Amsterdam: Behind the smoke

Amsterdam is often categorised as a getaway for stoners looking to widen their ‘horizon’ in terms of hash and skunk and hipsters wishing to go crazy with as many substances as the city can offer. But why does it have to be? The fact that cannabis is legal and you can get high without the paranoia of getting caught doesn’t make it the perfect holiday destination for the majority of us. I’m going to tell you about what the city has to offer behind the smoke.

When you set foot in Amsterdam, the first thing you realise is how overwhelmingly rich with culture it is, unlike any city you are likely to have come across purely due to the beauty and eccentricity of it. Even when you think you have become used to the surroundings, you’ll turn a corner to find some other weirdness that will throw you straight back to the start. For us, this was a small shop that sold multicoloured and naked rag dolls that seemed to serve no purpose at all. Although, this isn’t to say there aren’t things you’ll have to adjust to quickly. The trams themselves were enough to confuse me, but alongside the sheer amount of bicycles flying by you, sometimes it felt like a death trap. I had to be jolted to safety more times than I would like to admit and once even managed to find my bum on the wrong side of a bike handle to be told ‘you are in the bike lane arsehole, next time I won’t slow down’. If all of that wasn’t enough, the maze of canals is enough to push you to tears as you retrace steps in order to find your way back to your hotel, but in my opinion, that’s the fun of it!

If you know only a little about art, the Van Gogh museum will still be able to impress you with the history of all that is Van Gogh’s unique life. Even if your not impressed by every single piece of his art, the story of his life and paintings by friends of his make up for it. We left with only the disappointment that some of the paintings may have been a bit similar and that one of the skies were unfinished which left it with the untouched look of a five year olds homework. Yet you still cant be disappointed by seeing the exact same pieces that were made by the man who decided to cut his own ear off.

If art completely isn’t your thing, maybe history is. After a shorter than it looked queue, we entered Anne Franks House, one of the most famous addresses of World War Two, where one of the most heart-rendering stories unfolded. You were allowed to wander around at your own will in the space that her and her family concealed themselves for two years. Squeezing through tiny doorways and sliding up steep stairways you can feel the eerie and powerful atmosphere that crams itself into the heart of the building. It has been moderated in order to make it available to the public and there are quotes from her diary, printed on to the walls for the public to read in wavy italic writing, but this takes away nothing from the mood of the house. At the end you could read actual pieces of her diary in glass cases before descending a spiral staircase to a room that has screens telling stories of discrimination that is happening in the world today and you were allowed to vote on whether you believe the actions taken were justified or not. Although, if you are going to embark on a trip to Anne Franks house, make sure you go with someone that will appreciate the history as much as you do. We found ourselves next to a group of young men laughing and giggling and even having to ask a friend ‘what’s the holocaust dude?’.

One thing you have to do if you are going to Amsterdam is hire yourselves some bikes and take a ride around Vondlepark. As scary as we found it at first, you soon get used to the thousands upon thousands of people swatting past you on the roadside and making you look as if you had never ridden one before. The only other problem was when I rode off shortly and turned around to a face full of tears begging me to slow down and stop riding off. But as soon as we made it in to the park, we felt a whole lot safer. The park itself is beautiful, with a huge pond in the middle where you can sit and watch street performers practice their act as hundreds of teenagers fill the place up to skate near the small underpass and drink/smoke as it turns dark. As bad as that may sound to some of you, it wasn’t intimidating at all. We returned many times to just wander about on the way back to the hotel before getting ready for the night.

Beside the huge range of clubs and bars you can find yourself on a night out. One place you know you will find yourself has to be the Red Light District. If not for the un-classiness of buying yourself a women for 15 minutes then just out of pure curiosity (don’t worry, mine was the latter). The strangeness of walking down a street with women lined up like tinned food on a shelf tapping on glass doors trying to lure customers in for the sum of fifty euros literally leaves you short of words. We watched groups of rowdy men bully their friends in to getting a prostitute and other men shadily walking with their heads down and we all knew they know this place too well. We walked up and down the street at least six times to try and take it all in and I still feel like I didn’t get the my head around it. It is truly one of them places that you have to see to understand.

My experience of Amsterdam left me with the certainty that I would love to come back. There wasn’t one point where I was sat somewhere bored and waiting to do something because there is so much to jump in to that you could keep yourself busy for weeks and still not see everything. You don’t have to go there just to smoke legally because there is a whole range of places to visit and things to do that should make you want to visit more than just the weed and substances. Amsterdam is this bubble that you engulf yourself in and when it is time to leave, you realise you could stay a whole lot longer.


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