When I was doing various interviews in Ireland and the UK, they would ask me where I was heading next.
“Amsterdam,” I’d tell them.
“Oh – behave!” they’d joke.
They said this for a couple of reasons. First of all, they don’t know me personally. My wife likes to tell the story of my bachelor night, when I went out on the town with my buddies Charlie and Kelly, and called her from my hotel room at around 11:30 p.m., a bit tipsy, to confess that I’d eaten an entire bag of Doritos and a tin of wasabi peas while watching Terminator 3.
The other reason they said it, of course, is because that’s Amsterdam’s reputation. I get it. We think of drugs and red light districts. The reality, though, is sort of shockingly different. Amsterdam, for those of you who haven’t had the chance to visit, is easily one of the most beautiful cities in the world. There are canals that run through the center of the city, lined by seventeenth century narrow houses, perfectly preserved. They wind around and the buildings wind with them, and occasionally boats come lazily along.
Everybody is on bicycles. Not the super jacked up mountain bikes or racing bikes that we see in the US but the kind of bikes that you find in black and white postcards of Paris, with handlebars that bend toward you, with a basket on the front. Men and women ride next to each other in laughably romantic scenes along the cobblestone streets lining the canals that they consider just the most efficient way of getting over to Point B.
I arrived in my hotel, overlooking one of these gorgeous canals, and decided to take a walk, and thought to myself that it was like being in a museum. It would be like announcing your plans to visit the Louvre and your friends all giggling madly and saying “Behave yourself, now!”
I know that seedy side is over there, but it’s not hard to avoid it. For example, if you want to go for a quiet coffee, do a little recon first. Is there an African flag hanging outside the coffeehouse? Does the name of the coffeehouse include words like “funky” or “monkey” or a combination of these words? Are there people coming out of it with bloodshot eyes?
These may be places to avoid, even if you think you’re recognizing your buddies come out of there. You’re not – it’s just that everybody in Holland looks like you’re buddy. We all know people who look Dutch – we just don’t know they look Dutch until you’re in the country. Suddenly your friend, whose heritage you never thought of as Dutch, has about fifty doppelgangers in Amsterdam.
Real doppelgangers too, not like the whole Facebook Doppelganger week where you put up a profile photo of the celebrity you think looks most like you. This week has got to be far and away the most collectively delusional week in American history. Your bald friends are all putting a photo a smirking Bruce Willis instead of a hands-flailing George from Seinfeld, and all your tall skinny dark-haired friends are posting a dapper John Hamm when they are, at best, an unkempt David Schwimmer.
I had only three days in Amsterdam but it was a wonderful time – they had me in a hotel overlooking one of the many canals, I went for evening walks along the water, I had an actual coffee at a respectable place on an outdoor patio, and I ordered French fries with mayo with every meal. That’s the Amsterdam I know and love, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Also, it’s apparently this crazy party town.