Boats, Bikes, and Balls ... Oh My!
By Tracey Askew
Let's see where do I start? Well, first of all I arrived early morning from Paris into Amsterdam to meet up with our grand bella of all things travel, Ms. Fleace Weaver, Founder of BlackGirlTravel/Globalnista and the other four ladies of the Amsterdam leg of the Roman Holiday live in Italy experience.
As expected, Fleace walked into the group apartment with energy and excitement. After all, I've stalked her site for months before deciding to take this trip. Watching all the videos and reading the testimonials had me geeked about trying a different kind of international trip, one filled with group laughter, friendships and no planning on my part. Let's face it as a solo traveler sometimes you miss the camaraderie of partaking in cocktails and late night talks with the girls.
True to her word about us hitting the ground running, Fleace only gave us a few minutes in our rooms to freshen up before taking off to explore our first day in Amsterdam. First stop was breakfast at one of her favorite spots for authentic Belgian waffles and chicken wings. She proclaimed, "The wings are to die for!"
At first glance the wings seemed a bit suspect. I'm thinking maybe to die from. The dark brown color made them look old, over cooked and dry, however things are not always what they seem. With just one bite, we quickly found out that the wings were moist and packed full of flavor. Lesson learned, always take chicken and waffle advice from someone who lived in Los Angeles, home of Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles. Ok, food good -- check, company entertaining -- check. Everything seems to be blending perfectly so far.
With our belly's full and spirits high, we were off to our first adventure in the most liberal city in the world. Fleace planned a private little boat ride for us that afternoon. I had been eyeing the nice yacht parked at the dock thinking it was our boat. When we continued walking past the yacht and stopped next to a tiny motor boat my heart sank. Well, she did say "little" boat but this was probably a 6 seater at the most. My initial thought, we are going to sink at the first bend in the canal. As the boat pulled away from the dock, I held onto the sides for dear life until...what's that I hear "pop, then another pop" I know that sound, could it be ... YES it is, ice cold Prosecco being poured into champagne flutes. Now, that's what I'm talking about!
Slowly I peeled my fingers from the side of the boat and around a champagne glass. A few sips of Prosecco and all good in the neighborhood. For two hours, we floated down the many canals of Amsterdam while learning the rich history of the city. Our guide was Fleace's personal friend, the charismatic Bas Boombastic, his self-proclaimed alter ego. He made the entire boat ride well worth my initial fear. Ashore everyone was aware of our tiny boat from all the laughter that filled the air. The ride turned out to be fantastic and one of the highlights of my entire trip.
The boat ride ended at the Van Gogh Museum for a special music and art after work mixer. Before entering the museum we stopped at the famous "I Am Amsterdam" display for photo ops. Like children filled with reckless abandon (or adults filled with Prosecco), we climbed the giant letters. Other tourist actually stopped climbing to become the Paparazzi, capturing our playful moments. Afterwards we giggled our way into the museum. With live music playing in the background, I wandered the rooms that exposed the layer of Van Gogh's life. It's amazing how someone so conflicted and tortured could produce such heartfelt and warm paintings of everyday life of hardworking common folk. Even his still life paintings had a very quiet power and strength to them – amazing! Just simply compelling work by a brilliant painter.
Next stop dinner and a walk through the red-light district (Rossebuurt). Everything you heard is true! The tiny streets are packed with people; it feels like Mardi Gras in New Orleans. BUT this is every night in Amsterdam! Everywhere you look you see evidence of a very liberal society. Prostitution is legal in Holland. Ever since the new millennium, women in Amsterdam are legally able to sell their ahhhh... services from window fronts marked with bright red lights. There are women of EVERY shape, size and color on display. Couples walked by hand in hand and even parents with young children. The smell of marijuana from the many coffeehouses is so strong you can get high just walking down the street. We learned that when you see the words coffee house without a space between, it is a place one can go to smoke wacky weed. Of course, no one in our group has an interest to partake in either of the two main attractions, so we succumbed to our jetlag and called it a night.
The next morning, Fleace and I (the two bacon lovers) met for breakfast. Well, we really just wanted bacon and toast. My first attempt failed as the female host informed me that no bacon is to be had without paying 30 euro ($45) for the entire breakfast buffet. Now, I am not a girl that gives up so easily, plus we are talking about bacon, hot crispy bacon. As I'm plotting my next move, a tall handsome (did I say handsome?) waiter walked over offering his assistance. My first thought was of me reclining on oversized pillows like Cleopatra while he fed me bacon. With his second "May I help you?" I snapped out of my daydream and gave my biggest Askew family smile. Before you knew it, Fleace and I were sitting at a table, eating bacon and toast with hot cups of coffee.
After breakfast and a little more flirting by both of us, we met the other ladies and our local guide for a walking tour. Amsterdam is only for the open-minded and quick footed. We followed our guide through the streets as Americans used to looking out for cars. In Amsterdam, it is not the cars but bicycles you need to watch out for. There seems to be more bicycles than cars on the streets. In the blink of an eye without warning, 20 or 30 bicycles can be coming right at you...and they DO NOT STOP for pedestrians. Yikes!
Part of our walking tour was spent pulling and pushing each other out of harm's way of oncoming cyclists. Whew! A sista needed a drink after all that dodging! Bas took us to one of his favorite neighborhood bars. "Bartender, one round of Prosecco and Bitterballen!" What the heck is a Bitterballen? Literally the word means bitter balls which is a savory Dutch meatball hors d'oeuvre served with spicy mustard. After the tour the we broke-up for some free-time.
As much fun as the days were, the nights were even better. There were plenty of variations of nightlife in Amsterdam for the average and not so average tourist. Fleace made sure we went to one of the best clubs and restaurants Amsterdam had to offer. At one of the clubs, I proved to myself that I may have a future in the nightclub bodyguard industry, which turned out to be my mission for this particular night. Some of the men in Amsterdam are, hmm, how to put this delicately, a bit on the voyeuristic side. With all the half naked women in the windows begging for their attention (and money) they still felt the need to steal the forbidden peak under the skirts of poor unsuspecting women? Yes, our gallant leader was just one of the recipients of this unusual attention... unbeknownst to her of course. While walking up the steps into the club, two men tried to look under her dress. I played mama hen and pecked the perverts away.
Gee, I guess men really do want what they are not supposed to have. On to the party! On the top dance floor we proceeded to do some shakin', picture takin' and a little flirtin' with the hot DJ spinning. What a night!
Our last night in Amsterdam has come to an end and it is time to take taxi rides home. Fleace never missing a beat or opportunity for fun suggested we take bicycle taxis instead. Mmm, what the heck is a bicycle taxi and why would I want to ride one at 2 am in the morning? As always, her enthusiasm convinced us to give it a try. After she fiercely negotiated a better price, we boarded our taxis in pairs. Claudette and I taxi looked like a hybrid between a rickshaw and egg shaped spaceship. Everyone is in and we are off on a new adventure zooming down the streets with the night air blowing through our hair. After a few blocks, our taxi separated from the others. "Hey, where are we going?" "I don't know. I'm lost," the driver said with laughter. Claudette and I looked at each other and decided to just go with the flow while knowing if needed, we could take him down.
It was an amazing ride and let's just said by the time we arrived home, Claudette had maneuvered herself into the driver's seat and off she went. But this story cannot be simply told you must see the video for the full affect. Gee, let's see if I can beat that oncoming bike, if I plan my next move just right. Yep, just in the nick of time made it! LOL
Our two days was over much too quickly. I was pretty sad to leave Amsterdam after such an amazing time, but off to the airport headed to Italy. Bags in hand with happy thoughts of my time spent in the Dam. As I patiently wait in line to board our plane for Rome, the second stop. I'm getting excited all over again until I realize there is this strange pinch in my back. I turn around to see this little old lady about 4 feet in heels, trying to maneuver me out of the way into the front of the line. Really grandma! Apparently she doesn't know I'm from DC! Maybe I need to introduce her to the "DC Chicken Wing", the elbow spread to create more personal space.
What a coincidence, my time in Amsterdam ended as it started ... with a chicken wing! LOL Well, we are all aboard and so as I looked out the window of the plane departing the gate I knew that I will be back to Amsterdam -- one way or another.
Tracy is a Miami Beach, FL transplant from Washington, DC. She attended the University of MD as a Business Finance major.As a travel enthusiast who enjoys writing as a hobby, is in the process of completing her first book based on her own life growing up, surviving and finding peace in a household of alcoholism and bipolar illness.