Culture: A Bad Tourist’s Take on Amsterdam

Amsterdam_1Amsterdam. It’s the infamous city where prostitution and weed are legalized, the underworld yet to go under, and somewhere, between all the mayhem, sit petite bridges, charming buildings and canals.

Amsterdam_2I knew very little about the city other than it had canals (see pictured), Anne Frank lived there, you could smoke weed in cafés, and a lot of my friends had been (perhaps relating to my third fact).  I had travelled from Germany by train and gradually as we went further into the country I could already ready see the slow shredding of the German landscape and the new emerging Dutch backdrop arise.

The land was flat, buildings were tiny, and for some reason little rivers and streams sprouted all over the place. It was really cute. Coming from Germany where it can seem everything is big, to now seeing these almost toy houses stand amongst such a picturesque habitat was a little surreal- it was a lot of blue and green. Of course it had its urban grub in places too; though, this was still composed of miniature constructions.

After about six hours travelling (major delays) I finally arrived in the capital. I saw little from the train ride in, but the first thing to hit me was the language, how different Dutch was to German. Then the people, that hard German exterior now replaced by folks with big backpacks and smiles. Excited tourists fluttered around the train station. There was a definite buzz about the place.

One of my favourite parts of the city was when the buildings ran directly into the canal.

One of my favourite parts of the city was when the buildings ran directly into the canal.

I then ventured out into the city and was instantly fascinated by the atmosphere and design. It’s absolutely beautiful, but not in a conventional way. Bikes galore, people galore, and just things happing everywhere, which isn’t surprising in one Europe’s biggest tourist’s attractions, I suppose. As for the architecture, I’d say the city is Mini-London meets Venice. I originally thought the city hosted one canal, but they are in actual fact the framework of the city. There is 60 miles worth of canals that course through the city and it’s a great way to explore the place on a boat tour. Or you can just as easily walk besides the canals, which are often just as relaxed, and with fascinating windows, door, boats or people there’s always something to keep you entertained. In parts the city really reminded me of the wizarding world’s Diagon Alley, small cluttered buildings leaning and bending, not what I usually expect from real-life structures.

The city was dominated by a crazy party-styled tourism. A feeling of ‘anything goes’ really swept over the place. Everything was alive, colourful street performers, shops hosting all odds, and the people; loud and colourful. Never had I seen a city so alive in this way. It felt like a rave party had ended a few blocks over and now the heavy ravers were circling the city like electricity. I would definitely recommend coming here with a large group of friends. They also hosts multiple festivals throughout the year, which I can see being amazing to attend.

The city even has The Sex Museum, which can be both fun and disturbing.

The city even has The Sex Museum, which can be both fun and disturbing.

To make the most of the city I’d say it doesn’t really matter if you plan it or not. You can easily enjoy an unplanned day around the city, and just walk and see what takes your fancy, as everything is within walking distance, but for those seeking a perhaps a little more culture, can look into museums, and boats tours; something for everyone.

I was surprised to hear that historically the city was once the trading centre of the world, but in more recent years because of the powerhouses of Europe and the wars the city was overshadowed. But apparently it still remains prevalent today, as it was quoted as one of the top 10 cities in the world for its economical presence with large companies’ headquarters residing in the city, which shocked me because it didn’t seem like corporate place at all.

Amsterdam_4Now let’s talk about the sex, and the drugs. I’m a bit of a child when it comes to adult things, so it’s easy to say that I was easily unseated when in the presence of either of them. For weed especially I always thought of it as a “gateway drug” and kept far from it; although, admittedly I always liked the smell. Knowing that it was legal before I came, I was expecting weed to dominate the city, like ice cream it’d be handed out on street corners, but I felt like the legalized smoking cafés were actually swept to the side, but you could definitely smell them before you saw them.

Amsterdam_5And then there was the sex: Amsterdam’s Red Light District is infamous. I always had a vague vision of red light streets in my imagination, but nothing could prepare me for its boldness. We stumbled into it by chance, walking down a street and suddenly a glass door, behind it on clear sight a woman. WOW. She was out there; they all were basically naked. I really couldn’t stop to look, but it was so surreal. In this isolated part of the city all my bashful norms were molested. I felt so awkward. I have to say though after a while when I dared to take a glace from afar, it was surprising how many looked bored, sitting there eating, on the phone, not all of them were smiling and enticing. Some looked like they‘d rather be anywhere else. This was their 9-5 after all. I wonder where they go on holiday. If I am ever there again I will hand out books to them all to cover time between clients. Despite the cheekiness of the place it was actually really beautiful area, and absolutely packed with people.

Amsterdam_3Although these darker aspects don’t overshadow Amsterdam, I do feel like it injects the place with a bit of chaos. And as a result some odds and ends trail the streets and rubbish accumulates in high quantity. Who has time to clean in a never-ending party, right?  This was a shame, but I can’t help but say I expected it.

All in all though I loved the city, and if I went back I would be more intrigued to understand its history and maybe enjoy the chaos a bit more. Easily my favourite parts of it all were the canals and the general architecture. They really gave the city a unique element that I think stands it aside from any other cities I have been to. All the little bridges, and water life that were spattered all around the city, were beautiful. I would recommend a trip without hesitation, but in the warmer months as it’s a lot of outdoors exploring. It really is a place like no other, and it’s easy to enjoy. I would definitely suggest to those going to explore more of the country itself as it is rather quaint and sweet, a real contrast from its capital. It’s a city you will never quite be able to understand unless you visit, so go! And take a camera!