Amsterdam – Sex, drugs and bicycles
(For more photos from Amsterdam, scroll through the slideshow at the bottom of this post)
I arrived in Amsterdam after only a slight hiccup. I took a train from Brussels with two brothers from Connecticut who were travelling through Amsterdam on their way to Prague. We had to transfer in Anvers, Belgium before heading on to Amsterdam. We got to the train station nice and early, found our platform, double checked with a local that we were in the right place, and boarded the train. And then we waited for them to call our stop…and waited….and waited… until I realized we should have definitely arrived in Anvers and we were slowly venturing further into the middle-of-no-where Belgium.
Aparently, Anvers is the name of the stop in French. But Antwerp is the name of the stop in Dutch, and that’s how it was called out once we were on board the train. So we didn’t get off because we had no idea Anvers and Antwerp were the same place. Yeah, okay, they both start with ‘a’, but they don’t even sound the same. One has a ‘v’and the other has a ‘tw.’ How would anyone know that?
We got lucky because the train we were on, once reaching the middle of no-where Belgium, turned around and headed back the way we came. In the end, the detour only added about an hour to the trip.
I love Amsterdam. When people think of Amsterdam they think of the nightlife, but I found Amsterdam most charming by day. I had four days of perfect weather, which locals say is unheard of. I ate dutch pancakes, visited the Anne Frank House, toured the old Heineken brewery, and wandered the sunlit canals.
I also did a tour of the Red Light District. It’s just the way it’s described, with girls hanging out in windows under red lights. I actually thought most of them looked incredibly bored. I saw one girl leaning against her window listening to her ipod. And the Red Light District is pretty pointless if you’re a girl, because none of the windows feature guys.
Bite-sized history lesson on Amsterdam:
- The city is named Amsterdam after officials decided to dam the river Amstel, which ran through what is now the city’s centre.
- Prostitution is legal in Amsterdam. Girls stand in windows and charge a base rate of €50 for 15 minutes. My tour guide said they can make €1,200 in eight hours.
- The selling, buying and smoking Marijuana is NOT legal in Amsterdam, despite popular belief. But police haven’t arrested anybody for smoking it in 35 years.
The case of the shiny red, shock-absorbent bicycle:
I almost didn’t rent a bike in Amsterdam. It had nothing to do with my experience in Bruges and everything to do with the fact that I didn’t want to get killed. Amsterdam is ranked the number one cycling city in the world (Copenhagen is number two). The city has 400km of bike lanes and paths, and most locals choose two wheels over four, because parking in the city can cost upwards of €6 an hour.
But biking in Amsterdam is not your leisurely peddle through the park. These people are biking maniacs. They whip around corners, plow through red lights and try to hit as many tourists as possible. (My guide joked that hitting a tourist into a canal got you a lifetime membership to the Heineken Experience.) I was intimidated by them as a pedestrian, and I figured there was no way I could join them without getting run over. You can tell its a local on a bike based on whether they are biking while simultaneous doing one of the following activities:
- talking on their cellphone
- TEXTING on their cellphone
- carrying groceries in one arm and steering with the other
- READING A BOOK (I kid you not, I watched someone do this outside museum square and stared until they were out of sight)
So there was no way I was going to attempt cycling on my own. Instead, I signed up for a three hour guided tour which takes you around the outskirts of the city (cycling in the city-centre is a death wish). I was given a shiny red bicycle, with three gears, a bell and a shock system I’m now positive my bike in Bruges did not have. I spent a wonderful afternoon on my tour, and because there was a guide, I didn’t have to worry about being in the right lane or signaling, I could just follow the single file line of red bicycles. And my butt was not the least bit sore when it ended.
THE ANNE FRANK HOUSE: A very moving experience. I went at night, which was the perfect time to go because there were very few people there. I was able to take my time reading the guide and watching the video interviews with her father and old classmates. It’s very powerful to find yourself in the same space Anne was confined to for two years.
ALBERT CUYP MARKET: A large flea market just south of the city’s centre where locals go to buy cheese, fish, produce, clothes and toilettries. I walked the whole thing twice I liked it so much.
THE HEINEKEN EXPERIENCE: Site of the original brewery from 1864. There’s a great ride where you stand on a moving platform and they pretend to brew you. You get two beers with admission, plus a sample part-way through the tour. There’s even an optional cruise on the Heineken boat at the end. So worth it.
NEXT STOP: Berlin, Germany