Saturday, January 22, 2011

Amsterdam Four Decades Later

A Study in Irony

The last time I visited Amsterdam it was part of a student tour when I graduated from high school. That was a long, long, long time ago.

Despite the many intervening years I remember a lot from that visit. Our group had just come from London where everyone seemed to be kind but a bit stiff and in a big hurry.

In Amsterdam people were also in a hurry but they were very welcoming and freely offered big genuine smiles. Besides being in a hurry, it was clear that the Dutch were hard workers. In a country where over 50% of its land is below sea level, these people wage a centuries-old battle against the sea itself. Despite global warming they are still winning.

I remember the Dutch were trim and bi-lingual. The canals were picturesque and the whole concept of the red-light district, well that was just plain odd.

There were lots and lots of tulips and Rembrandt's Night Watch was showcased in the Rijksmuseum.

Now upon my return I find Amsterdam to be the ultimate city of contrasts. It is more diverse and its people are still tolerant and work hard. They are still in a hurry (getting wherever they are going on bicycles.) They still smile and they speak lots of languages. They speak English somewhat better than most Americans I know.

Amsterdam is still filled with wonderful architecture, great food and world class art.

The red lights are still on (they are now sustainably fluorescent) and there are casino's and nightclubs.  "Coffee" shops are where you now go to buy and consume dope. "Smart" shops are where you buy and imbibe in mushrooms. In a truly perfect example of Dutch irony, it is illegal to smoke cigarettes indoors in public places, so you can smoke dope, but not cigarettes. In fact, these shops have to offer non-smoking refuges for their employees.

Amsterdam is like Madrid, it never sleeps. The Friday night post-bar traffic jams resulted in honking horns outside our Marriott windows until about 3 AM. Trust me, I know.

So we fought back. We just slept in. 

When we finally rousted we realized we were lucky, our January day, while a bit grey, was without rain. So we took a long walk to the Flower Market, went window shopping (with seemingly everyone else in Amsterdam,) and took a canal cruise.

The Amsterdam I saw today now seems sort of like Europe's version of Las Vegas. American's go to Nevada to drink (to excess), take in a show, and gamble. Amsterdam now seems to be where the world's college kids go to party and get stupid.

Canal Cruise Boat 

The Boats Offer Comfy Warm Winter Sightseeing

Despite Being Winter the Flower Market Blooms

Lots and Lots of Bicycles

No Problems Eating Well.......

Or Drinking
(Including the Stuff You Can't Drink at Home)

There is Lots of Cheese!

400 Year Old Buildings Resting on Wooden Pilings 
A Prescription For a Bit of Sagging

The Gateway to the Red Light District
(Couldn't Help But Notice The "Jesus Loves You" Sign is in English....)

And Did I Mention That There Are Lots of Diamonds Here?
There Are. 

Tomorrow we take a bicycle tour with our old friend Mike's Bikes (I think these are the same folks we toured Paris with many years ago.)

Maybe a trip to a Indonesian Rice Table restaurant for dinner!

All the best from lovely, amazing, ironic Amsterdam!

Roadboy's Travels © 2011

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