THE Netherlands. I knew nothing about the place before I got here last week. To be honest – and this is a little embarrassing – I wasn’t sure whether The Netherlands and Holland were separate or the same country. Why the different names? And then why is their language called Dutch? Shouldn’t they all be speaking Netherlandish? Or Hollandaise, like the delectable sauce? Admittedly, the only thing I knew about the country was that it contained Amsterdam – a place I’d heard loads about (hasn’t everyone?) but didn’t know which of this constituted fact and which was exaggerated drivel. Prossies, cafes where you can legally buy and consume potent weed and mushrooms, live sex shows. I’d heard from some friends the city was a must-see, an elegant and chic fantasy-land where anything goes, while other mates told me it wasn’t worth the exorbitant prices and masses of tourists, and if I went, not to spend more than two days there. Well I went, and I’m still here (this being my fourth and penultimate day) and I can see both sides of the argument. I thought I’d break down my stay for you, share some of my experiences to broaden your knowledge about the oft-discussed metropolis.
Shit is expensive mang. I’d heard this frequently before I got here but it didn’t make it any easier when I started having to hand over wads of cash for stuff I’d usually exchange minimal shrapnel for. We’re not actually staying in Amsterdam itself, but in a chilled-out town called Hilversum some 20 minutes south-east. We’re staying with a friend I met in her homeland of Uruguay in February – a vegan, novel-writing video-game designer (yes, she’s as cool as she sounds) who moved out here in 2005, so we’re saving precious accommodation dollars. But getting a return train to Amsterdam each day (reminder: only 20 minutes away) is costing us some 10 Euros or so (AUD$13.36) per person each trip. A basic feed and beverage at a café or restaurant will also cost you 10 Euros and I don’t wanna know how much a root would cost you but I’m sure it would be a lot. It’s the kinda place where you don’t think you’re spending that much, but when you add up each little stupid item you bought throughout the day e.g. train fare, a coke, lunch, a coffee, a book etc. culminates in a hefty debit from your now empty wallet. Kinda like Australian prices. This is the most expensive place I’ve visited by far. Berlin and London are next so there’s no respite in sight.
Steez (style), the people, transport
People here are stylish as hell. While middle-aged dudes back home drive their Commodores to the footy, smoke hell durries, tame heaps of beers and say ‘fuck’ a lot, middle-aged dudes here ride their bikes to work wearing scarves, blazers, corduroy pants and thick-rimmed designer glasses. They smoke ciggies too but they look good doing it. And they’re not fat. The majority of chicks here look like they’re straight out of the Myer winter catalogue. Everyone rides a bike and surprisingly it works cos there are bike lanes everywhere, although you gotta be on guard when walking down the street (you have bikes, trams and cars coming at you simultaneously at times). Back home bike lanes are few and bike riders get a bum rap from most citizens. 90 per cent of the population here speak a second language and the vast majority of this is English. And they probably speak it better than you. The buildings are pretty and grandiose. Like many European cities, inconspicuous buildings such as post offices over here are bigger and more beautiful than say museums and government houses back in Oz.
Anything you want you can get it here (and I’m not talking about sex and drugs, I’ll get to that). I’m a vegetarian toying with the idea of going vegan one day. The main thing stopping me is laziness, but here in the supermarkets, cafes and even train stations are rows upon rows of items that are vegan-friendly (think epic burgers and schnitzels and shit that’d make even a carnivore’s mouth water). If I had places like this back home down the road from my house I’d have upgraded myself to ultra-vegetarian ages ago. My local friend tells me the demand from the population for organic foods is steadily growing, forcing companies to introduce ranges of earth-friendly goods in stores everywhere. The result is less fat people I’m guessing, cos I haven’t seen many of them. Despite English being the predominate second language, I’ve visited bookstores here that rate among the best I’ve been to in my travels (I was even able to pick up a copy of John Fante’s Ask the Dust, which I’ve been coveting for a while), and I also purchased a pair of new shoes here (which if you know me is a big deal – I haven’t bought new clothes since the 1920s). But I couldn’t help myself, there’s just too much to choose from. My girlfriend has been going mad – the shopping here is next-level if you’re into that sorta thing (I’m not).
We took a stroll through the city’s infamous Red Light district on our second night and to be honest I still don’t know what to think. You walk in and every second building contains shop windows displaying gnarly porn DVD covers with dudes doing their business all over the front of siliconed-up babes, as well as massive dildos and blow-up sex dolls (for girls and boys). There are signs everywhere advertising live sex shows and then of course there is the district’s workforce. Every few buildings along are door and window frames beaming with red light, and behind the glass you’ll either find a closed red curtain (which means the girl is hard at work behind it) or a chick with her massive buzoongas spilling out of her tiny bra/bikini top. It was crazy cos a lot of the girls (I hear you’ll find about 300 working on any given night) are pretty stunning. I didn’t know whether to feel sorry for them (there are always hordes of sleazy, probably stoned tourists gawking at them, laughing with their mates etc.) or be super stoked for them (Amsterdam prostitutes receive decent benefits, pay taxes and I’ve heard can earn a fuck-ton of money). They just kinda stand there inanimately, smoking or smiling here and there at potentially-interested onlookers, adjusting their hair or bra every now and then. There’s a statue in a square in the district of some woman named ‘Belle’, which is dedicated to sex-workers across the world. The Red Light District also contains a church and there’s a mosque two blocks outside its limits.
Everything you’ve heard is true, so there’s not much else to tell you. Yes, there are cafes everywhere in which you can buy tons of varietals of weed and yes you can sit there and get really really high with no repercussions from the fuzz – if you’re into that sorta thing (I’m not). Apparently the authorities drew the line at magic mushrooms however, and outlawed them a few years ago. But from what I saw they are very much still available. Just don’t go eating a bag and watching the new Tintin film in 3D, I hear shit can get pretty wild.
I’d say if you’re in Europe, are nearby and have time to spare definitely get here for a couple of days. If you’re a big-city person then it’s one of the best but I’d also recommend venturing out and seeing some other, lesser known towns (we didn’t really do this, although our time in nearby Hilversum indicates to me there’s a lot more to the Netherlands than Amsterdam). If you’re of the waveriding community, two days will definitely suffice – you can’t get barrelled here.