Of Bicycles, Canals and the Red Light District


The Dutch tour guide on our canal cruise tour today said, “Amsterdam is three metres deep: first it’s the cannabis, then the bicycles, then the water.” And he is a hundred percent correct. Which he should be because he’s a tour guide.

Anyway, today we went into the central Amsterdam city by train and arrived at the Amsterdam Centraal (that wasn’t a typo, that’s legitimately how it’s spelled) before delving into the city’s core. I’m not really going to elaborate much on the places we went to but rather of how I perceived this city to be.

First, guided by a map, we visited the tourist attractions such as the Royal Palace and Madam Tussaud but only from the outside. In my previous post, I mentioned how beautiful the buildings at the Amsterdam countryside were? Well, it wasn’t just the countryside, the buildings in Amsterdam city were equally beautiful too. They were all tall and narrow but wonderfully designed.

After that, we visited the Anne Frank House but didn’t get to enter because the queue, holy crap, stretched on for two streets so I just took a convincing photo outside of the building and dined at the cafe next to it. It was a shame because I really wanted to live the Hazel and Gus Amsterdam experience but I got a photo of the stairs that Hazel climbed so that’s 0.5% of the experience, I guess.

Following that was a canal cruise through the tourist hotspots and that was when the sun came out to illuminate the initial gloomy grey clouds. After that, we basically walked the whole town, passing by the Red Light District rather too frequently for my liking. We lurked at the Rijk Museum park a little and then walked back to the central station to head back to the hotel.

What I noticed, while I was in Amsterdam, is that they have very confusing streets and it’s mainly made up of four things: pedestrians, bicycles, buses and trams. There were tram tracks running throughout the roads, criss-crossing each other that it was understandable why no one really drives a car around here. There were hardly any cars and most of the people get by with bicycles. There was a huge building for bicycle parking and it was literally four storeys (and perhaps more) of parked bicycles. Another thing I noticed is the taxis in Amsterdam are all either Mercedes Benzes or BMWs which makes the taxi driving profession look a little cooler.

Amsterdam is also nothing without water (specifically canals) and bridges. The entire time we trudged through the city, we crossed at least six or seven bridges and also oh! The houseboats! The same Dutch tour guide mentioned that in Amsterdam alone, there were approximately 2500 houseboats moored in these canals, which, I think, besides the constant staring from tourists on canal cruises, was pretty cool because their houseboats were really, really nice and pretty.

Amsterdam, you will also find, is full of graffiti, which really isn’t shocking but it literally is everywhere. And also, I’ve come to a conclusion that Dutch words are just combinations of multiple English words with a single syllable with double vowels.

And finally, we touch the topic of Red Light District. For those of you who know what that is, I bet you’ve been expecting this, silently screaming, “WHEN IS MICHELLE GONNA TALK ABOUT THE RED LIGHT DISTRICT” while reading this entire post and for those of you who don’t, good for you because it’s not something you might like. Or maybe it is. I don’t know! I don’t know any of you that well! I think.

Anyway, my thoughts on this is that Amsterdam is a really liberal city and they take pride in these activities, which are considered illegal in most countries, that they do. I’d say Amsterdam is the European Thailand where this culture is concerned. And I’m not saying it’s wrong, but I’m not saying it’s right, either. I really don’t have a say in this because I don’t know enough to actually know, you know? Like, to many people it might be horrifying and disturbing and should be banished but to the Dutch it might just be something really, really normal. It’s like the existence of Japanese commercials. There’s no wrong or right in it. For me, anyway. To quote the Dutch waiter from The Fault in Our Stars, “Many think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but it is actually a city of freedom; and many people find sin in freedom.” Perhaps not the exact words. I’m too lazy to search for the exact quote, I’m just reciting off the top of my head.

The basis of right and wrong aside, I personally felt really uncomfortable in that area and was glad to be out in the city instead of those alleys. Dodgy and sketchy people terrify me, which is a really reasonable fear, I should add. I was hugging my backpack tightly to my chest the entire time, afraid to make eye contact with anyone at all. It was called a Red Light District, after all, as in, danger red light?

The irony of the Red Light District located right beside a church though. Biggest irony in the history of all ironies.

Speaking of The Fault in Our Stars, I was rereading the Amsterdam parts of the book and started shouting, “I know what you’re talking about I’ve been to that place too!” So I’m really glad I was given the chance to live the Hazel and Gus Amsterdam experience at all. I know it sounds pretty weird to some people that I’m being excited over something fictitious but you don’t know me, okay. In the wise words of Clarissa Kendall, you don’t know me. #YOUDONTKNOWME

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Anyway, my Amsterdam trip is coming to an end and I’ll be flying back to London tomorrow evening. Amsterdam has been a city of surprises, but it’s definitely one of the most interesting cities around.

Again, too tired to upload photos into this post (you have no idea how long it takes to upload multiple photos into a blog post, no idea) so the full album is here. I might edit photos into this post when I’m free. I might.

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Michelle Teoh

26-year-old cynical Asian, book enthusiast and purveyor of fine sarcasm.

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