Have you ever found yourself in a city that most people rave about only to be disappointed and even slightly scared? Well, I was looking forward to my 12 hour layover in Amsterdam; only to return 7 hours later to Schiphol Airport.

Amsterdam from a Boat Cruise

The day started wonderfully. I had arrived in Amsterdam via Toronto with KLM Airlines, an airline which as of 2008, had over 30 internationally acclaimed movies with English subtitles on its on-board entertainment system. Needless to say, I did not sleep at all!

Being sleep deprived is often a prerequisite when travelling and I usually have little difficulty functioning in this state. However, my troubles started when I tried to get a train ticket out of the Airport’s self service machine. At the time, Canadian banks did not issue credit cards with electronic chips and when I tried to buy tickets, the machine demanded that I give it a PIN code which I neither remembered nor knew about. After futilely banging away on buttons for about 20 minutes, the machine was kind enough to spit my card out so I could enjoy the experience of paying at an attended booth.

Once I got into the city, I took the tram to go see the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum. Here my troubles continued. In the middle of a 10 minute journey, the tram stopped shortly after a short dark slightly rounded and dirty man with drums entered the tram. When he started banging on his drums and shouting words in a foreign language, the driver asked him in Dutch, to what I assumed was to either be quiet or leave. However, the man continued to play his drums and beg for spare change. Heated words flew between them and the tram came to a halt.

A kind old aristocratic lady whom I was sitting next to, translated for me.  She told me that the driver threatened to call the police. The artist jumped back like a petrified animal and promptly exited the tram, never to be seen again. All the passengers on the tram breathed a collective sigh, some even clapped.  We were finally able to continue our journey.

The same old lady informed me that in Amsterdam, it is illegal to beg for money on public transportation and that the beggar left only after the driver mentioned police as she thought that he was an illegal immigrant. I put the whole incident out of mind and continued my sightseeing to the lovely museums which were everything that my guidebook promised.

Coming back to the city center, I wanted to see the Oude Kerk, which according to my Top 10 Amsterdam guidebook is the city’s oldest church. On my way to the church, I detoured away from the main path in an attempt to gain a unique perspective on the city.

This route led me though a street lined with Amsterdam’s famous “coffee shops.” I realized that I may not have been in the best of neighbourhoods. A good friend of mine once advised me to avoid the brownies, no matter how delicious they looked.

As I continued my walk, I realized that I was right in the middle of the Red Light District. My logic at the moment was that I should just continue walking as if I was a local. It did not take me more than a few steps until I got harassed by a man in his mid forties who was clearly intoxicated or inebriated or some combination therein. The man started yelling at me and asking, “How much? How much?” I wasn’t even sure if his beckons were directed at me.  I was only dressed in a t-shirt and jeans, how could he possible be directing these calls at me?  But, I was wrong again as there was no one on the street other than this man and me. I took a deep breath and continued walking unabated.  His ever insistent calls were still echoing in my ears as I continued my walk.

Once I realized I was in a safer place, I decided to take out my map and figure out how far I was from the church. I just happened to be standing in a puddle of water, which may seem like an utterly insignificant fact since I was so close to a canal. Prior to realizing that I was a few minutes away from the church, I got a strange looks from the locals. I eventually clued into the fact that this puddle that I was blindly standing in was actually composed of only the finest urine that Amsterdam had to offer. Yes, it was pee from the man’s urinal which had overflowed right onto the street.

This was all that I needed to throw my hands up into the air and shout, “That’s it!  I’m done with this city!” I had simply run out of patience. However, the true traveller in me was resolute and decided to fight on for an extra hour to do a boat canal tour around the city. The tour was surprisingly enjoyable and redeemed a portion of my disastrous day.

Amsterdam photography

After the tour, I did not want to tempt fate any further and I ran back to the airport, where I had hibernated for the remainder of my layover.

Though, as any traveller should, I am going to give this city a second chance. I will be flying KLM again with another layover in Amsterdam… Going with an open mind and hoping that this city shows me its better side!