Amsterdam in Week 4 – Coffee Shops, the Red Light District & General Thoughts

This was to be my first trip outside of London since I arrived and, of course, Amsterdam was the natural choice. 

As with all of my future weekend jaunts, I will just sum up my experience in a series of bullet point highlights for the future Amsterdam-traveler:

You need wheels to have rights in the Netherlands

Basically, anyways. Pedestrians get no love in the streets of Amsterdam. Cars have their own pavement lanes with their own stop lights. Bikes have their own brick lanes with their own stop lights. Pedestrians have cement or cobblestone sidewalks shared with parked cars, cafe terraces with quaint tables and chairs, and bicycles that need more space to frolic. If you don’t look both ways before doing anything, you will die. This includes crossing the street, stepping onto the sidewalk, walking around a restaurant, etc. Oh, and another interesting thing to note about AMS streets is that the Pedestrian street lights do not change at the same time. You see, most of the street crossings have a mini cobblestone path running parallel through the center so that Pedestrians don’t get smushed trying to make it across multiple lanes of cars, motorcycles and bicycles, and the pathways on either side of the cobblestone path have their own walk/don’t walk signals. You would think both lights would have you walking at the same time, so that the Pedestrian in a rush can get across the street in one fell swoop. But no. No, when a Pedestrian wishes to cross the street, he/she must wait for the first light to change, hurry to the middle of the street where the cobblestone path is, and then stand there to wait for the second light to change. Hm.

Coffee Shops, Cafes and Bakeries

Okay, so it’s literally no secret that weed is legal in AMS, but here’s the thing: a coffee shop in AMS is not a coffee shop anywhere else, and a cafe is not a cafe anywhere else. Don’t be me and ask the concierge at your hotel where the nearest coffee shop is, and then get visibly annoyed when he totally and completely judges your life choices. A coffee shop is a place where you can smoke weed indoors or on their terrace. (Oh, okay?) A cafe is a restaurant, which means just because it says cafe does not mean its a place for you to sit and have a leisurely cup of coffee. My dear, you better be eating. Places to sit and have such a drink look more like bakeries. No guarantee that just because the name says bakery or pastry or whatever you can do that, but yeah, feel free to wander in (first looking both ways for those pesky, zooming bicycles!) and see.

Did someone say drugs?

This brings me to my next point: drug use in AMS. Mom, if you’re reading this, the knowledge below was gained for purely research and educational purposes, obviously. This article goes into what is and isn’t legal in AMS, but take it with a grain of salt because it is definitely legal to sell cannabis and alcohol in the same establishment, contrary to the article. First, alcohol. I don’t know whether, as an American, my body is just so generally polluted that EU alcohol does nothing for me, or if the establishments in AMS cut their liquor to decrease the potential for explicitly depraved behavior, but we tried sincerely hard to get drunk on this trip to no avail. One friend went the tequila route, one went the cognac route, one went the gin route, and one went the vodka route. Nothing. NOTHING. Second, I’ve lived in California for quite some time and I know what weed smells like. I am super suspicious as to whether what they’re claiming is weed in AMS is actually weed. No, no thank you sir, but I don’t know what you think that is. Third, weed oil is illegal. Say what? So absinthe pills, shrooms, prostitution, etc. are fine, but the type of marijuana that prevents ash from getting into your throat is where you draw the line? Maybe I’m just being aggressive because I am vehemently opposed to hallucinogens, carcinogens, and the like, but come on! Fourth, don’t try and get out of AMS with any of your collected drugs. They are aggressive af in airport security. Have you ever seen Locked Up Abroad? Yeah, well, that will be you.

 

The Red Light District

Gawd, I absolutely hate this place. I didn’t think it would bother me as much as it did, but it was literally the most depressing thing I’d ever seen. On either side of the canal, stretched as far as you could see, it’s just windows and windows of red-lit, scantily clad women beckoning suggestively to the drugged-out male tourists. You’ve got men, who look perfectly respectable at first glance, loudly discussing which one of the nameless, faceless women they’re going to f*ck, whether the size of the breasts is worth the price, why the skinny ones don’t have prettier faces, why the chubbier ones don’t work out more since they’re standing in lingerie all night… and my friends and I are just standing there, staring in horror, and fuming on behalf of women across the world. Now, I’m not passing judgment on the women who work in the red light district; I have no idea what in their lives led them to this point, and it’s not my business. But all I can think of, listening to a drunken Brit laugh rudely at one of the women, and say “Nah, you’re not for me,” is that no matter how far women think we may have come in achieving equality with men, places like this stand in place to remind us how wrong we are.

 

Traveling with EU Cell Service

So, yes, while cell phone providers like Three and Vodafone do carry over across the majority of EU countries, my friend hit a little snafu when she arrived in the Netherlands from London and her prepaid monthly phone plan with Vodafone promptly ran out. She thought, oh, no big deal, I’ll just go to the Vodafone store here and begin my next month. Several hours later, I get a text from an unknown Dutch number:

Um, so, they made me get a Dutch number because my UK number doesn’t fit with their computer system.

Ha-ha. And she has to keep the Dutch number for the entire next month. So, basically, while the current phone service translates well across the countries, the actual phone plans do not. Make sure to completely update your phone plan before leaving your country of origin!

Where the black people at?

AMS is white af. My crew of traveling friends consisted of me, a Latina, and an Indian, and our presence seemed to confuse the hell out of everyone. Ironic, because more than half of the advertisements I saw in stores, billboards, etc. were of minorities. The photographs in our hotel were even of minorities. Who are y’all targeting exactly? It felt like a completely flip-flopped cultural phenomenon. When I was growing up, seeing minority females in advertisements was a rarity. I had quite an identity crisis trying to figure out why no-one looked like me because everywhere I turned I saw Caucasian, straight-haired people featured in the products I was supposed to buy. I can’t help but imagine a little blonde-pigtailed Dutch girl growing up in AMS and trying to figure out why there are a bunch of curly-haired black people featured in the products she is supposed to buy.

Restaurant Service

I’ll be doing a separate post on specific AMS restaurants because, by far, the best thing about AMS was the huge variety of cultural foods to partake in. However, several things to note: most restaurants don’t open until midday, even if they claim to serve breakfast. This can be mighty frustrating if you’re a tourist whose plane landed at 8am and you didn’t have a chance to eat that morning. Also, almost every restaurant I went to had a legitimate dumbwaiter from the kitchen to the floor where the patrons are eating. They keep the kitchens completely separated from the diners, and the waitstaff waits by the dumbwaiter for the food to be sent down. Fascinating. Oh, also, the same rules for tipping applied here as in the UK (discretionary 12.5% added to bill automatically), and they are also super leisurely eaters, as well. You sit down, the waiter takes somewhere between 5-10 minutes to take your drink order, you wait somewhere between 5-15 minutes for your drink order to arrive, the waiter takes another 10-15 minutes to take your food order, your food comes and you take anywhere between 60-120 minutes to eat. The waiter does not come back to your table until you beckon him. Americans call it poor service, Europeans call it enjoying your meal, and yes, I enjoyed my meals.

Overall, 4/10 to return

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