The Dutch in Amsterdam have come up with a splendid cultural mix and strewn it around the city streets and along the banks of their lovely canals.
Yes, Amsterdam is truly amazing and full of wonderful things: people, trams, bicycles and 50 euro shags.
And coffee shops.
Our main reason for visiting Amsterdam was to soak up enough culture to carry us through a Caribbean winter, so we spent much of our time with Van Gogh and Monet. To tour the city, we purchased two 60 Euro ‘I amsterdam’ passes, which gave us free access to many of the museums and art galleries and a boat tour of the canals. They also gave us free travel on the trams although they drew the line at a freebie in the Red Light district.
We stayed in a pleasant second floor apartment in a traditional building overlooking a canal. The apartment is owned by Hans and Floor, two delightful people who scatter smiley faces throughout their very easy-going book of rules. The apartment was warm and homely and we recommend it highly to anyone looking for accommodation in Amsterdam. There are smashing restaurants nearby and the tram into the city center is just a few minutes’ walk away.
We did two canal trips and by far the best was at night. People in Amsterdam don’t close their curtains; it adds a whole new dimension to city life. We went with the ‘Blue Boat’ company who also do a dinner cruise.
The most dangerous thing about Amsterdam is the cyclists who have their own path along both sides of the road. Scooters also use these paths. It takes all your concentration not to step into the bike lane mistaking it for an extension to the footpath. We had several near-death experiences.
I was fascinated by the bicycles; millions of them line the streets. Many are padlocked but an equal number are not and I wondered how many are stolen each year. In places the bikes are stacked ten deep against the canal-side railings. The tires on some are flat, the paint gone, and you can see they have been there for years, forgotten and abandoned by their owners. The bicycles add romance to an already emotionally charged city.
Although the trams are a quick way to get from one area of the city to another, the best way to explore Amsterdam is on foot and all streets eventually lead to the Red Light district.
We entered the pleasure zone like naughty schoolboys searching under father’s bed for a ‘dirty’ magazine … (Well, I did. My wife swears she didn’t do the magazine thing.) But nothing prepared me for the open way the Dutch in Amsterdam sell sex. The first thing we came across was the sex shows—live sex on stage. Then there were the sex shops and the two Euro peep shows. Our map, and I’m not kidding, said the ladies offered tourists a shag for 50 Euros, so off we went in search of them.
And they weren’t difficult to find, however, my first encounter came as a shock and this is so typical of Amsterdam. We were strolling along looking in the usual type of city shop windows when we came to one that was far from usual because there, behind the glass, was the stunning figure of a woman naked but for thigh-length leather boots, a tiny G-string and a platform bra that thrust out a magnificent pair of breasts.
She wiggled, shook a main of auburn hair and smiled at me. I asked my wife for 50 Euros (only kidding).
In the next window a willow blond wearing naught but tiny pink knickers, matching bra and killer stiletto heels turned her million watt smile in my direction. (I was now thinking of mugging someone for 50 Euros!).
More windows, more gorgeous girls.
At widows where the curtain was closed, we knew the girls were doing the business. By the number of closed curtains, business was good … and it was only early evening.
A noisy group of drunks staggered by, the guys fortifying themselves before making their move ... and suddenly the night lost a bit of its magic.
I don’t know what I expected, probably raddled old crones with saggy bits, but the women were gorgeous and at the sight of the cruising drunks soon to be clients, my lust began to ebb, forced down—so to speak—by a creeping feeling of melancholia.
Thoughts of visiting a sex show to see what it was like also cooled, and that’s not good for a journalist with an enquiring mind, is it? Before visiting Amsterdam, the thought of seeing a live sex show was incredibly exciting and I’ve never had a problem with pornography. So why, suddenly, did I feel sleazy? I felt even worse about watching a 2 euro peep show!
The working girls of Amsterdam, certainly the ones displaying themselves in the shop windows of the Red Light district, are protected and prostitution is legal. They pay taxes and have regular medical checkups. They even offer you a receipt so that on return to your own country, you can reclaim the VAT as a business expense (try explaining that to your wife or accountant).
The behavior of the sharks cruising the Red Light District made me feel uncomfortable. Obviously they were too embarrassed to visit a girl without first tanking up on strong drink. We’re they clean, deranged? Would they keep their socks on? I wondered what the girls thought as they watched them go by knowing they could be the next client.
I don’t feel sorry for the prostitutes of Amsterdam; after all it’s their choice. I did, however, gain a feeling of respect and came away from the Red Light district richer by far than when I went in.
My mates think I’m getting old. My wife says she loves me.