Amsterdam: Free Love, Narcotics, and No One Tulip

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.

The Amstel river, Amsterdam.

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.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

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.

A street of Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

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.

Bicycles of Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

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.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

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.

Magic mushrooms in local smart shop. Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

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.

The Amstel river, Amsterdam.

Canals of Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

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.

Canals of Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

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.

Boat-house. Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Boat-house. Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

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.

Narrow streets of Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

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!”
“Excuse me…”

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's Red Light District.

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.

Amsterdam's Red Light District.

Amsterdam's Red Light District.

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 – its streets 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. Amsterdam is an interesting city from the architectural point of view. With its canals, it has a special charm, BUT…

I would not like to bring up my children here.

The river of Amstel, Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

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.

Bicycles from the bottom of the Amstel river, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

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. And I know why. Because it was November.

More about the Netherlands:

Alkmaar Cheese Market or Donut Hole for Inexperienced Tourists
Keukenhof: Legendary Garden of Tulip Country

75 thoughts on “Amsterdam: Free Love, Narcotics, and No One Tulip

  1. Nice to see Amsterdam through the eyes of a foreigner. I smiled a lot. However, not raising your kids here might be a too hasty decission. Have a look at some stories from a non-Dutch point of view.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lovely photos Victor and a good post. Amsterdam is definately, a city of controversy but there is much history, culture, art and tolerance there too. That’s why I like it. I haven’t been there for years but I will be going in January. Winter is a good time I think, and not as crowded as in the summer.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I grew up in Amsterdam to be a well behaved (so they say) productive citizen. I don’t do drugs, don’t smoke, only drink once a year and try to go slow on the carbs. And I don’t agree with everything that happens in the Netherlands. And in the rest of Europe, or even in the world.

    I think in every country something is wrong. In some countries people sell their own kids to be sex slaves. That says something about the parents, and maybe about the country. But also about the creatures from around the globe who abuse children.

    Women or men who want to be in prostitution should do so, pay taxes. Of course, I don’t endorse the career choice. After all when or where does paid “love” end and “free” love start? You only have one body. But less moral things are going to happen, in the window, or behind closed doors. In some countries it is a bit more common to be a mail order bride. The word bride is inserted, but it is a form of prostitution. The women could marry ugly guys in their own country, so why go abroad?…

    As a teenager I always dreamt of going to the US. Movies of teenagers having much more fun in high school. More parties more everything bottom line. And so it happened that I left NL and stayed among the Americans for an extended period of time.
    Now I am just happy nobody walked into my school with a gun. If I would have kids in US? … drugs are also present, prostitutes are also present, guns are made for the legally blond.. I do love the US, but it’s free love 😀 no strings attached.

    No matter where we go, we always wear the same personal shades. The grass is as green or brown as we see it. (not that kind of grass :> )

    Great photos of Amsterdam. (except for the ladies in red)

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you 🙂 Victor.

        I like your travel writing, blog. Personality make blog posts come to life. To often I read posts that try to please everyone.

        If you don’t mind I will share some of your Amsterdam pictures with my Holland fans on Facebook (your name included of course). I am sure they will like it!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Dear Victor, as a Dutch citizen I read your blog with great interest. Especially because you offer us an ‘outside’ look this can be pretty confrontational. Still, I would like to react on one of the more negative of your findings. Although they are of course your own personal impressions, I would like to bring some nuance to the picture you paint of Amsterdam.

    Most importantly, I find it very interesting you compare Amsterdam to Bruges. In my opinon, this is not a fair comparison. The economic development of Bruges stopped after the 1500’s, thereby causing the city to ‘freeze’ in its medieval appearance. Also, large parts of Bruges were rebuilt after the First World War, in a ‘picturesque’ style. Bruges, thus, is a museum city while Amsterdam is a metropole and has been a center of economic and cultural dynamism in the Low Countries for centuries. A comparison with cities such as Hamburg or Milan would be more fair; these also have a long history but are still important centres of economic activity – as such, they are no ‘open air museums’ with mostly tourists strolling about but also places of economic production.

    If you’d visit the Netherlands again and want to enjoy a more ‘historic’ city i would advise you to go to Hoorn, Enkhuizen, Middelburg or the ‘French styled’ Maastricht. Rotterdam is also a very fine city, but in a completely different manner, being destroyed during the Second World War it is an interesting example of modern Dutch architecture and city planning.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for your interesting blogpost. What was your conclusion? Did you love it or hate it?
    Amsterdam is a city that certainly raises opinions. A good thing. I have had my ups and down with the ciry as well. But that had a lot to do with the weather. On a dull autumn day without sun almost any city looks depressing. Go to amsterdam on a beautiful day with all the friendly people (from all over the world) on the streets and Amsterdam will shine.

    Your writeup is very much in line with dutch people themselves that, coming from the provinces, visit Amsterdam for the first time.
    And off course visit ‘ accidentally’ the red light district or gaze at the multitude of weedshops etc. But most will lose interest in that parts and look for the more interesting parts of the city. Sex and drugs are not legally forbidden fruits so most pass by uninterested.
    Because it is legalized and in the open people are not so interested in this.
    It is a mistake to think weed consumption by dutch is higher than anywhere else.
    I do not know any people that use canabis.

    The preoccupation with drugs and blaming countries like the Netherlands is totally hypocrit! Look at these stats
    24% of US youth have taken Canabis
    Dutch kids only 5,4%
    Thanks to openness and good instruction/information o.a.

    Going back to your trip.
    Going by boat is NOT the way to breath in Amsterdam. Nor any other city. A canal boat is like a detatched mobile tourist sanctuary. Your are not submerged in the atmosphere but look at it behind a glass screen at a distance.
    Amsterdam is not threatening you should visit it by a a nautical pope-mobile
    You should give yourself time to get some drinks at a cafe, Just sit down and talk to the people of amsterdam.
    It is just as easy to write down depressing image of New york, going from hotel room to the highlights by tourist tour busses.

    Some allready noted some errors you wrote down and some (understandable) prejudices from a bypasser. Hope you indeed will give Amsterdam a second chance!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Harry. Thank you for very wise and thoughtful comment.

      You outlined the ideal scenario of acquaintance with any city, and I agree with it. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time for it, and we were forced to judge by the first impression.

      I am not sure of my conclusion about Amsterdam; however, I am sure of one thing – I don’t hate this city.

      Thank you again. It’s so cool to see how all of you defend your city.


  6. Victor, your choice of pictures are excelent, ur eye is good but some semi facts I find a bit offensive.

    Me, an born Amsterdammer, I was enjoying your view of the city from a fresh eye, while enjoying the more pitoresce pictures of my beloved city but after a while your tour got a bit like ” see Amsterdam in 18 hours twist, and comments became factual and historically incorrect.

    Rembrandt van Rijn, for your information, the greatest Dutch painter by far….Was not a beggar (WTF?) He was a well revered painter in his time and mastered more than 40 pupils into famous painters themselves, and also rich compared to the avarage standard citizen, having his studio/school near het Waterlooplein, sure, he had some business faillures, but could hold up his pants and support his family, all his life. Rembrandt had comissions from all over Europe and Russia, and clients had to pay high for his paintings. so shut the F up.

    Anne Frank, One of the most world famous protegés of Amsterdam, did not live near the jewish quarters, which was on the other side of the city, around the waterlooplein, Anne lived near the Jordaan or in French Jardin, because there lived the fled Hugonotes fled from France, cause most of them were brutrally murdered during a staged marriage ( The Bloodwedding !
    You forgot to mention and I will, we also bid refuge to the founding fathers of America, allowing them to open their own English church in the Begijnhof, after wherefrom they took passage to America to found the united states…

    Hemp or Marijuana was smoked allready for a thousand years in Holland, before we had to entertain the narco tourists from all over the world..hehe
    It was perfectly legal untill some nutcase politician from California named, Harry J. Anslinger started a public hystery, public outcry because he didnt like the import Mexican workers who smoked (the political We vs them agenda) and on the other hand Industrial lobby (capitalist agenda) wanted to criplle the Hemp industry, Hemp is with us for thousands of years in all kind of household products like shipping lines, ropes, clothes, bags, carpets medicines etc.etc.

    It is well known effect by examples from all over the world, that repressive restriction only escalates the drug problem because the suppliers and buyers are pushed in the dark, where underworld can take over distribution without quality control.

    The same for prostitution, I don’t know if you travelled around the world, but prostitutes here in Amsterdam are living in Heaven with monthly health checks and protection against violence compared to 98 % of the Prostitutes worldwide.

    Amsterdam was build during the golden age where Dutch colonies all over the world, her sister city New Amsterdam or New York City were among our harbours in Indonesia, China, India, Carabean en South America ruled and not to forget Brugge at that time Dutch teritory and build by the Dutch.

    Nowadays In Holland everyone is welcome, peace of love with a shot of anything you like but if you become violent or can’t cope with all the freedom or become disrespectfull towards ur hosts, ur kindly but urgently requested to leave.

    So spare me the pretense, gimme a bit more fact checking and true interest into the subject and you may become a great travel writer!



    Erik Kooperberg

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, Erik. Your comment is bigger and certainly more interesting and informative than my post. Thank you very much.

      I take all the facts from open sources: books, TV, Internet, guide-books, etc., but some mistakes take place sometimes. I’ve checked your corrections.

      Rembrandt. You are right, he was a rich man, but not all his life. He went bankrupt in 1656, died in poverty in 1669, and was buried in an unmarked grave.

      Anne Frank never lived in Jewish quarter of Amsterdam. You are right. I am sorry. Thanks a lot.


      1. well I said my piece, we could Write write for hours and hours. still this doesn’t justify Calling our greatest painter a beggar l don’t See the necessity….
        I guess in Russia everything is much better organised !
        All the best


        1. Don’t worry, Erik. In Russia, Czech Republic, Vietnam, and Cambodia, everything is much more worse.
          Thank you for Rembrandt. He is one of my favorite painter. He just had some bad luck at the end of his life.


  7. Hey! I read the article and it was pretty nice. I would like to know where you heard that we like to toss cars in the canal? Bikes get tossed in the water by lots of drunk idiots, but i have never heard the story about cars?! Also i would like to add that to me the buildings dont look the same at all (the ones you see while on a boat trip). Those houses are all different and unique. If I were you i would have gone a bit outside of the central part, to go see more of our city, it sounds like you have only been in about 3 square miles of the city. About the weahter… You should probably pick a better date to visit, but even in summer time you could get unlucky. By the way, tullips are typical dutch (alltough they originaly from Turkey i beleive) and grow outside the city, we as Dutch people in Amsterdam dont have tullips around us all the time. Theres a couple of nice pictures with your article. Peace and love from Amsterdam!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Patje.

      I read somewhere about this entertainment with cars, but you are right – I don’t have evidence. Probably, just gossips.

      You are also right regarding November. From weather stand point, It isn’t the best time for visiting any city of Northern Europe. Sometime, I will come to Amsterdam in April. It will change nothing with bicycles, but there will be plenty of tulips.


  8. Hi Victor, not sure how I landed on your blog but your post about Amsterdam caught my attention and I felt a need to respond. I am Dutch and I lived in Amsterdam for many years. I live now in the United States with my husband and 2 small children. We are all having a great time here in Illinois. I love to hear different views on how people see the world and cities. I agree the bikes can be a nuisance but I do miss them very much since I am dependent on a car now for my daily activities. I do feel your post was quite judgmental ( I don’t agree with the “permissiveness” compared to the US for example) but hey, maybe that’s the whole purpose of a blog. Maybe next time when you are in a city you can try to find out why things are the way they are. Talk to locals, they are more than happy to share their views and knowledge and maybe you will learn some new insights. Oh, and it is not OK to make pictures of the ladies in the led right district without their permission. Treat them with respect (your remark about the free advertising was crossing a line from my perspective) and ask them if you can make a picture.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Erica. Thank you very much. The reading of your comment was a real enjoyment.

      The main purpose of this blog is to make a lot of money and to buy whatever I want. Ha-ha 🙂 But if to be serious, I want to share my own impressions here (yes, they are judgmental sometimes), but at least I am honest.

      However, I’ll tell you I feel I need to visit Amsterdam once more to verify my first impressions, and probable they will change.
      I’ll not take pictures of prostitutes without their permission. I promise.


  9. As a brought up in Amsterdam, Dutch girl, I would like to know why you comment on bringing up children in this so open and lively city. I think you miss-judge the city for it’s famously known drugg and prostitution policy. In regards of the safety and quality of the city I can only say it is all less negative as you tourists might think. The red light disctrict is the safest area in the city, it is an area where people live, bring up their children and take them to school. Children in the Netherlands are to be considerd one of the most free and happy children in the world. Broaden your horizon and I hope you will see Amsterdam in a different way.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Really great photos – I think that’s what makes a good post great!
    Why, though, refer to Anne Frank as “notorious.” I’m sure you didn’t mean that… maybe the wrong choice of wording?
    Aside from that, I thoroughly enjoyed this post. Well done!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Being born and raised in Amsterdam, as are great men like Freddy Heineken, Johan Cruyff, Peet de Pruik, Dennis Bergkamp and Rembrandt, I can honestly say you should come back and are very welcome to come back because that was a bold statement! Great photo’s though 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  12. what a great vacation, I can’t wait for our family trip to Amsterdam in October!

    and so completely true about travelling without the baby. We flew to Vancouver last month alone for the first time and it was amazing. So easy, light, no stress, no drama and I even got to sit down the whole time!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I love Europe! All of your pictures put a smile on my face and make me nostalgic. I am actually going to France this June 🙂 I am counting down the days I can’t wait to be there again. I always wanted to ride a bike here! I never got the chance.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. You were fortunate to get those photos in the Red Light District without incident. In the past, tourists who attempted to take pictures have gotten roughed up by employees of the brothels, and in some instances had their cameras smashed.

    It wasn’t pleasant for you to be in Amsterdam in cold weather, Victor, but the threatening sky was a nice backdrop for your excellent photographs. Well done!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Great post Victor and great timing! I just got back from Amsterdam. I agree with your mixed feelings about the city. I’m still really tried to fit together the two aspects of the city: quaint historic buildings and lots of bikes vs. the “tourist industries”. I definitely preferred the Museumsplatz neighborhood which seemed more residential and was filled with restaurants and antique shops.

    In March at least, you can see fresh tulips there. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  16. To be honest, Amsterdam was a revelation. I’ve always been told that Paris tops the fashion scenario but when I visited Amsterdam I was bowled over by the retro cafes and the fashion on the streets. It’s such a brilliant post capturing Amsterdam the way I’ve seen. Pre-digital camera days, hence a big thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

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