We found a simple Deli and soon realised how expensive everything was, so we resigned to buying a simple toasty each. Following lunch, we had a drink at The Grasshopper—the flashy double-storied coffee shop beside the first main canal across from Central Station—and decided that Café 36 was less commercialised and more homely for our tastes with its lounges and cruiser atmosphere. Then we went home for a well-deserved but very cold afternoon sleep in the midst of an European winter, still amazed we were finally in another world.
A couple of hours later, we woke to chiming church bells that sounded beautiful, setting the scene for a gorgeous evening in this historic city. The old buildings and tiny, narrow cobbled stone streets made it so quaint, as did the Dutch people who seemed welcoming. The cute canals with their entwining bridges, the colourful streetlights, and the network of shops fronts all combined to create a magical backdrop for our first night on the town. We went to dinner on ‘the card’ at a pizza place, where the food was okay, and the service better. Dutch people have an interesting way we discovered at dinner. At first they are aloof but once you connect eyes and make contact, their warmth comes flooding through.
Afterwards, we visited The Greenhouse Effect, a coffee shop on our street, where we drank hot chocolate and played some pool, which was much easier here because the pool-sticks were shorter and thicker—easier to control than the standard sticks I knew, and the knew—and holes were bigger and the tables smaller. Cory had more trouble than Julie and me because he played skilled pool on the tables in Australia and England. Cory performed most things with great skill, so it was funny having this unexpected edge on him, until he became accustomed to it.
Then we left to call Louise at a telephone shop to let Dad know we had arrived and our money was not going to last. It certainly wasn’t… Julie even had to leave her watch as temporary payment for the two and a half minute call because it came to an outrageous amount. We didn’t realise it would cost so much and were beginning to sense that we’d be in very big trouble soon! It was so, so cold here, much colder than London, and we didn’t have gloves, no warm jackets—especially Julie. She didn’t even have a jacket and none of us had warm under things—oops-a-daisy! Thank God, Julie bought that jumper at Oxford University, and why didn’t we take the wonderfully warm jacket Paul had offered us… thinking we’d have bought new ones by now.
We survived the very cold evening in the damp, smelly place we called home-for-a-night and gratefully got our stuff together to move all the way across to the other side of the road to The Hotel Kabul: a heated hotel charging only f26 more for the three of us, with windows overlooking the beautiful canal opposite Central Station. Lovely warm/clean showers welcomed us, so we enjoyed one then dressed, and Cory and I went to try our luck on the local Automatic Teller Machine (ATM) … but unfortunately, no worldwide bank had money for us!
Luckily, we had some American dollars and a 5000 Greek bank note our Greek friends had given us in London as a souvenir. I didn’t want to exchange it, except we had no choice, and only got some measly amount in return, but it meant food for the day for the three of us. We then searched downtown Amsterdam, which, we discovered meant the city centre, for the main Post Office to call Louise reverse charge to tell her we definitely needed some money for a few days accommodation.
Although Louise didn’t understand the extent of our situation, she still couldn’t offer any support, not being the bread winner in her family. Louise had the ‘fairytale’ experience of going directly from family home into a wealthy lifestyle, never knowing the feeling of paying rent, bills, and trying to make ends meet. She couldn’t know the desperation within our voices, and for that reason, we didn’t consider the fairytale situation as ideal. Cory called his mum and dad too, who were more familiar with such difficulties. They didn’t even know we were here, and promised to help us out financially for the weekend.
After the phone call, we walked the streets and came across The Bulldog Café. We didn’t think it looked like the one everybody raved about, and once inside we heard that there were a number of Bulldogs in Amsterdam. Even though we couldn’t afford to buy anything in this one on this day except a ham and cheese toasty for f2.75 each, we planned to go in search of them, with their distinctive cow hide stool covers and Rastafarian colours. Café 36, still our favourite coffee shop thus far, was our next stop for a relaxing puff and then we went back to our warm, welcoming room.
Following a little rest and a round of dice, we went for pasta at Doria—the cheapest food joint we could find. Feeling spoilt and lavished by the simple process of eating hearty food, I gave my MasterCard to the woman at the counter to pay for the f47 meal, but it wasn’t authorised and I had to leave my watch as security. Second one down. We called MasterCard when we got home to ensure the charge wouldn’t cause my card to be cancelled, because that disastrous event would have left us with no way of getting any money to us, and thankfully, it was okay. Whatever money that went in from Australia could be pulled out. I then rang Dad (who had rung 1½ hours earlier but missed us), and told him of our desperate situation, moneywise, and he said he’d do his best to round up $500 to do us for the weekend. He was also going to put in an urgent call to Hope in search of The Mystery Men with our credit cards. I loved speaking to Dad from Amsterdam, hearing his voice was comforting.
We went to Café 36 again to play one round of pool, sip water, and have a smoke, needing to get out of the hotel because they were having an all night party with extremely loud techno music directly below our room downstairs. We would have gone down but it cost a very unfair f25 each—considering we were directly above the DJ box, and they didn’t honour the hotel’s day staff who had assured when we booked in that we’d get in free because of our room’s location. No such luck and back in the room, we listened to the downstairs’ commotion laughing as the windows and lockers in our room rattled and shook to the vibrations… videoing some of it. It wasn’t too hard to sleep with cotton wool in our ears and we woke with only minor headaches, feeling like we really had been at the party. Julie especially, as her bed shook all night!
On the move again, not wishing to risk another night in that place, we journeyed all the way across the narrow road to the Eten and Drinken at No 7. Third time lucky, this was a humble but cosy hotel with four single beds filling most the room and a view of Warmoesstraat making it worth the price; slightly cheaper than last night’s noisy room. We dumped our bags and headed off to the bank first thing, only to have our hopes dashed on arriving there to discover that we couldn’t draw out the $840 Westpac had advised when I called at 10.30, an hour earlier.
So I called Westpac again, and initially the attendant said we had only $200 available, which would have been the end of us. With a silent heart shifted to my stomach, I asked her to check again because that amount wasn’t possible. Plenty was there, they told me less than two hours earlier, and I turned to Julie and Cory with a slightly bedazzled expression, not wanting to worry them just yet. Moments later, the attendant apologised and confirmed $600 was available. Relieved, I told them of the narrow escape, and we gratefully pulled out the money, returning to our hotel to pay three nights accommodation, have a lovely hot shower, and raced off to collect our watches, and look for the Hash & Marijuana Museum, having heard so much about it.
The Museum was too pricey for the three of us, so we headed back up in the direction we came, towards Dam Square to look for another Bulldog café. Unable to find any after some searching, we asked a guy walking along the street for directions, who said there were only two Bulldogs, and the main one was a tram ride away. Off we went on our first tram ride through quirky Amsterdam, and disembarked finding the café easily, near a town square.
The Bulldog Palace was this Bulldog’s name, and it appeared more conservative on the outside than the Rastafarian painted Bulldog we’d found yesterday, although it had the same cool atmosphere from the moment we walked down the stairs into the heart of the café. We ordered drinks; cup-of-tea for me and a beer each for Julie and Cory because they cost the same, and we went back upstairs to sit at tables in the enclosed glass room to watch the activity outside. This was the entertainment part of town with cute courtyards in front of buildings for people to perform music and song, which would be ideal for summer merriment. However, on this freezing day, a group of people were actually out there busking, but they soon came in and joined us at our table to warm up and chat. They were friendly Australians, and we talked with them about Amsterdam and reminisced about home. After smoking some joints, we bid farewell, saying we would try to meet up with them at the do they invited us to that evening.
Money too tight to mention, we didn’t really plan to go, and instead struck gold that evening at Dirty Nelly’s, an Irish pub serving hamburgers and chips at a decent price! A nice bar too, with large oak tables upstairs and downstairs, and that hearty, lovely Irish cheer. With full, happy bellies, we left that pub knowing we’d be back, and went window shopping around our vicinity.
It wasn’t long before we caught on… Sex shops positioned prominently along our street quickly made it clear that the infamous girls in the windows were just around the corner, behind Warmoesstraat, the very street we were living on. We couldn’t believe it; not realising we were actually in the Red Light district, because our street was so cute and old-worldly. The side streets were glowing with colourful lights as well—going hand-in-hand with drawing bees to honey.
We saw women in lingerie standing nonchalantly in small rooms in front of windows, looking severely undressed for the climate; men standing in slightly opened doorways negotiating the price, letting the winter in. Big black women, women of all types, shapes and sizes, we saw, but it was too dark and cold to take in the sights for long. We couldn’t see much, I was a bit too embarrassed really to look; however, we got the general idea and hurried home instead to get warm and have a bedtime smoke, stopping first for hot chocolates at The Greenhouse Effect on the way.
SNOW COVERED THE STREETS when we woke the next morning, thrilled at the discovery. Cory had never seen snow, so we videoed it from our window, enchanted by the beauty of lightly falling snowflakes resting on the dirty road below. Today was the day we were to meet the Mystery Men: Mr Amet and Mr Phillips. So, without being overly excited or too expectant, we casually made our way downstairs to Eaten n Drinken’s restaurant, ordered hot drinks, and played cards at our table for nearly three hours…
‘Of course, they aren’t coming,’ we affirmed to each other, jokingly yet seriously, accustomed now to let downs and disappointments. Even still, whenever two men stepped through the entry door, we’d cry out, ‘Oh, here they are now,’ amusing ourselves yet hopeful all the same. We would stand up sometimes as if to go greet them, but slowly our humour faded and we dragged ourselves away from obvious disappointment, to visit the Irish pub for a meal of cheap and very tasty jacket potatoes!
Happy bellies make happy hearts and we visited the Greenhouse Effect to get even happier, despite our unhappy circumstances. A friendly American guy there wanted to share everything with us, he bought us a drink each and shared his smoke, but we didn’t want to appear too needy and left for Café 36 to play pool and sit around, meeting other friendly foreigners. The wonderful distraction of meeting new and interesting people filled our evening helping us forget our dire situation.
The situation was suddenly direr than we realised. At the back of our minds and deep in our hearts, we thought we could call on wealthy family members if the situation got too bad. But I had rung our brother-in-law earlier to ask for help if Dad’s money didn’t come through, telling him we were truly stuck and this could not go on.
‘So when are you coming home?’ Ian immediately asked.
I explained that Cory and I didn’t have a return ticket, unlike Julie, because we intended to spend up to two years living and working in London.
Nothing further was said, except Ian put three-year-old Bianca on the line who exclaimed, ‘Santa’s coming soon’ in the cutest voice, sending me to tears. Oh, to be in the safety of our Aussie festive season… to be a financially functioning, warm and abundantly fed, human again. We were certainly getting a taste of what a huge portion of the world’s deprived people might feel every moment of their waking lives. More than character building, this was undeniably soul building!
Julie and I woke at 5.30 am to call Dad, worried about our financial/survival situation. Not hearing from us yesterday, Dad had been thinking no news is good news, and was most upset the men didn’t turn up or call! Gravely, he told us Hope and the parties involved swear his money would happen tomorrow. He also stated that we had problems if it didn’t. We said to each that it would be the cruellest thing to happen to our Dad if it went wrong… a crime!
Later in the morning, we ventured only a couple of streets around the corner and stumbled on the original Bulldog cafe! This quickly became our favourite café because it had a downstairs area with comfortable lounges for watching videos. With the room to ourselves, the three of us were in our glory, watching a movie as we smoked a jay! Cool and cosy. Cheap and cruisy! We left before wearing out our welcome—not buying drinks or smoko, coming equipped with our own bottles of water and pot purchased from another café.
To fill the rest of the day, we found another coffee shop called Speak Easy, where we played cards and had another joint. Cory and I had finally convinced Julie to learn how to play euchre. We’d been settling for silly games involving the entire deck, with inane names as ‘asshole’ and ‘oh shit’. Eventually, Julie succumbed to the look of desperation and sheer boredom on Cory and my faces, and decided to tackle the comparatively higher skilled and harder game of euchre. In no time, she mastered the trumps and the bowers and began beating us at our game. Beginners luck, we called it, elated Julie was playing a game that truly helped time fly.
In the midst of a game where Julie was winning again, an Egyptian man came over to learn about our origins and make our acquaintance. He invited us to one of his favourite spots, and ready for anything—for any kind of distraction from our own creative ventures, we followed him to a huge Mediterranean style café called Rocco’s, to sit together and listen to music. Amsterdam was abundant with such places.
After an hour of soaking up the surroundings and talking with our new friend, we went to our newly-found friendly Italian game place filled with pool tables. We played Dutch pool for another couple of hours—Cory winning most the games, and went home early with cheap lovely cheese rolls, and yummy hot chips with a sweet sauté sauce. ‘Found budget food at last at the one-guilder hole in the wall!’ Cheese rolls, eggs, and various other small and strange food items you could buy on slotting one guilder (f1) through a slot in the outer wall of the take-away shop. We would also buy hot chips inside the shop where the ‘friendly guilder-man’, (the ‘friendly golden-man’—Dutch translation) as we came to call him, would pour generous servings of sweet sauté on top of the chips, making our smiles wide with gratitude.
We had many days coffee shopping, finding cafés indicated in the Mellow Pages, a guide Cory happily found on a table in the original Bulldog. Finding cafés with interesting extras, such as hexagon tables—six-sided pool tables that you can slowly turn for your turn, making the balls move somewhat. A difficult, funny game because the balls, holes, and cues, were the same size as the rest-of-the-world and the movable table caused the balls to move… but the café had no room to play on the other side of the table, so we eventually gave up and played cards inside the lovely, warm atmosphere of Sunny Corner café. With a name like that it seemed to be offering sun all day. At least the name of the café prompted us to imagine the sun as we rarely saw it in Europe’s mid winter! Following cards, we found the Speak Easy café was offering entertainment, so we stayed there for a couple of hours watching MTV, playing dice, comfortable and relaxed in another new atmosphere, returning to our hotel in the early evening after a full day of simple, free diversions.
Next morning, Dad called with news that the money had been adjourned to December 6, a week away. Until then, Hope would get $250 000, $100 000 of which would go to Dad to pay his bills, helping him to get on top of things, as well as look after us in such a very, very cold part of the world! Everything else would follow from this he was told, and we would be able to breathe easy again, especially Dad.
We celebrated this news by treating ourselves to an hour canal cruise costing f11 each. The cruiser had windows all around for viewing the scenic trip, and was centrally heated, giving us the joyous thrill of being outdoors in Amsterdam yet still warm and cosy. I videoed much of the picturesque journey through a number of Amsterdam’s 100 canals moving under many of its 1000 bridges, cruising by narrow high homes, so narrow (sometimes only a door’s width) furniture is hoisted up into their high windows to get it in. We saw another side of Dutch life away from the street living focus as many people lived in floating homes, and we even spotted a floating coffee shop, as we motored along. Coffee shop spotting and visiting was our primary activity here, so we visited this place on foot the next day.
This floating café aptly called, the Floating T Boat, had a cute and cosy boat-like atmosphere in which we smoked, played heaps of cards, ate our one-guilder take-away rolls, and met another American guy called Mike.
Very unassuming in appearance, Mike looked like a ‘bogan’—a ‘westie’ stereotype us Aussies gave to roughish-looking guys in flannelette tops and dark clothes living in Sydney’s western suburbs. But oh, how looks can be deceiving! On closer inspection, we saw that he was reading a mathematics book. Yes, reading mathematics. He had flown over from the US to study for major mathematics exams, and described studying algebra and heaps of mathematics equations as reading a story—and marijuana helped with the process, he said. (Smoking marijuana seemed smart after all!) We were in awe of his unassuming brilliance and enjoyed his company for the rest of the day. It was his last full day in Amsterdam, and our clever mathematician, devised a way to hide his manmade bong in a certain spot for us to collect in the morning.
We kept ourselves amused, housed, and fed for the next few days, and over the weekend, waiting for Dad’s money to come through on Monday. We missed the annual spectacular Marijuana World Cup Awards on Saturday because it cost f30 each, so we resigned to coffee shop shopping, playing games—pool, dice, or cards, and watching movies at the Bulldog. What we hadn’t resigned ourselves to, was waiting for Dad’s troubling money any longer. But resign we did, taking it in our stride when he told us on Monday morning that his subsidiary money would not be going in until midnight Oz time, and he would call later that night to let us know if this actually happened.
Alas, he did not call and we went to bed many hours later, assuming it had been put off again. Poor Daddy, we cried. He rang early in the morning to say that a portion of the money would be in his account on Friday and all of it on Tuesday. Our cards were in Sydney, and they would be sent to us after Hope’s money was through (as we knew would happen ages ago). Dad asked us if we wanted to move on—to Germany, for example, and to find out how much money we would need. We preferred to stay until Tuesday anyway, so that solved that problem.
OTHER THAN THE MONEY coming through, our concern was in finding locations of solace. For example, we were beginning to wear out our welcome in our favourite Bulldog where we watched movies downstairs on comfy couches. We went there Monday afternoon after our most recent disappointment in hope of catching an afternoon escape, but a guy told us we had to buy drinks, so we bought one and left soon after, missing the movie. It was so hard being in Amsterdam without money. Everything was so expensive, especially when living on only f100 a day to spend and f105 on our room. After buying two grams of smoko a day—a small portion to share between three of us—for no more than f25, we had less than f30 a day each. The average meals are f16 and drinks were pricey. Whiling the day away here was hard without money.
To try to remedy this situation we went in search of cheaper accommodation the next day. At VVV, where people go for travel help, we discovered our hotel was a bargain compared to others. Ours was f35 per person per night and others were f40-60 for cheap and shared lodgings. Our cute, noisy, little room on top of a busy street was suddenly very appealing.
That evening, we had our first meal in the Eten n’ Drinken’ restaurant—finally living up to the hotel’s name, and felt honoured to eat there, happy to know we were living in the most affordable place for us.
We filled the days between not knowing much about the money situation and finding out not much more about it, with doing various other things besides coffee shop shopping. One day we jumped on a tram to see where it would take us, and travelled into suburbia with its big buildings and built up sprawling spaces. We preferred our return journey as we were no longer sitting backwards in the tram—which gave us headaches—and enjoyed seeing great old museums and galleries, the streets and houses looked prettier as we neared the city again.
We took another day walking through the streets of the Red Light District behind us, finding it more welcoming in the daylight. And safer too, because we realised the girls’ presence offered eyewitness protection against street crimes. Amsterdam was one of Europe’s safest cities, as women weren’t afraid to return home alone at night, and violent crimes were rare. Legalised marijuana use certainly did seem a way to reduce the world’s crime.
We were harassed somewhat only by the occasional man offering us, ‘Hash, cocaine, or ecstasy for the ladies’, or a crack addict rushing to us from a side street asking for a light, which he would use to heat up the alfoil in his hands with heroine in it and inhale. After seeing why they wanted a lighter, we stopped giving them one, and we usually had only matches, so we would receive a gruff protest (hands thrown in the air, guttural sounds emitting from exasperated lungs) before they would rush off to ask the next person for a lighter!
During this waiting time, it was also Cory’s 23rd birthday on December 4, so we made the most of it and visited Cory’s selection of favourite cafés from the Mellow Pages, enjoying Happy Hour at Rick’s Café—big jugs of beer for Cory and Julie, and a Strongbow Cider and blackcurrant juice for me. We got very merry there, Cory even played pinball, and we went home after Happy Hour ended at six, with only f50 between us for Sunday the 5th, which was Mum’s birthday and St Nicola’s Day in Netherlands. St Nicolas is the patron saint of children (among other things), and it’s a day of gift-giving and surprises.
She was at Louise’s when we rang reverse charge in the morning. We hadn’t spoken for a month, so it was a beautiful present for all of us. We even shared a roast dinner across the miles. Mum uncomfortably affirmed to us that she had just eaten a customary roast for her birthday; and later that day we happily bought a roast each on credit downstairs in our Eaten n Drinken’ restaurant. It was almost as if we’d shared dinner with Mum, except I didn’t like the dark, fatty lamb, as Mum wouldn’t have either, not really a lover of meat… I loved the potatoes and vegies, as I was still predominantly vegetarian, which was cost effective in the mornings when I’d order fruit for breakfast and Cory and Julie had bacon and eggs instead… As it was peak winter, this was not a smart thing to do! My diet came from Fit for Life—a book designed for warm climates. I was living in a part of freezing, cold Europe, situated six metres below sea level and I did not think to adjust my diet to warming foods accordingly. I was invincible, still!
What warmed none of us was the situation Dad was going through. He called on Monday to say Hope had been put off to Wednesday. Julie was booked to fly home 11 December—five days away, and she couldn’t miss that flight if the money was not coming through soon. On Wednesday, Dad called to say the picture was looking good, Hope was finally gaining access to the cards, and he would be picking up his on Friday. We all prayed for it to be true. Julie delayed her flight.
WITH THINGS LOOKING UP, we caught a video at our favourite Bulldog with the downstairs video and lounge room. A good, cosy, time-wasting activity everyone was happy about because we had money to buy drinks. Afterwards, we cruised over to the Easy Speaking café where we played cards and watched MTV, going home at 4.30 pm with cheese rolls for dinner. Julie and Cory had had bouts of the cold over the past few days, so I was happy to be home early fighting off the beginnings of one that never came.
Dad didn’t call on Friday. I called MasterCard to see if any money had been put in, the amount letting us know the situation. Our friend Karla, in Australia, had put in $400 dollars. She was such a sweetheart doing this for us. No more money was in there, so we assumed Dad had been put off again until Monday. So, we were in for another weekend, (our fourth) in Amsterdam with not much money!
Saturday morning: just when we thought things couldn’t get any worse, they did! The 400 Karla put in went towards fixing up my credit limit. Now, we had barely any money for the weekend. 30 guilders was absolutely all of it until Monday, and that was only if Dad had money to give us on Monday! Unbelievable bad luck! To try to rectify this, we went in search of a pawn broker; but, as we walked we already knew, pawn brokers were only open on weekdays. It really was another exciting weekend without moolah for us…
Cory handed over his watch again that evening. We decided to try to keep the cash we had for the weekend, and have a decent—but still cheap—meal for a change. The restaurant we went to on our first night was on our hit list because we thought it didn’t have a proper online machine, but naturally, for us, it was online tonight. 43 guilders to pay on Monday, plus heaps of money owed on our room, meant we wouldn’t have much left money wise—if—the money still wasn’t through. And that couldn’t be humanly possible, we pleaded with God.
We knew Sunday was going to be a hard one. We knew it would be and so were fairly prepared for anything, but I wasn’t prepared for my worst ever booming headache! I was happy to lay in bed and not move my head, but Julie and Cory had me up playing a bit of cards, which made it sort-of go away. Our diet for the whole day was chips and cheese rolls, and Dad was extremely dismayed to hear this when he called and heard we didn’t have money for any proper food. Worse than hearing us upset, was hearing Dad disheartened, and Julie and I demanded for this to STOP!|
To be continued ...