29 October 2011--Arrive midday at Amsterdam's Central Station and find my hotel, west of Dam Square, solely by the memory of a map I last
saw a month and a half ago. It's just about the dingiest dive I've ever stayed in, a fitting bookend, perhaps, to the cellarhole I occupied in
Northampton at the start of the trip. My room is a cube of chipping white paint. At least it's on the top floor, away from the noise of the
ground floor bar. Being a low-budget traveler, I'm not too fussy about my lodgings, but there are limits, and I've had about enough of
Amsterdam grunge. I think next time I'm here, I'll spring for a proper hotel room.
Set out to find Café 't Smalle, the pretty canalside pub where I had my last La Chouffes last year. Give up after wandering a while, and stop for an early al fresco dinner at an Italian restaurant. I stumble slightly over the pronunciation of my order, and the pretty dark-haired waitress repeats it, in what sounds to me like fully fluent Italian. "Oui," I answer reflexively--French is my default foreign language. (I used to do the same in German class.) She switches languages easily, and thus we converse for the rest of our transaction. I can't help but laugh at the surrealism of it...somehow I have walked into an Italian restaurant in Amsterdam and ended up speaking French with the Dutch waitress. After a while, she realizes that I don't speak French all that well, either, and addresses me in English. If I stammer now, I'm in big trouble. I have no other languages left.
I head back eastward, through Dam Square and the Red Light District--it's Saturday Night, prime time, and it must be said that the goods on offer are commensurate with the undoubtedly high rents charged for the retail space at peak period. I'd like to sneak a few photos, just for anthropological purposes, of course, but it's seriously frowned on here, and I don't have the nerve. Have a beer in Rembrandt Square, which seems much less charming to me than it did last year. Hop a couple other pubs in the neighborhood, then wander back over to the west side, where I stumble onto 't Smalle, just a block or so north of the Anne Frank House. It's quite a pleasant evening, and I take my La Chouffe outside, sitting by the canal with the other patrons. What more could I want?