The Netherlands have always been a favourite for gay and lesbian travellers, writes Nigel Robinson.
After all, homosexuality has been legal here since 1811, the country was the first in the world to legalise same-sex marriages and Amsterdam with its liberal attitudes has always been a homo hot spot. And they don’t come hotter, or more homo, than last weekend’s gay Pride celebrations.
Following a week of street parties and arts events around the city, the weekend got off to a sophisticated start at the exclusive Sofitel hotel, with champagne cocktails served by impossibly handsome waiters â€” Dutch men really do seem to have cornered the market on good looks and the rest of us might as well just give up â€” and a welcome by Eurovision winner Conchita Wurst.
After all those cocktails, we weren’t feeling quite as sophisticated as when we started out so it was a wobble and a walk off to the Westermarkt, site of the Homomonument, the world’s first tribute to all those LGBT people who lost their lives during the Second World War, but for tonight the location of the tenth annual International Drag Olympics. Events included the Handbag Toss, the Stiletto Sprint and Bitch Volleyball, and afterwards more than 2,000 party people danced the night away here or at any of the scores of parties in and around the city’s red light district.
We’d been promised rain for Saturday’s main Pride event â€” the boat parade cruising down Amsterdam’s historic canals and the only Pride event in the world on water â€” but that didn’t stop over 300,000 spectators turning up, many wearing bright pink T-shirts declaring themselves “gay for the day”.
Considering that Amsterdam’s population is only about 800,000, the fact that over one third of the city came out to party shows you just how much an essential and accepted part of the city Amsterdam Pride is. The boat parade is such a must-see that mooring places and landing stages along the route of Prinsengracht canal had been booked for days, and even before the parade people were knocking back the fizz and celebrating Pride on houseboats, sleek speedboats and dilapidated old dinghies.
And when it started, the parade didn’t disappoint, with eighty floats making their way down the canal, to the cheers and whistles of the spectators lining the route and the bridges criss-crossing the canal. Headed off by two boats remembering the Aids researchers and professionals who had lost their lives in the Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, they included large elaborate affairs, some corporate floats (Amsterdam is the only Pride in the world where the “floats” actually do float!), and loads of smaller and local vessels, including one slightly confused Amsterdammer in a single canoe who had obviously taken a wrong turning and found himself in the middle of all the Pride aquatics!
There was glitter and there was glam, there was camp and there was confetti. There were beautiful boys and luscious ladies, there were drag queens and drag kings. There were leather boys and Roman centurions, there were angels and devils. There was Conchita, of course, and even the Mayor of Amsterdam at the head of his own boat (although his dancing may have left a little to be desired). There were also two dapper gents in suits making their way down the canal on high-powered water jets which shot them high in the air above the rooftops before performing elaborate back flips and drenching the onlookers in the process.
And when that promised thunderstorm did happen, everyone was having too much fun to notice. By this time no one had any intention of letting anything rain on our parade. And when the rain had gone, and the parade had finally docked, it was off to the packed street parties and pumping club events around what must be one of the gay-friendliest cities in the world.
Tourist info: iamsterdam.com
Gay info: iamsterdam.com/en-GB/experience/for-you/gayamsterdam
Amsterdam Gay Pride: amsterdamgaypride.nl
Next year’s Amsterdam Pride will take place between 25 July – 2 August 2015 with the canal parade on 1 August 2015. KLM flies to Amsterdam Schiphol airport from most European cities. Eurostar also has regular trains to Amsterdam.