Friday March 16th, 2012.
I have just arrived in London. I’m sitting in the pub that is the first floor of my hostel enjoying a nice cold Stella Artois. I must admit one of the things that I am really enjoying about Europe is the high quality beer.
Let me fill you in on my time in Amsterdam.
First of all, I think that Amsterdam is probably the coolest place I’ve ever been in my life. When I say cool I mean laidback, relaxed, self-confident – that kind of cool. Everything from the people riding bikes everywhere to the patio bars on the canals to the shops and stores – all of them just contribute to this feeling that this place has it’s shit together. Amsterdam knows what is what, and it is damn good at showing it. Amsterdam is like a university senior and all the other cities I’ve travelled to are like high school freshmen – anything Amsterdam does seems awesome compared to other cities; it has a laidback attitude that is in contrast to other cities’ uptight rigidity and – of course – it gets all the hottest girls.
After my last blog entry I took a walk down to the heart of Amsterdam. Naturally, my first stop was the Red Light district – home to the legal prostitution that (along with the tolerance of marijuana usage) has made Amsterdam famous. When I entered the district my jaw dropped. There were tiny alleys off of the main roads that held windows bathed in red light. Inside these windows were girls actively engaged in luring johns for sex. I noticed my mouth was becoming rather dry a few blocks later and finally managed to shut it as I passed more and more windows. I have read about the red light district and even wrote a paper in university about the exploitation of women and human trafficking, so I thought I had some idea of what the district would be like. Even so I was amazed at how beautiful the girls actually were. Close your eyes and imagine a prostitute. Got it? Okay open your eyes.
Hey, open your eyes. That’s enough imagining now. Um.. yeah, trying to tell you about Amsterdam here, please stop imagining prostitutes now…
Anyway, I would be willing to bet that most of you imagined middle aged highly disheveled woman wearing a ridiculously skimpy outfit standing on a street corner. That was certainly my mental picture of sex workers prior to my visit to Amsterdam – even though I should have known better. Well, one aspect of that image of sex workers applies to the ladies of Amsterdam – the skimpy clothes. However, the majority of the girls that I saw in the district were young and stunningly beautiful. Don’t get me wrong, there were a few clunkers, and occasionally I would wander down an alley that turned out to be focused on plus sized or elderly women. But other than these detracting places most of the girls looked like they could have been models. Another observation I made about Amsterdam (and the Red Light District in particular) is that it smelt just like the living room of my first apartment. ‘But Tom, how can a city smell like your old living room’ I hear you ask? Because my old living room, thanks to my 6 roomates, smelled like burning cannabis. Of course, marijuana is tolerated in Amsterdam (I say tolerated, not legal, because it is not officially legalized, it is simply ignored) and therefore the touristy areas are heavily coated in the scent that so strongly reminds me of University.
My first day was spent doing one of the free tours offered by Sandemans New Europe tour company. As I may have mentioned, this company promotes free tours in many of the major European cities. I took one of these tours in Berlin and was pleased with it’s entertainment value and quality. I decided to try the same tour in Amsterdam and so far Sandemans has been two for two. On the tour I learned several really interesting things about Amsterdam. For one, all the buildings lean forward slightly in the old parts of the city (Amsterdam, unlike many European cities, survived WWII mostly unscathed and therefore retains it’s old style architecture). The buildings also have hooks at the top of them. The reason for this is that since the city is built so close to sea level, flooding was always a concern – and as a result people wanted to store their goods near the top of their houses. The hooks at the top were used as pulleys to haul items up to the attic for storage, and all the houses lean forward so the goods would not bump into the buildings on their way up – saving countless windows. Furthermore, many of the buildings have developed a slight lean to the left or right,as a result of the marsh the city is built on. The result is that if you really pay close attention to the buildings you begin to feel like you are in a Dr.Seuss book or old cartoon, as all the buildings jut out at odd angles that sometimes seem to defy gravity. When I first noticed this I wondered if I was developing a contact buzz, but the tour guide confirmed that the buildings actually do look that way.
Amsterdam is full of old buildings, churches and monuments and – just like Berlin – to attempt to enumerate them all here would be little more than a test of your patience. However, one or two of the coolest places I saw would be the world’s second narrowest house (a little strip of a building just a bit wider than a door frame), the sex museum (which contains more nudity and giant penises than I have ever seen in one place – and I’ve looked at myself in the mirror on many occasions) and dozens of coffee shops that openly sell and advertise marijuana and mushrooms.
Day two was spent recuperating from the pubcrawl that I took on my second night in the city. The pubcrawl wound it’s way through 5 bars and one club in the Red Light District and I had an absolute blast (I hung out with a few people I met on my free tour that afternoon and met two Canadians, one of whom was from as close to my own home as Lindsay, Ontario!). The pubcrawl gave a good taste of Amsterdam nightlife, which is similar to the rest of the world’s nightlife except every bar had smoking rooms where you could smoke cigarettes or marijuana. Even though I was a little slow off the marks the morning after the pubcrawl, I did manage to drag myself out to the Heineken Experience. The Heineken Experience is a tour of one of the original Heineken breweries in Amsterdam. The whole tour was really informative and I enjoyed it alot, but the constant plugging of how good Heineken beer is was a little wearisome. Every piece of interesting information about the brewing process was punctuated by something along the lines of “…which helps make Heineken a cool, crisp drink, everytime!”.
I spent the second half of my last day having lunch with some people from my hostel and engaging in one of my favorite activities; people watching! Even though the city had a good public transit system, it was always much more enjoyable to walk around; the views of the canals, the architecture and people watching was some of the best of any place I have ever been to.
Tonight I will take a preliminary reconnaisance wander through London aand find somewhere to eat. Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day, so I will have to punctuate whatever touristy things I get up to with the occasional beer in celebration!
Stay tuned for my blog about London in a few days!
That’s all for now.