When you think of Amsterdam, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Usually you can divide people by what they say: legalized drugs and the Red Light District, but maybe you get a few who think of windmills. Thankfully, Amsterdam is so much more than that. Out of all the cities we have visited so far, Jeff and I agree that we could see ourselves living there. When we stepped off the plane and made our way to Postjesweg where we were staying, thanks to airbnb.com, the first thing we noticed was how organized and quiet everything was in the city. Granted, we flew in the middle of the work day on a Thursday, but still, there was peace.
We stayed in a penthouse flat to the west of city center that was extraordinary. Jeff and I couldn’t fathom so much space since we had spent most of the year in our shoebox. We felt like we had to walk miles between the kitchen and the front door, but it was totally worth the work out. The bedroom had a wall of windows that looked out to the city and allowed us to watch the sunset as with the windows that lined the living room and kitchen. And to top it all off, we had a jacuzzi bathtub. Talk about paradise!
After we dropped our luggage and met our wonderful host, we turned right around and headed toward the city center. We were hungry and ready to roam the canals. We did have lunch in a recommended Chinese restaurant called New King in the tiny Chinatown. It wasn’t a terrible place, but we were about to realize Amsterdam was not really gluten-free friendly. It was the land of bread and pastries of which I got to watch Jeff enjoy. But our lunch was good and we were ready to explore. It didn’t take much wandering to start spying the red fluorescent lights that lined the main drags, but it was early yet, and we only saw a couple ladies primping and texting in their cubicles. I wasn’t sure if watching them chat on the phone was supposed to be a part of the experience, but I guess it doesn’t matter much since you can’t chat with them anyway–at least they can pass the time.
Also littered throughout the Red Light District are storefronts called “coffee houses.” After passing about three of them, we slowly realized they were not selling coffee. I guess it wasn’t that slow of a realization since the smell of coffee was replaced by the oppressive smell of pot. I will say that despite the several places where we could have spent our euros, we did not indulge in the legalized sin in the city. We honestly had zero interest and after smelling everyone else in the city who was interested in the game. And at that point, what I really just wanted was a cup of coffee. You’d be amazed on how few actual coffee places there were. You’d think that was the taboo vice.
The sun was starting to set, the kitties were approaching the windows and we were looking for things to do. As we turned a street corner, we can across the famous Condomerie. What a let down! I was hoping it would have catalogs upon catalogs of hilarious choices for these balloons, but the windows were more entertaining than the inside which was surprisingly empty. We made a loop in the store and promptly walked out without even a postcard.
But then the sky unleashed an unholy rain that would make London jealous. We had to duck in somewhere while it passed and that’s when the red neon lights of the Museum of Prostitution caught our eye. We paid the €15 and walked through this exhibit. It first started with a short film of life in the district. It was not nearly as entertaining as it could have been. It seems as though living in the lights is actually quite boring. I’m definitely not trying to take away from the ladies who have no other choice but to be strapped to this profession, but it just seemed so lackluster. But as the exhibition progressed, we wound up not learning anything about the history of the district or even of prostitution in general, but rather the atrocities that sex slaves go through. That was something I had not bargained for after walking into the black lace and red lit room. It was a PSA for the wrong-doings of sex trafficking.
While that is actually a huge concern for the sex trade and obviously a prominent problem, I was torn between being entertained and mortified. There was a room that allowed you to sit in a chair facing the street bathed in the red glow but then there was a room with stories of past unlucky working girls. Was I supposed to be enjoying myself participating in the cheesy iPad quiz or ashamed that I walked in the building?
We left when the rain had stopped and made our way back to the tram but not without going through a giant carnival stationed in the middle of the Dam district. How random. Lights and rides with cotton candy and screaming kids was something I was not expecting two blocks from debauchery. But maybe that’s just my expectations on those vices and not realizing how progressive Amsterdam is toward sex and drugs. It was certainly something you can’t escape from within the city.
The next morning, Jeff had arranged for us to go to the Room of Riddles–an escape game location. I told him there was no way I could play a logic game without coffee, but like I said earlier, actual coffee shops were hard to find. Thankfully, we were finally about to find Coffee Mania which was also a CrossFit gym. How convenient! Amsterdam had stolen my heart with that one location.
The Room of Riddles was so much fun! I had no idea what to expect when we walked in and had even thought it could have turned into Saw, but thankfully, it wasn’t. We had 60 minutes to find all the clues scattered around the room and unlock the keys for our escape. Our theme was travel (convenient) and we carefully put together all of the pieces and unlocked the clues to escape the room in 49:22. We didn’t break the record, but I was just glad we didn’t have to phone a friend or run out of time. Coffee with a kick! It turns out that the escape game culture began in Budapest (ironically our next holiday) and has been slowly catching on around the world. I would highly suggest it as it was fun and entertaining, but also a great exercise in communication. Jeff and I had to put our heads together to get all the clues of which there were some I would never have gotten and same for him.
Thank goodness we’re such a good team.
We then headed for the culture part of our tour to the Rijks Museum. Don’t ask us how to pronounce anything in Dutch because I couldn’t even get “thank you” right. The museum was quite interesting and huge. We were more floored by the space itself with its clean corners and sharp design. But the items they had were quite exquisite too. There was an entire wing dedicated to Rembrandt including Night Watch. Here are some pictures of what we saw.
But our artful tour didn’t stop there. We headed to the Van Gogh Museum. I would definitely recommend getting tickets online ahead of time because we had no idea how to gage when to arrive without a line. We weren’t allowed to take photos inside, but I managed to sneak a couple since my mom is a fan of his work. It was neat to see his most famous works such as Sunflowers, Almond Blossoms, and his self portraits. We did not see Starry Night which I would have liked to see in person. It was a quick tour through the building since two of the floors were closed off for refurbishing.
What I found interesting was how my life is almost mirroring how Van Gogh began his life as an artist. He didn’t realize he wanted to be a painter until he was 27. I didn’t really begin my career in film until I was 27. And he said that he knew this is where he was meant to be, which I believe more and more each day for me. There were other quotes and notations sprinkled through the building that gave me pause, but those are the ones I remember off the top of my head. It was quite surreal.
The sun was setting fast and we headed back toward the city center to find something to do. This is when we stumbled upon the Sex Museum. This was what I was expecting out of the Museum of Prostitution–a more historical view of the trade. But since we were in the middle of the city, we realized half of the building was geared more for tourists than those looking for art and history. There were many artifacts and historical references that did in fact educate, but the other half was for shock value like the wax figures and gratuity which we could have done without. That does make us sound like old fogies, but I wanted to learn more about people like Mata Hari or about other cultures views on the sex trade, not a wax figure of Marilyn Monroe over a steam grate or a dummy wrapped up in chains. I guess I had my expectations too high. For more pictures, check out the below gallery, but you’re warned, some are explicit.
We made our way back to the flat to start again the next day, but I will end this entry on a note about the public transportation. Amsterdam is a city not to be missed, but we wish we had known how the trams, trains, and buses worked. You can purchase a 24 hour ticket at metro stations and inside the trams, but for some reason, we couldn’t find a three-day ticket that was mentioned online for a better value. But these tickets were good for all modes of transportation except the trains, which ran out of the city and to the airport. Those were purchased inside the Central Station. Signage was all in Dutch with little or no English translation which made navigating difficult through the many, many tram lines. Our first trip on the tram, we got on the correct one, but the navigation system on board was backward. At first, we thought we were wrong and hopped off, but after wasting ten minutes hopping from one side of the street to the other, we realized it was the tram that was incorrect.
So, my advice would be to learn your routes ahead of time and maybe have a basic understanding of Dutch if only to make sure you’re headed in the right direction. Keep reading to find out about Vondelpark, The Eye, Anne Frank and The Hague!