I have mixed feelings about this city. Amsterdam is complicated and pushes one to choose, love or hate. It is surprising, but none of my friends stayed indifferent to this city. Moreover, nobody could clearly explain the reasons for loving it or hating it.
One of the most famous cities in the world, it has a great history, ambitious cultural life, and its own “peculiar” attractions. On the surface, Amsterdam seems tidy, clean, and cozy, but it is only an illusion. It has incurred all kinds of sins, which, nevertheless, get along harmoniously with the decency of its citizens.
When you come to this city, the first thing your eyes notice: Amsterdam is an area of trams and bicycles. The whole historical center of the city is crossed by railways. A tram is practically the only type of ground transportation which survived an unequal battle of double-wheel monsters.
It seems the number of bicycles may exceed the number of citizens here. If you see any piece of iron on your way, be sure there will be a bicycle fastened to it.
The bicycles themselves stay in poor condition as they are kept under open sky all the time. Generally, Amsterdam reminds me of a grandiose scrap iron dump in the center of Europe, and it has nothing in common with well-groomed, bourgeois, Belgian Bruges.
Cars fear bicycle-riders here, pedestrians fear bicycle-riders, bicycle-riders fear nobody. They are all over the place! This is Amsterdam. Bicycles are parked at the rails of bridges, they are laid out at the barges, and they stand at the multi-staged parking zones near the central station. I wonder how Amsterdam quays manage to hold so much metal.
You can only feel sorry for the car owners in Amsterdam. In the narrow streets, bicycle-riders have the advantage, and it’s very dangerous to park at quays, because one of the most favorite entertainments of the nightly occupants of the “free city” is to drop a car down a canal.
Nevertheless, year after year Amsterdam attracts masses of foreign tourists with its “freedoms,” although outwardly the city seems to be boring with its monotonous canals, quays, and similar low and tight houses in dark brown colors. If it is prestigious to have a house in the center of Bruges, it is more likely to be only detrimental here, in Amsterdam.
On the other hand, the “connoisseurs of high” can buy some magic mushrooms in local smart shops. There are plenty of different sorts, and everyone has their own description of recommended doses and presumable effects. The shop assistants may also provide some tips or advice based on their own rich experience.
If you decide to come here, the best way to see the whole city in an hour and avoid the all-pervasive bicycle-riders and trams is to take a tour through the canals on a special ship. The river excursions are drawn through the system of canals called Grachtengordel up to Amstel and back. They leave every 15 minutes.
Amsterdam’s canals are like streets. I guess there are 165 of them. Some lie parallel and some cross each other, wide and small, short and long. Whichever street you walk through, there is a canal nearby. The water provides the best view of the city. Amsterdam is not the sunniest city in Europe, but, rain or shine, it’s warm and fine on a boat.
No matter how long you walk around the city, the houses all look the same and are dark, like in grimy Ghent in Belgium, but the boats are all vivid colors, different styles and sizes, and all of that is reflected in the water. When the sun shines, some surrealistic pictures appear, even if the boats are flooded, and there are many of such.
We were not especially looking for the famous red-light district, and it did not reveal itself at once. Besides, it is not illuminated in red in the daytime. 🙂
Probably, my imagination created some wondrous pictures and that’s why I did not realize at first that we finally reached it. We were just walking through the streets as typical tourists, gazing around. Suddenly we saw a tiny side street with a church at the end. Irina turned, took a few shots and came back at a run.
I saw a group of men speaking at the door with a lady. The men were desperately shaking their heads like, “No, we disagree,” and the hostess, with only her head outside, said something to them quickly.
“Look,” I said to my wife, “a scene from Amsterdam life in front of our eyes. I wonder what it is all about?”
“About what? About the price!”
I came up closer and saw… Oops! The hostess closed the door and stayed inside some kind of a box. This box was upholstered with vinous velvet, the curtain was lifted invitingly, and the hostess in her negligee took a doll pose and stood unruffled. There were plenty of such boxes with dolls, but these dolls were alive. It looked strange in broad daylight, but everything was real.
The priestesses of love are as different as the bicycles: big and small, old and young, black, yellow, and white, beautiful and not. Some stand, some sit, some are manicured, and some eat a hamburger for a lunch.
When I served in the Navy, I heard the old salts tell a million intriguing stories about the fantastic Amsterdam Red Light District. Such districts also exist in Hamburg and other seaports of the world, but somehow the Netherlands’ De Wallen has become the most popular. It is located in the center of the old part of Amsterdam to the south from De Oude Kerk or the Old Church.
This oldest parish church of the city – more than 800 years old – by some quirk of fate is located in the very center of the Red Light District. The Old Church has one of the best acoustics in Europe, the biggest arched roof in Europe made of the Estonian wood, and dates from 1390. Rembrandt often visited De Oude Kerk, and baptized his children there.
The floor of the church is also a kind of attraction: it consists of the tombstones. The burials in De Oude Kerk were executed till 1865, and nowadays the church encloses 2,500 graves of famous and remarkable citizens of Amsterdam.
Nearby there are almost three hundred tiny premises, occupied by prostitutes and transsexuals. A girl in erotic underwear stands behind the glass in a 6-8 square meter room, half of which is occupied by the bed, and offers herself to any passerby. This district also has the Erotic Museum, the hashish museum, plenty of sex shops, porn theatres, peep shows, and coffee shops.
Amsterdam had a special glory since the XVII century: everyone could find a one-night stand for money here. Up to now, the Red Light District is very popular, although it seems to attract more tourists than clients.
I think prostitution is the most vivid example of public hypocrisy. One can not prohibit or allow this ancient profession. It is an ancient ritual. The temple prostitution, for example, has never been considered a sin, and the incomes from the prostitutes in temples belonged to the priests. The world classics also have examples: The Splendors and Miseries of Courtesans by Honore de Balzac, Of Human Bondage by Maugham, and The Lady of the Camellias by Dumas (the younger).
Amsterdam is free of this hypocrisy. The city legalized prostitution and soft drugs a long time ago, but I don’t think all this is the right way to go.
The authorities took the decision to legalize soft drugs in order to separate simple marijuana consumers from the criminal hard drug trade. Besides cannabis, magic mushrooms, relaxants, and other drugs deemed “safe” from the local medical point of view were also classed as soft. One way or another, the use of heroin, cocaine, and Ecstasy declined, and Amsterdam started to attract tourists from the whole world.
It may be the freest city on the planet, but I would call it “the city of the wet northern madness.” No exaggeration. Not only because of the legalization of prostitution, and soft drugs which can be used in numerous coffee shops. (By the way, a coffee shop is easy to distinguish from the usual coffee houses by the special sign in the shape of a cannabis leaf at the corresponding plaque.) The whole atmosphere of Amsterdam is soaked with permissiveness – the streets, full of people slightly reminiscent of English lords, are filled with the sweet smell of marijuana. We were not seduced by this smell. I guess we still remember the sick laugh after Happy Pizza in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and the night appearance of Apsaras, which were the real witches. 🙂
The Netherlands was the first country to legalize euthanasia. Very progressive, as in many other things, BUT…
I would not like to bring up my children here.
You should definitely take a ride in the river cruiser. Maybe you will be lucky and the sun will shine, tulips will bloom at every window, and you will see the most beautiful side of the city.
The guide entertained us with a local proverb of Amsterdam: “The depth of the river Amstel is three meters. The first meter is water, the second – a layer of silt, and the third – a layer of bicycles.” It sounds much like the truth.
By the way, after having relaxed in the tolerant Netherlands, stay alert and be sure there is no pack of cannabis left in your pockets or luggage. It is not recommended at all. For the exportation of drugs you would have to pay a significant penalty of 45,000 Euros or risk punishment by imprisonment for four years! So just check your pockets and secret corners of suitcases! Excuses like, “I did not know,” and “I did not mean to…” won’t impress a customs officer.
Most cities are known for things that are unique about them, but in the case of Amsterdam, the last thing I would call it is a city of tulips.