AMAZED IN AMSTERDAM

AMSTERDAM IS NOT ALL SEX, DRUGS, AND ROCK AND ROLL, XAV JUDD WRITES AS HE UNCOVERS SOME QUIRKIER EXPERIENCES IN THE DUTCH CAPITAL

The Netherlands’ capital can trace its origins back to the 1100s, when fisherman built a bridge and dam across the River Amstel, giving rise to the village of Amestelledamme. In fact, water has continually played a pivotal role in this city’s development. In the 17th century, ships sailed from its port to every corner of the globe to trade - sparking the establishment of an empire.

During this transformative period, which was dubbed the Dutch Golden Age, the first canals were constructed. The lifeblood of Amsterdam, their innumerable presence (over 160 canals and 1500-plus bridges) has created the most sumptuous vista: boats drift along in eddies of fawny-olive, only broken by the shadows of overhanging trees and august townhouses.

To begin to literally scratch beneath the surface of this famous city, an immediate must-do is Micropia (Plantage Kerklaan 38-40; micropia.nl). The exhibits housed within this unique museum turn up not only underground, but in the sea, desert, outer space and in all of us – microbes, a micro organism, often unicellar, which can usually only be seen with a microscope. Several of this institution’s displays and installations focus on the everyday existence of these titchiest of littl’uns using actual living examples. And don’t leave Micropia without indulging in the unmissable “Kiss-o-meter”. The what? Yes, plant a smacker on your beau or even a stranger’s lips and the aforementioned device measures how many microbes are exchanged between the two of you. Charming!

One thing’s for sure, though, you definitely wouldn’t want to smooch or in any other way get too close to the majority of the items on show in the Museum Vrolic (Meibergdreef 15; amc.nl/web/museum-vrolik.htm). Why? Because the collection contains various specimens relating to humans and animals. And the emphasis is on the darker side of existence. Hence, (untimely) death, decay and deformity are high up on the agenda. So ready yourself for conjoined twins, brains and other body parts, and a number of foetuses with gruesome abnormalities. Yes, this certainly isn’t a place for the squeamish.

There’s no better way to re-emerge into the land of the living than by slinking up to a nice wet pussy. Well, if it’s fallen overboard. I’m talking about cats, of course. Several of which are looked after on houseboat De Poezenboot (Singel 38/G; depoezenboot.nl). Moored along one of the canals, this sanctuary rescues stray moggies. And they welcome visitors, who have the option to adopt. If you still want to brush up on your felinology, the next port of call has to be De Kattenkabinet (Herengracht 497; kattenkabinet.nl). Set up by Bob Meijer in 1990 in memory of his tomcat, this small establishment has got many objects d’art celebrating what some would say is man’s true “best friend”. Prepare to be enthralled by drawings, paintings and sculptures etc, a few by luminaries such as Picasso, Rembrandt and Toulouse-Lautrec.

Historically, the Netherlands has been a beacon with regard to LGBTQ+ rights. 

Historically, the Netherlands has been a beacon with regard to LGBTQ+ rights. Indeed, same-sex activity was decriminalised way back in 1811; the age of consent was equalised with heterosexuals in 1971; and 30 years later it was the earliest country on the planet to legalise non-straight marriage. As for Amsterdam, it’s routinely voted as one of the most gay-friendly cities on the globe. 

Even though there are various bistros, drinkeries and nightspots throughout the municipality, the focal point of the scene since the 1970s has been the street Reguliersdwarsstraat. One of its undoubted standouts is the relative newbie Bar Blend (41; barblend.nl), which opened in 2019. As the name suggests, this swanky, two-floored bolthole welcomes all-comers; having a diverse clientele in respect of age, gender, race, and sexual orientation. And one wonders if anything really is off-limits in the non-fancy but bustling split venue Taboo (45; taboobar.nl).  A couple of doors away, Club NYX (42; clubnyx.nl) puts the party into polysexual playpen, as all types and their admirers cavort and boogie on its three storeys, each of which has its own music genre. 

 If you crave for something else, step into the quaint Café’t Mandje (Zeedijk 63; cafetmandje.amsterdam). It was the metropolis’ first gay bar – opened  in 1927. Yet, it’s almost as if it hasn’t changed since the very beginning; inside, there are original antiques such as cabinets, brass pots, and pictures. Not to forget the vintage jukebox and billiards table. 

Nothing beats the super-extravaganza of  Amsterdam Pride (pride.amsterdam). Established 25 years ago and set for next summer (30 July to 07 August 2022), the director of this hedonistic jamboree, Lucien Spee, says, “Everyone who is different from the hetero norm should feel invited to be noticed and to be visible.” This whole nine-day event culminates with the legendary Canal Parade: a riot of joie de vivre and colour, as over 80 lavishly adorned boats sail from Oosterdok to Westerdok.

A visit to the Van Gogh museum (Museumplein 6; vangoghmuseum.nl) is a must. In addition to several of the artist’s iconic paintings and drawings, this gallery also contains personal letters. 

Amsterdam reveals hidden depths the minute one looks beyond the clichéd attractions. So, ignore the coffeeshops, red light district and other spots chocker with holidaymakers, as further sights this most absorbing capital has to offer might just blow you away! 

Getting There

KLM (klm.co.uk) have regular flights to Amsterdam (AMS) from London Heathrow (LHR), Edinburgh (EDI) and Manchester (MAN). 

Where to Stay 

The Dylan (Keizersgracht 384;
dylanamsterdam.com)

Bob might not be in residence, but this five-star hotel has still got rock-star kudos. And what’s not to like about (40) rooms with: beams on ceilings; wooden floors; plush, comfy beds and seating; and stand-alone baths. There’s also a bijou gym and a leafy courtyard.