Our Man in Amsterdam

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.

By | 2018-01-19T21:01:44+00:00 March 26th, 2011|6 Comments


  1. Linda Null March 26, 2011 at 4:58 pm - Reply

    Funny stuff, but glad to know you saw the old fashioned part of town….and NOT the funky monkey side.

    Safe travels and wishes for many sales of the book!


    • Conor March 26, 2011 at 6:57 pm - Reply

      Thanks Linda- hopefully less traveling happening now for a while as we anticipate the arrival of our little daughter, God willing! But thanks for the comment!

  2. Karin March 26, 2011 at 6:35 pm - Reply

    I loved your book and was most moved by the joy you saw (and depicted) in the children despite their difficult circumstances. Thank you for your work.
    I am troubled by your blog discussion of the “hookers” in Amsterdam. While sex work is regulated there, so many women and girls, just like your children in Nepal, have been trafficked and are caught in a terrible of cycle of exploitation, violence and money. There is an excellent documentary called Demand which vividly describes how women and girls become trapped in the sex trade – I would highly recommend it.
    With the well deserved success of your book, your voice is heard and valued by so many and has the great power to inspire our youth to effectuate change in this world for ALL victims/survivors.

    • Conor March 26, 2011 at 6:56 pm - Reply

      Hi Karin-
      Yes, it’s a good point, these issues extend far and wide past Nepal – I’ll make it a point to check that out and learn more about the sides that I don’t see. Thanks for writing, I really appreciate it!

  3. Lidewij March 27, 2011 at 9:28 am - Reply

    You were in Holland and I didn’t even know it… When will you visit my country again? I liked the story about Amsterdam, but you know we have the same situation as in France. You have France and Paris, we have Amsterdam and Holland. Not comparable 😉

    • Conor March 27, 2011 at 1:31 pm - Reply

      I hope to get back to Amsterdam soon! Next time with my wife, though – so many romantic opportunities missed, walking along those canals at night….

Leave A Comment

I’ve spent a lot of time in England – really…