David and Joe, aka “The Scottish Duo,” and I have decided to go to Amsterdam for a few days to catch our breath after the Brussels escapade. I meet a group of people who are also going to Amsterdam and ask how they’re travelling, hoping for a lift. They’re going by train, but an Italian guy offers to get me a ticket. Well, first we have to wait for the girl with the printer, who should be here by 2pm. Right, ok- I’m starting to cotton on. Something like 4pm she arrives, then there’s no ink of course and some other problems ensue. Eventually we all have our supposedly immaculately forged Interrail tickets. After some brief training, instructions and reassurances from The Italian (“hey man – it’s no problem! – I have eleven friends all travel Europe this way for three months – no problem!”) he and his friends leave to get their train.
We spend the night at the Gesu (see last post), in the church that forms part of the building. I awake to light filtering through the large round stained glass window high above my head. I can’t get out of Brussels fast enough, but there’s faffing to be done before we head off to the train station, nervously clutching our forged Interrail tickets. We have noticed a few small yet glaring errors: our names aren’t capitalised, the dates don’t seem to add up to the amount of time they should cover, the ‘hologram’ is in fact a lot of coloured squiggles and not a hologram at all…
On the train platform while trying not to look shifty, we meet a Texan guy about our age who evidently has a lot of money and a big mouth. Deciding he’s a good cover, we sit together on the train. He tells us all about his previous meth addiction and about his ranch back home. He buys us a beer on the train. We’re chattering away when the ticket people come. There are two of them and somehow while one is checking the Texan, they swap places beside where I’m sitting and somehow miss me out completely, each assuming the other has checked me and moving straight onto The Scottish Duo in front. They hand their tickets to the guy, who takes one look at them and declares they’re fake. The Texan is still talking away at me. He cocks an eyebrow and uses his eyes to ask what’s going on, without breaking conversation. I make an “oh fuck!” face and keep talking as well. The Duo plead ignorance and are charged penalty fares of €60 each, which is definitely not good as they’re both almost skint, but at least they didn’t get arrested.
The main thing I’ve been wanting to come to Amsterdam for is the Nomad Base. The first (but not last) of it’s kind, Casa Robino is a place for nomadic-type travellers to stay, in a place they can call home for whatever amount of time they choose to be there, where everyone is equal and each contributes in their own way. I’ve been curious to see how such a place would operate. We’ve signed up online to be hosts (in the Casa, everyone is a host – nobody a guest), but haven’t had a response yet. I call and speak to them. It’s last minute but they say we can stay at least for one night – understandably cautious. We meet up with a friend first and then make our way across town to The Casa.
Casa Robino turns out to be the perfect place to find our feet. A mixed bunch are staying here – some long-term, others just for a couple of nights. Since we came last minute we’re all in the lounge, which has plenty of sleeping space for the three of us but tends to be used only for last minute crash space. There’s also a kitchen, a small balcony and a couple of bedrooms, with some more sleeping space upstairs. Robino is away at the moment, but there are others staying long-term who keep an eye on the place while still helping make sure everyone feels at home and like an equal part of the household. There’s a communal meal every evening and people are encouraged to cook, clean, dumpster-dive, fix up the bikes, make art for the walls, make music and contribute in whatever way they can, financially or otherwise. There’s a ‘flower child’ hippy, a computer programmer, musicians, a bar worker and other travellers. Well – we are all travellers.
Another feature of Casa Robino is a Lightfoot Sustainable Postbox. Lightfoot is the perfect way to post a letter – as long as you don’t mind it taking an indefinite amount of time. The idea is that travellers collect post destined for where they are headed and deliver it personally. It’s environmentally friendly and free, but you might have to wait weeks or months for your post to be delivered. I have a sift through the letters currently in the box and find some addressed to Canada and New Zealand, as well as others nearer by in Europe. Nothing for the UK though unfortunately.
Another reason we’ve come to Amsterdam is that all of the squats are soon to be evicted after a change in the law. Before, The Netherlands had a beautiful law that it was legal to “krak” or squat a building that had been empty for more than a year, as long as you had a table, a chair and a bed inside. I’ve heard lovely stories about people waiting outside buildings with a table and chair waiting for the exact time when they can legally occupy the property. It’s a strong scene and Amsterdam alone is estimated to have around 200 squats due to be evicted in the coming months. We have come to show solidarity.
Similarly to Berlin, it seems a lot of previous squats have now been legalised, meaning they pay a small amount to live there and as such have been co-opted and de-radicalised by the state. Plenty of now suddenly ‘illegal’ squats still exist though, and these are the ones we’re trying to find.The CS-Zone Am*dam page lists a lot of “quite well established underground venues”, which are mostly squats and we spend a day exploring the city’s underworld. We find some nice social centres and eat at the People’s Kitchen in Joe’s Garage. We return to discover it’s “Bong Friday” at the Casa – there’s yet more food, plenty of cake and wine and everyone is stoned and in a very jolly mood.
The following day the Duo leave for Paris and I go to Molli, another social centre, with a friend who invites me to a post-eviction party at a squat down the road. This place is said to be top of the eviction list and turns out to be the very same squat the Duo and I came to the previous day when looking for another place we had heard about. Who should arrive but our Italian friend, who apparently lives here. Coincidences abound. It’s late and I’m tired, but a stomping European folk band entice me to stay for an extra couple of drinks before I head back to The Casa for my last night in the city.
The following day I hitch back to Calais, where I meet Pete and together we cross the Channel to England – the reverse journey we took together one year ago. This is the first time he’s been home since then, when he offered to drive me to Dover and never went home.