Five Hours in Amsterdam

“Would you like to join us for karaoke?’ the young woman standing nearby asked me. As I looked at the list of available songs (all of which were in Dutch) there was one which caught my eye, “Tulpen uit Amsterdam”. With a slight twinkle in my eye, I looked at her and said, “I’ll give it a try”. What I later found out was she didn’t know there was an English language version of the song which I knew, almost by heart, thanks to a fondly remembered episode of “The Goodies”. What she also didn’t know is that I have some previous experience of singing karaoke in Dutch. As I’ve blogged previously in 2008

In a bar that comprised only two Dutch bar-tenders, two Dutch customers, five Spanish customers and one Australian, it was time for a karaoke sing-a-long (in Dutch). As it turns out, it was the final night of residency at the bar for Jason and Kylie, and we were encouraged to sing them a farewell serenade. The words (in Dutch) appeared on the television screen, and without evening thinking twice, we all burst into song. I can’t begin to imagine how hilarious it must have been for the locals to watch the Spanish guys and the Australian bloke sing a long to a Dutch language pop song. “I’m singing in Dutch”, I kept thinking to myself in between moments of laughter. So funny.

My attempt at singing “Tulpen uit Amsterdam” in the original Dutch resulted in a combination of laughter and admiration. “You didn’t know many of the words, but you knew the tune”, one of the group of people today said to me. That’s when I told her about the English language version. “You should sing it in English for us too”, she said.

With just five hours in Amsterdam, as I waited for my overnight train to Copenhagen, I decided a visit to “Amstel 54” was how I would best pass the time. Having considered the tourist options of a canal cruise or a visit to a gallery or museum, I decided it would be more fun to hang out with some locals. So I grabbed a map and made my way to a bar I fondly remembered from my last time in Amsterdam. It’s a predominantly gay bar, where they a great combination of pop music, and where I remembered there was a friendly vibe towards travellers.

The bar staff may have changed since 2008, but the friendly vibe was still there. I chatted with one of the bar staff briefly before his shift. He had observed there was a woman sitting in the corner (along with a male friend, probably her partner) who was doing a line-drawing of the scene outside. “She’s a good artist”, I said. “And she’s got a great rack”, he responded with a smile. “As two gay men we can be objective about these things”, he added.

Later, a couple of older guys wearing some amazing outfits joined the group of people in the bar. I kindly asked for a photograph, which they were to happy to do.

And then there was an Australian guy in his early 30s who I also chatted to for a while. With that distinctive accent we all know without resorting to cliché, I’d overheard him telling the barman he was travelling independently for a month, revisiting some of the places he had been to while backpacking ten years earlier. He was a nice guy who told me he was originally from Adelaide, but who now lives in Darwin. Within a few minutes of chatting, I quickly realised he didn’t know he was in a gay bar. Or at least not until the main group of people left later in the afternoon.

The main group was there for the 39th birthday of a lovely woman called Amanda. When she and her friends began packing their bags I wished her a “Happy Birthday” and thanked them for inviting me into their group. They all responded kindly with with a hug and a with a “Safe Travels” wish for me also.

Minutes later it was time for me to leave. With the departure of the main group and with myself shortly afterwards, I wondered how long before the bloke from Darwin realised he had stumbled into one of the most fantastic gay bars in the world.