Amsterdam in August is one the best places to be for experiencing the subdued Dutch Summers. It’s mildly hot, the sun paints brilliant canvases on the blue skies and exuberant reflections on the canals below, and there are the occasional bouts of rain whenever you feel that the heat is creeping up on you.
And it is also the month of love and pride.
Further Reading: The time that I saw a Fokker at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport.
No windmills. But plenty of canals.
Before visiting Amsterdam, I had harboured images of a city full of windmills. Because that is the impression that I had maintained all my life.
But when I finally visited this charming city in August 2016, I would find out that there are very few windmills within the city of Amsterdam. And that made sense. Windmills were rarely built in the industrial areas, because there would simply be no wind between all the buildings! One of the rare exceptions was the De Gooyer windmill, which is also a brewery, and is quite close to the city center.
But I wasn’t here for the windmills. I would see them later – in plenty – in other towns and villages of Netherlands. I was in Amsterdam to see the many canals that criss-cross this city, and give it the name ‘Venice of the North’.
And also for the Amsterdam Gay pride festival that happens in August on these Canals.
Further Reading: Did you know that there is a Holland Village in Singapore, along with a Windmill?
Lets celebrate pride!
As a straight man, I have to say that I have made some of my best friends in the LGBT community. Over time and various travels, I have learnt that gays are much more trustworthy and friendlier than regular straight men. Don’t ask me why and don’t ask me to explain. Its just my personal observation.
So I finally accepted an invite from some of my gay friends to attend the Amsterdam Gay pride parade. I have never been to a gay pride parade before, and I chose Amsterdam to pop my cherry, because of a few reasons.
- The Amsterdam Gay pride may not be the biggest gay parade in the world (New york and Sao Paolo take that honour), but it is one of the most social accepted. The entire city – regardless of gay or straight – come together in celebrating this event.
- Unlike most other gay prides which began as demonstrations for equal rights, the Amsterdam gay pride was started to celebrate freedom and diversity. And that’s the theme that runs throughout the festival.
- And finally, because the prime event of the Amsterdam Gay pride does not happen on any of the large roads or alleys of the city. It happens on the canals!
The Canals of Love
After checking into my hotel near Amsterdam’s famous sex museum (oh, I will have to write an entire post about it some other time!), I spent a day hanging out in the city, and trying out some of the ‘coffee shops’. It was the first week of August, and the Amsterdam gay pride had already started. There were already a few exhibitions and other cultural events happening in different parts of the city.
But the highlight of it all happened on a Saturday. The Grand Canal pride.
I woke up on Saturday early morning and met a friend. Laila lived in Netherlands, but far away from Amsterdam. She had planned to be in Amsterdam for the pride festival too. We went shopping and bought a couple of cheap bottles of wine, because what fun is a pride festival if there is no alcohol involved? We also stopped at a small side street, where we played with some inflated penises. No. I am not kidding. You read that right.
Armed with wines, we walked from De Gooyer’s windmill towards the Schweepwart museum – also known as the Amsterdam Marine history Museum – because that was where the canal pride started. No one told us where the canal pride started. All we had to do was take a look at Google maps. Google had put a special route specifically for the participants of the canal pride.
When we finally reached the Amsterdam Marine history museum, and walked a little bit further towards the canals, the sight was beyond description! The canal pride had started at 12 noon, and the time was now nearing 2 pm. There were already plenty of boats on the canal, each of them filled with people of bright colours. Pink and fuchsia dominated the canal!
We walked along the side of the Herengracht canal for a while, before turning left at the Magere Brug, a historic pedestrian bridge. This led us to the Pinsengracht canal, where the canal pride continued. Along both the canals, there were plenty of small, narrow, pedestrian bridges. In fact, there are around 1500 bridges around Amsterdam!
And today, these bridges were covered with people, dancing away to the loud music around them.
Hopping along the Canal
But it was not the bridges that captured my attention. It was the canal of Pinsengracht itself. The entire canal was filled with tons of boats, each of them packed to the hilt with people.
So, the canal parade itself consists of only 80 boats, all of which are selected through a draw about a month ago. But smaller boats (less than 10 meters) can wait in the parade on one of the sides of the canal, as long as they get there early in the morning before the parade begins. The key differentiator between these smaller boats – apart from the obvious size – is that they are not allowed to play any music. But the bigger parade boats can. And they play it wild!
I was standing by the side of the De Duif church, along the Prinsengracht canal, sipping on the cheap wine with my friend, and watching the larger parade boats go by. And one of the smaller boats were parked just below where we sat.
It was mostly filled with middle-aged folks – definitely English from their accents – sipping away on beer cans. They kept watching us as we sipped the wine, and we kept watching them as they sipped the beers.
Finally, one of the ladies on the boat broke the ice, and asked, “Do you want to join us on the boat? We could trade some beers for some wine”. She followed it up with the widest of smiles.
We did not hesitate a second. In a couple of minutes, me and my friend were on the boat, drinking away Dutch beers on the Prinsengracht canal.
Further Reading: Another colourful festival that I fell in love with, was the Masskara festival of Bacolod, Philippines.
So, what actually happens in the Canal pride?
The next 2 hours went by like a breeze for me.
If you thought people stayed put in their boat throughout during the canal pride, oh boy, you couldn’t be more wrong! Within 1 hour, I jumped from boat to boat. Not once, but 5 times! Each time, I was in a different boat and surrounded by a different crowd. The only thing in common was that all of those boats treated me as a complete equal, with unrequited love! Here I was, a brown guy who is obviously straight (I was too scruffy and ugly-looking to be considered even remotely gay!) blending into a very white, LGBT festival. But none of that mattered to anyone on any of the boats.
All they cared to see was whether I was able to gulp down my beers with aplomb.
The dancing was often risqué, and the intimacy was strong in the air. A couple of guys grabbed my ass, but when I smiled and told them that I was straight, they politely hugged me and had a laugh. No one intruded too hard, and no one became pervasive or violent.
I was very close to Homomonument – a memorial to all the gay men and lesbian women who have been subjected to persecution for their sexual orientation – when one of the guys on the boat try to talk me into considering a little bit of fun. Well, he did try for a good 10 minutes, for me to try getting bisexual. Or atleast bicurious. When I laughed and politely refused again, he just winked at me, tipped his beer and said:
“It’s a free world. You got to try everything, bruh”
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