Heineken, clogs, bikes, and red lights in Amsterdam
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To set the record straight from the very start, Amsterdam is much more of a city than the casual drug policies and legalized prostitution for which it is so infamous. The entire scene of the Red Light District of course adds to the gem that is Amsterdam, but it is only once slice of the entire pie, so to speak.
If I were to call Ljubljana, Slovenia the “Venice of the Balkans”, then Amsterdam could equally be coined the “Venice of the North” due to its concentric canal system running throughout the city center. While not “floating” in the same way Venice is, the intricate canal system makes for quaint “waterfront” strolls and some of Europe’s best people-watching. Along our stroll down the canals, a man was floating down the canal in a canoe tricked out to be a one-man band whilst standing in the canoe blaring on a trumpet. Upon reaching a bridge, the floating musician would extend a long pole with a clog firmly fixed to the end, where colorful Euros were to be deposited for the aquatic concert. It was classically Dutch and entertaining to say the least.
Aside from all the night time debauchery, arguably the most-famous and historically significant site in all of Amsterdam is the Anne Frank House, home to the young girl who was tragically taken by the Nazis mere weeks before the end of the war after being in hiding for so many months. Standing in the exact room where Anne Frank hid every night only to be stripped of her hiding place–and eventually her life–is an immensely powerful experience that drew the open tears of many people taking the tour. This is an absolute must for any living soul choosing to visit the city.
While many consider Paris to be the art capital of Europe, Amsterdam retains its fair share of artistic delicacies, notably highlighted by the inspirational Van Gogh Museum. Many other museums and galleries dot the canal-lined streets, however just like Paris, it would take an overwhelming amount of time to try and hit them all.
One touristy highlight in the city worthy of a visit is the Heineken Experience Brewery Tour, which is more of a tourist trap than an actual brewery tour. Interactive games and features line the tour path, but most importantly, 2 free Heinekens are included with the price of admission, so it’s a good place to start the evening off.
And of course, no visit to Amsterdam would be complete without a tour of the Red Light District. While I did not partake in a “coffeehouse” (weed bar), “happy house” (mushroom bar) or brothel, it is all in your face, along with endless sex shops around every corner. The strangest part to me was the brothels. It reminded me exactly of shoe shopping. The customer walks the street where girls stand scantily clad behind glass doors, and when you’ve selected the girl of your choice, you simply open the glass door, enter, and a blind is drawn. It, literally, is window shopping. Even though I was well intoxicated from all of the bars in the area, I could still recognize the strangeness of the entire situation.
The following day we shook off our hangovers and decided to leave the confines of the city on a lengthy bike ride down the banks of the Amstel River. Heading southeast and keeping the water on our right, the fast-pace of the city melted away with each pedal. Taking its place instead were open pasturelands and the distant cries of the crowds watching the rowing races on the river. Windmills began springing up from all corners, and the entirety of the countryside of the Netherlands lay out on the horizon before us. If only I could have kept going…
On the ride back towards the city, we stopped in for some souvenir shopping at the Clara Maria clog and cheese factory set in the backyard of a Dutch family’s home. Usuallyopen for tours, they said they rarely have walk-in guests arrive on bicycles. Walking around a barn, eating smoked cheese and shopping for handpainted clogs with a jolly old Dutch woman after a long bikeride in the country seemed to be the perfect end to the first of what I am sure will be many forays into the great nation of Holland.