When I mention Amsterdam, your thoughts will probably stray either to canals, windmills, clogs and tulips or alternatively to legalised marijuana, sexual diversity and prostitution, depending on your interests. As seemingly unrelated as these two perspectives are, it’s the tolerant disposition of Amsterdamers that allows this dicotomy to not only exist, but to thrive. I saw a lot of both of these aspects of Dutch society during our time in Amsterdam as well as plenty of art and culture.
First there was the nighttime guided tour through the red light district where scantily clad young women sometimes beckoned to passing men but more often than not sat in their shop windows smoking, texting on their ever present cell phones or watching the shennanigans at the many nearby gay bars. Then there are the sex shops, where incredible ‘toys’ are artfully displayed to entice passersby and finally the confusingly named “coffee shops” that are plentiful throughout the city. They sell no coffee, only marijuana in all its different forms so if it’s a cappachino, latte or even just plain old filter coffee you want, be sure to enter a ‘cafe’ or you’ll be in for a surprise.
The next morning, we saw an entirely different side to the city when we started the day with a tour on a canal boat during which we glided serenely beside elegant buildings and picturesque houseboats as we learnt about Amsterdam’s rich history. The canals offer a wonderful perspective on the city although according to our guide, an average of a car a week finds its way into the water despite the city erecting low barriers (apparently too low).
Later in the day, we visited a cheese farm and a working windmill before stopping at the quaint fishing village of Volendam to see a little of rural Holland. That evening, we ended our tour with a typical Dutch dinner in a 400 year old restaurant. It was sad to say goodbye to our 27 new chums, but we still had another day to enjoy Amsterdam on our own and we certainly made the most of it by visiting the museum square with its world famous van Gogh gallery, Dam square with its Royal palace, the unique markets and had a final dinner at a wonderful sidewalk cafe.
Nonetheless, despite all that we saw and did in Amsterdam, my one abiding memory will be of bicycles, the thousands and thousands of bicycles, some with child carriers, some with baskets, many with both, that are the preferred mode of transport for almost all Amsterdamers. Everywhere you look, everywhere you walk, there are bicycles and unsurprisingly, no obese people. I think there’s a lesson in there somewhere!
I’m writing this on the plane home to South Africa and would like to thank you for following me on my wonderful adventure and to Chris, happy birthday, my love!
Bucket list # 3: Visit Europe … tick … moving on.