I have developed a theory that you really can call a place home when you are comfortable jay walking there. If that's true, I could not be more decidedly a visitor. It's a little better here than in London and Glasgow, in that I mostly know what direction the traffic will be coming from, but they've gone and added hundreds of bicycles to the mix. It's like the next level of a video game. Mastered traffic on the right? Move on to bicycle level. I'm sure there are clear bicycle right-of-way rules, but I certainly don't know what they are. Instead, on small streets, I swivel my head around wildly as though the Tour de France may come barrelling around any corner at all. On more trafficked streets, I perch on the curb waiting and waiting for the little green walk man to appear, knowing that it he will only do so in two different stages (a thing I do not understand at all), so that even after I make it safely to the middle of the road, I will only reprise my wait until I am cleared to get all the way to the other side. It takes quite a lot of time, and I do feel silly, but, on the bright side, I've not yet been run over.
When I was in Scotland (about which I have much more to say, but if I try to go in order at this point, I fear I'll only fall further behind), Jenny shared this bit of restaurant-choosing wisdom: if it makes claims to have "world-famous" anything, avoid it like the plague. I would like to add to that: do not dine at a Dutch restaurant that gives you a souvenir wooden shoe key chain with your receipt. Unless you really wanted one, of course. I'm just saying that it's a good bet the locals aren't flocking to the joint. Sometimes, though, in an unknown city, it can be motivating to go out looking for something rather than just looking at everything. Even if that place turns out to be a touristy pancake restaurant frequented by very young American backpackers, there can still be a sense of accomplishment in having found it. Um...eventually. While the center of Amsterdam is really quite small, it is not all that self evident from a navigational standpoint. The street names change with a frequency that suggests a a greater commitment to fairness (surely everyone should get to have a street named after them, even if for only one block?) than to city planning.
The nice thing is that being lost in the center of Amsterdam is no great hardship (unless you are very, very hungry and stubbornly devoted to some particular pancakes you've never even met), There seems to be nothing that isn't beautiful. Within an hour of leaving the house, I was ready to move here. All I need is a work visa and enough money for a canal house. Easy peasy.
After the silly pancake quest had ended, I decided to do some reconnaissance about the place I intend to have dinner (it's taco Tuesday at J.D. Williams Whiskey Bar, don't you know. And who doesn't want Asian fusion tacos with whiskey cocktails? It sounds like I'm making that up, but it is a real thing. It sounds uniquely terrible, which makes me believe it might be surprisingly great. If I lose courage, there's a gin joint only a few impossibly named streets away). As I was swivel-head-ing and oh-my-god-it's-so-beautiful-ing my way through cobbled streets, I passed on my left what looked like it might be a perfect bar/cafe to wait out the threatening rain. I made a note to retreat to it swiftly when I felt the first drop, but thought I'd explore just a little further, which is how I ended up in the Red Light District entirely by accident.
I was startled by how completely quotidian it was. Not ten steps beyond the perfect cafe on the left, was a fifty-something blonde in a pink neon bra in a window on the right. I suppose I imagined a more cordoned-off, seedy atmosphere. I did not expect to see women on display right round the corner from a butcher shop and a corner grocery. Possibly, it seems different at night. On a Tuesday afternoon, however, what it mostly seems is boring. Not for me, of course, the unsuspecting wanderer, but for the women in the windows. They look no different from sales clerks behind the counters of empty shops, gazing vacantly toward the open door, other than that they are wearing a lot less and none of it comfortable.
Here's hoping Tuesday night is more profitable than Tuesday afternoon, ladies, and that you have to deal with the bare minimum of idiotic French teenagers like those I passed minutes later practicing "Tu es une pute? Combien?" and then falling about laughing. Looks like a tough gig.