Amsterdam, Netherlands

Karie on Mar 13th 2008 07:03 pm

While Las Vegas is the self proclaimed Sin City, Amsterdam is the real deal. However, a couple factors set it apart from the self indulgent attractions of Vegas. 1) everything is legal here, hence no “sins” have been committed (except as determined by your own conscience or moral beliefs), and 2) Amsterdam has so much more to offer that such a title would be a disservice to the beauty of the city.

The Amstel River runs through the city, as do 100+ other canals, and over 1,000 bridges. In the 1960’s, the city went to great efforts & expense to install safety railings around the canals. However, their hard work and money might have been more worthwhile if those railings were more than 4 inches tall. According to the tour guide on the canal cruise, an average of 1 car per week falls into the waterways… and certainly countless drunks or bicyclists over taken by the gusty winds that are typical of this area. Houseboats are also commonplace in these canals. As the city started to grow there was a shortage of housing, so many people took to life on the canal. Most of these homes are legal, and are supplied with water, gas & electricity. However, there are some boats docked illegally, and have no access to utilities.

One of the most famous houses in Amsterdam, sitting right above one of the many canals, is the home of Anne Frank. We toured the home, which is now a museum, and paid tribute at the small monument which now stands outside of the church across the street. Berlin is our next destination, and in a few more weeks we will be visiting Auschwitz, the concentration camp in Poland where Anne Frank died. Walking through her house and reading excerpts from her diary gave some perspective to the journey through history that we are about to take. Certainly not one of the most fun parts of our trip, but definitely among the most meaningful.

Holland was also home to Van Gogh, before he moved to Paris, became a painter, went crazy, cut off his ear then killed himself. I hadn’t realized that he only sold one painting during his lifetime. I wonder if his life would’ve been different if he had known what a success he would become. I bet all our lives would be different if we knew what we were really capable of. Hmm….

Another one of Amsterdam’s claims to fame is their floral industry. The Bloemenmarkt is a “floating” flower market along the canal that’s open to the public, and the Aalsmeer Flower Auction is the largest flower auction in the world. The children in It’s a Small World wearing wooden shoes dancing with tulips makes a little more sense now.

There is so much to do and see here (even more than we originally knew), that we had to balance work & tourism efficiently to be able to fit it all in. We always base our hotel search on a combination of factors: price, availability of Internet access (necessary for work), and location. We’ve learned that it’s worth a few extra dollars to stay in the center of all the action, especially when you only have a short amount of time, and you don’t want to spend your time & money on public transportation. Well, our hostel in Amsterdam fit the bill, having received outstanding ratings for all our requirements. As it turns out, this perfect location “in the center of all the action” was in none other than the Red Light District.

Contrary to what most would imagine, this is not like mistakenly wandering off the main strip in Las Vegas, or ending up in the wrong neighborhood in Los Angeles. Some drugs, such as marijuana, are legal (or technically, just not illegal); hence, there are no drug dealers on the streets. Instead, there are “coffee shops.” Lots and lots of coffee shops with happy people inside. We found it interesting that an area known for its drugs, alcohol & prostitution was a series of safe streets (well, as safe as any metropolitan area) lined with clean cafes.

Now, if you walked over a couple blocks, there are more prostitute houses and video stores than I ever cared to see, but still in an organized fashion, without peddling on the streets. Some argue that making such activities legal cuts down on the related crimes that usually come with the territory, but I have to admit, my heart still breaks for those women, even if they do make more money than me.

While Amsterdam was the only city in the Netherlands where we spent time, we were able to see a lot of the countryside on trains from Belgium, and then onto Germany. I was slightly disappointed to have only seen one traditional windmill, and a handful that look like you’re driving on Highway 580 through the Altamont Pass. I bet the children dancing with tulips in the fields don’t really wear wooden shoes either. I guess that’s how Europeans feel when arriving in California to learn that everyone is not as cool as David Hasselhoff.

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