Amsterdam: There must be something in the water.

A few years ago, I went to Amsterdam for the weekend. Knowing I didn’t have any accommodation booked, I arrived on a Friday afternoon in the middle of summer. I’m generally a pretty lucky person, so I figured it’d be ok, I’d stay at a hostel or something. They always have beds, right? Not so. Apparently all the usual suspects from my hostel guide were completely booked for the weekend. I got turned away time and time again, until I was left sitting outside the main train station, contemplating how comfortable the benches would be to sleep on. I’m sure I started looking a little homeless, too.

Eventually, I noticed one of the accommodation offices where they can find you somewhere to sleep, for a fee. By this point, I was sick of lugging my backpack around and getting kind of tired so I decided to give it a shot. The woman inside took one look at me and asked if I was looking for a hostel. All the hostels were booked for the weekend, but she could see what else there could be, she said. A handful of options presented themselves, generally outside the city centre. Being an enthusiastic first-time backpacker, I wanted to stay centrally. Thankfully, the fact that I was there for 3 nights meant that there was one hostel which would take me in on a 3-night-minimum arrangement. So, finally, after 2 hours of walking around with my backpack, I was sorted for the weekend and ready for my Dutch adventures.

The funny thing about Amsterdam, though, is that when you’re in the main city area in the summertime, there are no Dutch people. It’s all foreigners wandering the streets, clutching their Lonely Planet guides. (Sidenote: I don’t bother carrying Lonely Planet books around any more. You’re better off asking the locals, or at least striking up a conversation with a fellow traveller who has one in their hot little hands.) So off to a local pub with me. Maybe there’d be some locals.

The first random pub I came across turned out to be an Irish pub. I sat down for a beverage and was immediately approached by a rather inebriated British gentleman. Clearly, this wasn’t the place to be. Thanking him for his kind compliments, I finished my drink and headed in search of an internet cafe to look up where there would be swing dancing on.

You know how you can feel someone watching you sometimes? I had that feeling from the guy who entered the internet cafe behind me. He was dark-skinned and in his 30s. Didn’t look like a backpacker, though.

This was the sort of internet cafe with multiple levels, so it had a few hundred computers to choose from. The ground floor was packed, so I headed up to the next one (which was noisy), and then up to the 3rd floor. Creepy dude from downstairs had not only followed me up to that floor, but chose a computer right next to mine. He didn’t say anything while I sat checking my email, so I figured it must have been a coincidence.

When I had about 10 minutes left of my internet time, my computer stalled. First I had no connection, then the whole thing froze and started the tedious process of rebooting which ate up my final minutes. Needless to say, I was kind of peeved, so I may have spoken disapprovingly to my computer. At this point, my creepy computer neighbour speaks up in English, asking what is wrong, and then offering some of his own internet time. I declined politely, and started packing up my things. He realised time was running out for him, so suddenly he asks my name, and how long I’m in Amsterdam for, and then offered to show me around Amsterdam. Again, I thanked him and declined. I’m not really one to take up strange men on their offers in a foreign city. So back to the hostel for me, with the hopes that creepy dude wouldn’t follow me. He didn’t (I think).

Having just escaped the second undesired advance of the early evening, I walked back pretty quickly towards my hostel. There weren’t many tourists on the street I had taken, which was a bit of a relief after the afternoon when I’d felt like I had to elbow my way along. While walking along, another tall gentleman appeared out of nowhere, suddenly walking beside me at my pace. He took one sidelong glance at me and immediately asked me my name and how long I was in Amsterdam for. At this point I was starting to wonder if I had a sign on me saying ‘TOURIST- GULLIBLE’. I evaded these questions, but despite that was offered dinner and a tour of the city. Again, I declined politely, and pretended English wasn’t my first language, and the guy vanished off onto a side street as quickly as he had appeared. Do they grow creepy dudes next to the pot in the Netherlands? Or does it just attract them? I was relieved to arrive at my hostel in one piece that evening.

The following day, I stayed in the touristy areas, going to a museum and sight-seeing a lot. No creepy incidents were had, all was well. However, my research the previous evening told me that there was a live band playing jazz in a particular pub, a tram ride away from my hostel. There was a possibility for swing dancing, so I went to check it out.

The band was indeed playing, but no dancers were to be found, so I settled at the side with a drink to just enjoy the music. Before long another random dude was watching me from across the room. I ignored him for a while, but when he came over he seemed harmless enough that I accepted a drink from him. That was mistake #1.

We started chatting, if you could call it that. He was from Morocco and spoke Arabic, French and some Dutch. I speak English, Polish and some high school French. The only common denominator was my rusty French. I have to say, I wasn’t the most insightful conversationalist when I was telling him things like ‘I like cats’, but he seemed to enjoy my company. The awkward conversing continued for an hour or so, at which point I wanted to stretch my legs and he joined me for a walk. He still seemed relatively harmless, so when we discussed possibly hanging out the following day, I gave him my (temporary) number. This was mistake #2. We wandered into another bar briefly, and after maybe 20 minutes there, I started making my excuses about needing to leave. He insisted on walking me back to the tram. Along the way back to the tram, he stopped me and kissed me on the lips. I really wasn’t interested, so i laughed it off (mistake #3) and said I really had to go. At this point he started asking me more about my hostel, maybe he could come back with me. I insisted that no, he can’t. I was sleeping in a room full of girls, and no, I don’t want to sleep with him. No no no no no. Apparently my French was lacking (mistake #4), but he seemed to back off a bit when I even refused to tell me where my hostel was. Then, as we passed a store which had material for sale in the window, he commented that it would make a beautiful wedding dress. I jumped on the first tram that went by and was relieved I was alone.

The following morning, I awoke marvelling at what had transpired. This city was seriously starting to freak me out. I ate breakfast and figured my abrupt departure the previous evening would stop him contacting me. I was wrong.

He text messaged me. I told him i wasn’t feeling well and didn’t want to go out. Then he called me, once (I told him the same thing), and then a second time, when he didn’t believe me, and offered to come to my hostel to look after me and make me feel better. I refused and told him it had been nice meeting him, but no. The next time he called, I didn’t answer. You’d think it would have ended there.

The text messages continued. (I no longer replied). Firstly trying to persuade me to come out, or let him come to me, and then the next one was a bold ‘Je t’aime’ (‘I love you’). I continued to ignore them. Another day went by and I thought it was over. Not quite.

Another number had messaged me. It was his friend pleading on his behalf that I should meet up with him. Who does that?? Needless to say, I didn’t reply.

Lessons learnt from my Amsterdam experience:

  1. As a female, don’t go there alone. All the creeps come out of the woodwork.
  2. Be prepared for many random propositions in any location.
  3. Don’t tell people you’re there on your own.
  4. If you’re going on a weekend in the summertime, book ahead!
  5. Don’t expect there to be Dutch people there in the summertime.
  6. Don’t give people your number unless you know them. Better to take their number.
  7. Random propositions occur everywhere, even in internet cafes and while walking down the street.
  8. If you’re getting unwanted attention from someone, cut it off sooner rather than later.
  9. Apparently ‘no’ isn’t enough for some people, they get very attached after 2 hours of inane conversation.
So, after all this, I’m convinced Amsterdam is like no other place. There must be something in the water.
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