Amsterdam: A picturesque city filled with adorable buildings, tree lined streets, and canals. This quaint little city has so much charm and romanticism that it has left me in a dream world the good part of the past five days. So much so that the lovely bikers have been inches from smoking me and thinking nothing about it numerous times! Seriously. Stay out of the bike lane. The fact that EVERYONE generally walks or bikes here is one of the main reasons to fall in love with Amsterdam. No honking or fumes. Just happy people carrying along until you get in the bike lane that is. Those bikers are confident and apparently on a mission. Despite some close calls with those guys, our time in Amsterdam has been amazing.
We went on a free 3 hour walking tour where we oriented ourselves and learned all about the city’s history, which I highly recommend to anyone traveling in Europe. You just meet up at a central location and then a guide who works only for tips takes you on a tour. We also visited the Anne Frank house. The trick is to go just before closing and you don’t have to stand in the crazy line.
Other than that we have just explored on our own. Tours are informative and great, but one of mine and Jared’s favorite aspects of traveling is getting lost in a city and coming across views, people, and restaurants that TripAdvisor knows nothing about, until you stumble upon the red light district that is. Talk about a learning experience. If you didn’t know, besides the beautiful canals, flowers, and everything else cute that Amsterdam is, it is also known for prostitution and drugs, specifically marijuana. We’ve had mixed emotions about this, but after learning about the history and why it seemingly works here, I am more at ease.
So here is the down and dirty on Amsterdam. Way back when around the 17th century, Amsterdam was a major port. The sailors who had been at sea for a long time wanted 2 things when they touched land: sex and the church. Two things that don’t seem to go together, right? So after being a bit promiscuous, they felt guilty and knew their chances of capsizing at sea were high, so they went to repent at the church, which is strategically placed in the red light district. All was well until some sailors did their dirty deeds after confessions had closed, but no need to worry. The church didn’t want them going to hell either, so they set up a system where they could pay and repent in advance for what they think they might do while in Amsterdam. Better safe than sorry! 😉 Despite that crazy mindset, the truth is that sex trafficking and prostitution are issues everywhere and since this trend was not stopping, the country figured they would control the situation better by making it legal. The women get free health exams and their are regulations for their safety.
And then there are the infamous “coffee shops.” From the 70’s to the 90’s, the city had a major problem with people using hard drugs. To try to stop this, they legalized marijuana and to control the consumption, they allow what they call “coffee shops” to sell up to 5 grams. It works. They do not tolerate hard drugs, cocaine, LSD, morphine, etc, and are not facing the same issues they were 20 years ago. From the outside looking in, it does sound crazy, but the Netherland’s philosophy seems to work. They believe that everyone should be able to decide about the matters of their own health and that hiding social negative phenomena doesn’t make an issue go away. It generally tends to make them worse since it becomes harder to control and regulate. Personally, the red light district left my heart sad for those women, but if there is one thing that traveling has changed my mindset on, it is to “live and let live.”