Brendan Polmer: Hostels, Heineken and hash

I wouldn’t really consider myself to be a super-experienced traveler, but this summer I was given the opportunity (OK, the money) to spend the month of August backpacking around Europe. And yes, of course, I went to Amsterdam.

There seems to be a lot of hype about this infamous city in the Netherlands, considered perhaps to be the most liberal city in the world – which is true, if by “liberal” you mean “stupid-ridiculous.”

We chose the least expensive means of sleeping, none other than the youth hostel. While some hostels are certainly very nice, the one we chose through the Internet and located right next to Amsterdam’s scandalous Red Light district, was, to say the least, seedy. When sleeping in a 20-bed dormitory, it is not uncommon to wake up to surround-sound snoring every morning. But hey, it was just a place to crash after a long night of partying to a degree that would certainly be considered illegal back home.

Speaking of illegal, even the most seasoned stoners back in the United States would feel like a kid in a candy shop upon entering one of Amsterdam’s famous coffee shops, where the sweet aroma of pot smoke is stronger than at Thurston Hall on a Saturday night.

My friend and I strolled into one of the quieter, more relaxed coffee shops by just following our nose – kind of like Toucan Sam, except tracking down pot instead of colored, fruity cereal. Neither of us was quite sure of how to go about buying it, but when presented with the full menu at the counter we had the daunting task of choosing. White Widow or Northern Lights? Isolator or Purple Haze? It was like going from only being able to eat two kinds of jellybeans your whole life – mango and buttered popcorn – and then being given the opportunity to try all the other wonderful flavors that you never even knew existed!

Indeed, it is very surreal smoking cannabis in an open, loosely regulated environment. With eyes glazed and stomachs rumbling, we continued to explore the city, walking past the black-lit windows featuring some of the most gorgeous women I’ve ever seen selling their bodies to whoever had the desire – and the cash – to sleep with them.

We then decided it would be a good idea to find a pub and have our first Heineken beer in Amsterdam, since it’s brewed there. We pretty much just walked into the first pub we saw and ordered two pints of Heineken. The first sip was heavenly! It tasted so fresh, so smooth, so clean, so cold, so much better than in the states. Well, maybe it was the White Widow that made it taste so good.

The real kicker came when we realized we were in a gay bar. No wonder everyone was so friendly towards us American boys. No worries, though, we had a gay old time.

The next day we realized just how gay Amsterdam really is (not negatively like, “Dude, Amsterdam is gay,” but more like, “Yeah, Amsterdam is really gay”). After breakfast, we walked out onto one of the main canals and found ourselves in the middle of a major gay pride parade, complete with large boats coasting down the canals with drag queens dancing to trance music and topless lesbians covered in body paint shooting rainbow colored confetti out of large cannons. It was quite bizarre, yet curiously amusing to realize that all of this was happening down the very street where Anne Frank and her family hid from the Nazis during the Second World War.

Before leaving Amsterdam, I walked over to a phone booth to make the obligatory call home to the parents to let them know I was still alive and having fun. At the end of the conversation, my mother burst with excitement, “Oh! How were the coffee shops? Did you go to any of them?”

“Um, uh, yeah… They were, uh, interesting,” I replied awkwardly.

And then she had to ask, “Are you high right now?”

“Mom! No!” I was telling the truth, but I don’t think she believed me.

-The writer, a junior majoring in journalism and music, is a Hatchet humor columnist. He is seriously considering expatriating to the Netherlands after college.

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