I was oddly fascinated with the ladies standing in the red-curtained “window brothels” of Amsterdam’s red-light district. Not like I haven’t seen prostitutes before — Madrid’s crudely nicknamed “Calle de las Putas” was within walking distance from my apartment, after all. But these women looked like they should be in lad mags, they were so glossily done-up in their crazy underwear and big hair and boobs. Standing behind the glass, they also oddly recalled the Barbie dolls I opened on Christmas morning as a child, except these ladies were life-sized and they moved around and had sex for money. Barbie had many professions, but never went in for sex work, as far as I knew.
As a polite Midwesterner, I felt that staring would be rude, so I just kept sneaking glances as I walked down the street. My boyfriend, walking at my side, sensed it would be bad form to check out hookers whilst strolling with his lady, and so gallantly kept his eyes on the sidewalk.
I understand Amsterdam is a wild place; I really wouldn’t know. Being with a significant other is lovely, but it also makes you a much more boring person. With my girlfriends I’m sure I’d have partied all hours. But with my boyfriend, the two of us became fairly lame. Going to clubs in the red-light district seemed like a rather silly thing to do. A pair of monogamous nerds, nervously wandering about the town in their sensible shoes and eyeglasses? Eh…
Instead, we ate stroopwafels (little caramel-waffle treats, the best things ever), drank lots of good beer, had some hearty, stick-to-your-ribs Dutch foods, among other things. Another fantastic free walking tour, where we learned about the city’s outdoor urinals, its history as a freewheeling place, its mysterious, mammarian artworks:
In case you can’t tell: that’s a disembodied hand, rounding second base.
If you DO want to do some lame tourist things in Amsterdam when you go, prepare for long lines. We waited about 90 minutes for the (very good) Van Gogh Museum, and never did make it to the Anne Frank House — the lines were easily two hours long, which I understand is quite typical. If you go, I would recommend purchasing the Amsterdam card, in which you pay a flat fee and get a ton of freebies and reduced-price offers — including free admission to many museums - but, more importantly, you get to line-jump ahead of all the schmucks who aren’t carrying one. We had opted not to, figuring we wouldn’t use it very much, but if you’ve got the time, it’s probably a good idea.
Amsterdam has an amazing assortment of weird museums, none of which I managed to go see: The sex museum, obviously, and the marijuana & hemp museum, a fluorescent art museum, a smoking pipe museum, and museums of spectacles, of purses, of watches & clocks, of medical oddities…. too bad, really, because I adore museums. Guess I need to go back?
A canal at night.
Amsterdam is called “the Venice of the north,” but our tour guide said it actually has more canals than Venice. Fun fact.
Amsterdam also has a lot of bikes, as you might have heard - many of them, perhaps unsurprisingly, end up in the canals. The city employs boats to trawl the waters, dredging up tons of submerged bikes every year. They also haul up tiny cars, which bikers sometimes toss into the canals under cover of night - these micro-cars, no bigger than golf carts, are legally allowed to occupy bike lanes. They go quite slowly. Bikers do not approve of this. Thus, into the canals they go. Not sure how often it happens, but, apparently it’s a thing.
The Dutch, although generally a very nice people, do seem to be quite brusque. Bicyclists in Amsterdam will indeed run you over; so will the trams. That’s something to be aware of, if you’re super high and not paying attention. Or if you’re nerdily snapping photos. Whatever, really.