Red Lights and Green Shops in Amsterdam

When I first told my friends and family that I’d be starting my trip in Europe, the single most frequently asked question I received was “Are you going to Amsterdam?”  The answer was obviously “yes,” but whereas it is true that Amsterdam has quite a reputation for being open-minded to most things (and most of it is true), there is also a lot more to the city than the Red Light District and notorious coffee shops.  Personally, I found it to be one of the most beautiful cities that I’ve set foot in, with canals winding and criss-crossing in every direction, centuries old buildings that seem to be so thin they can only fit one person across, and with enough open-air cafes and restaurants to rival even the likes of Paris.

If you look at a map, the citty essentially looks like a dartboard, with the bullseye being the city center, which is then surrounded by concentric canals that getting larger and larger the further out you move.  This allowed me to partake in one of my favorite pasttimes: simply wandering around the various rings and absorbing the feel of the place.  Additionally, the city is actually built on a series of dikes and levies that have gradually been shifting over the last few hundred years.  The result is that many of the buildings, even on the same block, have begun to rise or fall acording to the foundations underneath, leaving quite a slant to many facades.  From an architectural perspective, this is probably a nightmare, but I’ve found that it added quite a bit of character to any given street or lane you may be passing down.

I’ll go ahead an warn you from the get-go: most of my pictures involve scenes along the canals. This isn’t particularly because I love shots like these, but more that it is difficult to take pictures in Amsterdam that DON’T involve canals.

In many places, you can pull a boat right up to you’re back door

You can see how the tall and narrow building have begun to re-adjust their foundations over the centuries

Just a bit of graffiti that I liked

The empty chairs just beg for you to have a seat and watch the world pass by

Scene from a cafe

As is the norm, neither museum allowed photography, so all I can show you are the incredibly fascinating exteriors

My guidebook recommended a visit to the Bloemenmarkt, or the flower market. Unfortunately, I was a bit dissappointed to find only flower bulbs and very few actual flowers. I guess I’ll have to try again in the spring…

Well, I’ve avoided it for this long, but I guess it’s time to discuss the “elephant in the room,” in regards to Amsterdam’s other popular tourist attractions.  First off, the Netherlands has taken a significantly more liberal stance to virtually every greatly-debated cultural issue, so it isn’t surprising to learn that they have set many precedents in being the first country to allow the likes of gay marriage, regulated euthanasia, legalized prostitution, or turning a blind eye to soft drugs.  So whether or not you agree with some of their policies, you have to at least respect the fact that they have taken to carrying the banner for many other cultures and societies to follow, should any of them decide to do so.

The majority of attention gets lavished on what is known as the Red Light District.  I won’t go into too much detail — and I certainly won’t share any graphic photographs, not that you’re allowed to take them anyway — but this part of town is notorious for two things: legalized and open prostitution (the “Red Light” refers to the red-lit, open windows in which women are on display, and often quite aggresive) and coffee shops that allow you to indulge your rastafarian side (though still technically illegal).  Again, whether these things are you’re cup of tea or not, it is worth a stoll through for nothing other than the life experience.  Just be sure to remember, this isn’t what the Dutch are all about, it just happens to be only one small facet of the city.

The Red Light District at night (one of the few vantage points in which there was no obscene content)

An example of a “green” coffee shop

Confusingly enough, a “cafe” here refers to a place where you go to drink beer and a “coffee shop” refers to a place where you go to get stoned. I have yet to figure out, however, what to call the place where you get your morning cup of Joe

As one might expect from a town that has hundreds of “coffee shops,” there are plenty of places to pig out on every conceivable gooey, sweet treat that you can imagine, along with dozens of storefronts selling hot food straight out of vending machines (removing any need to interact with a human while filling your stomache).  There are also quite a few high-end cafes serving excellent, first-class meals, but as usual, I headed straight for the markets of the town (something I must have picked up from watching too many episodes of Anthony Bourdain).

Cheese is a serious matter in most parts of Europe, and the Netherlands are no exception

If you can pickle it, this man has probably done it

Poffertjes being prepared — small, bite-size hunks of a pancake-like batter

The mound of powdered sugar and the dollop of mayonnaise really adds insult to injury here

A Stroopwafel (sp?): 2 pisselle-like, thin waffles with a layer of sweet caramel in the center

A Dutch Waffle with apples and cinnamon — as you can see, there is a bit of a trend developing in the types of food available

The one of the left is Salt Beef and Liver, while the one of the right is “Americain,” which is essentially raw ground beef creamed together with mayo and a few spices

In addition to the food, there are also hundreds of great beer and wine bars to chose from, but given that my last few posts have been a bit beer-heavy, I decided to take an alternate root and check out the cocktail scene.  Right across from the Van Gogh Museum is the House of Bols, the oldest distilled brand in Amsterdam, dating back to the mid-1500’s.  Their specialty is genever, which with the addition of juniper berriers and a few spices, eventually evolved into what we now know as Gin.  The House of Bols, however, has decided to stick with the tried-and-true classic itself, though they have jazzed it up with 36+ flavor variants.

The original recipe Genever

My favorite part of the tour was trying to identify the flavors of the 36-or-so different variants based only on smell

Scratch that last comment. My REAL favorite part was where they custom-designed a (free) cocktail for each patron based upon their taste preferences. My “complex and aromatic” flavor profile led to a drink with Corenwyn, Apricot Brandy, Green Tea liquer, lemon juice, and orange zest

The many flavor variants on display

After a nice stay in Amsterdam, I’m heading out tomorrow morning to Brussels, Belgium — otherwise known as Disney World for beer geeks.  I haven’t yet nailed down my next stop past that, but I’ll likely keep moving west into either France or Spain (a much longer train ride).  Until then, cheers!

About andrewamiet

I'm a 29 (now 31) year-old former desk jockey who is now making my way around the world, experiencing all of the sights, sounds, tastes, people, and culture that the world has to offer.

6 Responses to “Red Lights and Green Shops in Amsterdam”

  1. Andrew,
    Your last two posts have been really interesting. I especially enjoyed all of the pictures of exotic pancakes and waffles in Amsterdam. Have you been enjoying the “locals”? Where have the people been the friendliest? Safe travels, and keep having fun.

    • Although I haven’t had any bad experiences with the locals yet, the place where they were easily the friendlist was Ireland. In fact, there were times when they could be “too” friendly, in the sense that I’d board a bus, throw on headphones, open up a book (and generally look like I wanted to be in my own world), yet they’d open right up with a conversation anyway. Rarely did time go by in that country in which I wasn’t in conversation with someone about something — whether I knew anything about it or not.

  2. The Anne Frank museum is a very interesting site. I definitely recommend it next time you are in the city. That said my favorite thing about the Netherlands is the fries and mayo.

  3. er? No mention of the bicycle. Pretty fascinating and common practice in Armsterdam in my opinion.

    • You’re definitely right, there are bicycles EVERYWHERE in Amsterdam, but after mentioning the bike scene the post before in Copenhagen, I didn’t want to sound too repetitive. Thanks for reading and I love you’re blog, too!

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