Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands and is one of the most important ports in Europe. It is also considered the sixth safest city in the world, which seems odd considering the legal prostitution and profusion of marijuana in the city centre.
To celebrate two of my housemate’s birthdays, I took three days out from my work schedule and flew into Amsterdam. Barely an hour’s flight from London, we were there before we knew it. I knew precious little of the city before I arrived, hoping to learn as I went and to follow the desires of my housemates.
The city itself is clean, and some of the architecture is amazing, as you expect from a European city, although once you leave Old Town, many of the buildings become rather plain and boxlike. The streets themselves are fairly wide, and there are many canals throughout with regular boat tours.
Amsterdam is a flat city, and while there are plenty of vehicles on the road, the culture has grown around cycling everywhere. Indeed, the most common sight in the city is the old ‘grand-dad’ style bicycles. Most roads have very defined cycleways, either marked or built in. This can make it a little confusing as to where walkers are supposed to walk. There are also many lockup locations for these bikes.
Bicycles almost half the fun on Amsterdam, and it can be fun trying not to get hit by one of the city’s nearly eight hundred thousand bicycles, which are everywhere in every form. If you hear a bike bell ringing ahead, it is best to step aside of wherever you are walking, because the cyclists generally won’t stop for you. There are also plenty of scooters, as seems to be appearing in most European cities. These follow the same rules as the bicycles, so best to just get out of the way.
While marijuana is illegal in the Netherlands, in the Old Town at the centre of Amsterdam, the law tends to ignore it due to it being a major draw for tourism. It is one of the more renown things in the city, and the general expectation of people is that by going to the city much smoking will be done. As such, it is easy to get, and there is paraphernalia in many shop windows.
This is also where the popularity of ’coffee shops’ grew from. Not to be confused with normal cafes, these ‘coffee shops’ are places where marijuana can be purchased and consumed. Out of curiosity, I visited one of these shops to determine how it worked. At the counter, there was a price list for everything sold including variety, pre-rolled or bagged, mixed with tobacco or straight, and a variety of other options. It is almost too easy to get. They also sell ‘Space Cookies’, as do many other places around the city. But, smoking is not only confined to these locations, but it can also be found everywhere.
Red Light District
As prostitution is legal in the Netherlands, an entire section of Old Town has been set aside for it. Through the back alleys, there are tiny booths lit by red lights, where women wait wearing all manner of next to nothing, offering the goods, so to speak. While it is not my thing, from my understanding, if a guy is willing, he goes into the small room with her, the curtains are closed, and the business is done. There are so many girls in the windows that many are bored and seem more interested in their phones than anything else, letting the ‘goods’ sell themselves. There is a no photos policy around this district, so none were taken.
Cheese Glorious Cheese
The Dutch have a distinct love of cheese, but unlike the French with their soft cheeses, and the British with their hard cheeses, Dutch cheese is semi-soft, with varieties such as Gouda and Edam. In the centre of Amsterdam, there are so many Cheese shops it is almost obscene. And each of the stores has a sample plate for each of the varieties, refilled regularly. On our first day in the city, we must have passed 15 such cheese stores and ate samples from all of them. Most of the stores are from one manufacturer, Henry Wiig, but there were a couple of others too.
Edam and Volendam
As a side tour one day, the three of us caught a bus north to the small townships of Edam and Volendam, where we hired bikes. We rode around the streets, and near the dykes while looking out to the sea and along the way we found the occasional windmill. It was nice to get away from the bustle of the larger city, but it was still filled with tourists.
Both Amsterdam and one of my housemates are Rubber Duck mad. Everywhere we went there were rubber ducks of different varieties, and we even discovered two entire stores dedicated entirely to them, much to the enjoyment of said housemate. There are so many different kinds of duck, from Trump ducks to cat ducks, from horror ducks to birthday ducks, ducks based around most celebrities and of course just plain rubber ducks. These ducks can come in all manner of sizes, from the size of your thumbnail to twice the size of your head.
Anne Frank House
There are many famous museums in Amsterdam, including the Van Gogh and the Rembrandt House, but the one we decided to invest some time into was Anne Frank House. Anne Frank’s Diary is an account of two years of Anne’s life as a Jew in hiding during WW2. The museum is the actual workplace of Anne’s father, Otto Frank, and the location where three families hid from the Nazi’s before finally being captured near the end of the war.
The museum is an audio tour through the house, explain different parts of their time in hiding, and an in-depth account into the writing of the diary, along with the thoughts and feelings of those in the house. It is interesting to walk around in the actual location of the hideout, listening to the biographical audio. While it was not an overly sad experience, it was educational, and we all enjoyed our visit.
Amsterdam is a fun place to visit for a few days. While it has its share of quirks, like most cities, the three of us enjoyed our visit, and I would recommend going.
The World Wanderer.