When planning this trip Amsterdam was one of the cities where I had the most expectations. I had no one reason to think that Andrew and I would enjoy it except for those few friends (and dental patients) who had spoken highly of it. (Who knows how Amsterdam becomes a topic of choice while I'm cleaning someone's teeth.)
So the travel guides said to give Amsterdam three, maybe four, nights.
I said "Let's do seven."
Andrew said "Seven?"
So we agreed on six.
Six nights during a three-month Europe trip is a pretty big deal. It's the longest amount of time we spent in any one city. All because of me. I just had this feeling that we should make Amsterdam a long one.
[To give you a reference point we will spend two nights in Venice, three in Rome, and five in Paris].
I told Andrew that I would rather get bored in Amsterdam than rush through it. But how could we get bored in a place where prostitution and crack are legal? I mean, really.
I was so excited for Amsterdam.
Until we got there, Andrew still didn't understand why.
To make a long story short, well, my drug of choice in lovely Amsterdam was not marijuana. It was menthol.
[Let's pause. If you don't know what menthol is then you seriously need to being reading the ingredients of things you put in your body. Seriously, it's amazing how we don't realize what we are actually feeding ourselves. Point? Did you know manufacturers commonly and purposely place fiberglass fragments in chewing tobacco so that it scratches your cheeks in order that the Nicotine is significantly absorbed faster and more directly into your bloodstream, which then leads a higher dependency on the product? And the manufacturers are legally allowed to do that! Soapbox for another day I guess.]
MENTHOL is one of the active ingredients in cough drops. It's the ingredient that makes it burn and numb and tingle and consequently soothe.
In the end it was good we planned for six nights because I had the flu. Spending ten hours walking from the Prague hostel, to the subway, to the bus, to the plane, to the train, to the Amsterdam hostel is hard enough in one day and even harder when neither of us could stand up, think straight, or let alone put two sentences together because we were feeling sick.
Somehow we made it.
Andrew recovered pretty quickly so he was able to explore the city enough for the both of us. I was able to join him for the last few days. Granted, I left a trail of tissues and menthol in my wake.
We arrived in beautiful Amsterdam on the tail end of the Gay Pride festival. Darn. Missed some great entertainment there. But the city has a wide array of 'other' entertainment that kept us, well, pretty alert.
The first three nights we stayed in the heart of the Red Light District, in a hostel that blatantly advertises itself as a 'Christian' hostel. And indeed, there were tracts, Bible verses on the walls, prayer meetings, super friendly missionary staff, and The Left Behind books abundantly available. It was a bit amusing and sometimes uncomfortable.
However, I was thankful for the that hostel for a few reasons: no rowdy drunk roommates returning in the middle of the night (on the contrary, stoned roommates are quite mellow.), a calming playlist setting the soundtrack for our time there, super hospitable staff, and a yummy (and free) breakfast.
Even though we were surrounded by prostitution and rampant drug use, the Red Light District is supposedly a safe area. As an American, I am used to associating both prostitution and drug use with the slums/dangerous areas. But legalizing these activities seemed to take much of the negativity away. Instead, they seemed to become part of the norm. It was a strange concept and I'm not sure if I really became used to it. According to Rick Steves, the prostitutes are legal entrepreneurs and keep track of their earnings so they can pay taxes. Legit. Like any other small business owner! One downside is that they are starting to have trouble with organized crime and human sex trafficking.
It's just fascinating to see the norms of other cultures. To learn from them, really.
Asking for the closest 'coffee shop' will bring one to a shop that does indeed sell coffee... as well as marijuana. Thankfully, we were warned ahead of time and I learned to ask for the nearest 'cafe' instead!
So yes, to answer the question that is so on your mind right now, we DID walk by 'ladies-in-windows' every day that we were there. It's hard to know where to look in those situations. I mean, there they are, half-naked, parading themselves for all to see. My first instinct was to not look at them out of respect. But then I realized they were trying to get us to look at them. Quite the epitome of salesmen... saleswomen actually. Honestly it was much easier to wear sunglasses and look down at the ground in these situations.
Careful of the windows with the blue lights above them. You may think you are seeing a woman in lingerie, but with a brief closer look, you'll notice quite broad shoulders, unusually large hands and feet, and a curious bulge . . . . . .
The saleswomen (I don't like calling them prostitutes... I'd rather not objectify them) really reminded me of mannequins in a department store window! If you think about it, it's pretty amazing how revealing mannequins are allowed to be these days. Except these mannequins would sometimes move. Or smoke cigarettes. Or talk on their cellphone. Or sometimes even eat chips!
I was definitely ready to leave the Red Light district for a calmer area. We spent the final three nights at a trendy hotel in a quieter neighborhood so that we could properly recover (both mentally and physically).
- Bikes, bikes everywhere! And people looked so hip riding them! From the businessman in the suit, to the local gangster, to the family-of-four-plus-dog all on one bike! By far there were more bikes then cars and it made me happy. [Well, except when crossing the street and nearly getting run over by them.]
- Canals, canals, everywhere! As much as I thought would fall in love with the canals, they ended up mostly being full of garbage, urine, and broken-down boats. Their beauty, however, was revealed when the sun went down.
- Tulips! The flower markets were fun and made me eager to have my own yard!
- Cheese! To witness how excited I get about about free cheese [especially in combo with free mustard], just check out the photos below!
- I Amsterdam! The famous landmark is pretty cool to see in person. And the guy who was slack-lining beside us was even cooler. Slack-lining, I have just recently learned, is when you stretch a cable between two trees and walk, bounce, and do flips on it just like a tight rope. This is an example:
- Soup Enzo! A small, vegetarian soup joint where I could choose from ten rocking soups! What?!?! I tried a mustard soup with spring onion, leeks, and pine nuts. Ahhhhhnh.
- Zuivee Koffie! My dream coming to Holland was to sit at the same cafe every morning, drink my latte, read my paper, and observe those around me. Due to unforeseen circumstances, we were only able to do that on two consecutive days. But we found the perfect cafe for it!
- Ocean's 12! The Ocean's trifecta, for those of you unfamiliar with it, is one of our favorite movie series. It has a kick butt cast (Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Julia Roberts) and is about a group of witty thieves in Amsterdam. So for those of you who are fans, see if you can find the following in the pictures below:
- the house of the famous agoraphobe, Van der Woude
- the roof where they stretched the line to send the new keypad in his window
- the hotel where they load Yen in a handbag onto the Arsenal soccer team's bus
- Dampkring, the coffee shop with the famous Matsui lost in translation scene
- the drawbridge where Clooney and Pitt have a pivotal conversation
- Curbside urinals! Otherwise known as men peeing in a green cage. On the street corner. Be careful not to lock eyes with them (really, just always wear sunglasses and look to the ground when you walk anywhere in Amsterdam). Note, these men are not to be confused with the men in the blue light windows.
>>Comfort .5 (even though I was sick)
>>Hostel/Hotel .5 (hostel stunk, hotel rocked)
The FLACH? 4.5 red stars.
|Free cheese! Free mustard!|
|The Flower Market.|
|I spy Robert Pattinson!|
|The magic of the canals revealed at sundown.|
|The quaint coffee shop I had always dreamed about!|
|A breakfast of champions.|
|Trying to drink the flu away.|