Green Globe Trekker: Gayer in Amsterdam (Part 1)

Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul comes back from Amsterdam gayer than ever, with Green Globe Trekker tips on where to stay and eat, how to move, and what to see.

After three nights in Amsterdam, I am definitely gayer.  As hard as that is to imagine, it’s true in that happy, festive, content sense of the word.  At the conclusion of the Alphabet City Book Tour, the Holland Tourist Board offered me the opportunity to find out if their cheeky ad campaign is true—Everyone’s Gay in Amsterdam.  Didn’t have to ask me twice.  So I packed up my new Marc Jacobs notebook with the cover “The Gay Gatsby” and off I went to discover how easy it could be to go gay and green.  Luckily, there was no shortage of cute and friendly Dutch boys willing to show me around the canals.

Here is Part 1 of my travel tips—for both gays-by-nature and gays-in-spirit.  Today: Stay, Move, Eat, See.  Later: Be Mary—Shop, Drink, Party, Sex

Stay.  Many hotels talk a big game about each of their rooms being unique, but Lloyd Hotel & Cultural Embassy (a mouthful to be sure) in the revitalized Eastern Docklands area delivers on that promise.  Named to the 2005 Condé Nast Traveler Hot List, the hotel’s building dates from the early 1920s and has housed a migrants’ boarding house, a detention center as well as a youth prison—talk about gay fantasy.  The 116 rooms are now a showcase for clever Dutch design—ranging from “one-star” rooms for around 100 Euro with original tiled paneling and shared baths to a “five-star” room for around 350 Euro with a bed that sleeps eight.  The central restaurant Snel with a dramatic soaring ceiling serves as a gathering place for the mix of guests, many of them artists.  And the hotel isn’t kidding about the “Cultural Embassy” part—when I was there, the hotel was the centerpiece of a three-day Inside Design Amsterdam 2010 fair sponsored by Elle Wonen.  Almost half the rooms were given over to cutting edge and sustainable designers to completely reinterpret the interiors in whatever way they saw fit—and thousands of Dutch with toddlers in tow were streaming in to see the results.

Move.  There’s no better way to see Amsterdam—and go green at the same time—than doing like a local and biking everywhere.  With bike lanes everywhere, this city is made for two wheels.  I couldn’t wipe the smile off of my face as I scooted home late from the bars through the lit up canals—I’m sure they thought I was creepy weird.  Although how the locals have mastered pedaling while holding an umbrella and texting I will never understand.  Lloyd’s has bikes for rent for 12 euro/day or alternatively check out one of the 3 locations of MacBike, and pick up a self-guided Gay Bike Tour that they call both “historic” and “hysteric.”  I’ll admit that I did have a little bike accident my last night there—a combination of pouring rain and distraction of a hot pedestrian’s wet t-shirt.  My knees are a little scraped up, from the accident that wasn’t my fault, I promise.  So for those of you a little nervous, the alternative is to pick up an “I am Amsterdam” card that includes a public transport ticket as well as card for entry to 40 major tourist attractions.  The tram system is terrific and takes you most everywhere—but runs very limited after midnight, so if you are out at the clubs, a bike might be your better gay/green option for your pedal of shame home.

Discover.  First stop should be the Gay Tourist Information Center housed in the cheeky store Gays and Gadgets on Spuistraat.  In addition to meeting hunky Hans who looks like he stepped out of a Tom of Finland Holland picture and runs the center and shop, you can pick up your pre-ordered packet of all the gay goings on happening while you are in Amsterdam so you’re not searching through every bar and disco for info.

Reflect.  Just around the corner from the gay info center is the Homomonument, memorializing the gay men and women who were victims of the Nazi regime, and honoring those everywhere who have battled for freedom and human rights.  The three equilateral triangles made of pink granite symbolize the past, present and future—and are a simple and powerful reminder of ongoing struggles.   For an extra dose of history and reminder of the power of one individual to change the world, head just down the block to the Anne Frank Museum.  Despite the crowds, I am always moved by a visit here—and an insider tip from Hans is to go late at 7pm when the crowds have dispersed and the building stays open until 9pm.

Eat.  Thanks to the adventurous Dutch and their history as traders, Amsterdam is a crossroad of cultural influences—so you can find all types of cuisine.  But the best and most innovative dining I had was at De Kas a world class restaurant focusing on local, sustainable produce.  Housed in a city park in a renovated greenhouse that once grew trees for Amsterdam, the elegant restaurant now grows all its own herbs on site and has a farm just outside of town where it harvests its produce.  Menus are made about a week in advance and are also dependent on the herbs that the chefs gather that morning.  The day I visited for lunch I had a cold veal with pesto sauce over green beans served with a delicately fried stalk of fennel seeds that gave the whole dish an exotic spice island flavor.  This is an absolutely can’t miss stop for great design, flavor and green attitude.

Learn.  For an interactive sustainable food experience, make a reservation at De Culinaire Werkplaats, a design studio, restaurant, store and more for food concepts.  The owners Marjolein Wintjes and Eric Meursing are trying to inspire people to eat more grains and fruits through innovative and tasty ways.  You can watch and learn as they cook for you—it’s like being in a friend’s kitchen—only these friends are artists who like to cook to a theme like “black.”  They use black potatoes or dark tiger tomatoes.  I was there for “water” and delighted in a watermelon cocktail soup that Eric created by marinating the whites of a the watermelon (usually discarded) in a mix of spices for one week and then plopping in watermelon juice and topping with honey and mint foam.  Their concept cooking has become so successful that they often work with fashion and interior designers—right now they are creating an edible dress out of strawberry paper.  Reservations are a must before you trek out to the Westerpark neighborhood—an area that reminds me of New York’s East Village fifteen years ago.

Stay tuned for suggestions on where to drink (like a queen), dance (in your underwear), shop (for home-wares and homo-leather-wears), what to see, and frank talk about sex spots.

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