I was almost shamed into going to Amsterdam by the weight of expectations. How could you “do” Europe and not “do” Amsterdam?! It is as compulsory a tourist destination as Paris! For different reasons of course. The perception of the Dutch capital as being a haven of tolerated debauchery made it a popular place for student cohorts and stag dos. Plenty of my friends have been there already, I couldn’t miss this place out.
But see, the thing is…I’m not really into the kind of debauchery that gives Amsterdam its major tourist appeal. I don’t smoke cigarettes, and I don’t see smoking cannabis as any different from a moral- and health-viewpoint. Prostitutes don’t appeal to me either: I certainly can’t afford ’em on my intern’s salary. So…what else does one do in Amsterdam? Admire the canals?
It took about a 20 minutes-walk from the Central Train Station before I decided that Amsterdam did have something for me. I had to pass through the most touristy, grimy part of the city and get to the more residential loops of canals. Here the famous “Dutch tolerance” came across in leisurely street cafes & restaurants, residents sunbathing on their front porches and hordes of bicycles. It was mid-March and summer had already arrived. I spent most of my time in Amsterdam just taking it easy; going slow and relaxing by the canals.
I explored the Red Light district and took in all the garish neon signs. The sex workers sat in their underwear in window booths, most looked bored. It was the same kind of boredom I’ve seen on the faces of cleaning staff in some of my previous workplaces: I firmly believe that tolerance is better than banning/forcing underground, but anybody who tries to attribute some kind of positive superlatives onto prostitution is sorely mistaken: it’s no more “sexy” than toilet cleaning. The infamous Coffeeshops that I saw in the Red Light District and Central area were all heavily touristy and probably in the world of marijuana what Starbucks is to coffee. That said, I shamfully did venture into several Starbucks during my time in Amsterdam: at least you know when you see the sign for “coffee” on their door that coffee is what you’ll find on their menu…