The vices of Amsterdam

About the coffee shops…well, they can certainly be a fun part of the experience. You cannot buy alcohol in the same place that you buy marijuana or hash. And, in general, you cannot smoke marijuana in a bar (but you can sure smoke cigarettes, ugh). The idea, I assume, is to protect all the holiday smokers from a nasty combination (and the other patrons from the stupid behavior of f*ed up weekend warriors). Folks – you just don’t want to go smoke an entire joint after drinking beer all night – you won’t have a good experience. But most of the shops we saw in the red light district generally had stupidly stoned tourists slumped in chairs. I won’t judge but its seems to me that experiencing your holiday half-asleep inside a bar is not the way to go. Yet we western tourists do it all the time (an not just in Amsterdam – on many of our holiday trips). On a related note, the Netherlands outlawed the sale of “magic mushrooms” while I was there (Oct 31 was the last day to buy in Smart Shops) – sadly one too many tourist jumped naked into a canal.

Anyway, the neighborhood coffee shops were very low-key, with people stopping in for a bit and socializing, then moving on. I was told – although I have no facts – that only 4% of Dutch-born residents actually use marijuana. It is true that people in coffee shops seemed to be tourists and expat-types, although I suspect a lot of residents just take it home. I found the whole thing to be very civilized and clearly the way to go. In the Netherlands, perfectly respectable and responsible adults can purchase small amounts of a soft drug for personal use. It’s monitored, it’s regulated, it’s taxed. I won’t dwell on this but our government is wasting our money by including soft drugs in the (losing) war on drugs.

Loving Amsterdam

(note that I wrote this while in The Netherlands but I never published it…not sure why. I’m trying to upload photos but am having technical difficulties)

I love the Netherlands. I love the place and I love the people. They are stylish but practical; helpful, friendly and open; bright with a sharp wit – I like the whole package and most of the things they do just make sense to me. It’s true that Amsterdam was cold and often gray, but I felt so happy and at home. Paige says maybe I was just rebounding from Paris, but I don’t think so. I was supposed to be there 3 days but I stayed almost 2 weeks.

We had a great little hotel on the edge of the Jordaan, overlooking a canal. We pretty much spent our days strolling along the canals and soaking in the everyday scenes. Our first night there, we met a woman from England who was traveling by herself. The three of us hit the red light district right off to get it out of the way. There really are red lights everywhere, by the way. If you’ve been, maybe you were as surprised as I was by the literal name. It was a Sunday so it was fine and fun…picking out dildos for each other, staring at women in the windows, gawking at the coffeeshops and what not ;-)~ After that, we had no use for that part of town. It is really a small section of the city and quite easy to avoid if you don’t stay there.

I’m going to post a separate post on the vices of Amsterdam cuz I know you are all interested in that, heh heh.

We visited the Anne Frank house and the Van Gogh museum. We shopped in some street markets and ate in cafes, where I had constant cute-attacks watching the Dutch on their bikes. I cannot even explain how adorable they are. I realize that sounds somewhat patronizing and it’s not really the word I want to use, but its what comes to mind. They ride their bikes EVERYWHERE, with anything and everything strapped to their backs. There are hundreds of bikes – way more bikes than cars – and a thick stream of bikes rush hour! Parents ride babies on the front and older kids on the back. And the best thing is that, when they go on dates, Dutch boys pedal the girls riding side-saddle on the back. And when it rains, she holds the umbrella over them! I’m sorry but it’s just too damn cute.

One night, our friend Amy’s friend Shimon met us for beers at a Belguim brewhouse (mmmmm finally hearty brews). He just finished up his PhD at UT Austin and moved to Amsterdam to be a professor at U of A this fall.

After Paige and Rachel both left Amsterdam, I decided to stay on for a few more days. I basically continued to wander and soak it all in. I saw a couple movies, read a lot, people-watched a lot. On Friday night, I met Shimon and some colleagues for dinner, drinks and some late-night kick-ass jazz. Of course, they all had bikes so he rode me on the back of his. I must say that 2 Americans weaving through the streets of Amsterdam was probably quite a sight! But we didn’t crash. We improved throughout the night and I had a blast!

The next night, everywhere in town was booked up. Its already a popular and expensive place to stay on weekends, but the ING marathon was Sunday and there was a huge electronic music festival all weekend. (note: I should mention that there is A LOT of good music coming through the city. In fact, the South Austin Jug Band and Dale Watson both played there the week before I arrived. And Nick Lowe was playing the day after I left. ) Anyway, there were no reasonable rooms or hostels beds, so I headed about 45 minutes out of town to a beach town called Noordwjick for some more beach fun.