from him. Moreover he himself tapped in our smartphone an address of the place where we could probably find a place for a sleep over. The butcher coughed and finished his rolled cigarette. We went further.

The other hostel really did have places. However, each of them should have cost us 50 euros. We could afford ourselves such a luxury, but afterwards, in the next cities and our way back, we would have left almost with no money. There was no sense in negotiating the price: we arrived at A’dam on weekends, so the fact that we could find any vacant places was already a huge success. While we were deciding whether we were ready to say goodbye to our last money, from the second floor, three girls in a quite skimpy dress showed up. It was not that kind of “skimpy” which provokes your imagination or some fantasies, it was rather that kind of thing which provoces some kind of moral compassion and makes you think inside the box.

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“Oh, this is a nice bonus, for our guests, we have a good discount!” the young fellow at the administrator’s desk still got some hope to check us in at his hostel.

“Come on, let’s call Tauwfik.”

We had found him at one of the hospitality websites and until the last moment we hoped that in case something goes wrong we could stay with him. Tauwfik lives near the center, he is over 50. The man enjoys cooking and is a good city-guide. At least, this is what we’d found from the references left by the people whom he had time to host. During our last chat, Tauwfik declined our request, referring to some kind of family problems. However, he’d left us his number. Tauwfik told us to call him when we’re in the city.

“Hey, Tauwfik, how are you? This is Dima and Anton, do you remember us?”

“I’m glad that you’re here. How was your trip, are you all right?”

“Frankly speaking, not at all. It would be great if we can find some place to leave our stuff and get a little rest. Can you help us?”

We really hoped that it would work out. It was like: we’re already in your city, adequate but a bit tired. We are looking for an opportunity to get back to a normal state and not for all the money in the world. Tauwfik, indeed, decided to help. He promised to send us contacts of checked hostels that worth pennies. It was not the worst option. In the end, nobody owes anybody, especially here in Amsterdam. In ten minutes, he sent us two numbers. We just had been in both of these places.

The accommodation issue at one moment was solved by itself: we’ll stay somewhere on the street or in some kind of establishment. This is A’dam, the nightlife here goes on until the morning, and all that places should work around the clock. We spent some time on one of the benches and began wandering around the center. The pot was really everywhere. Sometimes it seemed that it was too much of it around that we were ready to throw up. Any desire to dive into the general atmosphere had disappeared. Somewhere between the smoke and beyond the stoned eyes, Amsterdam – the city of incredible architecture and beauty, of the streets that constantly cross each other, that houses which all the girls you know had taken the picture of, to show that they’ve been to the Netherlands – had left unnoticed.

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Perhaps if we dared to leave the center and were able to see Amsterdam, a bit less crowded with tourists, we would have perceived this city in a different way. Maybe we would be able to discover its true mood, or at least understand what this city’s life is like. We made a huge mistake, we arrived there too tired and powerless. It is stupid and selfish to blame the whole city in this. There’s nobody to blame except you yourself. As well there’s nobody to blame for the fact that instead of a normal host, everything you’d managed to find is a hostel, one night where costs one quarter of your initial budget. The hostel that has a discount for local prostitutes.

Closer to the evening, my classmate Masha, called me. Together with her friend, they were also travelling this summer, though, in a less complicated way – they took buses and airplanes. They had found the cheapest tickets a few months before the departure and planned each day. So, they were travelling in peace and quiet around Europe. Perhaps, some sort of an order, system and ability to calculate everything correctly was the thing we’ve lacked the most. On the other hand, who needs it? Under such conditions, any journey becomes something pragmatic and boring, something that could suit the middle aged people. The ones that for twenty years of office work had finally got the opportunity to go somewhere. We weren’t interested in the stability of the trip, the road itself attracted us.

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The meeting with the girls was somewhat contrasting with the level of self-awareness. Here they are, joyful, merry and clean, our peers, who also got to the A’dam. And here we are, lying on our backpacks somewhere in the middle of the station square, we are dreaming not so much of a bed, but of a shower. Any kind of, it doesn’t matter. However, this meeting was necessary for us. Hell if I know what we would do in Amsterdam without them. For a moment, we got overwhelmed, and all that was left to do was simply to lay down at the station. We’d lost one of the key cities of our trip for no apparent reason. But they had become messiahs who helped us to get at least something from this visit.

The night had stolen up on us quite quickly. The streets of Amsterdam were packed with countless people. None of them was in a hurry – everything seemed to have happened in some kind of a trance. People came up to us, asked for tobacco or rolling paper for joints. We refused them, but nobody gives a damn about it: everyone was able to find what he needed. It seemed that you could find anything here. The easiest thing to find was coke. You don’t even have to exert yourself. At one hour interval a huge dark-skinned man passes you by and mumbles something like a tong-twister, repeating “coke-coke-coke-coke”. Nobody touches him, the policemen smoke at a distance of several meters, but they’re also different here. They are more like costumed guests of the city who decided to joke a little bit. They are young and modern, dancing to the music that can be heard from a neighboring bar, joking with passers-by, flirting with women on the streets. This is probably the main principle of Amsterdam – here you get the maximum amount of freedom, however, everyone else has the same. You’re not restricted by anything, but you must understand that the same way feels everyone around you. There’s not a lot of a freedom, there’s a shitload of it.

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We were wandering around the center again. But there were already four of us. The girls had to return to Berlin in the morning. So, we decided that we will stay here a little bit longer, and give one more chance to us and the city.

“There is a ferry to the island. It leaves every 20 minutes, free of charge.”

Masha always knew how to find something interesting. She always knew how to find some cool and free things. The ferry was in the very center, it was really free of charge and it was moving back and forth without any additional stops. When it arrived at the shore, everyone was there: locals, tourists, animals with and without their owners, a woman on a small one-seat car, Chinese electronics retailers, some tired (but still happy) cops, dealers of heavy drugs and countless cyclists.

They are everywhere here. Only you step with your foot even on a square centimeter of their bike-route, as behind the back a whole army of cyclists is raising, each of them considers it necessary to signal you. It’s like, “Come on, guy! Are you blind? It’s our territory!” For a moment, I even thought that only first day tourists could let themselves to stand on this sacred route. It seems that all the rest knew this truth from their very childhood, accurately bypassing the forbidden part of the road. The cyclists are in the spotlight here. It’s them who are masters of the road. Here it’s them who make rules for car drivers, not vice versa. And not just for drivers. They’re some kind of an upper caste. Of course, you can also rent a bike, join this greatness and grandeur. But, listen, what kind of a Samurai you are, if your sword is taken away from you in one hour?

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We’d spent not so much time on the island, about half an hour. Between us, together with Anton we decided that this is a good place for a sleep over. Therefore, it was worthy of coming back there again. However, there are things that despite being super touristic still remain interesting for you. Each of us wanted to visit the red-light district. It was that moment when your inner sleepy tourist wakes up and guides you through the beaten path.

We got to the first showcases with girls pretty fast. There were no special expectations, it’s just good old animal instinct that wakes up inside of you. It says, “I want to see it with my own eyes”. The cult district for tourists, actually, hadn’t provided anything special. Tired girls were at their spots. Someone tried to dance a little bit, in order to attract new customers. The others were just checking phones, doing their nails or reading some magazines. They could hardly be named the most beautiful women in my life, but all of them were pretty and completely diverse, as people say, “for all tastes”. When we were turning to a parallel street, an elderly man, around 50 years old approached one blonde in the central showcase. He was trying to offer her something. The girl paid no attention to him. She still had a few more nails to do. How can you pay attention to any old men if your manicure isn’t ready yet? But it hardly could stop him. After a few unsuccessful attempts to catch the eyes of a world’s oldest profession’s representative, he couldn’t come up with any better idea than punching the glass. The blonde lifted her eyes and explained with a gesture that they need to settle down the money matters. It didn’t take very long: grandpa drags out a whole bunch of money, waving with it in front of the glass. That was the way the contact had been established. However, before moving on to the business, the old man wanted to look at his chosen one as detailed as possible. She was okay with that: she was turning around and moved the way the gray-haired customer wanted. And when it seemed that everything was already settled down and there would be one person less in this showcase-raw at least for half an hour… the man simply showed her his middle finger and, said in Russian something like: “What an ordinary whore?!”. Then he moved away. The city is full of freedom. To that extent that sometimes it seems that there’s too much of it. Really, too much.

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Our friends went about their own business, and we were barely keeping on our feet. It was almost the third night without a sleep, we had to decide something. Our knowledge of Amsterdam allowed us to choose only one option, to sleep over at the station. We even decided not to go to the island, because the train station, as a rule, is always a calm place. There are chairs, places where you can charge your phone, normal toilets and drinking water. What else do you need to feel comfortable? In fact, you need a lot, but not during that time. Just chairs would be enough. If only the station wasn’t closed. It closes something around the midnight, and there is only one entrance – to the trains. The last one was just about to set off. Like cockroaches, the ones who an hour ago possessed a full-scale freedom, were rushing to the station from all around the center. They were rushing to lose this freedom and return to their routine. It’s here where you can come and be free in your thoughts and actions. There, in a grey office or in an old factory, everyone doesn’t give a damn about your freedom. This is not the A’dam, dude.

Almost everyone managed to get to the train, except for one couple. They were running quite quickly, I would have even thought that in their hometown, first of all in the mornings they go jogging. Only then they have breakfast and make love. But it was not enough; trains that leave the city are that mentor that takes away your freedom. As for these two, they got some extra freedom for one more night.

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“Fu*k, I’ve told you, get your things done quicker, where are we going to sleep now?”

“Don’t panic, we’ll find something.”

He sat down on the ground and started to roll his cigarette. Without an ax the butcher looked like a kind person, even too kind. The white stained apron has been replaced by a typical sports suit. His joint still smelled with a regular tobacco. In a while, we’d recognized her. She was one of these three girls who could have given us a discount at that second hostel. In the same clothes, as if she has just run from her last client. The city of contrasts and the city of unexpected matches. Who knows, who are they at home? He can still be a butcher who goes to Amsterdam every morning. And she may have to go there only on weekends because someone has to give lessons on weekdays in the primary school.

We fell asleep just in front of the station. We hadn’t conquered this city, but we also hadn’t put a lot of effort into it. On our map of expectations, Amsterdam was the main point. It should have become the apogee of our trip. However, it turned out to be some kind of a strange test. Sleeping at the station square is not the worst, but it is far from the best option. In any case, you won’t be bored, because from time to time, out of nowhere, some dude falls right next to you. That night there were four of them. Every time you ask him whether he needs help – he just laughs and shows you the middle finger: get off, I’m fine. On average, they were laying for four minutes. Then they stood up, and calmly were walking away. As if they were just catching the last breath of this city’s freedom. Office workers, taxi drivers, company directors, sales managers, professors, artists, journalists, translators, hairdressers – here, everyone looks equally lost and happy. Maybe this is some kind of a freedom recipe? Get lost until you feel happy.

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We slept, leaning on the station’s walls, almost in sync. From time to time something was moving under your feet. It was touching your sneakers, crashing into a huge backpack, which served you a pillow and a chair. At Amsterdam train station, rats are like freedom – there’s a shitload of them. A lot of them may have been somewhere else, here it was exactly the shitload. But they looked quite harmonious there. Especially at night, and even more before the sunrise. Huge and fast, the rats became a marker-reminder that no matter how free you can be, you will never be alone. That’s why, come on, turn on your head, and choose the one who will share your happiness found in the lost state. Otherwise, a long tail will tickle your leg all the night.

We woke up at five o’clock in the morning and without any arrangements decided to move straight to Belgium.

“What an idiot! I told you, that we should have gone earlier. The host is waiting for us.”

“What about: I don’t give a shit about this host, nor about Brussels or about everything else?”

“Well, I don’t give a shit about all this, come on, and let’s find the road.”

We left A’dam tired but somehow, we were happy. Not so happy to call this city the best one of our journey. However, we’d touched it. We were the observers and understood the principles of its work. Everything is interwoven here: hostels, butchers, prostitutes, and even your freedom. I do not think that we wouldn’t go there one more time, but before that, we definitely should sleep well. And go to the shower. Damn, we just wanted to go to the shower.

“Coke, coke, coke, coke”, a black giant was still trying to sell us some blow.

Dmytro Zhuravel

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