First impressions of Amsterdam

Our arrival in Amsterdam over two weeks ago coincided with a relative heat wave for Holland’s usually cold and wet winter. The sky was clear and the night time temperatures were around 6’C (43F). I’d slept quite a bit on the 26 hour flight from Brisbane but Paul hadn’t been able to get comfortable. But neither of us were tired so we took showers and set off to explore Amsterdam. It was about 7pm by the time we were ready to go out and my family (for I am Dutch by birth) had given us a tip about the Amsterdam Light Festival.

As luck would have it, the light festival walking route passed right outside our hotel so we didn’t need to buy a self-guided map. Actually, no one needs to buy the guide because all you need to do is follow the signs and the thousands of other people checking out the event.

The lights were fantastic. We only saw a small selection of them because we were too tired to walk any further. But what we saw was brilliant. The service at the restaurant we chose to eat at was less wonderful. It took over an hour for our pasta and calzone to be brought to our table. Apparently this is normal in Amsterdam where domestic and foreign tourists are so plentiful that there is little need to provide quality service.

After eating our dinner (which tasted good despite the slow service) we found ourselves walking through Amsterdam’s tourist area around the Dam and the Red Light District. I was here about 12 years ago and it was a bit dark and seedy. But now a lot of the local flavour of the area has been swept away and it could almost be any tourist strip anywhere in the world. The only thing distinguishing it from others being the architecture and availability of <em>friet</em> (French fries).

But it was a fun place to explore with plenty of quirky sights. There were shops selling marijuana and drug paraphernalia, all of which are highly illegal in Australia. There were menus in shop windows showing the different qualities of different marijuana buds and magic mushrooms. Then there were the ladies in the windows in the Red Light District. There are fewer of them and  the alleys their windows open out on are more brightly lit, making it look even more tragic than in the past. Needless to say, we didn’t purchase any services. And of course we stopped at the Sex Museum, which was a bit of good fun. It’s not as dirty as it sounds. There’s a really cool display showing the history of how sex has been celebrated through the ages, including lots of art.

By the time we returned to our hotel it was almost midnight and we were both totally exhausted. We’d walked about 10km and fell asleep pretty much as soon as our heads hit the pillows.

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