Amsterdam

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I know I said I’d have a part two for my hike last week, but time is really flying by over here. (Ask me in person if you were dying to hear the end of that story).

I’ll just start by saying that it’s interesting to compare the sharp contrast between the advertised facade of a city and its actual likeness. There’s no point of me delving into what Amsterdam is depicted as, especially when targeted to a younger population. But I will say a few things on those topics; legal prostitution and legal drugs. One thing is done more casually (or subtly) than the other. From what I could tell after eating in a local cafe outside of the tourist traps, marijuana is a part of the Dutch lifestyle. It’s hard for an American (maybe not so much now with Colorado’s legalization) to see drug use aside from fringe behaviour.  But try, if you can, imagining yourself as Dutch. You’re fairly well-educated, multi-lingual, and have an awareness that your Amsterdam home attracts a large tourist population because certain activities are legal. You don’t live near any of the touristy spots of town. You don’t binge on substances (like other cultures typically do without hesitation).

Here is Central Station sitting across from the equivalent of NYC's Time Square. Behind it is the IJ. Beautiful architecture was certainly the theme this weekend.
Here is Central Station sitting across from the equivalent of NYC’s Time Square. Behind it is the IJ. Beautiful architecture was certainly the theme this weekend.

While eating in a crammed sandwich shop, my friend and I listened to the outgoing owner going back and forth between English and Dutch. His shop was tiny, but within the 30 minutes I was there, you could get a sense of a more genuine Dutch culture from his interactions with his patrons. He knew everyone that was in his shop, except for me and my friend. But that didn’t stop him from joking with us in his well-polished English. As well as being outwardly educated, Holland is noticeably ethnic;  “Asians” and “blacks” gathered in this luncheonette and were also regularly interchanging between Dutch and English.  One of the younger patrons asked what the owner was doing later to which he replied, “Smoking some weed and staying in.” I wasn’t surprised at this, but the scene certainly presented me with a foreign culture that was different from Ireland and America. Lax laws and small, intercity businesses make for a brighter population.

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This is the National Monument that was built in 1956 to commemorate the dead of WW2. The street to the right (behind the tree) is where our hostel was. To the left is Dam Square.

But Amsterdam didn’t end up like that by chance. I went to the Rijksmuseum and saw Holland through its historically rich art. For anyone that doesn’t remember their European history, the Netherlands dominated the trade scene throughout the colonial period. As a result of being progressive then, combined with struggles with Spain and the Holy Roman Empire, the country continues to be forward-thinking. Yes, this means legal drugs and prostitution, but the locals in Amsterdam were really into venerating the art. The museum was beautiful and packed full of Dutch and foreigners. (Dutch is distinctly audible; something like a cross between French and German. So I could quickly tell who I was standing next to, if their height or garb didn’t give them away. There were some tall individuals in that town…)

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One of the three, earlier canals of Amsterdam’s Grachtengordel. The 17th-century canal ring area, including the Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht, Herengracht and Jordaan. The Herengracht is the nicest; literally means “patrician’s canal.” (Gracht=canal, lake). Initially, depending on what inner loop of canals you lived between was associated with your social status. The further outside of the city centre you lived, the poorer you were.

But that still brings us to the fact that prostitution exists there. I feel like there is a bit of yin yang thing going on. If Holland is able to thrive so well culturally, it has to be fueled by something. I think that any town would benefit from tourism’s added spending. So combine that generic business mentality with the aforementioned, distinctly Dutch progressivism, and you end up with legal prostitution. However, whilst walking through the Red Light District, you can quickly tell that the whole prostitution shtick is a tourist trap. The way things are advertised and presented in those couple of blocks was very different than a couple streets away.  As amoral as it may sound, my hat is off to Amsterdam in the strictest economic sense. There was visibly a huge population of males, ages 16-30 that walked through that section and Holland prospers from it. (But not exclusively). The last thing I’ll say about this is that it was odd to see locals living above or across from the rooms with “red lights” over them. I guess I didn’t personally internalize how that would work out on a daily basis. But for the most part, that area was a tourist destination, not a residential area. I still think the local Dutch were distanced from that.

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From Central Station looking at the Church of St. Nicholas.

I went on a canal tour and saw the city from a unique perspective. The Dutch really dominate water; traversing it, controlling it, utilizing it. The Dutch East/West Indies Companies traversed oceans for trade. Amsterdam was built by damming and dredging the Amstel River (hence the city’s name). And to this day, there are certain parts of the city that are below sea level, which is an incredible feat considering the IJ Lake, canals, and river all have to be monitored to avoid flooding. The IJ (pronounced kind of like ‘ay’) was originally a bay. I can’t remember how much of the city now sits on dammed, artificial land but it’s more than half. Another fun fact is that there is an estimated 1.6 million bikes in the city. That’s more bikes than people. (I don’t know how that compares to Portland, Oregon, but there are separate road/paths for bikes and mopeds. It was wild to cross a street because you never remember to check for bikes, only for cars).

Here I am with the bikes, canals, and beautiful architecture!
Here I am with the bikes, canals, and beautiful architecture!

If anyone wants to hear more about my time here (or in Ireland), please feel free to comment below. I can email anyone if they’re interested. I would also love to hear any travel suggestions or photo destinations as Cork, Ireland is on my itinerary for this upcoming weekend.

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