Fabien and I rarely exchange gifts for Christmas and usually opt for a trip together. Since we were already on the east side of the pond, it was the perfect opportunity to check Amsterdam off the bucket list. And since the Chevriers are pack animals, the immediate “beautiful family” members joined.
I could bore you with details of our three days of bopping around the city, but I’ll spare you because we did all the touristy stuff you have to do while in Amsterdam – Walk around center city, Anne Frank House, Red Light District, Heineken Experience, canal cruise, etc.
Instead of the play by play, let’s chat about what makes the city what it is…bikes, canals and adult indulgences.
There are over 300,000 bikes in the city, which means there are just as many fearless Dutch men and women. Most of the cycles are donned with baskets and child seats, but these accessories don’t mean the rider won’t gun you down if you get in their way. A nice Dutch person will ring their bell or shout, “Hello” at you. Translation – “get the f#@k out of the way or become tourist roadkill.” While the city seems to have more bike lanes than sidewalks, every hour, I almost got taken out by a cycle whizzing by at 50 mph. We did rent some for a few hours one afternoon and retreated after a loop in, Vondelpark. It was just too cold and there was too much bike, pedestrian and car traffic for cycling to be enjoyable.
The canals are incredible and the reason the city is called the Venice of the north. However, they’re not just there for beauty, but functionally they keep the city from flooding since most of Holland is a marshland. The levels are regulated and water is everywhere, even on the outskirts of the city where we rented an apartment. Every year, a few cars are fished out by someone who is terrible at parallel parking. Also, approximately ten men are usually pulled out annually – most of which fell in while drunk and attempting to relieve themselves in a canal. And the locals will tell you there’s a meter of bikes in the canals. Once a year, a big crane comes into the city to clean them out. On this day, residents can be found sitting at an outdoor pub watching the claw reach into the canal and come out with a handful of bikes.
And last, and most notably, Amsterdam is probably best known for being a playground for adults. There’s a rumor that drugs are legal and that is not true. The Dutch have just decided to look the other way when soft drugs are present. That is why if you go to Amsterdam, the shops selling marijuana are called “coffee shops” and not marijuana dispensaries. Yes, you can get coffee there, but it sucks and most people go there to buy marijuana, hash and/or mushrooms to consume there or at home. If you buy something, you need to conceal it as you leave. You can’t smoke openly in public, but it wasn’t too unusual to smell it in the streets. Hard drugs like heroin, cocaine, crack, etc. are not tolerated. However, what is legal is prostitution. After dinner one night, we walked through some of the tiny corridors in the city where you can find brothels and barely dressed girls in little rooms waiting for customers. I didn’t learn much about this side of the Red Light District, but I’m guessing it’s highly regulated since the Netherlands have one of the lowest incidence rates of STDs and human trafficking.
So, why are they looking the other way? The Dutch are big fans of tolerance. Their philosophy is that if your not hurting anyone and it makes you happy, then they will look the other way. They also believe that if you don’t agree with someone’s lifestyle choices, you can still live next to them in harmony. For this philosophy, I am completely in love with Amsterdam and the Dutch and I really just don’t understand why the rest of the world can’t live with the same mindset.
Most of these facts we’re derived from a free tour lead by Sandemans. Check out their website as they offer free tours in many European cities.
To read more about Amsterdam coffee shops, click here.