Amsterdam, February 2018

I love seeing my favorite bands playing in overseas venues because it can be such a different experience. Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly were doing a European tour and when they announced a stop in Amsterdam, the Flogging Molly Cruise shipmates jumped all over the opportunity, myself included. After all, there were three bonuses: flying cheaply via Icelandair and taking advantage of the free stopover; seeing Aimee, an English girl living in the Netherlands, whom I met in Tasmania; and acquiring a Netherlands tattoo. After Amsterdam, therefore, I would be staying in Iceland for a few days, with a quick trip to Greenland.

It was February, so my flight through Iceland did not happen due to a snowstorm both in Chicago and Reykjavik. Instead, I was put on a direct flight to Amsterdam, which was leaving a half hour earlier. I barely made it onto the plane after having to run back through four terminals, navigate my way through some very frustrated passengers to get to the front of the check-in line, and missing the check-in deadline by five minutes. Through tears I managed to beg my way onto the flight and I was on my way.

Already stressed and tired, I arrived in Amsterdam and made my way to the hotel. My room was not yet ready, but I was assured an early check-in, so I decided to wait in the lobby. After a couple of hours, when I tried to ask whether my room had been cleaned, I was yelled at by the manager that my room was not yet ready. When I tried to explain what the first receptionist told me, she repeated herself, but in a louder, screeching, and condescending tone. I walked away without saying a word and sat back down. When I was finally collected by another receptionist, the manager rushed over to attack me again, but was interrupted with the news that my room was indeed ready. It was not the best start to my trip.

I was finally able to get ready for the day and met Aimee at Amsterdam Centraal station. She took me to some of the main squares to tour them and take photos, including Dam Square, with the Royal Palace, and Museumplein, with the “I amsterdam” sign. My favorite part about walking around, however, was seeing all of the colorful, narrow houses edging the waterways. Aimee told me that the houses and doorways are so narrow, that to move in and out, they have to lift furniture along the outside of the house and through the windows. We walked by the Anne Frank house, but I did not want to tour the inside. I read the diary and saw it on Gene Simmons’ Family Jewels when he visited, which was depressing enough, and with only two days, I did not want to wait in the always long line.

I asked Aimee why Amsterdam was built with so many canals and she did not know, but a quick Google search revealed that it was a successful outcome of city planning. There are four main concentric half-circles of canals with the inner three mainly for residential development and the outermost canal for defense and water management. The canals do not seem very practical, and yet, even the outdoor market shops are half built on boats that sit in the canal. We could have taken a boat ride on the canals, but with the weather being as cold as it was, and with our time together short, we chose to spend it touring some Irish pubs instead. Aimee also showed me the ingenious fast food vending machine, and I located a coffee shop to acquire some space cake. It was one of the tastier cupcakes I had ever had, and the resulting effect was not so bad either.

After a lovely dinner at an Australian restaurant, which reminded us of how we met, Aimee took me to the Irish pub where she used to work, and then the red-light district. I had, of course, heard of the red-light district, but seeing it in person was surreal. I could not believe there were actually real women in these windows and it was difficult to wrap my brain around what they were selling. We saw men negotiating with them through the windows. When the curtain was closed, the lady inside was busy. I later learned that although some of these women service multiple men throughout the day, the rent on the rooms is so high that they take home very little money. It was so lovely to see Aimee again and have truly insightful and inspiring conversation, but it was time for us to part ways so that we could both get some much needed rest. I hope she has the opportunity to visit me in Chicago soon!

My tattoo appointment was the next day, at Walls and Skins Tattoo. I chose the shop for its location and ratings, but also because it offered tattoo preservation. I thought it would be grand to have my skin in a museum after I died, although I would never see it. When I walked in, however, it was a smaller shop than I had imagined based on the website, with the skin preservation service not advertised, nor offered, so I did not ask about it. I did not choose my artist and simply filled in the online form to make an appointment. I was provided with a Romanian artist, the name of whom I regret to say I did not ask. He was a rather intolerant man, yelling at the other artist in the shop to change the music, or better yet, make it silent, but I found it amusing considering he was from my part of the world and I understood his anger. When I told him I was Ukrainian, he talked more about his life in Romania and the politics that drove him out of his homeland.

My initial tattoo idea for a Netherlands tattoo had been a kiss, as a play on the word tulip. It would have been “two lips” to symbolize both the national flower and the sexy red-light district. I had not seen many, if any, good kiss tattoos, however, and I did not want to risk having some cheap-looking tattoo on my body. Instead, I chose a bike theme. After actually walking around Amsterdam and seeing the unbelievable number of bikes everywhere, I applauded my idea. Aimee told me that most people own two or three bikes because they were so convenient to ride. To also preserve my beloved idea of tulips, I requested a bike with a basket full of tulips, which I thought was unique, until I saw numerous souvenirs printed with the same image.

The tattoo artist used a 3 round liner for the entire appointment, which creates a tiny line, making for a very slow, and meticulous process. He was very concerned about not giving me a bike with flat tires. I thought perhaps the lines of the bike were too thin, but I knew the ink would spread eventually and therefore, for so many lines, thinner was probably better for a different kind of tattoo preservation. He placed five tulips in the design, two of which were flying out of the basket to show some movement. We decided on red and yellow and he dabbed the ink on them first so that I would have an idea of how the colors would look before he took a needle to them. Overall, it was a good experience and I exited with a lovely tattoo.

After my appointment, I still had some time to explore the city before the concert that evening. It was sunny out and made for better photo opportunities than the day before, so I happily wandered around. I stopped in a traditional pancake restaurant for lunch, shopped a bit for some souvenirs, bought some more space cake for the evening festivities, and went back to my hotel to change and freshen up. I then met out several shipmates who traveled in from the British Isles for the show for some drinks. The show was an absolute blast, as usual. We then went out near the venue and wandered back to the hotel, where a number of us were staying. I considering hanging out at the hotel bar with them for another nightcap or two, but I had a flight to Reykjavik the next morning and I did not want to regret my choices.

Annoyingly, my flight ended up being delayed by ten hours due to a massive snowstorm in Iceland. I considered going back to the city and taking advantage of the extra day in Amsterdam, but I did not know whether it was a situation where the flight might be moved up, so I was afraid to leave the airport. I napped, had some lunch, had some beers, did a little shopping, and played phone games until my flight. Amsterdam is a very cool city and I could see it being a fun weekend destination if I lived close by in Europe. I would go again as a first stop before exploring the rest of the Netherlands and neighboring countries, and maybe even ride a bike there. My Netherlands tattoo is crisp and cute and has already received numerous compliments. It is definitely a perfect addition on my body as well as in my memory-books.

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