Amsterdam - Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll
Sep 1, 2004
|Leaving the land of native English speakers behind, I took an overnight ferry from Newcastle-upon-Tyne to the ferry port of Ijmuiden in The Netherlands, and from there hopped on a bus to downtown Amsterdam. I was feeling a bit unprepared as I hadn't learned any Dutch vocabulary but I needn't have worried as, thankfully, everyone speaks very good English here.
Amsterdam is a beautiful city with its network of canals running outward like a spider's web from the city central and road systems connected by hundreds of bridges. It's very picturesque and has a lovely romantic feeling. Streets beside the canals are lined in the water with houseboats, and on land with beautifully decorated merchant's residences and warehouses from the 17th century, all with unique architectural design. House gables are all adorned with hoisting hooks which were, and still are, used to hoist furniture in and out of residences where narrow internal stairways would otherwise make moving impossible. Whether you tour around by canal boat, bus, tram, by foot or bicycle, the city of Amsterdam is a beauty to behold. With tons of bicycles, tulips, wooden shoes and windmills ... Amsterdam has it all.
Amsterdam also has a wonderful international and exotic feeling. It is not uncommon to hear a number of different languages being spoken while walking down the street, only some of which I understood.
People come to Amsterdam to experience its unique beauty, but there's no doubt that a lot of people are also drawn to Amsterdam out of curiosity and to experience their more liberal attitudes towards prostitution and the sale/usage of soft drugs. I personally think it's a very good attitude and great for the people of Amsterdam, but unfortunately it seems to attract people from other countries where similar attitudes do not exist (ie. the rest of the world!) and as a result I saw a lot of whacked out people wandering the streets, more here than I've seen anywhere else in my travels (well, maybe excluding the Rasta boys in the Caribbean!).
Anyway, I stayed right in the heart of Amsterdam at a place called - get this - the Flying Pig Hostel! I mean, who comes up with these names?? The rooms were very basic, but it was in a great location and within walking distance of anywhere I wanted to go. The hostel had a "Happy Room", a zen-like sit-on-the-floor-on-cushions-like-hippies kind of room where soft drugs could be smoked. Of course the Happy Room was on the main floor, right beside the main entrance/reception, internet area, bar and games room, so no matter where you were on the main floor, you were "happy"!!
I shared a dormitory room with four young fellas from Scotland. In fact, one of them was celebrating his 21st birthday while I was there. Unfortunately the lads just didn't pace themselves very well, obviously drank and smoked a little bit too much too early in the day/evening, and they were all happily snoring away when I returned to the room well before midnight. I'm sure their Amsterdam birthday adventure will become a lot more exciting when they tell it to friends back home!
Since I only had 3 days in Amsterdam I did a lot of tours and activities in order to see as much of the city as possible. I did a 1/2 day city sightseeing bus tour. I did a canal cruise. I bought maps and did walking tours through the city center, Jordaan district (reputed to be one of Amsterdam's most picturesque neighborhoods), and the flower market.
My most favorite activity though was doing the "Dark Amsterdam Walking Tour" which was organized through one of the tour agencies. We zigged and we zagged at night through the streets of the "Wallen" ... otherwise known as the famous Red Light District.
Our tour started with a visit to the Prostitute Information Centre where a former prostitute (a Canadian from Toronto, can you believe it) explained the prostitution system in Amsterdam. We then hit the streets, seeing firsthand the windows of the Red Light District and getting an understanding of "the oldest profession in the world".
How interesting to see - in just a few blocks radius - the Prostitution Centre, a church right across the street, numerous "coffee shops" (which is what they call the shops where drugs can be purchased/consumed), Red Light windows with girls "marketing their merchandise", lots of nice bars and restaurants, private residences, and child day cares ... all seeming to blend and work very well together. Such an unusual mix of businesses!
By the way, I didn't visit a "coffee shop" as much as I was tempted. I actually would have, had I been with a couple of friends, but as a female traveling alone I tend to be more alert/on guard, especially in big cities, so I didn't want to get too "happy" and let my guard down too much. But next time ...
For the same reason, I was very glad to do the Dark Amsterdam walking tour with a group of people. I wouldn't have felt comfortable going through the district alone late at night and therefore wouldn't have experienced the Red Light district otherwise.
And last but not least ... one other thing I did while in Amsterdam was to "do lunch" with my friend Alain who I had met about a year ago while in the Bunaken Islands, a fantastic snorkel/dive spot on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi (great to see you again Alain, I'm glad we've kept in touch, thanks for lunch, next time I'll buy!)
And early the next morning I was slipping out of the Flying Pig Hostel, past the "Happy Room" (which at 6:30AM was already thick with smoke!) and on a train headed for the German border.