Dean and I married in June of 1985 and in July set off on a six-and-a-half-week tour of Europe. While it was all very memorable, one of the most memorable parts of the trip was our few days in the Netherlands. I was a little apprehensive about visiting Amsterdam, having heard tales of rampant drug use and general debauchery in and out of the red light district, but was young and curious as well.
We arrived in Amsterdam on the train and was immediately approached by a young Irishman asking us if we needed a place to stay. We were familiar with this tactic — having been approached in Ireland at the train station in Galway — and knew that, while it was not going to be a 5-star accommodation, it was bound to be an experience. We followed the young man a short distance to a houseboat, moored on the canal. This, we discovered, was called a “Botel”.
Our room was adequate, for a houseboat, but the shower (I don’t recall if it was a shared bathroom or not) was another story. The bottom of the shower contained ankle-deep water. Ankle-deep dirty water that sloshed around when the boat rocked. I remember thinking, at the time, that this would be a good story to tell when we were back in the States.
The Botel Alida, as the botel was called, was a bed and breakfast, so we met our fellow passengers at breakfast the next morning. One couple was about our age and we struck up a conversation with them. His name was Jens and he was from Sweden. He had finished college, I think, and was about to start military duty when he returned from his vacation. His companion was a woman from Austria. Jens spoke English, but his girlfriend did not. Dean and I didn’t speak anything other than English, so Jens spoke in English to us, Swedish to his girlfriend (I think) and translated for the three of us. We spent the day together, if I recall correctly, and then had dinner together. I believe we had a Rijsttafel, but Dean doesn’t remember it. I do remember the conversation at dinner though. Jens said that he’d noticed Dean and I at breakfast and was surprised that we were not like the other Americans on the botel. He said that he heard the others complaining about the accommodations and breakfast offerings. They didn’t like their rooms or the smell of the canal. They didn’t like their breakfast. He said we were not typical “Ugly Americans”. I still bask in the warmth of that compliment, these 25 years later.
After dinner we went to a coffee shop (which was called The Hard Rock Cafe, but not the one that is there now) and saw, with our own eyes, hashish listed on the menu. None of us ordered any. Dean was about to begin a new job and was concerned that if he did try something it might show up in any blood test he may have to take. The same went for Jens, except he was going into the Military directly after his vacation. Jens’ girlfriend wanted “space cake” (the one English phrase she spoke), but the coffee house was out of it. I think we had coffee and perhaps dessert.
After the coffee shop we went back to the botel. There was a private party going on inside, so we all went to the deck and continued our conversation long into the night.
When we left Amsterdam we exchanged addresses with Jens and hoped to keep in touch. We sent a Christmas card to his address, but it was returned to us — he was not at that address anymore. He sent us a Christmas card which I’ve kept all these years. I came across it the other day, while organizing my office and sincerely hope, that if we met again*, he’d still think we were not “Ugly Americans”.
*in case you are wondering, yes I did look him up on Facebook. Do you know how many Jens Erikssons there are on Facebook? About 150. I did send a message to one that seemed the right age. Although we have no photos of Jens and his Austrian friend, I can sort of recall what he looked like. I’ll keep you posted on any further correspondence. Or if I get banned from Facebook for stalking. (this would be a good time to be friends with Lisbeth Salander)
14 thoughts on “Jens and the Botel Alida”
Even with the picture of the boat in front of my eyes I didn’t understand what “botel” meant until you explained it in the text!
I think North Americans really get the short shrift in terms of stereotypes. You’re the ugly Americans and we’re the blandly pleasant Canadians. Meanwhile the French get to be chic, the Swedes bombshells, and the Italians great lovers.
Very adventurous, my friend…love the visuals!
Helen, I’m scared to ask what the Kiwi stereotype is. And now I see why you’re going to Italy for your birthday.
Hee hee. I’m not aware of a kiwi stereotype. What do you think it should be?
I am stunned at reading this. I worked there at the time! I happened to think back at the time, googled Boatel Alida and this wonderful story came up.
I usually worked weekends overnight into breakfast. I tended the little bar in there from 10 until about 3 or whenever the last person left. Then I had to clean up and get everything ready for breakfast. If the morning crew was late. I cooked. While I don’t remember you guys specifically, I know the picture you paint.
I was thinking of going back for the first time since I left later in 1985. On my to-do list was to check to see if the Botel Alida was still there. The owners at the time were very nice people and working there was a great experience for a traveling college guy.
How very cool that you found this, Mark. As I said, the Botel Alida was a memorable experience. I didn’t mention it in the blog post, but I have a scar near the bridge of my nose from the boat. The night we spent on deck because of the private party below deck, I walked into a cable which messed up my nose. I was less worried about my nose than my lost contact lens though. My husband and Jens looked for the contact lens and found it balanced on top of the cable. I considered myself lucky because I didn’t have to wear my glasses for the rest of the honeymoon.
I can’t believe I came across this article on Botel Alida. I stayed there in the spring of 1986 when I was 21 years old, back-packing with my friend, from Canada. We were also approached by a young kid in the train station too and we followed him to the boat. It was one of the highlights of my first trip to Europe. I don’t remember the showers, but do remember that there were a fairly large groups of us that bonded in the bar over ‘happy hour’ and cheap beer. We saw and did everything in Amsterdam together. It was a special time, and we all went our own ways after that week, promised to keep in touch, but never did – and that’s all part of it too. Thank you for sharing your memories – it made me smile to remember mine too. It was a lifetime ago now….ahhhh, youth…Cheers, Heather
Heather — how cool that you also stayed at the Botel Alida. I am glad you found my post!
I also found this by googling Botel Alida. Great story. I stayed there also in the mid 80s and had a great time. An American kid named Neil approached me in the train station. Anyone know what became of the Alida? I am thinking of going back to Amsterdam next year! Cheers!
Hi Brian, I posted above you, so if you wish you can read about my experience at the Botel in 1986. Anyways, I kept a journal of my first Europe trip and still have it. Neil was the name of young man that approached me in the train station. Too funny. Thanks for sharing. Regards, Heather
I can’t believe I am running across this blog now. I had googled “Botel Alida” many times before and it never came up.
I spent some time in Amsterdam between 1985-1988 and some of that time was spent staying and drinking at the Botel Alida. The owners also had a hotel called Hotel Tamara. I believe the owner was Frank. I became friendly with some of the workers. I remember Rob Campbell from Ireland, who may have moved to Canada. There was also Gordon who was a barkeep. The was a girl called Anna and an Italian guy who I think was Mario. I have some pictures somewhere. I think one of the older runners was an old guy named Hank. I had some great times. And you are right about the shower. It often had about 2 or three inches of water in it at any given time. I do have some pictures too. If there is ever a facebook group one day, I will post them.
There also was a funky houseboat called the Wu Wei that was a hostel. I stayed there for a while too.
I did it. I created a group on Facebook for the Botel Alida. I would love for others to join and share. https://www.facebook.com/groups/270538600103154/