Say Amsterdam to someone, and you’ll conjure up an image of many things: bongs, booze, and the infamous red-light district.
Amsterdam is synonymous with hedonism. The first time I went, I ticked all the boxes: staring contests with the ladies in the red-light district, blissful hours in the coffee shops, and dancing all night in the Liedersplein. I didn’t remember good chunks of my time there, and that’s exactly how I wanted it, thank you very much.
I’d been there, done that, gotten the T-Shirt. Literally.
A few months later, I received an email from my Dad – he had to go to Amsterdam on work, did I want to come visit? Hell yes I did! Oh, and my brother would be coming too. It was happy families all the way. Like taking my grandmother to Vegas.
So I had five days of being a proper tourist, one where I had to keep my blackouts to a minimum, and my clothes marijuana-scented free. I was going to rediscover the sights, as seen by the more sober tourist population.
The Amsterdam I discovered on this second trip had so much more to offer than the first. People were kind, thoughtful and creative – and not the Bob Marley wannabees I had imagined. The Marijuana capital of Europe was ordered, beautiful, and pretty damn charming. It’s very livable city – far more than my current home town of London. I could move there quite happily and slot into my new bike riding life.
Amsterdam is a city that has so much more to offer than simply a few Coffee Shops. The Anne Frank museum is hauntingly claustrophobic, the Van Gogh museum brings to life the story behind the tortured artists who cut off his own ear. (Quite frankly, after visiting the Van Gogh museum, I decided he was pretty much an egotistical wanker. That’s not to say he led a fascinating life and left behind some incredible paintings, but still…)
The Red Light district is an important part of Amsterdam, but it’s only a part.
Don’t get me wrong, you ABSOLUTELY have to go! Bored, texting prostitutes eyeing each other off across the narrow alleyways is nothing short of absurd. And you get a secret thrill walking past a closed curtain, knowing someone’s getting his rocks off. And the novelty condom shop? Simply brilliant. (Although I think their usability as actual condoms is somewhat limited.)
Seriously, if you were like me – the typical backpacker doing the Europe thing, following one hangover from another, I urge you revisit Amsterdam. If you’re going there for the first time, try to see past the coffee shops to the unique culture behind it.
Oh yeah, did I mention that it snowed while I was there? This was the cold snap of February 2012. The temperature was -8 in the daytime, and about -16 at night. Even wearing all my warm clothes, you could only be outside for a few minutes at a time.