4. Experience Amsterdam


Oh Amsterdam, what an incredible city. Yes it's full of pot, prostitutes and stag parties but they're all quite fascinating in their own right. Ok, maybe not the stag parties; they're hideous no matter what city you're in.

But really, Amsterdam is a beautiful place, the architecture is enchanting- each of the tall slim houses, lined up one after another, look as if they're going to topple into the canal. The picturesque arched bridges are decorated organically with bicycles, all with their Dutch-style high handlebars. And replacing the obtrusive car park we're so very used to, dedicated lock up parks are dotted around the city to stow away said bikes.

On to those aforementioned fascinating parts... Whether you visit a 'coffee shop' or not, even walking around the weed-filled streets seems to evoke a light headedness. Before you know it the streets become what my friend Siân very appropriately described as a 'real life shangri la'. Hangover cure shops with a clinician on hand to advise and mirrors suggesting that the potion decorated walls go on and on; oversized clogs lined up on the street waiting for you to play at giant; play bars with gin spiked slushies and adult sized ball pits and tiny alleys which slowly transform into full sized streets lined with women seducing their clientele from behind windows all await you.

Which leads us nicely to the red light district. What an eye opening experience, you can't help but stumble across it and once you're in it, you know it. Window after window, each with its own red lightbulb glowing (or curtain tightly drawn), and a (normally very large breasted) woman alluring their next customer. Only the windows were not windows as such, think a single French door opening directly onto the street and you've got the idea. This was a shock, I couldn't help but feel fear that a stranger literally steps off the street straight into a small room with their woman of the night. What if an aggressive group forced their way in? Reassured by the Lonely Planet informing us that a security guard and local police are always nearby, I gulped down the social norms I've become accustomed to and meandered the streets without judgement.

And that's really how Amsterdam should be done; embraced, without judgement, without reservation and sometimes slightly outside of your comfort zone.

Here are some tips on some of the most popular things to do in Amsterdam:
  1. Visit Anne Frank's house - book your tickets in advance, at least a month in advance; they sell out quickly! Unfortunately we learnt this the hard way and instead had to endure an early start and a 2 hour wait. Having said this it was without a doubt worth it. It does feel a little more like a museum than a house now. But whilst you stroll through each room you get a real feeling of heaviness, and when you remind yourself that this is actually where the Frank family hid out, it simply feels surreal. A reminder of our recent past and the devastating capabilities of humans which we can otherwise easily suppress.
  2. Take a trip through the winding canals on a boat - if you have an hour to spare, perhaps before you jump on the train back to the airport like me, this is worth the 8 euros. I hopped on one of the many tour boats which depart and return directly in front of the central station. A great opportunity to learn a bit more about the winding streets and slim houses of Amsterdam. Get a seat by a window which opens to get the best camera snaps!
  3. Stroll around the red light district - it's not some dark back alleys, it feels very much like a tourist attraction in itself. So don't be afraid to join the crowd and slowly stroll around the waiting windows. Just don't get your camera out and show the women respect not judgement.
  4. Ride a bicycle - FYI they do not have hand brakes!! My friend Claudia and I discovered this once already cycling. Initially scraping our feet to stop, we soon realised that peddling backwards activated the brake- clever, but takes some getting used to!
  5. Brace yourself and visit a sex museum - we went to the 'Sex Museum' on Damrak (next to the central station) as opposed to the slightly seedier looking 'Erotic Museum'. And it was actually quite interesting! It's set out like a normal museum, exploring sex through time. Eye opening to see what women looked like in the past compared to the expectations of today, even more eye opening to see that men look very much the same throughout time...

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