France Adventure, Part 15

10-2-08  – Amsterdam, by Jodi

Our breakfast was wonderful again this morning – baked ham & egg mini casseroles, assorted 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 on 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 the scene of a 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 its 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, 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. Older people from the USA will know what we are talking about.

We come to a big main square, Damrak, surrounded by churches, the Royal Palace, large Hotels and Madame Trousseaus wax museum.

Flower Market

Flower Market

We head to the pleasant pedestrian street and the flower market and Mint Tower, 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.

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 plus 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, our left over breakfast again.

Now comes the part I may 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 guidebook. 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 for pickpockets 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, erotic museums, peep shows, cannabis shops, and bars galore occupy every space. We kind of side glanced at the stores, not wanting to stare, but I noticed others doing the same eye routine as us. Then comes the absolutely shocking part, to us. 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 doorways 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, and age, which you can imagine. The men, who were window-shopping, would stop at a door, seem interested, and the girl would start motioning them to come in. We quickly left the alley not 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 guidebook 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, the red light district is over now.

Coffee Shop

Coffee Shop

We walked a few more streets, realizing 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.  We were glad we saw it, red light district, coffee shops and all, but 4 hours was plenty. Back on to the train, to quaint, quiet, Haarlem. After all, Haarlem is a mini Amsterdam, but with a small town, family feel – our kind of place.

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. We went back to our room as the storm continued to rage all night long.

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