While some people may be watching the “Saturday Night Live” Thanksgiving clip special, I’m watching all-new programming featuring a current (but soon to be former) SNL cast member: Esquire Network’s “The Getaway,” with Seth Meyers and his brother Josh in Amsterdam.
“The Getaway,” from Anthony Bourdain’s production company, is sort of like an episode of one of Anthony Bourdain’s travelogue shows but with a celebrity in place of Bourdain. I’ve watched past episodes featuring Joel McHale in Belfast and Aisha Tyler in Paris, both of which were excellent, but I really wanted to see this one – not only because I like Meyers but because Amsterdam is the only European city I’ve actually seen (except for the inside of London’s Heathrow Airport). On my five Kenya trips, we changed planes in Heathrow once and in Amsterdam the other four times. On two of those trips, I was able to take a 90-minute or 2-hour bus tour of Amsterdam that leaves from the airport and is geared towards people with long layovers.
Of course, most people associate Amsterdam with prostitution (which is legal) and drugs (which our tour guide told us were still technically illegal, but there’s virtually no enforcement). The bus tour drives you through the red-light district, and even in broad daylight (and it was broad daylight both times) there are women dancing in the windows of the clubs, like go-go dancers in cages. The tour guide told us not to take photos in the red-light district; the club owners get angry with the tour company when it happens.
But there’s so much more to Amsterdam. Seth Meyers begins the episode by saying he’s spent a great deal of time in Amsterdam, once having an apartment there, and the only prostitute he ever met was in line at the grocery store. Even from the cheesy comfort of a tour bus, you can tell Amsterdam is a beautiful and interesting city.
There are cars in Amsterdam, but gas and parking are prohibitively expensive, both according to my tour guides and the Meyers brothers. Everyone rides bicycles, and Meyers said that’s the only way to go if you get to visit the city.
I haven’t ridden a bicycle since I was a child, and I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never ridden a 10-speed (or any bicycle with multiple gears). They say you never forget, but I wonder if I’d be the exception that proves the rule. Actually, the rental bikes that Seth and Josh buy don’t necessarily look like they’re 10-speed either. The brothers refer to them as grandmother bikes, especially since they’re missing the crossbar that in America distinguishes a boys’ bike from a girls’ bike.
On our bus tours, we saw downtown multi-level parking garages exclusively for bicycles. Many of the major rental companies have badges on the front of the bicycles that call the locals’ attention to the fact that you’re a tourist; the Meyerses go to one company specifically known for not having such insignia, although they laughingly note that the fact they’re following a camera vehicle at slow speed tends to call attention.
Before one of my trips, a co-worker told me that there was a brothel inside Schiphol airport. There’s not, although one of the major brothel operators in Amsterdam did propose such a thing once. (He was turned down.) There is a casino inside the airport. There’s also a wonderful little branch of the Rijksmuseum, downtown Holland’s art museum. The airport branch has various revolving exhibits; my favorite consisted of a series of paintings the museum purchased thinking they were Rembrandts which were later proven by technology to be forgeries. The very last painting in the exhibit was bought by the museum, then proven to be a forgery, and then later proven by more advanced technology to be genuine after all.
Schiphol is a nice airport, actually, with good shopping. But when you’re on your way back to the U.S. (and only then) each and every passenger is grilled by security. Where have you been? Who are you traveling with? How long have you known them? What were you doing? Who put the bomp in the bomp bah bomp bah bomp? Who put the ram in the rama lama ding dong?
Anyway, this show is making me want even more to spend some time in the city someday.