Amsterdam, the Venice of the North, a “Limer’s” paradise as we would say in Trinbagonian vernacular; a city which by all means reeks of a young, fresh and also an innovative culture. It’s also that European city fondly known for its infamous canal systems; an amazing artistic heritage, cycling and bikes; and for the Arts enthusiasts, Van Gogh, Rembrandt and Vermeer. The perfect city for a reunion with friends, where the bright green Heineken signage is strategically placed and easily spotted, and outdoor bars dot every open space along the streets. In effect, I was looking for a place to spend my birthday and Amsterdam was nowhere on the list of prospective cities. But it was the end of summer and getting to and from several choice destinations, proved arduous. Amsterdam seemed like the prime destination despite the inclement weather forecasted. Just a mere seven hours from New York City, I was on my way to the Dutch country of The Netherlands/Holland, the ideal destination for a short vacation.
Furthermore, over the past few years, Amsterdam has certainly reinvented itself. After all, its population has grown by a whooping 122% and it has seen its infrastructural prospects increased significantly. Also, it is a city full of character, which lends to the liberal identity it enjoys. It is a place where interestingly, prostitution is legal and a “spliff” can be lit, anytime/anywhere. So much so, it is common knowledge that in Amsterdam, you can enter coffee shop and buy “soft” drugs, such as weed and hashish. It is easily accessible; you can stroll through the streets of the famed Red Light District and get anything imaginable, created with marijuana as its main ingredient. With this intention, have no fear, nobody will arrest you, because it is legal.
Day One – was spent checking in hotel (which proved to be a task) and familiarizing ourselves with Hoogoorddreef, our home for the next four days. The weather permitted for this and so we wallowed under the golden rays of the Amsterdam sun. Similarly to the previous European cities visited, the Metro system was phenomenal and our mode of transportation. It was easily accessible and immaculately clean.
Day Two- It was my birthday and I got up to a rainy start which lasted pretty much throughout the day but I had my plans laid out and nothing was going to stop it. We took the metro to the Hague, which was an hour and a half ride from where I stayed. As a former student of International Relations, this was a place that fascinated me. I must confess that I always thought “The Hague” was just a building that housed the United Nations International Criminal Court Tribunal. On my visit to Amsterdam, I discovered it was actually a city on the North Coast Sea. I realized however, that it’s never too late to learn.
As we made our way to “Den Haag” (The Hague), scenic villages juxtaposed along vast plains inhabited by windmills, goats, sheep and cattle grazing peacefully, proved to be the hallmark of the metro ride.
The Village of Abcoude
We arrived at the “Hague” during a period of heavy rainfall and so my quest to take a picture on the outside of the ICC was hopeless. The weather did not permit too much, so we had lunch at a cafe and headed back to the hotel.
On the Inside
In light of the inclement weather, I did an awesome river cruise with my Mom later in the evening, the climax to a wet and cold but well spent birthday.
Day Three- The Red Light District translated in Dutch as Den Wallen, was on the agenda. It is the largest and best known red light district in Amsterdam and possibly in the world; as I strolled through its network of alleys, its appeal was impressive and enchanting. Narrow cobbled stone streets, tour boats operating in the canal and several brothels that made no attempts at discretion, added extra “entertainment” to an already eccentric and unconventional place.
I was amused by the Museum of Prostitution, which we happened to stumble upon while walking through De Wallen, as well as the statue honoring Prostitutes. It is the first and only such monument anywhere and its purpose is meant to show respect to the millions of people around the world who earn their money in prostitution work. Equally important, Holland is a country where the authorities treat Prostitutes as independent entrepreneurs. They must pay taxes just as any other employed individual.
Belle- The Sex Worker Statue
In essence, my four days in Amsterdam, proved to be worth the while, despite nature’s plan. I experienced a combination of things; from the liberal lifestyle they enjoy to an overall welcoming atmosphere. This is a city that I would re-visit, ensuring that special attention is given to the weather forecast.