TBT: Why I’ll always think of Amsterdam with a slight shudder

Here’s to my inaugural Throwback Thursday (TBT) post! Hope you enjoy. 🙂

May, 2001. It was readily apparent as we stepped off the train at 6pm on a Friday in Amsterdam that we were learning some real life lessons:

  1. There is a difference between the direct train from Paris to Amsterdam, and the milk route. Trying to save some money and taking the milk route means you will arrive in Amsterdam after 5pm, instead of 3pm.
  2. The visitors’ centre in the train station that we were counting on for assistance in getting accommodations for the weekend closes at 5pm. There would be no assistance here now.
  3. If the Monday following the weekend is a Bank Holiday in England, there will be a ton of British “lads” in Amsterdam to partake in the Red Light district in addition to regular tourists visiting the city. Accommodations will be in high demand, as calls to various hotels and hostels found in our Lonely Planet guide demonstrated.
  4. While in London in the prior days, we should have persisted with trying to figure out how the long distance calling card works and reserved ourselves something in Amsterdam. (remember, this is the pre-smart phone age, and even pre-we-always-need-a-cell-phone…so we didn’t have one on our travels)

A rising sense of panic was palatable as the four of us regrouped to survey our options. Or rather, the lack of options. Were we looking at a night on a park bench with rotating who was on watch?

A man walking his bicycle through the terminal interrupted our conversation. In very decent English, he explained how he had overhead how we needed a place to stay, and that he was willing to rent out a place in his home to us. He even had a handy-dandy testimonial book with him, to show us he wasn’t someone with evil intent.

We spent a several minutes perusing the testimonial photo book, filled with pictures of young travellers and himself, along with handwritten notes testifying to their good experiences. The notes were in all languages. My friend C found a few in Chinese, and she indicated that the note also was positive. Her logic was, this Dutch man likely can’t read Chinese, so if there was something negative, these Chinese travellers would be honest, right?

The man was demanding $100USD per person for two nights. We eyed each other. What other choice did we have? The fact that one in our group was a male (T, my boyfriend and future husband) helped alleviate some of the fear. We took the plunge and gave him the cash.

He led us out of the terminal and north towards the ferry docks, away from the “downtown” of Amsterdam. It was already dark, and a chilling breeze picked up. We boarded the ferry and took a short ride across the river. After 10 min of walking, we arrive at his house. It looked like a nice enough row house, and the neighbourhood seemed decently maintained. He opens the door and we follow him inside.

We were greeted by the sight of his living room. Except there wasn’t any couches or coffee tables or bookshelves, there were 3 bunk beds and some people hanging out. C and I looked at each other nervously. The man continued the tour down the hallway, pointing to the kitchen around the corner, the one shared bathroom, and the stairs going upstairs, to his personal space. Then we got to the back room.

Another set of 3 bunk beds, one of them a double, was in the room. We would have the last 4 spots available in the room, so long as T and I were ok to share the double.


He left us in the room. The four of us looked at each other.

“I think the first thing we are going to do tomorrow morning is call all the hostels in Belgium until we can guarantee a hostel booking. Agreed?” Hell yes.

We tried not to ponder how many other people had slept in the bed before the linens were washed. (we brought our own little sleep sacks so we wouldn’t have to use the ones there). We all were uneasy about how clean that single bathroom, with one shower, one toilet and one sink, would be if there were up to 15 people sharing it. It was a quick consensus that we would not be showering until we got to the next hostel in Belgium. Together with several of the other travellers staying in the room, we headed out back to take the ferry to the center of Amsterdam for Friday night exploration. This of course included walking through the infamous red light district, where entourages of British lads were roaming and being obnoxious. That added a nice layer of sleaze to the emotional tone of the night.

We were only in the house to sleep on Friday night and Saturday night, and the rest of the time we deliberately stayed out. We booked it out of there first thing on Sunday morning to catch the first train to Brussels. We got to the hostel so early that we couldn’t check in yet, but we were so relieved to shower off that sense of ickiness.

I honestly don’t remember much about this place now. I don’t know whether there was art on the walls, how well kept the furnishings were, whether the light of day made a change in the atmosphere. (to be honest, we tried to spend as little time in there as possible) I don’t even remember much about the other travellers. What I do know, is that sense of *ick* just coloured our whole experience of Amsterdam. Which is a shame, after listening to stories from other travellers who had marvellous times there. There will be another trip back I suppose, so we can experience Amsterdam properly, and overwrite the creepy memories with happy ones.

But until then, that is why whenever I think of Amsterdam I always feel a slight *shudder*.