Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Amsterdam: City of Adventure and Tolerance

The city of ironies:   culture, dams, and soft drugs! 

Amsterdam, is a melting pot of diverse cultures. A "small" city but with "huge" capacities with lots  world-renowned art museums. Filled with too many tourists everyday, you can still enjoy exploring the city's small alleys and lovely canals, and being lost in the process. There is always something for everyone. Just take your pick; quiet strolls, bike (or motorbike) rides, fine art, smoking weeds, a little romance, Amsterdam has it all covered, all for you. :)

 So what should you do when you're there? What are the best lessons I learned in exploring this city? Things to do and lessons are in random order. :)

1. Just follow the throng of men and it will lead you to Red Light District! 

Amsterdam, a city built of dam around Amstel River has a long tradition of strong presence of prostitution. A harbor city, French-Belgium Jacques Brel in his classic song “Amsterdam”, describes the night in the city with women and alcohol, where sailors are the main clients. Despite moving the industrial area and shipyards in Rotterdam, the Red Light District has become a tourist atraction that every evening, tourists flock there.

But I learned something new. It’s not just red light but also blue light. Wanna know the difference? Red are for girls, while blue is for transgenders. This information was relayed to a Univeristy of Amsterdam professor  (who’s brother has a furniture shop around the area). It’s easy to know where the red lights are: just follow the throng of men. A small alley of exhibition: sex and ‘soft’ drugs especially marijuana abound. It’s okay to stare but never ever take photographs or laugh at them. Stay at the window if you’re interested with him/her. 50 euros for 15 minutes. Negotiate if you can but never make ‘tawad’/ bargain. My last night there, I was with Eder, a CouchSurfer friend and we even saw a fifty-somehting couple negotiating on the window. Just like any other business transaction. We wondered how much they'd pay.

This is the oldest profession legalized in the city. Prostitution is legal since 1830. The new law introduced in October 2000 clearly makes prostitution legal, subjecting it to the municipal regulations about the location, organization and the practice of business. The authorities try to regulate prostitution, aiming at protecting minors, eliminating forced prostitution and combating human trafficking. Any sex business must obtain from a municipality a license, certifying that it has fulfilled the legal requirements to operate.  This is to be able to register them and get social services from the city. However, it seems there's a huge 'turn-over' of the workers here. For every 1 legal worker, there are probably 9 illegal and trafficked women workers! :( The rent for the shop is also quite expensive. The rent is 300 euros every week. So what they do, two sex workers divide the rent.

As the ad says, Sex sells. And you can see it in your face here. Want to see live action? Condoms and anything about S-E-X?  It's all here!If you're with young children, better take a different route or probably, it would be a venue for sexuality education too. Your choice.

2. Know the difference between cafe and coffeshops! 
(Coffeshop photo from Cannabis-pictures.org. Picture taken was in my travel buddy's cam. )

If you want just coffee and you don't know where,  ask for café. If you want to try and be on high with the weeds (marijuana), then ask for coffeshops. Or you can just enter. And it' s everywhere. They might ask for an ID so be prepare. You must be 18 year old. The funny thing is, smoking cigarette is not allowed in coffesshops, but weed smoking isn’t. Funny people. And if you don’t smoke weeds,  you’ll still get high by just passing or walking these lanes. If it's your first try, never be shy. Ask the waiters what you want and they'll be too happy to tell you what's the differences on their menu.

To complete the experience, visit also the Hash Marijuana and Hemp Museum! Have fun taking your photos on their booth, it's for free! :) Sadly, the photo template for the woman has too small face, and my chubby cheeks would not fit! ugh!

3. People here generally, are very silent. Even their dogs! And even the kids! 

I mean, owners can bring their dogs and kids on the train. Everywhere. Dogs doesn’t bark and the kid’s playground, I seemed not to hear cries. They are not so stressed so they do not express their feelings? Has the pets been so integrated with the people that they no longer know how bark? haha!

4. When strolling, watch out for bikes and dog poops

5. Bikes are the main transportation.

I find it also cute when children are in front of the bikes. We have our ‘bote bakal’ bicycle, here it’s the daily transportation for the family especially for little children. 

6.  Try the B. van der Linde Ice Cream. 
 One of the best, creamiest ice cream. Despite the cold weather, it never stopped me to lick a whole cone. Not recommended for people on diet and thinking of slim waists! 

7.  If you want to see more and save up, you can opt to buy the I AMsterdam City card.

The cost depends on how many hours you plan to explore the city.
8. Never forget the Canal Cruise! 
Holland International Cruise with multilingual audio tour- Dutch, English, Spanish, and Japanes.

Starting point of the tour just across the Centraal Station.
dams, old building, dams and old buildings. :)

The Eye. A film institute that will open on April 2012!

Science Center Nemo shaped like a ship. One of the best museums for kids and kids at heart! :)

Looking at Seven dikes :)
All buildings have hoist. During 1950s this is used for pullling mechandise up to the top floor. Due to space saving, Stairs are every narrow and it's difficult to move big furniture or bulks of merchandise. The solution? Bring it through the window through a hoist! :)

You can either take the morning or evening tour. Or even a dinner cruise with your lover. Through the canal cruise, you get to see many of the best sites in Amsterdam while relaxing on a great boat ride. The canals are more than 100 km long and are bridged by at least 1500 bridges. They were dug in concentric circles around the historic center of Amsterdam in the 17th century and are lined with historic well-preserved buildings that are famous for their gabled roofs. The tour takes around 1 hour. 

9. Sit for a while and enjoy the revelry at the Dam Square!

The Royal Palace

Remember, remember, the fifth of November!    
                                                                                                 The Niewe Kerk (New Church)

Dam Square is the  main square in Amsterdam and the frequent scene of many city-wide events and festivities. The Royal Palace served as the city hall from 1655 until it was converted to the royal residence in 1808. To the right of the Royal Palace is the Niewe Kerk (New Church) built in the 15th century. The Gothic style church is used for the royal coronations.

The square is a great place to do some people (especially boy) watching. haha! If you don't like crowds, this is not the place for you. But it's truly  the heart of the city and is worth a visit. 

I even witnessed a rally against budget cut on public education fund. Sadly, the tourists on group tours are even more than the protesters. :P

10. Listen and Look into Van Gogh's life story to the place dedicated for him! :)

Van Gogh Museum houses the  largest collection of Van Gogh paintings and drawings in the world. It's just across Rijksmuseum. The collections of Vincent Van Gogh's contemporaries and artists inspired by his works are also displayed. Highlights include his Bedroom in Arles and one of  his Sunflower paintings with a yellow background. Sadly, one of his famous painting, "Starry Night" was not on exhibit.

Listen and read on the exhibit's his brother Theo's love for the arts (his an art dealer) and belief on Vincent. Their  brotherhood is really inspiring. Brotherly love that surpassed all trials. :)  I wonder, what would Van Gogh think with the success of his works? (Indie) Artists' dilemma: to be known but not too known. 
And just outside the museum is a large park where you'll find vendors selling sunflower cookies, other replica of the paintings, souvenir items and hot drinks to warm yourself.

11.  Be inspired and reminisce Anne Frank's life in hiding during the Nazi occupation. 
“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. As longs as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances may be. And I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.”  ~ Anneliese Marie Frank, aka. Anne Frank
Anne Frank monument at the church near their hiding place
Anne Frank monument in Utrecht

The author of a diary who wished to be a well-known writer. She got her wish, albeit posthumously. She is the face of the millions of victims during the Nazi occupation. 263 Prinsengracht was the hiding place of ,Anne, her family, and four others. A small 500 square foot rear room of this canal-side home which was hidden behind a bookcase. They hid and lived in the  small room for just over two years at which point ( A telephone call to the Nazi army) they were found and taken to concentration camps. All of the people in hiding died, expect Otto Frank, Anne's father. Otto got her daugter's diaries and talked to various publishers to share his daughter's thoughts at staying in the 'Secret Annexe'.  However, due to the delicate material of the original works, only facsimile displayed in the museum. 

Note: The line for the Anne Frank House never stops so try to try to visit early in the morning or late in the afternoon/early evening. Visit the official website for opening hours and visiting regulations.

12. Climate Change and house boats! 

Climate change and increasing water level- these are two important matter to this huge delta and to archipelagos. Mitigation and adaptation mechanisms are needed. We might need new houses, not really 'new' but we need a house that will float in the future Waterworld! To get a glimpse of living in houseboats, go to Houseboat Museum. It's  located just across Anne Frank's house and see how the people in hosueboats lived. Unlike some misconception, houseboat living is not primitive, yaknow! And you'll be amazed, that up to 4 families can actually live in houseboats before! So Dutch people are not yet that tall before. :) 

To know more about the house boat, you can visit its official website.  

Kid's corner at the boat! :)
scale model of the boat museum

13. For a happy feeling. visit the Tulip Museum. If it's spring or Summer, visit the Flower fields! :)

The museum is also across Anne Frank's house. :) To maximize my city card, I took all the museums  first before lining up to Anne Frank's house.

14. Never leave the country without trying the bike! :)

 Netherlands has one of  the best cycle lanes in the world, so explore the city's nook and cranny with a bike.  I never biked in the city (it's quite expensive! hehe) but I tried it in Wageningen. :) And the country's quite flat so you'll have no hard time finding your balance. The narrow streets, canal layout and expensive parking fees make it a home to average of 350,00 bikes used daily (2011 statistics, Amsterdam museum).  

There are lots of bike rental shops so pick up one or better yet, met a local and borrow his/her spare bike (For Asians, borrow from an Asian too! You don't want to have a hard time reaching the pedals, right?) :D 

15. Drink Up! 

Try the pubs that brew their own beers. There are around 1,200 in the city so you have more than your fill. Take a look at their wide array of beer choices and taste everything! 

You can also take a tour at Heineken brewery (Stadshouderkade 78) to see how the famous beer is produced. If you just like small alcohol content, you can try Ciney and  Bellevue Beer  for a sweet after taste.
16. Engage your taste buds!
What is traveling without trying the food of the locality? :)  Here try their various specialties. 
Photos from VisitHolland.com 
Poffertjes small "pancakes" with confectioners' sugar
Cheese. and lots of cheese! Try especially Chili Cheese!
Choco-vanilla Vla
 17. Have a good comfy shoes/boots for walking. You'll have lots of walking to do! :)
 18.  Take the public transportation. 
Take the tram, the train, bus and metro. Take note of the time of arrival and departure. You can always check online. Or better yet, just take any tram and be prepared to be lost! It's more fun that way! :) Oh, better get the Anonymous OV-Chipkaart or local transpo card at GVB (one of the biggest public transpo company). You need to 'swipe' it when boarding and taking off from the transpo. 
  19. Smile and document your travel. Use your charm.
It's always better to have a good photographer company. But if you're forced or would want to take a solo trip, you can always use your  charm. Smile sweetly and ask a fellow tourist or some random people to take your picture. A handy digicam is still the best way for this. 
  20. Befriend a local. Or anyone. Listen to their stories! :)
Your travel will be more enriching.. In this world full of people, making friends along the road will make your travel more memorable. Chance encounters. New friendships. You have nothing to lose, except saliva.
There still so many things you'll see.. and lessons you'll learn depending on how you will live up to the experience. 
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. ~ Mark Twain


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