Amsterdam, Netherlands

Amsterdam, Netherlands
May 30th, 31st, June 1st

Coffee shop

My hostel is located in the middle of the Red Light District. Yes, I am serious. The group of American students I met in Brussels recommended this hostel and with no hostel reservations yet, I decided to stay there. It had the best rooms/showers I’ve had during my entire trip so far, all for €22 a night. It’s a steal, you even get to climb Amsterdam stairs (super narrow, super difficult to climb).

During the day, the RLD is like any other street in Amsterdam (sort of). There are people walking around, people working on construction, and from a distance, inconspicuous shops. Of course, if you peek closer, it’s not so. Late at night however, the place is lit up. Crowds of tourists and locals arrive to partake in the multitudes of bars, “coffee shops” and window shopping.

When I say “coffee shops”, I don’t mean that they sell coffee that’s brown and wakes you up. They sell “coffee” that’s green, sticky, and makes you feel not so normal. I am of course, speaking of marijuana. All shops that sell weed in Amsterdam have to be licensed “coffee shops”. Their signs have to say “coffee shops” on it. If you want an actual coffee, you go to a cafe. So heads up to everyone, don’t make that mistake. Oh yeah, there’s also a marijuana museum. I guess even potheads need their history lessons.

A little disclosure though. Using weed is ILLEGAL in Amsterdam. A lot of people misunderstand this. What makes it possible to smoke it is the concept of plausible deniability. There’s a rule in Dutch law that says, if the activity in question is discrete and doesn’t hurt anybody, it’s ok. So that’s why there are coffee shops. When you sell/weed INSIDE a coffee shop, it’s discrete and no one’s hurting anyone and it says “coffee shop” on the sign, not “weed selling shop” so cops turn a blind eye and are very tolerant of it. Just don’t smoke it in the open.

As for “window shopping”, besides bars, a few living spaces, and the random hostel, everything else is R-rated. I’ll leave it to everyone’s imagination since my blog is PG-rated.

Ok, now that I have got your attention, let’s talk about Amsterdam OUTSIDE the RLD. 🙂 It’s an absolutely small but beautiful city. Everyone gets around on a bicycle. I’m talking about the old looking bicycles you find from the 40s and 50s. The reason is that bicycles are often stolen (and then occasionally dumped into canals) by pranksters. There is an actual dredge ship that goes around canals weekly just to pick up all the bicycles in the canal bottom. I biked around for a day to all the spots I wanted to check out, it was so much fun. In fact, bicyclists are at the top of the hierarchy here, pedestrians are second.

There is a church that’s located literally right next to the RLD. Apparently back in the day, when sailors stopped by this port city to partake in its sinful wares, priests would sell forgiveness to them. In fact, there were “forgiveness packages” you could buy in advance. Just tell the priest “Hey, I’m going to screw two prostitutes, smoke an ounce of weed, get wasted from a whole keg, then steal a bike and throw it into the canal.” The priest will reply “Ok, that will be 100 gold dubloons (or whatever currency they used back then).”

Cafes, restaurants, pubs, shopping are all plentiful. My favorite tourist sites were the Anne Frank House (that’s where the secret annex was located) and the Van Gogh Museum. It was so cool to check out the secret annex, read its history, and read some excerpts from Anne Frank’s diary (and see the actual original diary). I can’t imagine being in her position. Little girls aren’t meant to be locked up inside for two years, devoid of the sun, the smell of fresh air, playmates, learning…she was such a good writer too. I’m going to read her book. I really enjoyed Van Gogh’s work as well, he’s one of my favorite artists, his style is so distinct and unique. I learned so much about him as a man, it was cool to see the personal side of him.

I ate some interesting stuff while I was in Amsterdam. Besides some pastries, I had some cone fries (these are so popular from Belgium and eastwards I find), croquettes/pekeelves (sold by a shop that started croquettes and is now world famous franchise), smoked herring from one of several small roadside stalls, even Chinese (wow, they gave me the best bbq pork, duck, fried pork combo ever).

Amsterdam also has lots of weird little things you don’t find anywhere else. Uniquely designed public piss toilets for men (and even women but they closed it down, there’s a story that goes with this, ask me some time), piss deflectors (what an invention). I guess stray pissing is rampant. Also, buildings that could be moved forward/backwards. The world’s skinniest home is also here. It’s like a meter or two wide at the entrance.

Overall, Amsterdam was interesting. I wouldn’t want to stay in the RLD again because it eventually got boring. Yes, it was interesting the first night but after that, I just wanted to step outside and have normal things to look at, normal cafes to enjoy a coffee and pastry, see locals walk around with their kids and dogs, hanging out. Not hordes of noisy tourists crowding the streets to get drunk and/or high, or to attend live sex shows (yes, there was a huge line for this), or sex shops everywhere. If that’s your thing, then hey, the hostel is called “Heart of Amsterdam”.

Off to Berlin.

AMSTERDAM PICTURES

Need a little peace and quiet

I’ve been traveling to a lot of major cities and I expect a lot of tourists everywhere. I’m longing for a place far from the city, maybe a small coastal town to wake up in and sit in a cafe, drink coffee, read a book (visiting Anne Frank’s annex made me interested in reading her diary, I still haven’t read it!), write, ponder, reminisce, think, whatever.

Gah, was too cheap to pay €8 for a new paperback ‘Diary of Anne Frank’. I am hoping to run into a used bookstore like Half Price but in Europe (and one that sells English language books!). Got a Sudoku book but there’s only so much Sudoku I can do before I get bored.