By Kylie Condon

Lez Explore: Amsterdam

For the last several years, I’ve been toying around with the idea of going on one of those life-changing travel experiences you hear about.  I got pretty close a couple years back, but plans were halted after I broke up with my girlfriend who I had planned the trip with… figured it might be a little awkward if we still went together.  Since then, I tried coordinating with other travel-pals, but schedules never seemed to line up and feet were dragged.  Flash forward to this past July when I had some time off work and asked myself, “Why don’t I just go alone?”  Not answering to anyone else could be nice.  While casually researching how doable this hypothetical trip would be, I saw there was a flight leaving for Amsterdam in 3 days that was surprisingly affordable.  Typically I’m not a reckless spontaneous person, but I thought if I don’t go now then when will I?  I didn’t want to keep making excuses for why I couldn’t or shouldn’t go.  Fully embracing the “YOLO” for all that it stands for, I booked the trip!  I then realized I had about 48 hours to crash pack and plan… which, as a Virgo, was kind of an exhilarating challenge.
The Plan
Craving the full Julia Roberts “Eat, Pray, Love” experience, I wanted to visit a couple different cities but still have enough time in each to really get a good feel for them.  I knew my first stop was Amsterdam, but the rest I’d kind of play by ear.  Inspired by Ellen Page’s “Gaycation,” I decided I wanted to have my own mini-gaycation for 1 and visit some cool, local LGBTQ spots abroad.  Surprisingly there really aren’t many good, consolidated up to date lists of this kind.  Especially for girls who like girls.  However with some more digging and recommendations from seasoned-traveler friends, I was able to compile a loose list for my first city…
Café Saarein
My first stop was Café Saarein - a café/bar located in the beautiful Jordaan district.  I’d highly recommend staying in the Jordaan or at least taking a stroll through the area.  On your stroll, you’ll find stunning homes, unique shops, delicious restaurants, and Café Saarein.  As per many cafes in Amsterdam, Café Saarein has a nice outdoor seating area.  Once inside, there’s a bar with a pool table as well as the infamously steep Dutch stairs leading up to a second floor with more seating.  I went here on a Tuesday night so it was a little slow, but decided to sit at the bar and chat with the bartender.  Found out a little bit of background about the place, which used to be more of a generic café but was taken over in 1978 by a group of ten women who formed a collective.  In 1999, Café Saarein switched owners and opened its doors to all “queer minded people.”  Along with the history lesson, I got a few travel recommendations from the bartender (travel tip: always ask bartenders where they like to eat/drink).  As the night progressed, more people began to filter in.  I had an interesting conversation with a tall, Dutch woman and we compared what it was like living as an LGBTQ person in the Netherlands (the first place to legalize same-sex marriage) vs. Trump’s America.  Spoiler alert: Amsterdam sounds more appealing.  We decided to have a celebratory shot in honor of the 4th of July anyway.  “Cheers, to making America gay again!”
Canal Cruise
The next night, I went on a dinner cruise along Amsterdam’s beautiful canals.  I would definitely recommend doing one of these; they give you a great layout of the city and you get to go on a fun boat ride.  If you’re not feeling quite as lavish, you can skip the dinner and just do a more casual daytime tour.  While I was on the boat and enjoying the sights, I met a Russian couple wrapping up their stay in Amsterdam.  When I asked them what their favorite part of the trip was, they told me they had gone to a live sex show the night before and couldn’t recommend it enough.  I was intrigued by this, but honestly felt a little weird going alone and even weirder going with this straight Russian couple.  After the cruise, I decided to get a cocktail or two at another bar recommendation then see how I felt afterwards.  Maybe then I’d have enough .liquid courage to check out the show.
Café ‘t Mandje
The next bar recommendation was Café ‘t Mandje, which is one of the oldest lesbian bars in Europe.  Bet van Beeren, an out and proud lesbian, opened the bar in 1927.  She went on to run the bar for many years and was known for opening her doors to many LGBTQ persons during a time when homosexuality was not commonly accepted.  In the fifties, undercover vice-police would occasionally drop by and Bet would turn a light on in her porcelain owl to warn customers.  The bar is small, but covered in old photographs documenting the bar’s history.  Notably, the bar also has many neckties that hang from the ceiling.  Apparently, Bet had a habit of cutting off men’s ties as a keepsake.  No one’s really sure why, but it makes for some fun décor.  The bar is located in the Red Light District, also known as the area where you can buy prostitutes… it’s cool, they’re into it and even unionized!  Unfortunately, the Red Light District does attract some sketchy people who will occasionally and unknowingly stumble into Café ‘t Mandje, which I had the displeasure of experiencing first hand.  Luckily the bartender (and my valiant protector) took notice of this and kicked the creep out.  Feeling bad, she then whipped me up a Gin & Tonic, an Amsterdam specialty, on the house.  She must have felt pretty bad because wow, that drink was strong!  The bar became livelier and Top 40s hits were bumping.  Enjoying myself, I decided to get another goblet-sized drink.  Needless to say, I soon was feeling courageous enough to stumble over to the show at Casa Rosso.
Casa Rosso
Navigating a foreign country is difficult as it is, but doing so while slightly intoxicated is nearly impossible.  After making several wrong turns through the eclectic, women filled windows of the Red Light District, I finally stumbled upon Casa Rosso.  I knew I was in the right place because of the neon pink elephant on the building.  At first, I felt a little pervy loitering outside alone but immediately felt better when a large group of girls, wearing penis-adorned headbands, entered before me.  The cover was pretty steep (€45), but drinks were included.  Shows at Casa Rosso are ongoing so they filter the audience in and out while the performers are “performing.”  The audience can then stay as long as they want, but it seems like the show might get repetitive after awhile.  I entered the theater, a little coy, as the usher scanned the room for an open seat.  Naturally, he decided to put me in the very front row… Lucky me!  I guess my whole “be low-key and blend in” thing wasn’t going to work.  The show itself was well, live sex.  There was one lesbian “sex scene” that involved naked girls wearing high heels and doing certain things with those heels.  I’m sure one can use their imagination to fill in the rest.  The whole show felt a little cheesy and like it was mostly meant for bachelor/bachelorette parties.  Regardless, it was an interesting and unique experience, which is what the whole point of my trip was.  Would I go to Casa Rosso again?  Hard no.  Would I go to Amsterdam again?  Absolutely.  The lesbian community in Amsterdam seems to be open and accepting of all LGBTQ persons and allies, no matter where you come from.  Bartenders and locals are friendly, helpful, and full of useful recommendations… Just make sure you’re polite and ask nicely.  Excited to share my experience in the next European city on my itinerary.  Be sure to check back soon for the next post!
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