Yes, the rumours about Amsterdam are true. The “coffeeshops” dotted on every corner heave with partakers from morning to late. Pot smoke doesn’t just waft, it penetrates everything – by dinnertime, you are breathing about 40% air and 60% second hand pot smoke. And the infamous Red Light District? As it sounds – a square of several blocks teaming with sex shops, coffeeshops, and yes, ladies beckoning from red backlit windows.
It strikes me that I am the wrong demographic for Amsterdam. I don’t care, I love it. Wander along the canals, shimmering with golden lamplight, and try not to fall in love with this city. No house or building is alike, and they lean whimsically – as if the city arched its spine and the buildings shifted to and fro like disjointed vertebrae. It’s something to do with the foundations, having first been built of wood, then re-poured with cement.
We stop for tea in the courtyard of Hofje Wijs – a charming café on Zeedijk with a respectable selection of teas and coffees.
Of course, the menu’s in Dutch but sprinkled with English. White…red…green…even ‘blue tea’! Never heard of that, let’s give it a whirl…I order something called “Opium Hill”. Sal raises an eyebrow.
“You want to ask what’s in it?” he mummers.
“No, I’m just going to try it.”
The tea comes out in a lovely metal pot, decorated in leaves that look like…marijuana.
“Um…” Sal nudges me, “you sure you don’t want to ask?”
I pour a bit into the teacup. It has a golden colour – not blue at all. I take a cautious sniff. It smells like tea.
“I’m sure it’s fine,” I say with confidence I no longer feel. “Besides, I don’t think you drink weed.”
Sal disagrees and we debate this quietly. “They put it in brownies. You eat brownies,” he argues.
I raise the lid of the pot. “It looks like tea.”
He laughs, “It’s leaves! What else is it going to look like?”
“Maybe there’s weed in your beer,” I jeer. He’s drinking a very benign-looking beer, golden with a silky foam on the top.
I take a tiny sip – it has a light, buttery taste. “It tastes like tea.”
Well, the only thing to do now…is wait.