Amsterdam - Sex, drugs, windmills and bicycles

Trip Start Feb 15, 2008
Trip End May 31, 2008

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Flag of Netherlands  , Noord-Holland,
Tuesday, May 6, 2008

That day we entered the world's flattest country; in fact 27% of the Netherlands sits below sea level. The Dutch are some of the world's tallest people; they are generally very attractive and easy-going and will usually speak anything from three to six languages. Being almost completely flat, the Netherlands is perfect for cycling and this appears to be the most common and convenient way of getting around their cities. The country is traditionally known for tulips, clogs and windmills though it is probably now better known for its liberal views on soft drugs like marijuana and open policies on prostitution. When in Rome do as the Romans and when in Amsterdam why not visit a Coffee Shop. In Amsterdam Coffee Shops sell pot. They are generally very artistically decorated with walls covered in murals and music from the world's famous doped out musicians, such as Cyprus Hill, playing in the background. They also sell coffee so you can go in and soak up the atmosphere without getting stoned if that's not your thing... and most of them also have free wireless internet.

Amsterdam's famous red-light district may eventually be wound up if the city gets its way. Recently one of the city's businessmen was done for fraud and as a result the city took over his shop windows (brothels) and leased them to young fashion designers. So now when one takes a stroll down Amsterdam's tunnel of love they may see a number of mannequins displaying garments in certain windows amongst the girls. Sex shows are also a big hit in this city of sin and feature couples who, amongst other things, have sex with each other on stage for the entertainment of their onlookers.

This country shares a similar history to other countries in Europe in that it was occupied by the Romans and later the Franks. Amsterdam became wealthy after gaining independence from Spain in 1648. From then on they became the world's leading sea power and supplied half the world's shipping. They were also great explorers and discovered parts of New Zealand, Australia, North America and the East Indies. The people of this country also suffered badly under Nazi occupation during WWII when over 100,000 of their Jewish community were murdered. Many of the Dutch attempted to hide their fellow Jews though this was risky business.

From Amsterdam came the famous Diary of Anne Frank which I’d read some years ago. Actually visiting the warehouse loft where the two families lived during the war until they were discovered was a spine chilling experience and seemed to bring what I could recall of the diary to life. There are a number of snippets from the diary around the museum so even if you haven't read it you can still get the idea. The general population of the Netherlands also suffered under the Nazis and toward the end of the war there was practically no food left to buy and as a result many of the Dutch fled to other countries and didn't return. This left a lot of cheap housing available so there was an influx of hippies who moved to the country from the 50s through to the 70s and this has contributed to the easy-going lifestyle the Dutch are so famous for. The country's economy has flourished since this period and continues to today.

The city of Amsterdam is a bicycle utopia; bike's rule the city and have more rights than cars. Bicycle parking is in such demand that the city has recently constructed a three story concrete bike parking facility capable of storing 3,000 bikes and when I saw it, it was completely full. The combination of riverboats cruising the city's canals, trams making their way down the main streets and bikes everywhere is what I'd consider to be the ideal city. We were in luck during our visit as the sun was out and it was a public holiday. This gave the city such a lively atmosphere with street performers and live music in one of the town centres. I took a bicycle tour that morning then held onto the bike for the rest of the day and explored a few other areas of the city. Also of interest is the Van Goff museum; I didn't go though a few people in our group did and thoroughly enjoyed it. We concluded our tour of mainland Europe that evening with an 'all you can drink’ canal cruise. These cruises are great and it's such a tight squeeze through some of the canals that the boat almost touches the sides.
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