Amsterdam: Legalize Everything!

Trip Start Aug 16, 2010
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Flying Pig Downtown Amsterdam
Read my review - 2/5 stars

Flag of Netherlands  , Noord-Holland,
Monday, December 20, 2010

So Sunday morning I woke up at about 6:00am, finished packing, ate breakfast etc. Took my backpack and my suitcase and marched up to the bus station.  I bought my ticket to the airport and we headed off at around 8:10.  Airport went smooth, no big problems.  I had been worried about the flight potentially getting cancelled.  There had been many cancelled flights all over Europe in the last couple days due to big snow storms.  Luckily my flight was not one of them.  I ran into a Bulgarian girl I had met in Aix a couple days before.  We hung out in line and talked on the plane.  This turned out to be very lucky for both of us; because when we arrived at Eindhoven we discovered that the direct train from Eindhoven to Amsterdam was blocked due to snow.  We had to make several transfers in order to get there.  It was all very confusing and we both helped each other find our way.  She spoke several languages but no Dutch or German, so we were both completely helpless.  Most people here speak English as well, luckily.  However all the signs and directions are still in Dutch so getting around was difficult.  We ended up having to take a train, transfer to a bus, then take another train in order to finally get to Amsterdam.  Once there we parted ways, as we were staying in different locations.  I started off to find my hostel, which was luckily fairly easy to find.  I checked in and dropped off my stuff in my room and then headed out to explore the city a bit.  This turned out to be an interesting but pointless endeavor.  I saw lots of cool things; crazy homeless people, really interesting head shops, numerous coffeeshops and prostitutes in windows.  While what I did see was really interesting, I was so tired, each street looked very similar and it was dark.  Thus I was constantly getting lost.  My bearings were so off, I was wondering in circles forever.  So I went to get some of that "stuff" that Amsterdam is so famous for.  I found a small coffeeshop and asked them how it worked.  The girl handed me a menu of what they offered.  It was really interesting to see what strains they had available.  They had stuff mixed with tobacco, which is the style that Europeans prefer to smoke, for some reason.  They sold it by the gram or pre-rolled Js.  So not having a pipe, (which is my preferred style) and not knowing how to roll, I bought a pre-rolled J.  It was really strong, so I only used half of it there and saved the rest for later.

I wandered around a little bit more after that, before deciding to head back to the hostel.  I later learned that I had accidentally wandered through a large part of the immediate downtown, including the Red Light District.  Although at the time I thought I was in a completely different part of the city.  The next morning, I had breakfast at the hostel, and then decided to take one of the free walking tours of the city.  It took up a large part of the afternoon, but it was fascinating.  The Dutch are so interesting.  Besides the fact that their language sounds like someone speaking German with a Canadian accent, they are a very kind and welcoming people and make really good cheese.  Learning about the way all the dams worked was very interesting as well.  They are all over the city and many of the locals have their own boats that they use to get around the city.  Not now though, since many of the canals are frozen over.  Also the reason that many of the building are leaning forward, isn't because of sinking foundations, like Venice, but because Amsterdam is a city of merchants, and they would keep their goods in the attic of their houses along the canals. So each house has a little hook and pully system on the top of their roof, they would hoist the cargo from the boats in the canals into the attic.  And if the house was leaning forward a bit, it was easier to lift up to the top.

According to our guide, who was Australian, the locals have a very dry sense of humor.  Along with trying to hit tourists with their bikes, (10 points for a tourist, 20 for a tourist reading a map), they liked to come up to the tours and heckle the tour guides or tell the group that the guide was lying to us.  The guide said that it’s really funny if we all respond “we know” all together and really loud.  The other obstacle during the tour was how slippery everything was.  There were certain parts of the side walk that were extremely slippery and also happened to be right along the curb, which made no sense to me.  First of all; in city that experiences snow or rain for a significant period of the year, why would you use a kind of stone for the sidewalk that gets incredibly slippery when it gets wet?  Then why would you put it on the curb where there’s a 50% chance you’ll fall into the road?  On top of those there were the drains and metro tracks to watch out for as they were extremely slippery as well.  Our guide recommended we find a nice pub on a corner by one of the little bridges and just watch the bikes and cars crash on the slippery ice.  He said it’s very entertaining.  We did end up seeing a girl on a bike swerve and lose her traction on the ice and take a big fall, it would have been funny but it looked like it really hurt.  But we helped her up and she went on her way so she must have been ok, although quite sore I’d imagine.  Their sense of humor must go back a while as well.  Back when Amsterdam was conquered by Napoleon, they were told that they would all have to pick a last name, which up until then they didn’t have.  So this being a foreign concept to them as well as being from a new occupying power, they didn’t take it very seriously.  So many of them picked silly and obscene last names such as “from the testicals”, (in dutch of course.  Unfortunately the last names stuck around and there are still people wandering around with names such as “from the testicals” and the like.

The guide and the locals made a pig point of showing how proud they were of how open and tolerant the city is.  It indeed is a big source of pride for the people here.  They have stopped persecuting people for the use of marijuana as well as prostitution.  They were the first city to openly rally in defense of their Jewish neighbors during the Nazi occupation, and they have a very large and open gay population.  It was kind of like a breath of fresh air to see how accepting these people were of everything that so many people are afraid of and zealously persecute.  And yet with all of these things being legal, the world hasn’t come crashing down, the city is not a bunch of drug addicts and hookers.  In fact some of the most expensive real estate is right in the middle of the “Red Light” district.  Here they just see what those women do as another profession.  Our guide was keen to inform us that these were regular women just trying to pay their bills.  Some were mothers, some were girls paying for their education.  In a study they had the same percentage of STDs as the rest of the population of Amsterdam and pimping is illegal, so they are all their own boss.  When you hear their reasoning behind it and how they have chosen to regulate it, it seems so logical.  It’s really hard to understand why the rest of the world is still so scared of these things.  I really feel like Amsterdam is ahead of the curve in this subject.

After the tour I went to the Van Gogh Museum.  It was really interesting.  I learned a lot about his life and career and got to see many o f his works.  My favorites were his sunflowers and self portraits as well as some of his strange stylized landscapes.  Unfortunately no pictures were allowed.

That night I took a tour, with the same guide, of the “Red Light District”.  This guide was really funny which was why I wanted to take the tour with him.  He gave you all the historical details as well as lots of funny tid-bits and many a good joke.  He gave us a bit of the history of prostitution in Amsterdam and then showed us some of the highlights.  Which included; a live sex theatre, sex shops, custom made condom shop, The Sex Museum and of course the lovely ladies in the windows.  Here in Amsterdam prostitution is legal but you have to be registered and work from inside one of the zoned locations.  So the ladies work from behind these glass windows or doors and flirt and wink at you as you go by.  If you’re interested you go up to the glass and she opens it and you go in.  But don’t even think about taking pictures!  Our guide told us a story about someone in one of his previous tours who took a picture.  The girl in the window came out grabbed his camera threw it on the ground and smashed it with her stiletto heel.  If they’re higher up in a window they keep little cups of urine and throw it out the window at you.  So it’s kind of an unwritten rule, don’t take pictures of the girls.  Our guide even explained why they were it in red, because everyone looks good when lit by red light.  If they were lit under natural or florescent lighting he said you would probably pay to have them not touch you.  Although in my opinion no one looks good in florescent lighting.

The area is not at all what you would imagine.  It is very clean and very safe.  In some cases there are families living in the flats just above the ladies’ windows.  There is even an elementary school just a couple buildings down the street from one of these establishments.  They interviewed one of the kids and asked them what he thought the girls in the windows were doing and he said they were “selling kisses”.  Aren’t innocent kids just too cute!

So anyways that’s day one and two in Amsterdam.  More to come, and then Christmas in Sweden.  Finding time to write while being almost constantly on the go is difficult.  But I’ll try to keep up.  As I’ve said before, I love comments.  So if you’ve taken the time to read this far, take a second and tell me what you think.  Are there certain subjects you’d like to hear more of less of?  I’d love to know who is actually reading this or if it’s just for me.  Anyways, hope you all had a Merry Christmas and have a great and safe New Years Eve!
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