Aud Left Amsterdam

Well guys, this is it. Time to move on. I've spent the last eight months in Amsterdam running around like an obnoxious American woman, smoking weed in all 320 coffeeshops and drinking to a point where I'm found nightly wretching on all fours in rusted gutters at the Red Light District, surrounded by drug dealers and dirty, dirty prostitutes....

Come on! Don't be so quick to stereotype Amsterdam as the above description. Although, you should take pity on the weekend tourists -- they usually end up as the above description. This city is the heart of Dutch culture, and I was damn lucky to see it. The overall lifestyle here: do what makes you happy, and you'll blend in well.

Amsterdam was my playground:

Remember how I was a tour guide this summer? I was, and I was flippin good at it, too. Most summer days included me guiding young backpackers around the city, an attempt to open eyes and educate others on how the city is more than just smoking pot and indulging in the eye candy of the Red Light District. It was a three hour walking tour around the central area, and I would lead groups of 20 or 30, rambling on and on about Amsterdam's history. It was a free tour, however, so I worked my ass off for good tips. That means a certain level of entertainment was in order... It was more than joke telling, a tour was a three-hour performance.

I jumped on and off railings, steps, houseboats, tree stumps, really anything that made me taller. I shouted at Dam Square, and whispered at the Oude Kerk. At the Tower of Tears I pretended to cry. At the Rembrandt house I played Rembrandt. My hands would flail around for the Miracle of Amsterdam. My eyes would widen and arms would stretch for the story of Anne Frank. I was on an imaginary ship when telling the history of the East Indies Company. Each day I left physically and mentally exhausted.

I got real into it, and the feelings rubbed off on the crowds. Sometimes tourists would buy me beers, sometimes they would hug me. Sometimes they would laugh, sometimes they wouldn't get it. Other times they would applause after random stories, other times they would holler like sports fans. There was always a wide range of emotions on their faces, something I enjoyed to watch.

On average, I made 80 Euros a day -- for telling people how rad Amsterdam really is.

Amsterdam was my music mecca:

Off the top of my head, bands I saw while here: Atmosphere, Black Crowes, Jack Johnson, The Darkness, Death Cab, The Decemberists, Bouncing Souls, Pennywise, The Presidents of USA, The Infadels, The Kooks, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Spoon, Flaming Lips, Gabriel Rios, The Weakerthans, GunsNRoses, Planes Mistaken for Stars, Buena Vista Social Club.... Rolling Stones... El Gran Silencio...

These bands played at venues that were once maybe a Protestant church (the Paradiso) or a milk factory (The Melkweg) during the 1600s and 1700s. And the venues are incredible -- always more than one stage, a cafe somewhere, multiple bars around the club, and amazing acoustics, lights and architecture. Bands are always so ecstatic to be out here, they play only their good songs for the Dutch crowd -- though most are a good blend of locals and foreigners.
Then there is the jazz that makes your ears bleed saxophone. Every night it echoes throughout the city from small brown cafes, large music halls and student buildings. Ex pats that once played with James Brown flutter around these bars, tooting out solos from the crowd when they have a surge of urge.

In Amsterdam, there are punk rock bars, heavy metal bars, blues bars, hip hop bars, reggae bars; all well-equipped with weekend nights of endless gigs. But there's even more on the outside -- amphitheaters in parks, street musicians in Dam Square, and the random households enjoying jam sessions as they sit outside on the front steps, drinking beer and slurping on fresh herring and cheese. I'm telling you, this city sings and has a soundtrack impossible to rival against.

Amsterdam was my middle man:

Upon my arrival back in February I was placed within international student housing through the University van Amsterdam. There were around ten people on each floor studying abroad from countries all over the world.

I shared a floor with students from Russia, Hungary, England, Austria, US... Dave, a punk ass kid from Detroit, who was perma-stoned, ended up with a prostitute in his room at his going away party because his friends wanted to "surprise" him. Luke, an Iranian jazz bassist from Brighton, England, took me off guard many times when I passed by his room as he chanted Buddhist phrases and clanked his chimes... then blasted the White Stripes.

The tourists I met, that's another story of it's own. Gappi, a "citizen of the world" who was really from Germany, and decided to change his pants in front of the entire tour as I was telling the story of Anne Frank. "You're a free spirit, huh Gappi?" I asked after the tour. Gappi smiled at me, began to wave his arms like a bird and "flew" away down the street, yelling "I was born free, lady!"

There was a senior citizen couple from Florida on my tour once. The wife was small, her skin shriveled and body hunched over. The husband, tall and his head was a glossy bald. It began raining, and the wife held a poncho, camo army pattern, pitched like a tent over her head while her husband let the rain bounce off his face. Neither of them had pleasant face expressions. They looked so ridiculous I laughed so hard I was crying, in front of the entire tour group. I would try to keep going, but every time I looked over there they were, and I busted out in giggles again which caused everyone there to laugh with me. Oops.

Three words that means fun: Large Spanish Groups (LSG). These people are STOAKED to be in Amsterdam, and they are even MORE stoaked to be on a free tour! Every place we'd walk to, would receive a round of applause. I would say "Ok, guys our next stop is that bridge over there" and the LSG would clap like lunatic fans."Alright, now were headed down the street, please don't take pictures of the ladies in the windows" LSG roars with laughter, applause, hoots and hollars. I felt like a street performer. In a sense, I was.

I led girl scout groups from Canada through the Red Light District, as well as boy scout groups from Ohio. I guided kids high as a kite, or tripping on mushrooms so hard I held their hand. I led a blind guy who had a giant bloodshot eyeball on the bottom of his walking stick that rotated as he walked. So many people with so many stories and so many different backgrounds. I can't tell it all in one email, and I can only hope I remember it all.

Amsterdam was my muse:

These snippets of examples listed above will be everlasting stories. So many experiences to remember, write, share and reminisce. Enough to last my entire life. It's a satisfying feeling to have, this idea of bottomless material.

So I'll continue to write my experiences as long as you guys promise to remain my audience.

Audrey "A'dam is Awesome to the max, and beyond" Sykes

Danish Tales

Odd Danish Tradition: Birthdays

I was invited to a Danish 25th birthday last year when I lived in Aarhus, Denmark. The tradition is that if you're unmarried you get blasted with cinnamon powder all night long. So, as my friends and I approached the front door, an aroma of cinnamon stung my nostrils. Looking down I notice cement pathways showered with spice. We knock on the door and there he is, the birthday boy named Chris. It's traditional for the birthday boy to greet you at the door, look you in the eye and shake your hand regardless on how much cinnamon is caked on his skin and clothes, or how drunk he is.

Upstairs is the party, or a bunch of tanked Danes singing songs I can't understand at long tables that are covered with leftover food (we missed the dinner, which is usually really hearty sausage and potatoes). It was a great night because I learned how to open a beer bottle with another beer bottle, and believe me THAT'S impressive! Chris, the bday boy, was at war with cinnamon packets all night. He would take a shower, walk out of the bathroom and then BAM! his friends whack the poor sap with cinnamon again.

I got handed a packet as well, and my drunken friend Morton slurred, "We're going to get him outside now, again!" So we go outside and are standing around in a cinnamon cloud when I open my package and give it a whiff.

"Um, Morten this isn't cinnamon, it’s curry powder." His face drops, almost in terror, like he had handed me a gun to blast Chris instead of cinnamon.

"NO, you can't use curry! Oh my GOD! Who gave you that?"

"You did."

"Well you CAN'T use it!" and he snatches it from me. (it's extreme bad luck and I would have probably gotten kicked out of the party.) I sit there baffled and Morton hands me another packet, this time cinnamon, and Chris stumbles outside with a "Please dear God make it stop" look on his face.

Unable to resist, I rip open the package and give him a high-class cinnamon dump on his head and down his back. Happy Birthday, BAM!


GREAT Danish Tradition: Food

When drinking beer it's all about peanuts and pretzels, but the meals here are heavy and everyone knows how to cook. Every month in my dorm (I live with 14 other Danes) there is someone who cooks for us all. This month it was Potter. I don't know his real name, we call him Potter because he looks like Harry Potter (see picture below). Potter puts on the white board: Pork Patties with a Bacon and Pork Sauce, and Potatoes.

Now I'm not the biggest meat fan, but I decide to give him a chance. All day he's in our kitchen making the sauce, cooking bacon, cooking pork patties, and it looks like a meat factory in there. Curious because I keep hearing the occasional "Shit!" being shouted, I cracked open the kitchen door: it's a sauna, the Beatles are playing and Potter is looking very serious with the pans. He’s cooking pork patties and very frustrated with the fact that his glasses keep fogging each time he checks the potatoes in the oven.

"Uh, Potter, do you need help in here?"

"No, it's fine. Everything is just fine. It's fucking hot."

"Yeah, do you want me to keep the door open?"

"No! I need my privacy. I'm almost done."

And with that I close the door as Potter yells "Shit!" again and then something in Danish. A few hours later we eat, and the food, as grotesque as it may sound, was great. It was one of the best tasting meals I've had since I got here. That's the meal picture I have attached.

Besides Potter’s pork patties in bacon sauce, Danes love to make big breakfasts. I awoke one afternoon to two other roommates of mine, Jakob and Torsten making the most elaborate breakfast I'd ever seen (Jakob is a short stubby guy with a long blonde pony tail who wears a lot of black, plays a lot of video games and is really into medieval swords (he's got a collection in his room) and Star Wars. Torsten is a HUGE Hulk Hogan/Santa Claus of a dude with a long brown beard and long brown hair who plays a lot of video games and is really into zombies and Star Wars (his cell phone rings the Dark Side theme)). Crepes with butter, sugar or jam, bacon, sausage, toast, eggs with onion and tomatoes, potatoes, milk, apple juice and oj, three different cheeses. It was incredible. I followed the smell downstairs and saw the buffet. I asked Jakob and Torsten if this all was just for them and they said yet. Out of guilt and same for feasting in front of me, I think, they told me I could help myself. YES!

Danish food rocks.

With a weekend off and time to kill I decided to go to Copenhagen with a
group of students from my class. After lecture we headed to the train
station and arrived in Copenhagen that night. For those of you who don't
know, Copenhagen is Denmark's capital, the largest city in the country on an
island called Zealand. Yep.
We searched for the Sleep In Green Hostel, a place known to be
eviro-friendly... but really offered nothing more than an expensive organic
breakfast consisting of bread and coffee. Still, we hadn't found the hostel
yet and the group of us stood there in an intersection, wondering what to do
"Are you looking for the hostel?" asked a guy from behind. He, his friend
and a dog had crept behind us and stood inches away from my face. Somewhat
startled but relieved I said yes and they offered to lead the way. Putting
all my trust in a few strange Danes was probably a bad idea, but I did itanyway.
"So, I'm Audrey, and..."
"I'm Pick!" shouts one of the Danes, even though we were walking right
beside each other. "Or Dick, Cock, however you say penis in English," says
Pick. Pick dressed in black layers with holes in everything he wore. He had
is eyebrows pierced, his nose, septum, lip, ears, tongue; and a buzzed head
with long green bangs. He was my height, short that is, and never stopped
"I'm Michael, and this is Fleek," said the other Dane, pointing to his jack
russell terrier that ran in circles around him. Michael was taller, a softer
voice and wore a tie-dye vest that said in Danish "Take me, use me and abuse
me". Fleek, who is going on 9 in people years, never left Michael's side the
entire time we walked. the dog would always stay within a certain diameter
of Michael, walk in-between us, in front of us, behind us, but never too far
or on roads.
They're both from Cristiana, a place in Copenhagen famous for many reasons.
It was once set up in the late 1960s as a place without rule, an actual free
market that developed into a village in the heart of Copenhagen that has
seen itself a separate state ever since. Thirty years ago the main street
was filled with hippies selling marijuana, hash and hemp clothes among the
fruit and vegetable stands; now it's not so utopian-like though drugs are
readily available and taken anywhere in the village.
Legal drug use and Amsterdam-style coffee shops aren't the only reason why
Cristiana is popular, there is much more to it. The people that live there
try to preserve the hippie lifestyle to the best of their abilities: murals
on every building, music in every corner, organic and all natural products--
people visit for the atmosphere more than the weed, or at least it's about
Pick and Michael are part of the Cristiana circus, Pick a flame thrower and
Michael the world's strongest man's assistant. On our way to check out their
circus that night, Michael tells me that many people live in the circus tent
at night and the perform during the day. Most of the kids are our age and
don't have much talent, so they all become clowns, which Michael admits,
they have too many of.
"They even are going to have a clown party tomorrow night. It will be lots
of fun, a lot of people, but they will all dress up as clowns and there will
probably be more of them than normal-dressed people."
Michael doesn't really live in a circus tent in Cristiana, he just pretends
to. He actually has a nice bed at his parents place, a cell phone in his
hand and an ATM card in his pocket.
Pick, on the other hand, does live in a circus tent in Cristiana, along with
six others we hung out with that night. When I asked him how much longer
will he be living in a circus tent, he replied, "It took me a long time to
throw fire down my chest without burning myself. Now I can put it in my
mouth, down my pants, anywhere I want without burning myself. Well, mostly."
The shows are always free and open to whoever wants to come, but I told them
I never saw any fliers. "That's because we don't use any. Whenever we want
to tell people about the circus, we just go downtown to the main walking
area and yell 'Hey everyone! There is a circus going on tonight in
Cristiana! Free! Please come and watch it!" says Michael, hand cupped over
his lips.
"Does it work?"
"Yeah, actually, we have a full house every time."
Upon our arrival in Cristiana we passed St Cristiana's church, the place
where Hans Christian Anderson is buried, as well as Michael's mother. Pick
ran ahead of us, and a few meters later he had opened the circus gate and
was holding it back, pressing his fingertips together like Mr. Burns.
"Welcome to the Cristiana circus, Enter if you DARE!" he shouts, again, this
time louder and with an evil laugh. What a weird guy.
But there it was, a vintage-style circus tent, even with a little flag on
top, stars and red ball patters painted on, old ropes and canvas that
flapped to the Pink Floyd beat was playing from inside. Fleek ran in,
followed by Michael, then the rest of us. Oh, and then Pick and his evil
Instead of elephants, cotton candy, trapeze performers and tigers sat a
group of kids huddled around a heater on a small stage. Bare mattresses
covered the stage, dirty plates, empty beer cans and ashtrays full of
smokes, dead joints and broken pipes. It didn't fit right at all, although
things just aren't supposed to fit right in Cristiana.
We hung around, talked to the locals about their fight to keep Cristiana
free from outside influence, about the circus, about how to roll the perfect
joint, about how someone promised Flick a beer and he hasn't gotten it yet,
about how Fleek is real good at fetching and how Danes are the best at
smoking anything put in front of them.

The next afternoon we went to Cristiana again to look around. The
unfortunate thing about the place is that it can be dangerous taking
pictures there, people will literally grab your camera and destroy it if you
get a shot with a drug dealer in there. So I don't have any pictures of the
place, Michael, Pick or Fleek. But there is a website if you're curious
about the place.
We stayed there that afternoon until the sun began to set and Michael had to
get to his clown party. And as the church bells in Cristiana rang Love Me
Tender by Elvis Presley I watched the sun sink into Copenhagen skyline, wine
in one hand and Fleek in the other.

Danish Beer-Drinking Skills:

In my Xenophobes Guide to Denmark, the chapter about beer starts off with "Danes are Olympic beer drinkers..." ...that's putting it lightly. Danes don't go out to buy six packs, they buy crates of 30 bottled beers -- Touborg, Carlsberg, Royal and Ceres are the popular ones. And yes, all have more alcohol content than U.S. 3.2. Usually it takes three guys to buy the beer, one to load it up on the dolly and wheel it back home, and two to keep him company and get an early start on things.

The beer shop might only be a hundred meters away, still two breaks are ABSOLUTELY necessary on beer runs. One right after the purchase to celebrate getting there before close or something I don't understand, and another midway between the shop and home. This midway stop can be treacherous -- sometimes the three beer amigos easily entertain each other for hours, from just standing on the sidewalk, and forget about the people back home waiting for them and their dolly.

Meeting a Dane that doesn't drink beer is NOT a respectable thing, it's an insult to their culture and he or she will probably never have any friends. Go to a bar and order Jack and Coke? Not unless you want to sit alone and be singled out as the jerk with the liquor drink. Wine? Screw you, what are you trying to be, classy? Beer beer beer, and sometimes suds flow down the streets. Literally.

The first Friday of November is Jule Day, or J Day, Denmark's official holiday for beer. It's the yearly celebration for breweries nationwide (the size of Illinois) to release the Danish Christmas Beer. Bottled in dark glass with holiday decoration, the Christmas Beer is available to all in pubs and on the streets at exactly 8:59p.m. I don't know why. Exactly 150 free Christmas beers are given out -- the rest of the night every town in Denmark, every sensible Dane, goes apeshit.

Beer trucks decked out in Christmas flare fill the streets, spewing clouds of foam in every direction. The song Here Comes Santa Clause sings from the truck speakers. Hottie boom-bottie blondies prance around in Santa Helper skirts and tops, graciously giving holiday beer to all those present and following. It's an actual beer parade.

And you know what? You don't even have to worry about beer bottles littering the streets -- the homeless follow close behind collecting every container because it's worth 3Dkk, or fifty cents.

Now this holiday used to be the first Wednesday of every November. But due to the DRASTIC lack of student and job attendance nationwide the following day, it was decided just to move the holiday to a weekend day. That way Danes of all ages (this includes grade school) can get wasted and not have to worry about school or work, and everyone is happily hungover.

Exactly, this would never happen in the states.

A friend of mine told me that the only way Danes maintain a steady birthrate is from drunken hookups. I thought he was liar until last week when I went to a stoplight party.

It's a stoplight party because, sadly enough, the color you wear indicates your availability. Red means you're taken, green you're single, and yellow is you're in between (whatever the hell that means, cheaters I guess). I wore brown and blue. But the color can be a big deal, some people who wore the wrong color by accident (so they say) and got into fights with their significant other at the party.

But my friend is right. By midnight the place was covered with wasted Danes sucking face with anyone who looked their way. It was impossible to go to the bathroom because too many couples were waiting in line to use it...together. It was impossible to sit or stand, it was impossible to look. Danes would literally make their rounds, and I found the true definition of meat market.

"Hi how's it going"

"Hi, no thanks"

The guy turns to my friend,

"Hi, how's it going"

Another sneaks up from the side, "Hi, how are you"

"Ah! Where the hell did you come from?"

"Oh, you're American, that's hot."

You get the point...I got the hell out of there.

And then there are the Friday bars. Think your university was special because there was ONE bar on campus? HAH! At Denmark universities, there are bars for each department. Yep, not each college, each department. Every Friday beginning around 2p.m. the eating areas turn into cheap beer bars. Fresh off the tap in your hands for 2 bucks a cup, the college streets lead stumbling wasted students to their bus stops by six. The best one I think is the Chemistry bar because it's really great to see Danish nerds get hosed, as well as Danish professors.