A quick impression of Amsterdam, Holland's capital city
In the world famous Red Light district ... all manner of brothels, peep-shows and sex shops can be found
Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, lies near the North Sea on the west coast of Holland. It partly owes its shape to water and the centre is divided up into concentric rings of land by a seemingly endless series of canals, so boat-trips are a popular way to see this ‘Venice of the North’. The river Amstel, from which the city gets its name, has been merged into this canal system.
Schiphol, the national airport, is a mere twenty minutes away by train and public transport is generally excellent (bus, tram and a small metro system) but the traditional way to get around the flat streets is the ubiquitous bicycle. The local tourist office (‘VVV’) will help with looking for accommodation but it is always best to book hotels well in advance as Amsterdam is an extremely popular destination for holidays and weekend breaks all year round.
Sex and Drugs and ...Culture!
Amsterdam is truly a city of culture. World famous art can be seen at the Van Gogh and Rijksmuseum (‘State Museum’) and the house where Anne Frank hid for years from the Nazis is enduringly popular. Classical music buffs have the renowned Concertgebouw and opera at the modernistic Stopera, whilst the Royal Palace on Dam square opens many state rooms to the public. Near the famous Leidseplein is the lovely Vondel park, where hippies in their thousands used to hold their ‘happenings’ back in the sixties.
In the world famous Red Light district, where prostitutes pose in red-lit windows for their prospective customers, all manner of brothels, peep-shows and sex shops can be found. This sex business is strictly monitored and all registered prostitutes have regular health checks. People seeking this kind of entertainment should definitely steer clear of street whores.
Hordes of visitors descend on this area and it is not unusual to see bus loads of tourists being led around by their tour guides. It is extremely unwise to take photographs though, as some of the seamier ‘locals’ object and sensation-seeking snappers often end up in the canal. The Red Light area is a Mecca for backpackers and drug tourists from all over the world as well as local junkies, who all mix with the local ‘normal’ residents in this well-policed area. Recently, the town council has bought up buildings and ground in the Red Light to create space for small businesses and artisans’ ateliers in an effort to reduce any further growth of sex establishments and brothels which are often bound up with organised crime and various forms of human trafficking.
The multi-ethnic people of Amsterdam love cafe culture. Both traditional ‘brown cafes’ and modern bars abound and the customers spill on to the streets at the slightest sign of fine weather. There are also many restaurants featuring food from all over the world as well as local cuisine. Smoking is not allowed in pubs or restaurants.
The tolerance of soft drugs has led to a controlled number of marijuana-selling ‘coffee shops’ throughout the city. Most of these are clean, well run establishments, a very popular tourist draw.
The night life includes huge clubs playing European rave music and regular pop concerts at smaller venues like Paradiso or the Melkweg near the Leidseplein. The Arena, stadium of the city’s famous football club, Ajax, hosts larger gigs.
Amsterdam’s crime rate compares with any other large European city. It is best to avoid the seamier areas and beware of pickpockets and street hustlers but generally Amsterdam is a relaxed and safe place where it is easy to be charmed by the pervasive, cosmopolitan atmosphere: the unofficial second language is English and the locals are unashamedly trendy and self-confident. There seems to be a place for everyone in this city packed with alternatives.