On the ‘Official language sexiness scale’ French sits firmly in the sexy end, closely followed by Elvish (it’s a real language ok), then Italian and the rest of them fit in one behind each other seamlessly all the way through the full spectrum of human languages until we finally get to the end of the list, firmly in the un-sexy area we discover Dutch… A language about as sexy as Gold Member was in Austin powers 3… Don’t get me wrong, I love the Dutch people, The Netherlands, the culture and of course the coffee shops. The people are also amazingly friendly (not to mention that everyone’s really good looking), but god damn.. that language sounds rough!
It’s kind of like German but with an extra special phlegmy twist which has the unfortunate bonus of making a Dutch speaking person sound a bit like a native German speaker with something large, wet and uncomfortable in their throat that they’re desperately trying to get out.
Still you’ve really just gone full-retard if the language holds you back from enjoying your time in the beautiful Netherlands. One of the more famous European countries, notorious for it’s liberal tolerance towards ‘The Thinking Man’s Tobacco’ (among other drugs) and prostitution as well as, the less controversial windmills, canals, bikes and pancakes.
Ok so let’s lay all our cards on the table, Amsterdam is a tourist hotspot for many reasons, the foremost of which could be argued as being their liberal approach to drugs. While actually technically illegal, Marijuana is tolerated as the Dutch government (despite international tension in recent years) have deemed the tolerance of some recreational drug use a far better option than the associated costs (misery and money) of their enforcement. – A stance I personally agree with for a number of reasons that I won’t get into here. Anyway long story short ‘The Devils Cabbage’ is widely available in the city from any of the many ‘Coffee Shops’ that dot the old and bustling canals.
One downside to these liberal drug laws is simply that Amsterdam attracts a large number of dickheads that just want to.. and I quote an Australian tourist I overhead getting off the bus that we arrived on “Let’s get fucked up bitches!!”… Luckily for if you’re an Amsterdam local, not everyone who visits the cultural capital of The Netherlands is this irritating but the major tourist areas of the city do seem to display a high volume of douchebags along with the full range of tacky tourist shops. Look, I love a party animal as much as the next person but if this isn’t all you want to do then I’d recommend exploring a little further afoot, Amsterdam has so much to offer if you’re willing to explore a little.
There are so many great tucked away little Coffee Shops and bars just off the beaten tourist track that really make the city an interesting place to get to know, even if you do want to spend the majority of your time indoors at the good end of a professionally rolled joint. Just a note that Coffeshops and bars are separate, you can’t buy pot in a bar or alcohol in a Coffeeshop.
Just under a quarter of the country lies below sea level (21%) so with such a massive amount of land lying below the ocean this does mean that despite the liberal marijuana laws a good chunk of the country are at all time, far from high.. da da dum ching. In all seriousness the Netherlands have been fighting a consistent battle with the sea since the area was first settled around the time of the Roman Empire in the early Middle Ages. Some notable natural disasters echo down down through history like the infamous storm of 1134 which pushed so much of the sea inland that the Archipelago of Zealand was actually created as a result.
With so much to offer, Amsterdam has to be without a doubt one of my favourite European cities, Coffeshops aside there’s no denying that the city itself is just beautiful. During the warmer summer months leafy trees hang over quaint streets while locals pedal their bikes around the canals. In winter the canals freeze and the city becomes a gleaming winter playground dusted with snow and ice. It’s basically a photographers dream location no matter when you’re there.
My Top 5 Attractions in Amsterdam
So what’s there to do? Lot’s actually, here’s my top 5 can’t miss list of attractions in Amsterdam (this of course is just the beginning, but if you only have 2 days or so..)
1) Get your hands on a bike: When in Rome.. you can’t see Amsterdam without a bike in my opinion, it extends your reach and gives you the flexibility to go anywhere you like around the city and pretty quickly too. Not only this but Amsterdam was literally designed for bikes, you’ll find established bike paths as frequent as footpaths, complete with bike traffic lights and everything. On that point, Amsterdam locals all have ‘mad bike skills’ so prepare to be schooled by little old ladies born in the saddle Mongol style.
2) Coffeeshops: Let’s not dance around the issue, you can smoke pot here without any fear of getting in trouble with the law so if anyone is a bit squeamish about the repercussions of the drug wherever you’re from, go nuts here. I find that most of the best coffee shops are not in the tourist centres of the city (IMHO) but are pretty well tucked away and a bit harder to find. Depending on what sort of vibe feels right to you the world is your oyster. Prices also increase based on proximity to tourists. – Just a note, while the Netherlands turn a blind eye to soft drugs like marijuana, its neighbours do not; so trying to smuggle out that cheeky ounce of green you bought in your enthusiasm on day 1 via your train to Germany or Italy may result in you getting caught by the regular sniffer dogs used to police the borders… Best not to risk it in in my opinion.
3) Floating Flower market: The only one in the city.. in fact the only one in the world. I found it to be well worth a quick visit given its uniqueness and Holland’s historical infatuation with tulips. A word of advice, in mock imitation of the infamous tulip bubble of the mid-17th century, tulip bulb prices at the market are somewhat elevated.. so as one of the local tour guides I met told me, ‘go to the markets, check them out, admire the flowers then go online and buy your tulips at about 10% of the price… ‘ well done sir, well done.
4) Red Light District: You can’t go to Amsterdam and not check out its world famous red light district. Called Rosse Buurt to locals or The Wallen, the area contains far more than the recognisable Amsterdam glass windows or sex shops (of which there are of course, plenty) but some fantastic pubs, restaurants as well as a good selection of interesting shops. While it can be a little seedy at times, but it pretty safe and is still a must see. The Wallen is also built on some of the nicest and oldest canals in the city so take your camera but…. DO NOT take photos of the girls in the windows, it’s not a zoo and the girls are just doing their job (a job they’ve chosen to do). Trust me, taking a photo of them will seriously piss them off, which may be enough to chase you down the street, pull your camera off your shoulder and either smash it on the ground or throw it in the canal (not even kidding it happens way more than you think).
5) The Canals: A pretty obvious one really, considering you can’t really miss them. The 165 canals encircle the city and are connected by bridges that range from large modern steel things all the way down to tiny quaint little stone bridges that are only big enough to walk or ride across. One of the most picturesque of all the cities’ canals is Prinsengracht, lined by leafy trees and dotted with houseboats; it makes for some beautiful photos. There are various canal tours you can do from the water also, personally I enjoy just riding around the place on a bike but seeing the city from the water does add another dimension to the experience.
I love Amsterdam, it’s without a doubt one of my favourite cities in Europe, beautiful with a rich history and a totally unique city experience, the Dutch people are fantastically friendly, I’ve found them to be some of the nicest, most helpful and welcoming in Europe and being the Netherlands, things like public transport and other public services just seem to work too which is a bonus.