Monday, November 24, 2008
Apparently some people have been waiting for my Amsterdam post, so here it is haha. Given that a lot of my family reads this blog, I'm going to write about what kind of festivities are available in Amsterdam rather than reflect on my personal experience. If you don't want to hear about a city full of drugs and hookers, don't read on, I've warned you.
Amsterdam is probably the weirdest city that I've ever been in. The hostel that I stayed in was about a 10 minute walk from the Red Light District, probably what Amsterdam is currently most famous for (sorry Anne Frank). The Red Light District is full of "coffee shops" that are seriously about every third or fourth store, where you can go in and buy marijuana. This could come in several forms of course, you could order straight up pot, a pre-rolled joint, or even a space cake, which is a muffin or brownie with pot baked into it. Also in the Red Light District are "smartshops", or pretty much what would be a head shop in the US where you can buy pipes and bongs and all sorts of smoking accessories. What differentiates these from a head shop in the US is that they sell magic mushrooms, in several different intensity levels. The reason you can buy marijuana and shrooms openly in Amsterdam is because "soft drugs" are legal, whereas "hard drugs" like coke, heroin, and extacy are illegal. This doesn't mean that they aren't readily available though. If you walk around the Red Light District at night, every 15 feet a black person will whisper to you "Coke? Extacy?" It kind of catches you off guard at first, but you get used to it in a weird kind of way after the first couple times. The last thing that I have to comment on about the Red Light District are the hookers. Yes, prostituition is legal as well. Some of the streets in Amsterdam are lined on both sides with hookers in windows waiting to do whatever you want for the right price. Some are actually pretty hot, others are hideous. Apparently if you're going to partake in these activities, you should be pretty careful what street your on because some streets are lined with hookers that may look like females, but when the bottoms come off you'll be in for a surprise.
Outside of drugs and whores, Amsterdam does have some good clean fun! One of the primary modes of transportation there is the bicycle. They're seriously everywhere, they even have the right of way on the street rather than cars or pedestrians. We rented bikes for 3 hours and rode around, which was a lot of fun. We also went to the Anne Frank house, which was also fascinating. One thing that struck me about their hiding space was how big it was. I pictured them to be living in small, cramped, terrible conditions, but they actually had a lot of room. What made it terrible was just that they pretty much could not move at all due to the fear of being found. At the end of the tour of the house they had the original diary on display! The main Heineken brewery is located in Amsterdam as well, which we took a tour of. While it was still a lot of fun, the Guinness tour in Dublin was a lot better in my opinion.
Amsterdam itself was a very beautiful city; it almost seemed like a cleaner version of Venice. Scattered around the city are really cool windmills which also add to it's aesthetic value. I said at the beginning of the post that Amsterdam was the weirdest city I've ever been in, and I guess this helps to contribute to it as well. Here you have this city where you can pretty much do anything that you want to, things that everywhere else in the world deem immoral or wrong, yet it works for the city. Amsterdam is not out of control, it is a generally safe city, and it is beautiful as well. If somewhere like this were in the US, left wing hippies would go crazy on drugs, right wing religious nut jobs would be up in arms and condemn everyone to hell, and the city would eventually burn to the ground. It's just interesting to think about how a city got to be this way and make it work in today's world.