Travel

Four days in Amsterdam

When you first tell people you are going to Amsterdam with friends, 98% of people will respond with ‘Are you going to try space cakes?’  It’s true Amsterdam has a notorious reputation for being the place to indulge in some casual drug use, with cannabis being legal to smoke (and consume in sweeter varieties) throughout the city.  Visiting ‘Dam earlier this month with friends for a short 4 day  stay, we were faced with concerned parents and intrigued work colleagues, questioning our intentions, which left us becoming part of the cliché, planning to seek out this supposed dishonourable city. What we actually discovered far surpassed our expectations, and was exactly what I had hoped from this city brimming with culture and a laidback allure.

Granted, I had visited Amsterdam with two guys, meeting a third friend while we were out there, and the trip was to be centred more around experiencing a different kind of culture to the art galleries and canal boat rides, but we couldn’t help but be pulled into the city’s relaxed atmosphere, and strolling around causally in the summer sun almost felt natural. Like we weren’t just tourists, but this was our city. Amsterdam certainly has a tranquil magnetism, despite the hustle and bustle of central areas.

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We spent a lot of our time in Leidseplein, where we ate most of our meals, including giant pancakes at The Pancake Corner, which were definitely a highlight of the trip and come highly recommended, despite the cost.

Of course, Amsterdam is also famous for its Red Light District and casual attitude towards sex. I suppose I had expected to be greeted by grimy streets, dubious sex shops and disturbing loitering men around every corner, but I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of this. Perhaps it was just the parts of Amsterdam we did see, but I found sex to be approached in an unusually open yet dignified manner. Yes, there were sex shops, and yes the visit to the Sex Museum was somewhat unsettling and amusing in equal measure, but it didn’t feel quite as seedy as I was expecting. Sex is sex. Deal with it.  The Red Light District is a whole other world altogether. We decided to do an Ultimate Party pub crawl one night through the district, which was an incredible experience that left us all feeling a little unwholesome the next day. Let’s just say, we had to ask our uber driver to pull over so I could gracefully regurgitate the alcohol I had just consumed onto the pavement. Classy, I know.

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I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised. In my drunken state, I almost forgot where I was until in-between pubs I looked up to see a bright red light next to me. Then I looked around me; there were dozens of red lights. Amidst the haze from drunken splendour, I made out a figure in the light next to me. It was a woman. She was gesturing to the crowd of men who were in an amazed stupor, surrounding me. I looked around again to see that there were women in every window, and then it clicked. Wait, these women are prostitutes. Yet they weren’t the typical image of prostitution. Most of these women were goddesses, primmed and toned to perfection. Ready to be adored and explored.

Waking up the following day, we all discussed over brunch that despite their more polished than expected appearance, there was still something very uneasy about the Red Light District. I think it’s something you definitely have to see, but there is so much more to Amsterdam.

On our last full day in Amsterdam we decided to visit Gunther Von Hagens’ Body Worlds exhibit, which aims to showcase the effect of happiness on our physical being. The exhibit itself is a perfect blend of science and art, though not for the fainthearted, as real, donated deceased human bodies are used in the exhibit.  I was personally enthralled in the fascinating displays of poised human bodies, and informative descriptions of the inner workings of our being. Everything was so beautiful and clean, and the introduction of the more interactive elements to improve our happiness throughout the exhibit, were unbelievably fun. Who doesn’t love swings?!

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I’ll definitely be returning to Amsterdam in the future.  There was so much more to see and do, I felt like we only saw a tiny part of the city. On our last day we walked through the city and stumbled across a market. It was a Friday afternoon and in this little corner of the city, people gathered over books and old paintings. I want more of that Amsterdam, please. Next time.

And yes, for those curiously minded, I had a space cake. It did nothing.

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