It couldn’t last forever. Alas, our flight home loomed within our futures, and we were soon due to return to Canada. We had fit more into our weeks in Europe than we ever could have hope for, but as the remainder of our time there dwindled we felt determined to squeeze in one more party at the end of it all. Being set to return to Amsterdam for a brief stay before catching a plane from there we decided to find a rowdy concert in the city.
While still in London and a few days away from returning to Amsterdam, I visited the website of Paradiso, the long ago church turned music venue that over the years has hosted a range of talented and inspiring acts. There was only a handful of artists listed whose performances were not yet sold out and which corresponded with our timeline, so of those we picked one on a whim: Beans & Fatback. None of us was familiar with their name or a single song the band had written, but after sampling a couple of tracks we decided theirs was an energetic style that we would be happy to take part in live.
The day of the concert we boarded a bus where we were then based in Brussels, bound for Amsterdam and due to arrive around 6pm with plenty of time left to get to Paradiso in time for the evening’s event at 8pm. Unfortunately, that window narrowed significantly when an accident along the way temporarily stranded us and slowed our progress moving forward. We arrived at the city of our destination over an hour later than anticipated and caught the soonest tram, transferring a few stops later to another headed for the neighbourhood we had called home when we first landed in Europe, and where the same apartment we had stayed in was again awaiting us. Scrambling to deposit our bags within it, and with no more minutes to spare, we took a third tram to the area surrounding Paradiso.
It was just past eight when we located the hall and sprinted up its front steps, pleased in thinking we could only have missed little of the concert so far. When we handed our tickets to the attendant at the door, however, he informed us that they were not valid there. Apparently the show we had paid for was being put on by Paradiso, but not actually at Paradiso, where an entirely separate group was on stage. Beans & Fatback, on the other hand, by now had already started playing at Bitterzoet, near to Amsterdam Centraal where we had arrived on the first tram we had ridden that evening.
Not yet forfeiting hope of catching some part of that concert, we boarded yet another tram; or rather, two. In a confusion of bodies and adrenaline, some of us ended up on one line while the rest got on another. Luckily the different paths did overlap and we got off at the same stop, sprinting through a system of alleys in the red light district to find what we now knew to be the correct venue. This time our tickets were accepted, and we descended into a basement where we passed through a corridor into a long room heavy with body heat and noise.
It wasn’t too late. Though we had missed the first half of their set, Beans & Fatback were still pouring energy into to a room packed wall to wall with people. We wedged our way between shoulders to a spot by the bar, where with Heinekens in hand we rocked out for the remainder of the set. The band stylishly bopped around the stage with instruments erupting in expertly coordinated din, while the crowd grooved and clapped along, basked in the red glow of stained glass windows embellished with depictions of demons and nude women. This may not have been Paradiso, but suiting my taste for loud melodies and dank crowded barrooms it sure felt like paradise. It was a raucous good time and when it ended we emerged with lifted spirits to the street, where part of our group swallowed truffles and disappeared on an adventure through the city night, while the rest of us wound down in the vaporous atmosphere of a nearby coffee shop. Our evening had been a rush of obstacles which nonetheless gave way to merriment, as had been the case for much of our trip. Now we had barely more than 24 hours to spend of it.
Our last full day in Amsterdam, and in Europe as a whole, was spent in laid back leisure. Following a delicious brunch at Omelegg, we signed up for a walkthrough of Brouwerij ‘t IJ, a brewery situated in a former bath house next to the tallest windmill in the Netherlands. The tour lacked the personal touch of the Alaskan brewery in Juneau, or the theatrics of the Alexander Keith’s brewery in Halifax, but the beer itself was excellent and we shared a couple of tasting flights before heading to Jacketz for a final round of impressively huge and loaded baked potatoes. Also to ensue was a search for last-minute souvenirs including absinthe, t-shirts, electro-swing albums and whatever else we fancied that we could afford and fit into our luggage.
We took home with us as much as we could, in material terms as well as in experience; plenty of both had been accumulated across the seven European countries we had visited. Pleasant memories, and the lingering excitement of novel sights and situations, helped counteract the sombre realization of our journey having come to its completion. With what little energy we hadn’t yet expended during our whirlwind of an excursion we boarded our plane, flying in perpetual daylight as we chased the sun back to North America. It was a struggle to stay awake until its setting, having landed in Vancouver around the same time we had lifted off according to the clock, but we persisted through the long drive home to save the shutting of our eyes for familiar pillows. Fatigue combined with comfort brought us long and profound rest.
It is true there is no place like home, but there is also nothing like feeling you’re there when in a strange place halfway around the world. All those places abroad that were the briefest homes to us, I cannot wait to return to them as well.
– Cory Magnus Stumpf