We are from Nederland, Colorado. NOT to be confused with THE NEATHERLANDS (the country). No, NEDERLAND, the town.Being from Nederland, we get inquisitive looks when we tell strangers the name of our hometown (“You’re from another country?” clearly flashes across their faces). Being from Colorado, we pretty regularly get asked about the marijuana laws and how we feel about them. We have a pretty standard answer of “it’s really good for the economy,” which wards off most inquisitive questioners. We of course have other opinions, which I do not really want to share on the Internet, but being from a state (and more specifically a town, again, called Nederland) where marijuana is more than accepted, we feel pretty open and comfortable with pot and the smoking of pot. While we are not smokers ourselves, we did grow up in a town (and later went to a University) where it is a normal part of life. Still, despite this open-minded attitude, we were still a little shocked by Amsterdam and how liberal and forward thinking it is (or was…) as a city (more on the “was” later). Pot, prostitutes, street art, canals, cheese, bicycles, Amsterdam!
Our Airbnb was out on an island (Haveneiland West), about 20-minutes tram ride outside the main part of the city, and was beautiful. We had a balcony that overlooked the water, and after our bus ride from Bruges all we wanted to do was relax in our gorgeous “home.” The next morning we headed out to the city for a free tour in the morning and an afternoon reading in Vondelpark. Our free tour took us around the old part of the city, over canals, down artsy streets, and past really interesting (and unstable looking) houses. We learned about how the houses are taxed based their width, which is why so many are so narrow (but so tall). There are a few that are barely 3 feet wide! A lot of them look like they are about to fall over, some of them because they were actually built angled out father than normal buildings in order to help get the furniture in the window (via a pulley system).
One of my favorite parts of the tour was visiting a street covered in art and inhabited by “squatters.” These “squatters” do not pay to live in their homes, but in Amsterdam people can live in any building that has been abandoned for longer than a year. Some of these people have been living in these buildings for 30 or more years, and the city has historically accepted their homes, but now they are trying to evict the occupants so that the city can knock down the old buildings and replace them with new, modern ones. Other tourists on the tour were so confused about why the city would let the squatters live there in the first place, but I think it is a beautiful thing to let people who have no homes live in buildings that no one is using. The community these “squatters” have built is modern day Bohemian and is amazing to look at; especially because many of them are painted with fanciful and beautiful murals.
At another stop we learned about how the marijuana laws work in the city. We learned how marijuana is technically illegal to sell or buy, but it is considered a “soft drug” and the city had adopted a “policy of tolerance” in which smoking in the “coffee shops” (not to be confused with cafes, where you can not get marijuana) is accepted**. After a morning of walking around the city, dodging the thousands of whizzing bicycle and confused tourists, we were happy to take a few hours to read in the park before taking a boat ride down the canal. The boat ride was honestly overpriced and pretty boring, and I don’t think we would pay to go again, but we did motor past pretty houseboats and really cool bicycle garages (one of them holds over 5000!).
We ended our first day with a free tour of the Red Light District where we learned about the prostitution laws in the city. The women must get a business license to legally work in the windows, and they are protected by the police force that patrols the district. The windows are rented in 8-hour time periods (versus weekly or monthly) and the windows on the main streets are actually less desirable than the ones down smaller streets (smaller streets are more discreet for the customers). I could not get over how “regular” people live and work above or next-door to rooms where women are selling themselves in 15-minute increments. There is even a kindergarten in the district!
We saw A LOT on our first day, so we took the whole next day to recuperate. We are feeling tired of planning and pushing through crowds and our finances are not looking great (we have been over budget since Morocco), so days spent reading and relaxing help keep us happy in this final stretch of our 7-month trip.
On our third and final day in Amsterdam we were supposed to take the train to the nearby town of Delft to meet up with a couple we had met in Morocco. He is from New Zealand and she is American, but they are living in Delft as he finishes his graduate degree. Unfortunately, we were having one of those travel days where everything was going wrong, so we never made it to Delft. Instead we settled onto the grass in Vondelpark and spent hours reading in the sunshine.
Since we saved money by not going to Delft we decided to splurge a little on lunch and scratch our sushi itch. We found an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant and feasted on as much raw fish as our bodies could handle. I really wanted to go to the Van Gogh museum, but Logan hates Van Gogh, so for the first time in almost four months, we went our separate ways for a few hours. I headed to the museum, while Logan headed back to our room to work on the paper is presenting at a conference when we get back. I really liked the Van Gogh museum, but for an entrance price of 15 euros, you really have to like Van Gogh to make it feel worth it.
Amsterdam is truly like nowhere we have been. The Red Light District, the coffee shops, the canals and the fact that there are more bikes than cars make this city so different than other European capitals. The Dutch are so forward thinking and really seem to enjoy life. I loved seeing families enjoying their Saturday on the family boat or sharing drinks with friends while puttering down the canals. We really only had one ”touristy” day, but that was plenty. It was wonderful to slow down, read in the park, and hang out in a beautiful apartment with a nice view.
**Note: We did not partake in the coffee shop scene in Amsterdam.