Maattsterdam: Sex, drugs, and... Uhhh...
9 June 2002
It was the first thing I smelled the moment I got off the plane and entered Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport.
It instantly took me back… not only to only those rock concerts where a secondary high was a fringe benny, but also to my brief two-day stint in Amsterdam back when I was backpacking around for months on end after college.
That's all I can remember, along with one ridiculous little man who tried to sell me drugs.
I was just a kid minding my own business outside the Hard Rock Café Amsterdam (which was right next door to the red light district back then) when this guy came up offering to sell me grass for 10 guilders. I declined his offer. After all, after I checked into my dive of a hostel near the train station, the woman (from Nebraska) running the place slammed her fist on the counter and told me not to buy any drugs off the street because I could buy the best damn stuff right there in the hostel. They had three-ring binders full of pockets with packets of the stuff. Always one to do want I'm told (back then anyway), I simply told the guy, "No thanks." I was also polite back in those days.
The little ejit apparently thought he had made me an offer I couldn't refuse and, after following me for blocks and across canals, stuck the stuff in my front pocket when I turned away to tell him, in no uncertain terms, that I wasn't interested.
I threw it on the ground and stomped off.
For more blocks - and across more canals to boot.
He kept yippin' that I made him lose his drugs. I guess somebody appeared out of thin air and picked the packet off the sidewalk before he could snatch it back.
So, if I didn't give him 10 guilders, he was going to go back to the plaza we left many, many blocks and canals behind, get his "big black friends" (his words) and come back with his friends and beat me up (because he was too small to do the job himself).
As we continued our little walk around greater Amsterdam in the pitch black of a cool February night, I kept thinking about how impressively stupid the guy was.
Like, HELLO, should I just stand here and wait for you to get your friends so you can come back and beat me up?
Clueless bugger. Give him a job in management.
Sorry - I digress. That was then. This is now.
Walking through the airport in 2002, older and wiser, I thought to myself, "Ya know, you're already the President and CEO of that major worldwide concern, Mattimus, Inc. You're also the self-appointed lifetime President, Prime Minister, and Emperor (all rolled into one) of Mattopia. Why not become your very own Joint Chief of Staff?"
The next few days would you turn out to be highly entertaining, pun intended. Bizarre bathrooms... odd furniture... beachside hotels... disappearing ties... funny smoke... mirrors... Heinekens... Rijks... World Cup fever... euros... Guinness... Absinthe... red lights...
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It's a different world out here in Zooropa. And things have changed for the better.
Last year I got my soul back. Now it's time for the rebirth of Mr. Mattphisto.
One of my first activities upon returning to Amsterdam after all those years was to tour the Heineken brewery. The tour facility just opened last year. I didn't even realize it was an option until I was I on the train, headed for Amsterdam from The Hague. I was wearing a Guinness T-shirt.
My arrival at the brewery was received by a bit of disdain from the ticket taker. In fact, he invited
me to return to the cashier to get a refund, as I would not be allowed in wearing
a Guinness T. After pleading innocent and not intending to offend, the guy let me in.
The tour itself is pretty standard. The award for Most Thorough Brewery Tour still goes to Guinness' recently renovated tour in Dublin. It tells you more than you could possibly want to know about the brewing process. And, naturally, your efforts are rewarded with a pint of the Nectar of the Gods and a stunning view of Dublin from the top floor of the new Guinness tower.
The Heineken tour followed a similar pattern of thoroughness, with some unique touches here and there, including a StarTours-like ride where the guests are taken on a ride through the Heineken bottling plant and experience life as a bottle.
The one disappointment was the Heineken store. It's small and didn't offer too many options. But the cashier was still quick to deride my attire. He asked if I was going to buy a "decent" shirt along with my Heineken pub towels. I said, "No. There's nothing wrong with the shirt I've got."
Aside from the fairly friendly jabs my T-shirt provided, I was duly impressed by the place. It was a great value, to boot. For 5 euro, you get the tour, three half pints, and a "gift" upon your departure. Expecting a magnet or something equally cheesy, I was stunned to receive a Heineken tin with a genuine half-pint glass inside. Very nice.
All things considered, I think it's just as well they didn't know I was the former captain of the Hineyken Kickers, a volleyball team so challenged, we gave beer leagues a bad name. I s'pose they might've been offended by the play on words.
Regardless, Guinness still rules the world.
The evening started off with a shot of Absinthe. Because of its potency and effects, the stuff is illegal in many places around the world, including Amsterdam. It's the beverage that rocked Ewan McGregor's world in Moulin Rouge and the drug of choice for Johnny Depp in From Hell.
So, OK, the stuff I had was more like "Absinthe Lite." Technically, they call it "Method Absinth" and it features a conservative amount of wormwood. The original concoction would induce hallucinations and had an aphrodisiacal effect. No such luck here. It was more like sipping black licorice. Perhaps I'll give it another try later on.
My experiment was served at a tiny little club called... Absinthe Bar, cleverly enough. The interior was reminiscent of one of the bars in U2's The Kitchen in Dublin, although Absinthe is more bar than nightclub.
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