So I’m going to skip all the terrible parts such as the eight-hour flight that had four babies on it, all surrounding me, who took turns to throw hysterical crying fits. Amsterdam is beautiful. It also possesses many peculiarities that some North Americans would definitely be surprised by. First of all, everyone is on a bike. They are all fashionably ancient looking, and not a single helmet in sight, not even on people who drive vespas and mopeds. There are also very few children here and everyone is very tall and slim. Overall, the city holds an extremely carefree atmosphere. I was also surprised about the lack of pot.
Unlike popular belief of many, including myself prior to visit, Amsterdam is not full of raving, bloodshot pot smoking maniacs. If people do smoke pot they stay in specialty cafes, and you can hardly even smell it. Cigarettes on the other hand….everyone and everywhere. The funny thing is, it is illegal to smoke tobacco indoors, but smoking pot is totally acceptable. Some shops had this sign up "No tobacco or opium smoking." I did some research and as it happens, more teens try marijuana in America than in the Netherlands (this is of course relative to population.) I think this is because the food in Amsterdam is so bad that you can’t afford to have the munchies.
Our first day here was spent partly in the Van Gogh museum, which gave a personal look not only into his artworks but also into his life and passions. We then visited the Rijksmuseum, which was unfortunately under renovation, but did inspire us with its Rembrandts. I am an art major and never fancied Rembrandt, but seeing his masterpieces up close and personal really changed my perspective. The museum’s collection had a good variety of other Flemish artists, and the enclosure itself can almost be described as cozy, which is odd but striking for a museum. The next day we had a big change of scenery.
We went to the red light district. It was an amazing sight. There are small alleyways leading into the main square, that are made up of beautiful old apartments which all have long glass windows and fancy curtains. Behind each window stands a sex worker, beckoning and sowing off her body. Most were older women, all very different in appearance and style. The little rooms they rent cost them about 20 euros and hour, but considering that they make about 50 euros per 20 min from men, it's quite the bargain. The area itself is actually home to many families, who rent rooms above the prostitutes. In the morning when the children walk to school and ask why these ladies are standing there in their undergarments, they are told that they are waiting for the bus to go to the beach. One thing to watch is picture taking. If you get your camera out, one the of guys hired to keep conduct will take it from you or smash it. Either that or a lady of the night will do it herself.
Walking into the main square all you see giant flashing signs saying "LIVE SEX SHOW-BDMS-HOMO-TEEN-ANIMALS." I had a friend who resides in Amsterdam inform me that these shows include audience participation and are very outrageous. Of course there are also plenty of vibrators and butt plugs in the windows of sex shops, so I wouldn’t recommend this section of Amsterdam for the light of heart. Amsterdam is really a place to go with your friends more so than your parents.
My favorite memory from the Netherlands is of the preserved 1800’s village we visited. It showed how people lived in the Netherlands back, their homes, shops, food and customs. People walked around in old-fashioned clothes, even wearing clogs! There were also many functioning cheese shops. The most memorable aspect of that location was the smoked eel. The man selling it had a pet crow and smoked the eel in a small out-house-like garage for 72hrs, then in a wooden barrel for 1 hr. It was the most delicious thing I have ever eaten. Ever.