Amsterdam, Netherlands 2018

getting a photo with the Iamsterdam sign without other people is next to impossible!

€1 = $1.16

I recently wrote that I haven’t been to this airport (Newark) in more than 10 years, and yet here I am again for the second time in two months. Of course, when we head to Amsterdam, our choices are kind of limited. And here I am. In the same terminal, drinking beer at the same bar, with the same waitstaff. Nothing changed but the travelers who make this one of my least favorite spots- not just Newark, but airports in general don’t get my stamp of approval. From security people who seem to avoid ways to make the line go quicker, to the collection of passengers who range from nervous flyers to foreigners who are over-anxious to get home. Then there’s me, grumpy to have paid to be in the Known Traveler Program, only to find this airport does not segregate that program’s people and we have to stand in line and take our belts off with every other person. Nonetheless, we have planned accordingly and stand in the 45 minute line around 5pm for our 8pm flight. The line easily starts with 100 people in it, all moving slowly. The woman behind me keeps pushing into me to get me to move up faster, and there are the four college students in front of us debating- in a serious manner- the parenting skills of Joseph- yeah, from the Bible. They are on their way to Israel and I am hoping with all my might that they aren’t flying through Iceland as well, lest I wind up sitting next to more of this inane conversation. We are in the terminal around 6pm and decide to head out for beer while we wait for the boarding call.
One other thing I should mention is that this past week the world learned of the death of one of my celebrity heroes, Anthony Bourdain. I never met the guy, and can’t say that I know much more about him than we ever learned from his television shows, but I will admit that I, and El, had been greatly inspired in travel by him singularly. He always seemed like the guy, that if we could (along with his many fans), we would love to have his job. His mixture of travel and food frequently showed us new sides of places we were familiar with and inspired us to go to or add destinations we hadn’t made it to yet to our list. I won’t get as sappy to say “this trip is for Tony”, because that just sounds weird. But, I will confidently say that this is shaping up to be a Tony Bourdain inspired trip as they all have been since we started following him 18 years ago. We will miss seeing his new shows, but watch with fervent interest as they rerun episodes. He was my kind of travel journalist and our adventures are what they are in large part because of him.
Why are we headed to Amsterdam? Generally, because it is a city we have not yet visited. It has been on both of our travel lists for all these years, but the opportunity just hadn’t presented itself until now. You see, back in October of last year, a friend of mine from the old tape trading days came to visit New York City with his friend to see Guns N’ Roses at Madison Square Garden. It was a whirlwind trip for them arriving on Saturday, seeing the concert on Sunday night, and flying home to Germany on Monday. But that was the plan. I was in Albany at the time and when I heard of Haki’s itinerary, I offered to make a day trip down to NYC to visit with him and his friend, Martin. I took the early train down to the city and met him for the first time in person around 10am. Haki (and Martin) and I became fast friends and eventually, we three adjourned to a beer garden in NYC a few blocks from Madison Square Garden. It was a great afternoon capped off with El coming to meet us, before we left for dinner and they left for the concert. Haki and have have continued our penpal relationship and it is as strong as ever. Meanwhile, once he returned back to Germany, a few weeks lapsed and I got an email from him. He knows that I am a big fan of a band called Rose Tattoo. They have been around since the 1970’s and January 1983 was the last time they performed in the USA. They have continued to record and perform for many of the interim years, but as far as I know all of their live shows have been in either Australia or Europe. I know it was not worth holding my breath for them to play here, so Haki sent an email telling me that he was making plans to see them over the summer and half-jokingly suggesting I make the trip to join him. He had no idea how intriguing the idea was. However, El and I had already bought our tickets and otherwise committed to our trip to Italy (in April). With the April 15 tax day looming, it was unclear just how far our finances were going to stretch. I knew that Italy was covered, but that if we owed our taxes, it was not going to be possible to also come back to Europe this year. But, if we got a refund, how great would that be to put it towards this type of trip? Well, we did get a refund. Not a large one, but enough that with Italy in our rearview mirror, I was receptive to considering the options. Haki told me that Rose Tattoo was playing near his hometown and that he wanted to encourage me to join him there. I looked at the tour schedule and hoped that I would be able to see hopefully two or three shows. However, once I started to consider El joining me, I started to think that spending the better part of a week in Germany following a band she doesn’t know might not be her favorite trip, I saw that Amsterdam was on the itinerary and started to think about seeing a show in Germany and then head to Amsterdam for a second show and sightseeing. But, by the time I was ready to pull the trigger on the purchase of airplane tickets, the Rose Tattoo show in Bochum, Germany had sold out. While Amsterdam tickets were still available, seeing a second show became less likely. Then I started to see if we (El and I) could make this more about a visit to Amsterdam than a touring with Rose Tattoo trip. Figuring out our work schedules and available time off, we decided to spend all of our time in Amsterdam in hopes that Haki would be able to make it to Amsterdam for this show. And, like that, things started to come together. We booked our plane tickets for Thursday through Monday and Haki would drive with his wife from their home in Germany to Amsterdam to meet up with us to go to the Rose Tattoo show. On Friday I learned another one of my favorite bands was playing in Amsterdam, so I bought us tickets to see L7 at the Melkweg- a club I have heard about for years. More on that later. Once we returned from Italy in April, I started laying out my research for Amsterdam. I know we only have 3 full days, plus one evening and one morning, and we fully intend on cramming as much into this opportunity as we can. If anyone will, we will. Tony Bourdain style.

Wednesday June 13

Our flight takes off on time. We are flying Icelandic Airlines and have a 3 hour layover in Keflavik Airport on our way to Schiphol Airport (Amsterdam). If we had more time off work, I am not sure if I would have opted for an extended layover in Reykjavik or lengthened our stay in Amsterdam, but either way, we aren’t doing that this time. Just a simple layover today. It is now 10pm and we will land in 3hr45min. I have plenty of options for things to see and do that aren’t rock concerts and intend to fit as many of them in as possible…and with my best travel partner, it won’t be bad. Both of our flights are uneventful and we arrive in Schiphol on time at 1pm. El has done some research and after discussing our options, we bought a tourist pass called the Iamsterdam card and one of the redemption locations is in the airport (you order the card online, get a receipt, redeem at kiosk). So, while we are figuring out how to get to the hostel from here, we are also on the lookout for the kiosk to pick up our card. We find the tourist info office, so we are able to get all of our questions answered at once. We pick up our card and learn that the daily public transit cards do NOT include the bus from the airport to downtown. She sends us to platform B9 to get the express bus, but after speaking with someone at the stop, we learn that they have moved the stop to B18. We are here 10 minutes and already learned something that tourist info didn’t know! Bus 397 is the airport shuttle from and to city center. It takes about 20 minutes and costs €6 1-way or €10 round trip. The bus runs every 7 minutes. Our hostel is near Rijksmuseum, so we will head there first. We arrive to 70 degrees and overcast skies. On the ride, my first impression relates to the amount of transit infrastructure. Tram wires, bus lanes, trolley tracks etc. and lots of bikes with dedicated lanes alongside the roadways. I might have to look into taking a bike tour.
After we get checked in to the hostel and nap for a couple of hours, we head out to our first appointment. We take the tram to Centraal Station, which is the end of the line.

Centraal Station over our shoulders, and the wind in our hair

There is a ticket machine on the platform, but we can’t navigate it fast enough to get our tickets before the tram arrives. We lean in and ask the driver if we can use credit cards to buy a ticket on the tram and she says yes. But she is not happy when I cannot answer her questions fast enough as I try to balance describing what I want with asking what my options are. She sells me two, one hour passes and I pay with the card on the tram. I would learn later in the weekend that you are required to enter a tram through the front door or the rear door only, and exit from the middle doors only. Most trams have a manned ticket booth in the rear car, so you don’t have to bother the driver for this. Now I know. The tram takes 10 minutes to Centraal Station. We are hungry and need to meet our walking tour in about 40 minutes. We find the meeting spot and Yelp food spots nearby. We head off to one place, but can’t seem to find it. Running out of time, we go to a place called Mr. Burger which turns out to be very decent burger place. Dinner runs €22 for both of us. We are done at 7:55 and walk 5 minutes back to the meeting spot where we meet Lee, the guide, and the others on the tour of the De Wallen (The Wall) section (known universally as the Red Light District or RLD). Along the way Lee points out interesting bars, eateries, and invokes Anthony Bourdain’s name when pointing out a drinking hole called In't Aepjen (the Monkey Bar) that used to accept sailor's monkeys as payment. As we walk through RLD, there is not all that much activity, though we understand it gets crowded after dinner. On the tour we learn that the sex workers incorporate as independent businesses. They then rent a window out in 4 hour increments. The rent is cheaper around €120 in the morning hours (11am-3pm) and rises to somewhere around €200 for the prime (7pm-11pm) slot. Negotiations with the women are solely at their discretion and usually start at €50 for 15 minutes and go up from there. Workers have to be 18+ years old, a documented resident of the EU, and be able to speak enough English or Dutch to be able to communicate with the police. Not every worker’s family is aware of their profession, this is one reasons it is forbidden to take photos of them. As we walk through, I am struck by how unattractive I find most of the women in the windows- though I was told you will see the most attractive girls all the way to “toothless grandmothers” behind the glass. They are not allowed to put on an explicit show, no nudity, just dancing around in lingerie and bikinis, posing seductively and trying to entice the next client to approach. The RLD, even though a lot of questionable activity goes on here, actually seems relatively safe. There are patrols of people in neon green shirts that walk through the 4 block by 4 block area as sort of a safety patrol. They are not police, but know the laws and will remind visitors when they are breaking the law and tell them of the fines they could have incurred should the police had been the ones to stop them. One of the biggest violations is that people assume you can have open alcohol containers and you cannot. The fines can be steep. I am intrigued by the live sex shows and trying to ask Lee questions to get a feel for the pros and cons of that type of theatre- though she is pretty forthcoming with her information and experiences. The tour lasts about two hours and afterwards El and I decide to go back to the Monkey Bar before moving on. Most seats are full and we spy a couple of empties in the corner. At the same time, we see one of the couples from our tour entering the bar so we invite them to join us. Omar and Ghida, a young Lebanese couple who are currently residing in Dubai. We stay for a few beers. The conversation centers on mutual love of food, travel, and world experience. I want to try to get a photo of the RLD aglow at night.

RLD in the evening

It gets dark so much later than we are used to, so waiting until 11pm to try to get a scene that is more dark than light was necessary. You are not allowed to take photos of the working girls, but shots of the street are OK. The streets are remarkably more crowded now and I am not interested in spending too much more time here if we are not looking for any of the offerings. We decide to walk back the 30 minutes to the hostel. We are both in a strange state now. Hungry, but not too much so. Tired, but not enough that we think we will sleep through the night. Could go for a beer, but not necessary. We spend some time thinking about our morning plan and decide to call it a night. The hostel, booked against my better judgement, is known as a “party hostel”. This means- as you might guess that many of the people who stay here are in party mode to go out drinking and smoking and coming in loud and drunk late and then doing it all over again the next day. Lots of noise in the hallways and god forbid you get a group of these people in your dorm room. Luckily, our roommates were quiet and we were actually the ones who came in last, and we tried to be respectful to them. We are tired and even though the thumping bass from downstairs is loud enough to make it up to our room, once we get to sleep, we are able to get better sleep than we expected considering instead of signing up for bunk beds, we actually ordered a “queen size” bed, which in European terms is closer to a double. And being that we prefer king size, it makes it hard for us to get much quality sleep especially if one is restless and keeps bumping into the other. But again, this wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.

Friday June 15

We are up at 7:30, before the rest in the room. We shower and eat at the hostel before heading out for the day. The Iamsterdam card is bought for 24 hour increments. We considered our options and decided to go with the €59 (each) for 1 day card. The card allows you free unlimited public transit, entrance fees to several museums, and a free canal tour. To make the most of the day, we start at the Van Gogh museum at 9am sharp. One of the things is that several museums, we find you need to make online timeslot reservations. So, even though our entrance fee is included in the card, we also needed to tell them what time we would be there. While Vincent was a prolific painter and has a few famous works, he has hundreds that you’ve never seen. Further, a couple of the biggies like Starry Night and Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear are not here. The big ones here are Sunflowers, the Potato Eaters, and Self-Portrait with Grey Felt Hat, that I recognize. During his life, Vincent was close to his brother, Theo who collected Vincent’s paintings and letters and these are the basis for this museum’s collection. There are some works by other painters too, but mostly it is a collection of Vincent’s paintings arranged in chronological order where you can really see the different periods of his career as you pass from room to room. We get a few pictures, but don’t need to spend too much time. I didn’t realize he was only 37 when he killed himself in France. We are done by 9:45 and on to our next stop, which is not part of the Iamsterdam card. It is a walking tour that starts at 10:30 and meets near Dam Square. The tour lasts about two hours and there is a little bit of overlap with the RLD tour from last night, though I think Lee knew more of what she was talking about. She said she was never a sex worker, but had enough friends and experiences in the district to speak intimately and knowledgeably, whereas today’s tour is an overview, from a local who seems to have gotten most of his facts out of a book- so it was informative, but I am glad we took both and didn’t just rely on one tour. The guide is a little goofy and I don’t care all that much for his style of trying to encourage group participation at times. Also, by now we have had some close calls with bikes. As many times as you remember to look both ways when trying to cross a bike lane, not everyone uses their bells and you can quickly find yourself in a dodge and swerve to keep from getting run into. Our guide does point out that the only thing scarier than a Dutch bicyclist, is a tourist on a bike, though we would hear later that old people on E-bikes are increasingly causing the most harm. I am beginning to rethink my interest in renting a bike. The tour ends at the Homomonument, near the Anne Frank House. The monument is the three corners of a 36 meter triangle. One arrow is pointing to the National War Memorial in Dam Square. One points to the Anne Frank House to symbolize Nazi persecution of homosexuals. While the third points to the site of the first legal, gay marriage (Netherlands being the first country to legalize gay marriage). Speaking of Anne Frank House, I don’t know why this didn’t make it into my research, but I learned relatively recently that you need a timeslot for this too, and by the time I looked, they were long booked. I ask if there are any tips/tricks for getting tickets this late in the game, expecting he might tell us to go to a tour company or something like that. Instead he suggests that since slots are booked so far in advance, they do release tickets throughout the day of people who booked and then could not make it. So, you literally have to sit and refresh the screen of the website several times to see what is available. We did this several times throughout the weekend, but with so many commitments, we had limited availability. So we did see the tickets free up, but they are for specific times that just didn’t work for us. When we signed up for the Iamsterdam card, I didn’t realize that a free canal tour was included.

one of the many canals

I saw suggestions to do a canal tour and so I booked one for Saturday. We want our next stop to be the Rembrandt House which is on the other side of Dam Square. So, we decide to take our free canal tour (almost all canal tour boats seem to stop in front of the Anne Frank House), so we get our free one hour tour and agree to take it only to the stop closest to Rembrandt House. Since we are taking another canal tour tomorrow, I didn’t feel all that bad about getting off in the middle to suit our needs. Sadly, our tour ends at Rijksmuseum stop because the boat driver goes on break. He announces that another boat will be here shortly if we want to switch boats, but instead we alter our plans to do the Rijksmuseum now (free admission with the card- no timeslot needed). It is a sizable museum, but the amount of paintings I want to see here is limited. The main one is Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq (more famously known as Rembrandt’s Night Watch). On the way I see the painting on the box of Dutch Masters cigars which, I had no idea was a real painting. We also see Vermeer’s Milkmaid (Girl With A Pearl Earring is not here) and after the Night Watch, circle back to a famous self-portrait of Rembrandt called Self-Portrait With Dishevelled Hair.

cigar, anyone?

I think this was the only Vermeer that we saw

young Rembrandt

The Night Watch fun fact: the painting was dubbed the "night watch" because of its dark colors. When it was cleaned up for a restoration and the bright colors were visible, it was discovered that the scene was set in the daytime, not the night. Also, a few years ago, a mentally ill guy slashed this painting. It was repaired and only one scar is still visible. It has to be pointed out and is difficult to see in this photo (a black streak above the dog's hind, under the stick) 

We are done in 30 minutes, then tram back to Dam Square and on the way we buy a 48 hour unlimited transit pass to use tomorrow and Sunday. El found a knitting shop she wants to visit near Rembrandt House. We will do both, then get food. The RLD looks very different during the day and El compares it to Bourbon Street. A disaster at the end of the night, but after the street cleaners come by, it looks brand new and ready to be fouled again. I journal while El visits her knitting shop before moving on to Rembrandt House. It is not much more than an old house that Rembrandt used to live and paint in. It has been reconstructed to look like it may have in his day. It’s not very exciting, but they offer a free audio guide which is pretty cool. The entrance fee is included in the Iamsterdam card. I would not recommend paying for this tour, but if you have a card, it could be a quick stop. We are through in a short time and now need to get some food. Kantjil & De Tigre is an Indonesian restaurant recommended by a friend of mine named Geoff. We order the meat version of the house specialty called rijsttafel (rice table) for two. It is four meat preparations (chicken satay, pork satay, curried beef, and grilled pork) served with ten side dishes.

our foray into serious Indonesian cuisine. a great recommendation

We haven’t eaten since breakfast and it is getting on 5pm. The food is very good and plentiful. I am glad that we haven’t eaten since then. A lot of new flavors for me and none unpleasant. I have been reading/seeing about Indonesia being a Dutch colony until the 1940’s and when it claimed its independence, many Indonesians settled in Netherlands, bringing their food and culture to Amsterdam. After dinner, where the service was definitely secondary to the food, we grab the tram back to the hostel to get ready for the L7 concert tonight. I want to get there early as Geoff has sent me some emails letting us know that his friend has arranged for backstage passes for us. Not that I would know what the heck to say to the band if I am to meet them, but I am going to take advantage of the situation and seize the moment- wherever that moment takes me. Back at the hostel, we drop off all of our baggage that we needed for the day, but don’t need at a rock concert. On the way out, I check with the desk for directions to the club, called the Melkweg. While I can’t follow his verbal directions or his hand drawn map, the amount of times I hear “it’s easy” and “you’ll see it”, somehow does not make me feel better. As long as we have the GPS and it seems to be a famous club in the area, I have no doubt we will find it. As I fully expect, we are lost in short order, or at least convinced that we took a wrong turn somewhere and have to ask someone on the street who sets us straight. We arrive at 7pm and I walk inside to the box office to inquire about our passes and tickets. They seem to have no record of my name on “the list” and a stage manager is called to verify my info. I step aside and wait for ten minutes while texts go back and forth, only to be denied in the end. Again, we already have our tickets and club membership (first time I have ever had to purchase a separate “club membership” to enter the bar). We are now members for the month, but one night is all we need. We are in soon after he doors open and have our pick of location in the room. We watch the opening band, who turn out to be a great surprise. Good rock band out of England called Black Moth. They are so good that I buy their CD after their set. L7 goes on around 9:15 and rips through a set packed with hits- or at least songs I really like. Dee, the drummer, broke her arm last week, on the eve of the tour, so they have a fill in drummer for this show. He was very capable and the band sounded great in this very good sounding room. I think El liked it more than she thought she would, not being familiar with L7 all that much. The show is done just after 10:30 and we are considering the night still young.

L7 on stage at the Melkweg

El and I outside the Melkweg (translates to Milky Way)

I did learn today that the tram stops running around midnight, so I am reluctant to go up to the RLD again only to have to walk back again tonight. Instead, we tram up just passed Prinsengracht and hit a heavy metal bar called The Cave. The problem is that as we walk to the door the bouncer happily announces a €5 cover for the live band. At that same moment the door opens and an incredibly loud sound emanates. The prospect of sitting in a loud metal bar while El knits and it is too loud to talk does not appeal, but I find myself more impressed with knowing how loud the music on the other side of the door is vs. just how quiet it is on this side of the door.
We Yelp area bars and on our way see a place that will work for us. The place is called ‘cause Beer Loves Food Gastro Bar and they have 30 drafts, are still serving food, and it is relatively empty.

'cause Beer Loves Food...and El loves beer

Our kind of place. She can knit and I can journal and we can both try some beer. Totally, fits the bill. The fries are a little cold, but the mixed nuts are good and El likes her potato croquettes. After a couple of beers we decide to press on, but not to commit for another stop. On the walk back through Leidseplein we call it a night and walk back to the hostel.

Saturday June 16

Today is moving day as we are switching rooms from our eight-person dorm to a private double. We need our backpacks with us for the day, so we throw all of our clothes and non-essentials into pillow cases and leave them in the lockers. We eat breakfast at the hostel and make our first order of the day a stroll through Vondelpark in search of the Picasso statue. This is Amsterdam’s version of Central Park and has all sorts of running, biking, pet walking, and other exercise going on. About ten minutes in, we find it, but the park is bigger than we expected.

where's the Picasso statue?

We have a 10:30 canal tour that leaves from in front of Anne Frank House. We realize that we now have to hustle a little to get to the boat. We take the tram to the spot and get there with just minutes to spare. I booked before I realized that a free canal tour was included with our Iamsterdam card yesterday. This one costs €18 and runs for 60 minutes. It will leave us off where it leaves from, the Anne Frank House. Having now taken two canal tours, one free and one €18, here are some quick comparisons. The free boat had recorded English audio info that was played through the boats speakers and could be a little hard to hear. On the pay tour, we were given headphones to plug into jacks next to the seats, one jack for every passenger and you could choose from 19 languages. On the free tour, there were six stops and you have no interaction with the driver. On the pay tour, three times, the captain announced for everyone to get their cameras ready and he pointed out photo ops that we would have missed on the free tour.

our canal tour captain pointed out this photo op. as you pass by this bridge, you can see a arcade of seven canal bridges at once

Some people love canal tours, some people don’t seem to care as much, but, they are definitely a different way to see this city. If you get the Iamsterdam card, I suggest taking the free tour for a few stops and if it is interesting, pay for a better one. But, you may find you have had your fill after just part of one. After the boat tour, we head to Museum of Torture near Prinsengracht. On the way, I see a kiosk open for the first time, that advertises fresh herring. I recall the fish being one of my things to try in Amsterdam and I decide to stop in and see what it is all about. While the shop sells many kinds of fish, mostly fileted, they have a tray of herring, also fileted. The season has just started within the past week or two and only goes until July. After the clerk’s explanation, I opt for the filet on a hot dog roll with sweet pickles and chopped raw onion- that is how they do it, including the bones which are soft enough to eat. I take my bite and it is really quite mild- which I wasn’t expecting. Even El tries it. She does not care for it and I eat the rest- though I am not sure if she is objecting to the fish or the raw onion. We press on to the museum and as we arrive, I recognize the drawing of a man fitted with a heretic's fork that is also the symbol of the Museum of Torture in Prague. I ask if the two museums are related and the ticket lady says no, and we buy our €7.50 tickets. Walking through, this place is set up remarkably similar to the Prague one. Same pictures and some of the same devices. It is a small collection and I am still shuddering to think that some of these devices were still in use in the not so distant past. Creepy. We are through the museum in about 15 minutes. I guess if you’ve been to one torture museum, you’ve been to them all, whether they are related or not. After the museum, we go next door to Toastable, which is basically a panini café for a coffee and piece of apple cake. We have a 2:00 timeslot for the (world’s only?) Museum of Fluorescent Art. You can only tour the museum as part of a group, the tour takes 45 minutes, and costs €5. Once the door is opened for our timeslot, we enter to a, and I hesitate to use the term “cluttered” space, because the paintings are leaned/stacked with purpose, but the room has a lot of stuff in it. On walls, on shelves, and creeping into walkways. We walk carefully. We are asked to remove shoes and put on foam slippers that will not disturb the artwork. We are pointed downstairs to look around and wait for our guide. There are display cases with rocks, some artwork on the walls, and some ordinary items, like money bills and identification cards as well as rice and lentils. The centerpiece though is a large sculpture (big enough to walk into, but not big enough for more than one or two people at a time).

a small part of the sculpture. this part is called "The Black Hole" for a reason

While waiting for the guide, we all take some pictures at the only thing glowing in the room. Shapes of vibrant colors making up this large piece. A few minutes later, after all of the tour group has arrived, he locks the front door to the shop and comes down to start the “tour”. He explains in, sometimes a little too much, detail, how and where natural fluorescence is found. Some photos on the wall are not art, but photos of him standing in the Himalayas collecting rocks. It is a bit weird and quirky, but interesting enough. I had read a little about the place and sort of knew what to expect, though besides the sculpture, I wasn’t seeing much of what I thought I would. The artist/owner/guide is a bit of a character, and I am impressed by his enthusiasm and genuine passion for the art he collects and creates that don’t look like much in normal light, but once the lights are shut off and blacklights of different wavelength are turned on, the plain looking items become incredibly vibrant.

a display case with rocks under normal light

same display case under blacklight 

same display case under super blacklight

He is equally impassioned by the science of the material as he is about the actual artwork in the room. So we hear quite a bit about where to get the rocks and how blacklights work. He even works in info about the history of blacklight art. The bottom line of the science part is that everyone has seen blacklight posters (usually black velvet fields with glowing orange or yellow spots on the poster), but the blacklight that makes them glow, that you might see in a nightclub are just one kind of blacklight. He then pulls out a super blacklight, that when switched on begins to reveal colors that do not glow with the regular blacklight, but are super vibrant with the new light. This is where he starts showing us the money and identification cards and passports and how the security measures taken on these instruments are realized differently under the different types of lights. For example, a U.S. passport binding thread glows blue under blacklight, but glows red under the potent blacklight. Drivers licenses reveal additional faces when exposed to different lights as does money- depending on the denomination and country.

artists will crush the rocks up to make pebbles and powder and then use them to make art that does not look like much in natural light, but is vibrant under blacklights

I don’t know if I needed all 45 minutes, but for €5, I have paid a lot more for a lot less (see Museum of Torture from about an hour ago!). After the Museum of Fluorescent Art, we are hungry and will be working to meet Haki who is on his way by car from Germany. We are messaging back and forth with him to get a meeting place figured out. Meanwhile, we need to eat and El chooses a place called Pancake Bakery. I order a coffee and a plate of Dutch poffertjes with cherries (also on my list of foods to try). These are like silver dollar pancakes topped with a cherry and kirschwasser compote, and finished with house whipped cream. I let Haki know that we are here as he has just arrived in Amsterdam and is checking into his hotel now. After lunch we walk to Centraal Station to meet the group (Haki, Judith, Martin, and his girlfriend). We have plenty of time before the show which is in a nearby city called Alkmaar, about 30 minutes away. Instead of just jumping into the cars, we decide to head to a bar for the six of us to get reacquainted before hitting the road. They all look to me for a recommendation. The only bar I know in the area will work- it’s the Monkey Bar! After the beer, we drive to Alkmaar pulling up to the Podium Victorie club, the doors are already open. It is on this drive we see our first real windmills in fields along the highway.

me, El, Judith, and Haki arriving at the Podium Victorie for the Rose Tattoo show

Rose Tattoo on stage

The opening band, The Wild, aren’t the worst opener I have ever seen. Then Rose Tattoo goes on at 9:15. And it was fantastic. The sound was great, the set was great, the club was great. Everything about the experience could not be topped. After the show, we say goodbye to Martin as he is in his own car. Haki and Judith drive us back, but they decide not to go for food afterwards and they drop us at Centraal Station and we say our goodbyes pulled over in a bus lane, but at this hour, there is no issue. From here, El and I walk to The Butcher for dinner, even though it is almost 12:30am, they are open until 3am. I thought it was more of a sit down restaurant, but it turns out to be more like Five Guys- which I like, by the way. The burger is really good and hits the spot. The trams have long made their last run, so we will have to walk back to the hostel. No nightcap tonight, we check into our new room and call it a night.

Sunday June 17

Our last full day in the city, we wake at 8:30 and get out by 9:15. We have a quick bite at the hostel and the first stop today is the Venustempel, which is the museum of sex. It is on most lists as one of the top museums in the city, so we have high hopes. They open at 9:30 and the entrance is €5. There are a lot more people than I expected. I have to say that it was much more comprehensive of a museum than I thought it would be. There was some funny automation, like the flasher mannequin who whispers to you as you walk near him and then his arms spread apart, allowing him to do what flashers do. It’s a museum dedicated to the history of sex, from ancient carvings and art, to modern depictions of bondage and some of the newer fetishes. The museum is three floors and probably the best €5 I spent all weekend. There was some interesting collections of early pornography from the late 1800’s up to the present. It was well presented and fun. We are through in about an hour and we take the tram down to Koningsplein and walk to the “blood house” at 216 Amstel Street.

"blood graffiti". a good, but unconfirmed story of origin

Well, the legend goes something to the effect that back in the 1600’s the owner of the house went insane and went outside and wrote graffiti on the outside of his house in blood. However, the graffiti has never gone away, even powerwashing failed to remove the sanguine markings- making it a creepy piece of local history. While standing there, we pull out the guidebook to read more about the story and get to the last line that says that this “story cannot be confirmed.” So, now it is just an urban legend. We walk back to the tram and take it to Dam Square. On the way, we pass a Rembrandt park with a larger than lifesize statue of Rembrandt rising above a lifesize statue of The Night Watch. The scene presents itself as a photo op as you can walk and pose among the statues. There are too many people posing to make waiting worth it. Pressing on, we see an “adventure store” whose motto is “Wake Up. Kick Ass. Be Kind. Repeat.” Further, a canvas bag in their window advertises “Be A Traveler. Not a tourist”, a code El and I would like to think we do, or at least strive to, live by.

we try

We stop in to look around and while buying our bag we are offered a free cup of espresso. The one worker here starts chatting us up and asking where we are visiting from. We tell him “New York”, to which he asks “city or upstate?” Can you imagine? A guy from Netherlands having more of a concept of my state than some people who live here!! A friendly guy in a shop with a good mission statement- donating profits on some items to charity. We make our way back to Dam Square for our meeting at Café Van Zuylen. There is a street festival going on today and because of it, tram traffic is being diverted. Not an issue, but just something we didn’t plan for.
Short story long, back in about 1980 the DeKerpel family moved from France to Round Lake and I was able to count among my best friends their son, Simon. He was a couple of years older than me (I was 10, he was 14), but we got along as good as any kids that age could. Sadly, the family had to return to France without any prior warning and overnight my best friend was gone. My parents keep in touch with his parents and once in awhile we would get an update on members of the family. In 2012, I was able to locate Simon via email and got the first personal update from him since last seeing him almost 38 years ago. In his update, he told me he and his family were living in The Netherlands and I new that if my travels ever took me there, I knew I would have to make the effort to look him up. Fast forward to a month ago, I sent my email to the last I had for him and said El and I would be in Amsterdam on Sunday June 17 and if there was any way to meet up, we would keep our schedule clear. He responded in the affirmative and after some back and forth, Simon and his wife, Lisbeth were meeting us at a café in Amsterdam at 1pm. It is 12:45 now. On the way, we receive a text from him that his train is running 10 minutes late, so we detour so that El can run into the New Church on Dam Square. What neither of us realized is that the New Church is actually no longer a working church and has been converted to an art gallery that is now running a photography exhibit. With an €11 entrance fee, we decide to skip it and head to the café to get settled. They arrive and we have a wonderful couple of hours seeing him for the first time since 1980. I can’t say he looks the same, but it was obvious from the second I saw him that he is who we were waiting for. Beer and some apps including being introduced to “old cheese”, light lunch, then coffee. Catching each other up on our families and reminiscing days of yore and introducing our wives to the history of our families. They stay longer than they originally intended as the train back home ran on a pretty frequent schedule and they could take any of them. After lunch we walk out to the canal and take a group photo.

a reunion, 38 years in the making

We part wishing each other well and hoping for a reunion in less than another 38 years! El and I look to our next stop, Our Lord in the Attic Church. It is in the RLD and open until 6pm. Entrance is €11 and turns out to be an interesting stop. Another place with a free audio tour. We learn that, like many things in this city, there is a fine line between legal and illegal and that there is actually a term for that grey area that translates to “tolerated”. Basically, illegal, but tolerated. So, when Protestantism became the official state religion, it became technically illegal to practice Catholicism, making it impossible for Catholics to congregate in public. However, if people practiced in their homes, a blind eye was turned. So, the owner of this seven level house actually pulled off an amazing architectural feat by removing a significant part of the floor of the top two levels to create, essentially, a three level church for worshipers to practice during visits to the private home.

this three floor church is in the top floors of a seven story house

We spend longer here than I expected we would and I am glad we made it to this stop on our itinerary. After this, we walk to the Jordaan section of the city which is just on the other side of the Centraal Station that we have walked near several times, but not yet ventured into. It is much more of a quiet, residential neighborhood than those around Dam Square or Leidseplein where we have been spending most of our time. We have dinner reservations for 6:00pm and know that we have enough time to walk casually and not have to rush to make it. We walk through, admiring the neighborhood and after getting a little turned around, find our dinner spot. The restaurant is called Vleming, they open at 6:00pm and they are still setting up, but invite us to sit down. We chit chat with the bartender and waitress for a few minutes while we are in the room alone. In a funny moment, we got to talking about Dutch foods that we had tried. At this moment, El excuses herself to the ladies room. I pull out my list of foods to try here and the waitress suggests “stroopwafel?” It is on my list and I haven’t tried it yet. I read the description and agree that the sweet waffle with caramel syrup sounds good. I am telling her that we have never heard of these/had them and ask for a recommendations for the best place to get them. She hands me a two, individually wrapped, bite sized samples of them. I thank her and assure her we will enjoy these later. At this moment, El returns and hears us talking about stroopwafel and lights up. “Oooh, those are good”, she says. I ask where she has had them before. Her response: “I buy them all the time!” So I am going on about how we haven’t had them, yet she’s buying them all the time at home. I feel kind of embarrassed. They are really nice and chatting us up about our visit to Amsterdam. We ask if they serve Jenever, which is basically like a juniper liqueur. A cousin to gin, which we love, but a Dutch exclusive. We get a crash course on the finer points of the liquor. They serve two types of it and I want to share one shot (it is served in a shot glass, but it's not a shooter- and needs to be sipped), but we are shown a bottle of “young” and “old” and don’t know which one to order. Eventually, we are offered a taste of each to decide if we want to order a full one. We both tried both kinds and agreed with the waitress who said she doesn’t like either one. Instead, we just order our pre-dinner gin and tonics. We order an appetizer platter for two which is a tower of a portion of each of the evenings appetizer selections- including the special pea soup with mint. Shrimp scampi, beef carpaccio, smoked salmon salad, veal tartare, and a mushroom and lentil salad wrapped in lettuce leaves. All served with a couple of bread spreads like a truffle aioli rounding out the presentation. Every bite was excellent and were glad to have ordered it. Sometime later our main course arrives. I ordered a seared duck breast with a balsamic and orange jus and El got asparagus risotto. We shared both. The duck was a little tough, but the flavor of the sauce more than made up for it.

duck with a balsamic and orange jus

asparagus rissotto

For dessert we went with the chocolate truffles and a cup of coffee. Small, but hit the spot. I do not remember why I would have chosen Restaurant Vlaming, but I am glad I did. The food was fantastic. The waitstaff was super friendly. The prices reasonable. The experience excellent.
After dinner we head back to the RLD for our Casa Rosso experience. Every once in awhile, an opportunity to push the boundaries of our comfort zones comes along and this city presented a couple of scenarios that could fit that bill. While I have no interest in smoking at the “coffeeshops” or eating space cakes (hallucinogenic mushroom edibles), I will admit that the idea of attending a live sex show was intriguing. We are both a little nervous as we don’t know exactly what to expect. It is funny because when I was researching this trip, I saw some forums where people were asking for recommendations regarding these kinds of shows, but most of the answers were speculation or hearsay with very little actual, first hand reports. The best I could figure was that Casa Rosso was a more tourist-friendly version of this kind of theatre and that if you wanted to try it, this might be a good place to start, but we were still a little skittish. The doors to the theatre open at 7pm and close at 2am. You buy a ticket and you can show up anytime you want and leave at anytime (or stay as long as you want). The show lasts 80 minutes and consists of nine acts/performances with a minute or two between each act and after 80 minutes, the first act comes out again. We walk in and are seated in the third row. Which, in retrospect, was a great location. With six seats on each side of the aisle. The theatre is actually bigger than I thought at about 200 seats including a small balcony with about 30 seats. The room is almost full. You can stay as long as you like, leaving at any time, though I think it is poor form to leave in the middle of any performance. I am struck by how many women are in the audience. Some are quietly taking in the performance, while others are getting a little more into the spirit of the show- cheering and volunteering when asked. In fact, during “the banana act”, a woman from the audience was chosen to volunteer for the featured segment of the performance. Again, when I was researching the things to do, I did not come across any detailed account of one of these shows. Since I write/keep this journal as a reminder of our travels- and should I ever be asked to give a recollection to someone, I will detail our experience elsewhere. Lest someone be offended by explicit description of the evening at a club watching real people having real sex on stage.

happy at the end of our time in the theatre

After Casa Rosso, we head back to the metal bar, The Cave, near Prinsengracht. Unfortunately for us, they again have a live band with a door cover. Not that we are opposed to live bands, but not when we just want to sit and journal/write postcards/knit etc. Loud music is OK, but earplug level music is not what we are looking for tonight. To make it easier on us (it can sometimes take us a little too long to map out an alternative spot) we decide to go find the ‘cause Beer Loves Food bar we went to on Friday night. They close around midnight and it is only 11:00. We head in and order from their list of 30 drafts and sit and do our respective things. El loves this place and even buys a tshirt before we leave.
We end our night out here and head back to the hostel around midnight. The hostel has a bar that is open until 3am, so we have one last nightcap before heading up. They are out of all drafts except Juliper- which is an awful beer. I drink one, and don’t need a second.

Monday June 18

Our plane leaves after noon, so we don’t have time to do much before we have to catch our bus. We need to find the post office to mail the postcards which is within a few blocks. Yelp points to a nearby pastry shop for breakfast, though when we find it there are no seats and everything is purchased to go. Ordinarily we could have made a buy and eaten in one of the nearby parks, but today’s rain makes us keep on the lookout for a place with inside seats. We go to a place called Small Talk Eating House. We both get café au lait and a dutch pancake with syrup. The pancake arrives as a single, plate sized disc that is more like a thick crepe (or extra thin pancake we are used to). The taste is actually similar to what we think of as pancakes except they don’t put butter on them, so just the syrup was the topping. I am not sure if maple is a flavor of syrup here, as I did not see any. Just standard pancake syrup. The food is good, but thinking about it, I probably should have had a bigger breakfast to prepare for the long flight. Across the street we stop at a supermarket as our last stop in town. We have been recommended to taste the strawberries and think that we would like to bring some cheese back home with us. Since we will have to get them before we even get onto the bus to the airport, we find they sell prewashed snack portions in the produce section, so we grab one and move on to the cheese department. They have lots to choose from. I ask the clerk about the “old cheese” that we have seen listed on menus and ate yesterday and asked to be pointed to what that could be. She showed us to the “old” cheese, and the “very old” cheese. It’s just their translation for “aged”, but it is funny to hear the cheese described in this way. We head to the cashier and she asks where we are from as our backpacks and lack of local language skills brands us as passers through. We chit chat for a moment about how we heard about these berries and wanted to bring some of the cheese back with us. As I go to pay our total, she applies some sort of discount to our order and we basically get our strawberries free. We head out to the Iamsterdam sign to eat our berries and take some final photos before getting on to the 397 bus back to the airport. The berries are very good, though I am not sure I tasted much difference from the berries I am used to, but they were tasty nonetheless. The 397 comes in short order (runs every 7 minutes during the day) to the bus/tram stop in front to Rijksmuseum and it takes about 20 minutes to get to Schiphol. On the bus, we are able to look at the airport website to find our terminal and gate number. Once we get into the airport we check in at a kiosk and print our boarding passes. Security is strict, but the efficiency is remarkable and even though there are hundreds of travelers, we are through the security check in less than eight minutes. What is interesting is that coming from Newark they had us remove shoes, belts, liquids, outerwear, food, computers, and pocket contents. Now here, they asked for liquids, outerwear, and computers, no shoes, no belts, no food, but they wanted now every electronic related item including chargers, adapters, wires- so this now includes all of my recording equipment and El’s tech stuff that she has asked me to carry for her that I of course have packed carefully to be able to fit it all in my carry on as we did not check any bags this trip. So, now I find myself unpacking and unfurling clothing that has been wrapped around things to absorb shock and provide padding on the flight. Knowing this would be inconvenient, at least the design of the area provides tables for passengers to repack as opposed to every other airport where you basically have to repack on the actual conveyor should you have more than you can fit in your hands as you move from the area towards your gate. We arrive at our gate to find there has been a gate change, to a couple gates down, but this turns into a chaotic mess for some people. Can you imagine that Icelandic Airways operates a flight #501 AND a flight #507 that are both scheduled to depart Schiphol to Iceland at the same time, 2:10, and the gate change actually moves flight #507 passengers from D60 to D64, while flight #501 passengers are moved from D64 to D60?? El and I paid enough attention to be in the right place at the right time but it was easy to see why this switch could be a source of frustration for already weary travelers as they learned of this news from the agents. The flight is uneventful and leaves on time. Hopefully we will make or connection on time and be on our way home on time.

one of the many canal bridges

In conclusion

It was a short trip, but once again I think we crammed as much into the four days as we could have and, in this case, I believe, leave wanting more. Our comfort zones were tested and we passed. We met people from our past who, in different ways, make our world a little smaller. There were a couple of things I would have liked to have done, particularly the Anne Frank House, as well as some other museum/attractions that weren’t close enough to the center of the city to warrant making the side trip. But, and I don’t say this much, I would like to come back here sometime as we are travelers, and not tourists. One other side note, as we travel I frequently think about if my country’s politics cause people to treat us differently. Whether traveling during the early days of the Iraq war or when we were in Mexico just as Trump was painting all Mexicans as rapists and murderers, we can honestly say we have never once been made to feel uncomfortable because of the actions of our president, as people can easily separate the citizen from their government. And, this trip was no different, but this is the first time that I have ever heard a foreigner tell me that they would very much like to visit the USA, but can not even consider it until the current administration is out. I am always amazed at how most Americans couldn’t name the monarch of the Netherlands, yet the Dutch know the names of our officials and actually have opinions about the actions of the key players. Other countries look at ours and right now our current administration is embarrassing us as a nation on the world stage. I am not saying we should do things that are not in our best interest just to court popular opinion around the world, but the respect of other nations is important and in a little over a year, our president has taken us from respectable, past indifference, and straight through to laughing stock. For now we will endure and hopefully the damage won’t last. We look forward to welcoming foreigners to our country once they again feel comfortable enough to visit.



Casa Rosso. When it comes to sex, I’d like to think of myself as open-minded in terms of what other people want to do in the privacy of their rooms. Consent goes a long way and who am I to judge. But, I don’t consider myself all that adventurous. Now, there are a few things that Amsterdam is known for vice-wise that makes it obvious why it is a destination for those willing to participate in the vices that are tolerated. Being contently vanilla, when we arrived in the city, I knew I wanted to see the Red Light District and took a tour to learn more about it. I also knew I had no reason to think for one second about hiring a window girl. We walked by the windows watching them do their thing (which usually consisted of them on their cellphones!) or primping. We would walk by and smile at them and sometimes they would even smile back. However, beyond the legal prostitution, Amsterdam has something else that I have never seen anywhere else. Of course I have heard of full nude strip clubs, but Amsterdam has live sex clubs. I think, three of them. Where it is real people having real sex live on stage in front of a paying audience. With a little bit of research I thought this might be interesting to take advantage of. Many of the online forums where advice is solicited seem to offer more in the way of speculation from people who have heard what goes on- but have never gone, than actual informed opinion of the experience. And beside the occasional mention of “a banana placed in a special way” there are virtually no details. Would it be more like a Vegas revue? A burlesque show? Or more like a seedy porno theatre with single men in trenchcoats masturbating in their seats? Do you see everything or are there clever props to make you think you are seeing more than you are? Is it all guys in the audience? Women are allowed to go, but do they? I had to put together a mental picture culled from several sources, and looking back, I think I got exactly what I expected. This was my/our experience, and what I had hoped to find in terms of a review to make my decision when researching our visit. During our time walking through the Red Light District, we passed Moulin Rouge (not related to the one in Paris), Banana Bar, and Casa Rosso. Our experience is solely about Casa Rosso as we did not go to either of the others. On Saturday I told El that I thought we should go to one of these clubs to see what it was all about and she agreed- I wouldn’t have gone without her, had she been steadfast against it. Sunday was our last night in the city and the time we would go. During the day, I stopped into Tickets & Tours to buy our discounted tickets (they only sell tickets for Casa Rosso- not the others). At the door tickets are €45 without drinks and €55 for ticket with 2 drinks. I save €6 buying them here. We buy one ticket of each, this way we will each get one drink. The doors open at 7pm and the theatre operates until 2am. You can come and go as you wish, but the full show is 80 minutes. As we approach the theatre in the heart of the RLD, the line is probably 30 people long. Old men, young women, couples, maybe a bachelor party, people who have no idea what to expect and some that have been here before and know what goes on once you enter. I hand my tickets to the door man and we stand waiting for an usher to take us to our seats. We follow as he motions for us to be next. We walk into the 200 seat theatre and he points us to “third row, left side” and that is where we go. On the way, we pass virtually every type of person and suddenly feel more at ease that we will not feel out of place. We take our seats and order our drinks as the first act starts. A song similar to Harry Belafonte’s “The Banana Boat Song (Day-O)” comes over the P.A. system and an announcement is made to turn off all cellphones. The curtain opens, and a lady who reminds me of a young Charo walks to the stage in a pink bikini with a lacy tutu and starts shuffling about and shaking her body in a playful way. The emcee voice comes up asking for 5 volunteers. This is where bachelor parties will nominate their groom or some overanxious guy will raise his hand. We did not want to participate, so we watch the selection process from afar. Moments later, five volunteers are making their way to the stage to await instruction. We cannot hear what she is saying to them, but it is obvious what they were told when one by one each takes center stage. The music changes to club music and each volunteer does a little dance to get audience clapping. The six then form a conga line and do a lap around the stage. What the audience sees that the last guy in line does not, is a guy in a full gorilla suit with a large dildo strapped on runs onto the stage to bring up the rear, so to speak. Of course, hilarity ensues when the last guy in line finds out he has a giant rubber penis pressing against his ass. The woman asks the five volunteers (one of whom is a woman) to sit and she goes side stage to get a towel and a banana. She removes her tutu and throws it aside. She sits on the towel with her back to the audience, but facing the five volunteers. Next come off the bikini bottoms also tossed aside. She then lays on her back, peels the banana half way down, and inserts the peel end. She lays with her feet up and invites each volunteer to move forward and eat a piece of the fruit. After the fourth bite, she needs to peel more, and does so without removing the banana. The last guy takes his bite and she removes what is left, stands up, wrapping her towel around her waist, prodding the audience to applaud the volunteers as they leave the stage. As the stage empties, the gorilla steps to the center and gives the phallus a few strokes as it shoots some sort of white liquid all over the first few rows of the theatre (on the right side, thankfully, so we were not hit) to the applause of everyone who did not get hit. The curtain closes, lights come up, usher seats more people to replace those leaving and waiters take or deliver drink orders. There is about a two minute break before the omnipotent emcee again announces “cellphones off” as the lights go down, curtain opens, and out walks a heavily tattooed young lady in a full-body fishnet piece with a bikini underneath. She dances a little more like a stripper and uses the poles on each side of the stage to do her thing. After one song, she takes the length of the second song to remove the bikini from underneath the fishnets and grabs a whip. Mostly she waves it around seductively, though she does give herself a few lashes. She now stands completely naked under the fishnets, and grabs a foam mat from the side of the stage and brings a black bag with her. She writhes around on the mat seductively for a few seconds before reaching into the bag and pulling out a clear dildo that she begins to suck on seductively while the center of the stage where she kneels on the mat, begins to rise to give the audience a better view of her main event. The audience knows where this is going and after a few more seconds she is posing gymnastically while inserting the dildo. This is what I expected to see and after switching through a few positions like laying on her side with one leg up to up on all fours reaching from behind, after a few minutes, her act is over. Curtain closes, lights come up, ushers and waiters do their thing, while we wait for one of the three main acts, which is up next. The curtain opens to a young black couple are already on top of the raised platform. He is completely naked, while she has a bikini on. They immediately go to work caressing and getting busy as if they are the only two in the room. She begins sucking on him until he is hard. Meanwhile he is slowly removing her bikini bottoms and once she is naked, he begins performing oral on her. Once they are ready, she lays on her back and guides him in. This is the first time I have ever been in the same room as real sex. And I have to say it wasn’t as weird or awkward as I thought it would be. They performed for about 5-6 minutes and at one point they switched positions where he was behind her on all fours and in one swift, choreographed motion, he was standing and she was up on her hands wheelbarrow style and the collective gasp of awe from the audience at the feat of acrobatics was certainly a funny moment. Then, without any culmination, the curtain closed, and we waited for the next act. Next up was an acrobatic pole dancer. As the curtains open a pole is in the middle of the stage. She has on a bikini and thigh high, shiny, black leather boots. Moderately tattooed and very attractive. She starts dancing on the pole, but sadly, no clothes come off. No additional partner, just her on a pole. She leaves the stage and heads towards a pole that has lowered from the ceiling in the center of the theatre so the first 10 rows turn back to see her and the rear 10 rows and balcony just get a closer view. She shows off some amazing gymnastic skills of strength, but again, as impressive as this was, if she’s not getting naked or performing some sensual moves with a partner, I couldn't care less. My local strip club has pole dancers! Next up is “for the ladies” and the emcee introduces “The Black Pearl” as a physically fit black man walks on stage dressed in a suit with a top hat to the cheers of all the ladies in the house. He immediately searches for a female audience member to be his on-stage partner. A reluctantly willing young woman is selected and comes to the stage and sits on the provided chair. Basically, the man proceeds to do a strip tease for her in front of the audience. No clothes come off of her and he was actually pretty amazing in that his act removing his clothes and seductively teasing his muse was quite erotic to watch. I can’t really explain it, but it was amazing how a guy taking his clothes off could make an average audience member so sexy. By the time he was going to take is underwear off, he had donned a cape and left everything to the imagination before releasing his assistant to the cheers of the house and exiting the stage. Next up started off benign enough with two young ladies heavily tattooed coming on stage and each taking a pole on either side. Dancing a little bit and flirtatiously removing garments. One was attractive, while the other was a bit closer to stunning. I couldn’t wait to see what would happen, hoping not to get a repeat of the earlier pole tease act. After a few minutes of the poles and stripping, the mid-stage platform rises and we see the black bag again, though this time it is larger. As they move onto the platform, all clothes are gone and they take turns licking each others nipples while fingers start to wander. Eventually, the black bag is opened and a small dildo is removed. One girl takes it in her mouth before the other girl takes over rolling it over her outstuck tongue. It is then moved down her chest and past the belly and they again take turns, at first she works it into herself, and then leans back to let the other work it for her. Until now all of the sucking and insertion have been done by one of the girls. Meanwhile a second dildo is now brought out from the black bag. And now the two of them are each working on the other. It was every bit as erotic as I thought it would be and as the platform rotated it gave us all the show from every angle. Quite possibly the most sexually exciting thing I have ever witnessed. Just when I thought they were going to close the curtain, one girl reached back into the bag and pulled out a 2’, double ended dildo. They both stand up on the platform and kiss before moving apart and each grabbing an end of the stick masturbating with it one at a time. The colored condom on each end insured they each worked their own end of the device. After a minute, they sat down on the platform to face each other and now start to work the phallus back and forth in a rocking motion. Then they both get on all fours facing away from each other and insert again, but this time no hands are used after the initial insertion. They gently rock back and forth to give each other, what I assume would be pleasure for anyone who doesn’t get paid to do this six times a night on stage. Whether they were truly enjoying it or just going through the motions, it was supersexual and something I never thought I would see happening live in front of me. Curtain closes to applause from the crowd. Next up was the most attractive woman of the night comes out dressed in a schoolgirl outfit- if a schoolgirl had tattoos, a half shirt tied into a bow in the front while wearing a pleated skirt and stiletto heels. She did similar stuff as many previous acts, using the pole and dancing around. She too asks for a volunteer from the audience and when he comes up he sits on the chair while she removes some of her clothes and performs a grinding lap dance on him in front of the audience. She guides his hands to strategic places, but does not include him in any penetration. She does rub her hands on him over his pants. At this point she has removed all of her clothes, but the guy in the chair is the only one who has seen everything as she has her back to the audience. Eventually, she climbs off of him and this is the first we see her fully naked, except for the stilettos, and though we had seen some tattoos on her legs, back, and arm, I was not prepared for the relatively small, but no less prominent upside down cross tattooed square in the center of her chest between each breast. While I, by no means, consider myself a tattoo festishist, I find some tattoos attractive. But, this one second, turned the sexiness of a moderately inked girl into a funny moment where all I could think of was “what was she going for with that choice” and not about the fact that she had no clothes on. Luckily, we were at the end of her act and I didn’t have to think about it any longer. The next act girl comes out and reminds me a little of Meg Ryan. Anyway, she does her strip and asks for a volunteer to join her on stage. At first she uses him for a stripping prop dancing around him and rubbing against him. He is told to take his shirt off and lay down on his back with his head towards the audience. She dances around a little more before heading to her bag of tricks and she pulls out, what appears to be a tampon. I am sitting 15 feet from this and I have no idea what the heck she is going to do here. She uses her fingers to insert the object and I then realize that it is not a tampon, but a magic marker. She then squats over the gentleman’s chest and gyrates a little. Swiveling her hips and using her legs. After a few seconds of this, she stands and tells the guy to stand up to take a bow. We see now, that she has written the work “DICK” across his chest. He can’t read it and stands for a few moments before being told to collect his shirt and gets a round of applause before heading back to his seat. I am not sure if she writes that on every volunteers chest, but unless she picked him specifically because of his actions, I could probably think of plenty of funnier things to draw on a willing participant, but hey, as long as I wasn’t on stage, it didn’t matter all that much. The last act of the show opens much the same as that black couple earlier in the evening, but with a white couple. Him naked, her in a bikini. Her heavily tattooed, him not so much. She is absolutely beautiful, and we expect we know what will happen here. She starts to blow him while he works to remove her clothes and expose her assets to the audience from the rotating platform. They work much the same way as the other couple, without the acrobatics, which was fine. I am not sure if their act was designed for maximum viewing or If it was sheer coincidence, but as the platform rotated our seats, for me, became the best in the house. Nothing left to the imagination, everything on full display, real people having real sex about 15 feet away. They had some pretty passionate sex for about 5-8 minutes before the curtain closed on them too. It was fun to see. It was erotic. As the curtains were about to open for the next act, the Banana Song comes over the P.A. and it is our indication that we are about to see the same girl do the same banana trick just with a new set of volunteers. We are seated near a wall, farthest from the aisle and don’t want to walk out while she is performing, so we actually do stay for a second time before leaving at the intermission after the gorilla has shot his fake load across the first couple of rows. We were allowed to stay, but decide that we have had enough (in a good way), I guess I should say we were content to say we have done it and didn’t feel the need to sit through the performance in its entirety again. I guess as I consider the experience, I would say it is not for the prudish. It is the real thing and not something you could be offered to see just anywhere. Even in Amsterdam it is on the more extreme side- though I understand stronger things are offered, but mostly in the context of participatory sex clubs and our comfort zones have been tested enough on this trip. That said, I thank the exhibitionists for the show and know I prefer to be the voyeur for the time being.