A Trip to the Dam on the Amstel
Updated: May 27, 2019
I have just come back from three days in the famous city of Amsterdam. Tuesday the 15th of November was a national holiday in Belgium and my boss made it pretty clear that I also wasn't expected to come into work on the Monday, so I decided to make the most of it and plan a trip to Amsterdam. I had heard so much about it from various friends in Bristol and people I had met while travelling through Europe.
When planning this post, I considered the idea of keeping it PG13, but then I decided: fuck that. Amsterdam is the city of sex, drugs, and almost any other vice you can find. Walking through the infamous red light district felt a little like stepping in to an alternative world. I had never seen anything like it before, and while my initial reaction was one of disgust and shock, I came to realize that this kind of prostitution is about as clean and nice as the business gets. On the free walking tour the guide told us that the women are all freelance and choose their own clients, charges, and services. There are no compulsory health check-ups, but it's likely that many of the women have them done on a regular basis. In any case, it's a whole lot better than sexual slavery, which is the situation many prostitutes are in.
Amsterdam is also famous for its consumption of weed. There are over 180 "coffee shops" located all across the city where you can smoke to your heart's content. It takes a bit of getting used to, but coming from Bristol, where smoking a joint is barely, if at all, frowned upon, I soon settled in. It is on the edge of the red light district that the city feels most alive. Coffee shops, sex shops, and various tattoo parlours line the streets, and you can be pretty sure you can buy anything from almost anywhere. There are also a fair few friteries (takeway shops that predominantly sell chips) and other kinds of snack bars, though they don't stay open late enough on weekdays to provide for English girls getting the munchies at 3am. That was an unhappy half hour spent wandering across the city in search of cheap meat and chips.
Ashamedly, though, in a sense, without any shame at all, two hours after my train arrived I was in a coffee shop with four Aussies I met at the hostel. My hostel was in a very central location, just at the edge of the red light district, and so nothing was beyond a short walk. It felt bizarre to smoke in a public place, despite the fact that marijuana remains illegal in the Netherlands to this day. The hostel itself had a smoking area, along with a pool table, which led to me spending the majority of my time there. I would like to say I was successful in beating my new Aussie mates at pool, but I mostly just humiliated myself.
I had intended to go to various museums, but my trip didn't exactly turn out that way. I am a fan of Rembrandt and Van Gogh, and I had heard good things about their respective collections in Amsterdam. I was also very keen to go to the Anne Frank museum and to visit the house where she hid during German occupation. Unfortunately, many other people had the same idea, and it became evident fairly quickly that if I wanted to go to any museums I needed an online ticket. I wasn't too put out as I know I'll come back one day.
In just over a week's time I'll be heading back to the UK to visit friends at Oxford at to see my family in Bristol. I'm glad I planned this trip home, even though it's not that far into my stay in Brussels, as I do miss the familiarity of my home country. Moreover, I just can't miss the Oxford Union's final debate of term, nor the Conservative Association's final Port & Policy next Sunday. While I love the Union for its intellectual and engaging atmosphere (oh dear, I sound like I'm back on the committee), the Conservatives have their own charm. What better entertainment is there than watching right-wing public school boys desperately (and drunkenly) attempt to keep their egos intact as their arguments are torn to shreds?