We arrived in a hot and busy Amsterdam on a mid September Friday afternoon and we chose a hotel in Amsterdam Noord because of the free parking and convenient location towards the city centre. It was 33.5 C and sweltering hot. On arrival we looked at each other wondering if we made the right choice, next to a centre called Hope for North and the Salvation Army shelter. Their was a high police presence but that turned out to be because the station was situated on the other corner. Oh well, we thought, as long as we have a clean bed and a shower we will be ok. At the reception we were greeted by a sign displaying a cannabis plant with a cross through it, no weed allowed! Only in Amsterdam! Once freshened up we walked to the bus station which was next to the hotel and the one minute arrival prediction of our bus turned out to be precisely on time! Within 5 minutes we arrived at the Central station in Amsterdam. It was busy. Trams, pedestrians, cars, busses and bicycles, tons of bicycles. I don’t think I ever have seen so many people bike. They drove with cell phones on the steering wheel, no helmets and acted as if the city was theirs. A crosswalk or not, you dared to cross and you got side swiped. Amsterdam has an official population of about 750.000 people and my guess is there are as many bicycles. The city is literally a melting pot of nationalities. We decided to sit down at a terrace and have a bite to eat. George ordered dinner in his best Dutch only to find out that the waitress could not understand a word he was saying. It turned out she just arrived from Lithuania 4 months earlier.
Amsterdam is also called the Venice of the North, the houses are built on wooden poles in the water and as a result of rotting wood over time, some are seriously leaning left, right or forwards. They have three or four sometimes five floor levels and are inhabited by several families. There are narrow streets with barricade poles if you are not allowed in by car and these are called Amsterdammertjes but because of the inconvenience of not being able to drive in the car they are often removed by the inhabitants to be sold illegally on Kijiji. The municipality misses hundreds every year.
Parking is difficult in this city, the parking garages are expensive and often full and parking on the canals is especially challenging when there are no waterside barricades as every week 60 autos will end up in the water. The tow truck business is booming here.
Amsterdam has many beautiful museums and perhaps the most famous one is the Rijksmuseum which has reopened again after a 4 year complete renovation. This museum is the permanent home of Rembrandt’s Nachtwacht ( the Night Watch ) a huge painting from the 16th century attracting millions of visitors from all over the world each year.
Another huge visitor ” attraction” are the Wallen ( the Red Light district) where women of all nationalities and ages are selling themselves to male by passers. They are in a small window with a red light above and a curtain. And if successful luring a client in, the curtain closes and you know you have to wait about 10 minutes before it re opens.
Prostitution is legal in the Netherlands. The girls pay taxes and are by weekly visited by doctors to check their health. Another benefit of legality is that there is more control possible to combat the international human trafficking trade. There are 5000 so called sex workers working behind the windows and another 1000 in sex clubs. It was enormously busy despite the heat although I suspect that most people where just onlookers. Besides the many coffee shops and sex shops there is also a small museum called the Red Light district secret which shows you how small the work space is the women have available. You can also try yourself and feel the experience by sitting in the window and flirt with people in the street. What many don’t know is that if there is a woman sitting beneath a blue light you are actually dealing with a ” she ” male, a transgender person, in fact, there is a whole street designated to blue light prostitutes.
There are a huge variety of restaurants available in the city you can eat whatever you fancy, Argentinian steaks, German Schnitzels, Dutch croquettes , you name it, all nationalities and cuisines are represented here. there are also a lot of coffee houses some of which evenserve coffee. Most of them sell cannabis and you smoke yourself into oblivion if that’s your goal. The smell of marihuana is unavoidable and heavily present in this city. By legalizing the personal use of soft drugs Amsterdam got the reputation of a damned and out of control city but the opposite is the case. Petty crime reduced significantly and people seem to be able to control their use, once you take the criminal effect out it becomes less exciting, it’s mainly the tourist that go wild (and get sick as the quality of the weed is high). It is still illegal to trade into soft drugs unless you are an official retailer which explains the huge amount of ” coffee” shops.
A canal cruise is a must in this city of water. You can use them as hop on hop off, book a tour, dinner, moonlight cruise or even tour with a pancake boat, all you can eat pancakes for Euro 17.50 while touring Amsterdam harbour. The ships navigate through the narrow canals, past the house boats
( which never sail) and under Amsterdam’s many bridges and again bicycles, bicycles and more bicycles, locked up on the bridges with heavy locks against theft because every Dutchmen has his or hers bicycle at least stolen twice!