Monday, October 27, 2008

Amsterdam and it's eye popping sights

10-2-08 Amsterdam

Our breakfast was wonderful this morning – baked ham & egg mini casseroles, asst breads, jam, platter of meats and cheeses, kiwis, OJ and coffee - Inge really gives us nice breakfasts. We head out for the nice walk to the train station at 9am, hop the train and take the 20 min ride into Amsterdam. No one ever asked to see out tickets, like so many other public transports around Europe, it is on the honor system. We exit the train station to a scene of huge construction mess, they are completely renovating and adding to the front of the train station.

Once we passed the mess . . . there it was . . . Amsterdam in all it’s glory. We were immediately greeted by tall Dutch gabled buildings, monumental sized, ornamental buildings and of course the canals. We started walking down the main drag, Damrak Strat, littered with tacky souvenir shops selling standard dutch fare . . . wooden shoes, anything with a tulip on it, and little Van de Kamp looking girl trinkets-LOL. We come to a big main Dam square, surrounded by churches, Royal Palace, large Hotels and Madame Tussaud's wax museum. We head to a pleasant pedestrian street towards the flower market and Mint Tower and Platz, another big square. The flowers and plants were beautiful, many I have never seen before. Of course, they sell tulip bulbs by the bushel. I wish I could have brought some home, but they would be confiscated at the airport.

The beautiful flower market

We walked through many nice neighborhoods and canals to Anne Franks house and museum, it was very crowded and decided not to go in. It was starting to rain again and we would have stood for an hour waiting. We continue walking the streets admiring the Dutch architecture and the canals as the city hummed along. We made it back to Damrak square and sat to eat our lunch we packed, left over breakfast again.

A typical street

Canals and water everywhere

Now comes the part I need to add a disclaimer. If you are easily offended by prostitution or drugs stop reading and skip the next paragraph. Both are legal in Amsterdam and are openly on display.

We decided that even though the red light district may embarrass the heck out of us, it is a tourist sight, we thought we would at least walk the few streets recommended by our guide book. Our book said it was safe to walk in the afternoon but to stay away at night. One bit of advice the book was emphatic about was do not take any pictures anywhere in the red light district - so sorry no photos! We definitely had our safety radars in high mode and walked to the huge phallic statue/fountain that officially enters you into the district. The buildings seemed innocent enough but the signs told a different story. Sex shops, condom shops & museums, erotic museums, peep shows, cannabis shops, and bars galore occupy every space. We kind of side glanced at the stores, not wanted to appear to stare, but I noticed others doing the same eye routine as us. Then comes the absolutely shocking parts. We walked by a church, yeah even a church in the red light district, and 3 young men were openly smoking pot on the steps of the church. No one seemed to care or notice. We turned a corner, to a very narrow alley looking street, with many men walking up and down. The red framed, glass door ways, contained scantily clad women advertising themselves for sale. Each woman had their own door, which I assume went back into another room. They came in every size, shape, color, age, that you can imagine. The men, who were window shopping, would stop at a door, seem interested, and the girl would start motioning to come in. We quickly left the alley not wanted wanting to see anymore of that, only to find the next corner we turned, was a main drag full of red doors intermixed with the businesses. They were even in 2nd story doors and some had multiple women in them. Every street we walked from then on had the red doors. As I walked, I wondered what led these women to want to do this very degrading profession. I smiled at a few as I walked by and they smiled back in a friendly, innocent smile as if they were lonely and bored. Our guide book said the girls charge E25-E50 for 20 minutes and can make upwards of E500 a day!!!! And yuck, all at the same time, to think of what they do to get that much – Ewwwwwww!!! We walked one more street that had a flag signaling the S&M side of the district. The shops now displayed, kinky handcuffs, metal contraptions, horrible black and red outfits and clothing, and the infamous red doors held the women who specialized in S&M. It was at this point, I said, “OK, Terry, I’m done, let’s get out of here.” We walked over one street and we were in Chinatown and the red doors vanished. Whew, was I glad to be gone but at the same time we were curious, like a train wreck, you just have to go see it to believe it.

OK, right light district over now. We walked a few more streets, realized we were near the train station, and decided we had enough of Amsterdam. At the end of the day, when you strip down all the pretty Dutch exteriors and preconceived notions of what a cute ‘town’ it will be, Amsterdam is just another big, congested, city full of pickpockets and a very seedy side. We were glad we saw it, red light district and all, but 4 hours was plenty. Back on to the train, to quaint, quiet, Haarlem. After all, Haarlem is a mini looking Amsterdam, but more small town, family feel – our kind of place.

Today's photos

We went to a small bistro up the street from our B&B for a light dinner. I had French onion soup & bread and Terry had a warm, open faced ham, cheese and tomato type sandwich. The rain stopped and started all day with a bitter, cold wind. The storm continued to rage all night long.

1 comment:

Jonathan Mack said...

Red Light District is a lifetime experience!
But, to be sure to have a unforgettable time, you should check out this The Amsterdam Red Light Guide