After taking it easy in London, hobbling around as best I could, my foot is potentially well enough to embark on travel again (although still strapped into a moonboot). Holland is a quick flight and is reportedly very easy to get around in, so it makes for a good test bed before I try to venture further.
Taking a train in to Gatwick airport is pretty easy, presuming you pay attention and don’t miss your stop. Galloping between trains with a moonboot, trying to catch a return train back in time to not miss your flight is fun. During this run, something started shaking around in my travelpack, like someone had deposited 100 pebbles in it. I had no time to investigate, but arriving at the security checkpoint, I pulled my laptop out to discover it was covered in a fine, white powder. Interesting.
You see, as part of ensuring my foot heals properly I’m taking vitamin D and calcium pills. The calcium pills upended in my speed-hobble and bounced happily around in the pack. Calcium pills are a chalky white consistency, so my laptop was nicely powdered on removal.
Needless to say the bomb scanners were less than amused. The laptop got a thorough scrubbing over with those little sheets that try to determine if a substance is… I don’t know, exploding? Drugs? just generally indicative of a bad person, I guess. Eventually they let me proceed, but not without a stiff British glower. Moments later I would use the restroom, check in the mirror and find that I had also rubbed my nose at some point after removing the laptop from my bag, leaving a nice dusting of powder on my nose as well.
I am a classy traveler.
The flight into Amsterdam: totally uneventful. Catching a train from the airport into the center: perfectly easy except for the fact that most card-operated machines in Europe expect your card to have a security chip. We in the US of A apparently don’t really care for this layer of protection, so it’s a bit of a search to find an ATM that will give you actual cash so you can buy a train ticket from an actual person.
Special note on the Amsterdam airport: it has not one, but two fully functioning florists. This bodes well, I think. It also bodes well when a train trip from the airport is as lovely and picturesque as many tours in other countries. Plus: the train is fast, silent, on-time, spacious, and comfortable. Can’t ask for a better start.
Hey Seattle, Portland: you think you are bike-friendly and have a lot of bikers? Yeah, you’re gonna have to step to the side and shut the hell up. Amsterdam is where all good bikes go as their eternal reward.
Now, my approach to traveling to a new city is basically:
- Search on hostels.com for an 80+ rated hostel, under 30 euros, as close to city center as possible.
- Book the room, book the flight. go.
I don’t complicate things, you see. This has worked out amazingly well for me so far. This time however, my procedure lands me right in the center of Pot Central and the Red Light District. So, walking the streets becomes not just interesting, but downright fascinating.
Let’s cover the sex stuff first:
There are shops on every block trying to sell you sex accoutrements. These range from standard (movies, magazines, etc) to slightly more surprising. For example, there’s some high end stores trying to make the everyday device be a thing of beauty and elegance:
Then there’s the occasional shop that seems to just be throwing things out there to see what sticks.
I’m not sure at what point someone goes: “Hey honey, we should get a gag / toilet paper holder device. For, you know, occasions.”, and if there is an explanation for this, I’m not sure I want to know it.
However, even the more commonplace items, such as a condom, go to extreme lengths (ahem) here:
In addition, there’s the red light district. I’m supplying no pictures for this for a couple reasons:
- I’m much too classy to post images of nearly-naked sultry women trying to tempt you into their dens of ill-repute.
- They will take your camera away if you try to take any pictures.
Suffice to say, you might be walking down an alley, enjoying a lovely stroll in the cool night air, when suddenly you are beset from all sides by women at full-length glass doors wearing garments made from strings and gland covers. Wakes one up, that does.
I’ve been trying to decide how I feel about the whole legal prostitution thing. On the one hand, it must make it safer for everyone, removes the whole horrible idea of pimps, and gives the country some ability to set controls, standards, protections, and taxes on the whole affair. On the other hand, it’s still a profession that most fathers would very much not wish on their daughters. All in all, if you accept that prostitution happens whether it is legal or not, it’s hard to argue that legalizing it so you can regulate it is better for everyone.
Now, as for pot: I was informed from both websites and people that Amsterdam is “cracking down” or limiting the pot business. If this is true, my feeble mind is unable to guess at what it used to be. Did they previously issue joints when you get off the plane? Was it pumped into the water supply?
The stuff is everywhere, and as you walk the streets you might find your thoughts evolving from amusement the first night “Haha, funny, you could get a contact high just walking the streets” to wonder: “wow, are there any smoke-free zones here?” and by the third day finally to dismay: “you cannot get away from the smell! I’ll have to wash everything I own and burn my backpacks!”
The way this works is you have stores that are called “coffeeshops” (not to be confused with a café, or Starbucks) which do not sell any coffee near as I can tell. These shops have a front part for selling, and a separate part (back, upstairs, etc) for smoking. But people seem to just wander the streets smoking away, so I’m not sure how much those areas are used.
Now the district is very much aware of it’s patrons needs. More than just serving the pot, they know what happens soon after, and have evolved shops appropriately:
Speaking of food, I’ve found some of the portions to be out of whack:
However, since Amsterdam is reportedly the most diverse city in the world (178 nationalities in 2010) you are not lacking for any nationality you might want. Sure, you have Thai, Chinese, and Indian foods. You have places advertising “English Breakfast” and “Authentic Irish food”. You have the fast food Americanisms (the busiest Burger King in the world is advertised as the one in the Amsterdam airport), but you also have things like Tibetan cuisine. Which, if you get a chance to have, I highly recommend. Watch the spices.
However, the thing that stands out the most for me so far, is the language. Now, pretty much everyone here speaks excellent English, enough for one to feel terribly inadequate and lame for not speaking a lick of Dutch in return. But the flip side is that the Dutch language is downright frightening.
For example, directions from my hostel to a museum consist of heading down Schoutensteeg toward Oudezijds Voorburgwal, turning onto Grimburgwal (which changes to Langebrugsteeg), making a right on Olieslagerssteeg… I’ll stop here, you get the idea.
Basically the language is a playground for flagrant abuse of vowel combinations and consists of a blatant disregard for whether or not any word is even pronounceable. The constant oral gymnastics required make Dutch lovers the best in the world (I might have made this up). Rumor has it that a Dutch scrabble board is a 128 x 128 grid and you get bonus points for finding the rare word that doesn’t have inexplicable and gratuitous combinations of vowels. (also might have just started that rumor, not sure, didn’t do a search to check its validity)
Some examples. Even the Heineken brewery gets into the act, if only slightly.
Given these aggressively concocted words, its no wonder that occasionally a translation yields some unintentionally fun results. For example, at a lovely, fancy, white-table-cloth type of establishment, I appreciated the honest description of the Dutch option for steak.
And given my heightened awareness of all words, I digressed into pretty much the lowest forms of humor.
So, let me cap off my Amsterdam explorations thus far by asserting that the hostel here has an addition in the toilet that should be installed everywhere in the world. If you’ve ever had to sit down at a public toilet where men have used it before, you will likely agree with me.