By ROBERT ELIAS DEATON
We love Queen Bea. Ever since she rose to the throne as Queen of the Netherlands, Princess of Orange-Nassau, Princess of Lippe- Biesterfeld and a host of other titles officially recognized as “etc. etc. etc.,” the monarch has ruled in a rather laid-back fashion over her country in North-West Europe.
While commonly called “Holland” in America, that term is pars pro toto of the entire place, the capital of which is Amsterdam—home to Queen Beatrix and what, at last count, was a zillion gays or so it seems when they’re all quashed together.
The world as a whole, and Amsterdam in particular, celebrates Queen Bea’s birthday on April 30 (even though her actual b’day is in January. Nobody, including Beatrix it seems, wants to party in the cold). And what a party it is! The streets are lined with revelers and buskers of all descriptions, with locals selling wares, food and various items of questionable value.
Most of the fun is packed into several compact areas of the city, of which our personal favorite is Reguliersdwarsstraat, a street that contains several rather old gay bars, and many newly closed ones. Regardless, that mouthful of a name is still the center of gay action in the neighborhood. The nearby five-star hotel D’Europe (Nieuwe Doelenstraat 2-14), built in 1896, is in a prime location along the Amstel River. Newer, but no less posh, is Banks Mansion (Herengracht 519 – 525). Housed in a renovated bank building, this boutique hotel was opened in 2004, so the plumbing all works—which in Amsterdam is no small matter.
Just down the canal is the Amstel area, a local neighborhood that borders the Rembrandtplein. Just off this traffic-free square, you’ll find the modern Hampshire Hotel (Amstelstraat 17), with rooms starting at $90, which translates to $130, and in Amsterdam terms is dirt cheap. During the Queen’s Birthday holiday however, you will likely have to pay quite a bit more wherever you book. In Europe, it’s called marketplace pricing; in America, it’s called price gouging.
If you’re feeling a bit naughty (and with all this testosterone pulsing nearby, why wouldn’t you?), look no further than Warmoesstraat.
This is one of Amsterdam’s oldest streets, and now the home of an assortment of leather bars, back rooms, and saunas, and next door to the famous Red Light District.
Amidst these distractions is the Greenhouse Effect (Warmoesstraat 55), a hotel that sits above its own coffee shop in a simple, eco-friendly and clean environment. That in itself is a pleasant change of pace from a city where locals think nothing about peeing in the street.
Much has been written about the legal use of drugs in this city. The fact is that all recreational drugs, including marijuana, are illegal in the Netherlands. The fact that coffee houses around the city sell pot does not mean that the place isn’t strictly breaking the law. In fact, marijuana is tolerated, not legal.
Should you care to debate the subtle (or not so subtle) differences between Purple Haze, Black Moroccan, Maui Wowwie, Grasstasy, Swarte Marok, Blond Marok, White Widow, Northern Light or Stonehedge, the place to go is the Grey Area Coffeeshop (Oude Leliestraat 2) near the Anne Frank House. Two Americans, who are extremely knowledgeable about all things cannabis, own the joint and are not the least bit shy about sharing their wealth of info.
When it’s time to clear your lungs, head to the Vondelpark, a 120-acre public garden located in the stadsdeel Amsterdam Oud-Zuid, west from the Leidseplein and the Museumplein. And if you look really closely, you might even catch Queen Bea.
Robert Elias Deaton is a world-traveling
epicure who enjoys the finer things in life.