No city home to both the Sex Museum and the Vodka Museum could fail to be entertaining.
Amsterdam doesn’t disappoint.
The best way to navigate Amsterdam is by bike (Amsterdam is perhaps the most bicycle-friendly city on earth, with bike paths along nearly every street, and nearly 40% of all commutes around town made on bike. The city even actively discourages traveling within the city by car.) Soo and I weren’t quite that energetic after the sleepless overnight flight, not to mention being genuinely lazy, so we opted for the second-best way, by boat.
Known as “The Venice of the North,” Amsterdam has more than 1,500 bridges spanning the 60 miles of canals snaking through the city. A one-hour canal tour costs only 8 €, making it perhaps the best deal in town.
The tour took us past several houses which appeared to be collapsing into the waters. Our delightful guide explained that they were, in fact, slipping into the water, and that propping them up and repairing them was big business. In typical carefree Dutch fashion the local citizenry jovially refer to these homes as “dancing houses.”
I’m not sure I’d have such a great sense of humor if my home were toppling over into brown water.
You see, in Amsterdam, property taxes have historically been based on how much canal-front space the home occupied. Some enterprising and apparently very thin chap thought to one-up the city by building a house scarcely wider than his door. I haven’t a clue what they use for furniture, but people have been living in it since the 17th century.
After our canal tour we explored the city on foot, and finally stopped in a café for some local fare. We were eager to get advice on what to do at night, so of course everyone that worked there was Pakistani.
One was aggressively stupid.
When they got round to taking our order Soo asked if they had Red Bull.
“Yes, madam” came the immediate response.
“Great. I’ll have a Red Bull and vodka please.”
“Excellent, madam. And you, sir?”
“I’ll have a Red Bull and vodka too,” I said.
“We don’t have Red Bull,” came his immediate response.
I stared for a moment, then looked at Soo, hoping someone would let me in on the joke. When no one did I asked why they had Red Bull 30 seconds earlier when Soo had ordered it, but somehow didn’t now.
The waiter turned on his heel and without an apology barked at Soo “No Red Bull!”
“NO RED BULL!”
“Uh, ok, sorry, er, vodka cranberry?”
“Vodka tonic. Excellent.”
“Uhhmmmm, thank you.”
You’ve reached a new low when you’re apologizing to your waiter and thanking him for bringing you something different from what you ordered, terribly relieved that he’s just gone away.
Many blog readers are by now growing impatient, thinking “ok, great. Pretty canals and narrow houses. Nice. When are we getting to the good stuff?”
After dinner, we got to the good stuff.
Sex and drugs, pot and promiscuity, cannabis and coitus; it is, fairly or unfairly, what modern-day Amsterdam is best known for, and about which an almost cult-like fascination has developed. So many of my friends, none of whom have ever set foot in Amsterdam, are quite certain that it would be the coolest place on the planet to visit, even those who don’t smoke pot. The city simply has a mystical allure hard to describe.
I don’t care for the smell of marijuana, and didn’t smoke any while here, but I like that it’s legal for others to do so.
Marijuana use among minors is lower in Holland, where it’s legal, than in America, where it’s illegal. Crime is lower in Holland (1.6 million people were arrested in America last year alone on drug-related charges), and the Dutch government, instead of spending billions locking up millions of its citizens on misdemeanor possession charges, rakes in more than $600 million in annual tax revenue on the legal sale of marijuana.
The Dutch way is better.
It’s all there for you in the Red Light District. Pot, everywhere you look, and women. Ahh, women. Beautiful, nearly-nude women line the streets, beckoning to you from the other side of a full-length display window, tantalizing with promises of a lust-fueled sexcapade. Seventy-five euros will get you “30 minutes of pleasure” with these women, and anything goes. And it’s perfectly legal. It’s Amsterdam.
That’s about the same price a couple will pay for entry into the clubs offering live sex shows.
These range from odd to offensive, with some being downright embarrassing (one pudgy girl at Moulin Rouge is so distasteful that she struggles to find men willing to climb onstage during her act), but few approach real eroticism.
It’s an environment I’ve not found anyplace else on earth, one which has spawned a reputation known and accepted in the remotest of regions, and it’s all a sham.
It’s phony, no more real than the porno depicting a beautiful, lonely housewife having sex with the oddly-muscular pizza delivery boy minutes after opening the door.
The raw sexiness of Amsterdam doesn’t come from the in-your-face raunchiness of the Red Light District. The allure isn’t based on the doorstep prostitution, or the grimy back-alley sex clubs. Amsterdam’s allure is purer, and less understood. It flows from its open-minded residents, and the attitudes of the people who flock here from all corners of the world, free of inhibition and embarrassment.
I’ve met couples who visited Amsterdam on holiday specifically to live out fantasies, to leave all inhibitions behind, and do things they’d be ashamed to do at home. For some reason it all seems ok here, and that’s the real magic of the city. You can be anybody you want, try anything you desire, without fear of being judged or condemned. It’s as if everyone collectively agreed that within this city there’s simply nothing to be ashamed of.
So, yes, Amsterdam seduces you, just as those that have never been here believe. But not in the ways they imagine.
There’s so much more to this magnificent city than just sex and drugs.