On our must do list was, of course, Amsterdam.
Amsterdam is well known as a nirvana for those who enjoy the seedier side of life; coffee shops for smoking pot, window prostitution, live sex shows, and some of the nicest beer you are ever likely to taste.
This reputation overshadows the other aspects of Amsterdam. It is a breathtakingly beautiful city. It is the non-smelly* Venice of the world. The people are friendly, liberal, cultured, and awesomely trendy. It has awesome food, and transport is as easy as a short walk, a cruise in the canal, or a ride on the ever present trams.
- Venice has no plumbing; the city's bowel movements swirl around the canals, making the city smell awful. Amsterdam on the other hand plumbing and a system of locks which allows the canals to be flushed every couple of weeks.
The people of Amsterdam are fully aware their city is as trendy as Paris and as beautiful as Venice, all the while being one of europe's key chic-spots. (the oh thats so cool type of chic).
The government is rapidly shutting down the window prostitution and coffee shops. In their place you can find these fake boutique shops; displaying the iamsterdam and redlightfashion brand.
You can't actually buy the goods; its a display of the vision for Amsterdam; a fashion centre of the world. The place is so cool - it might end up true.
Prostitution in Amsterdam started early - the city was one of the world's trade centres for hundreds of years. The resulting influx of horny sailors and merchants was quite a problem for the conservative country. Ever practical, the
Dutch established a central protistution district, and invited girls to trade in an open and legal fashion. This ensured the sailors were not off chasing everyone's daughters, wives, mothers, and grandmothers.
Even more practical, the window prostitution is located in a circle around a church. As it was originally Catholic, this allowed customers to easily stop in and purchase an absolution for their freshly committed sins. Talk about a one stop shop!
(this church is 10m from 1 girl window brothels on all sides)
(this street has Europe's highest crime rate, it leads up to the church)
Dutch practicality is illustrated through the city. In a beer loving city, finding a bladder stop can be quite a pressing issue. For a guy, a quiet corner can be a very attractive place.. But who wants their house to smell like pee? In may corners you can find these splash-back devices. Any drunken gent trying to pee on this will have a severe splash-back.. no spash-flow problem.. wet shoes anyone?
For a time these were also electrified, but apparently a gent was severely injured, and not in a good viagra-like way. Now they are switched off.
It's not all about practicality, the Dutch also have a sense of humour. In 1811 during the French occupation of Holland, Napoleon's cousin decreed all Dutch were required to have a surname. Given that the French couldn't speak their language, the Dutch saw this as opportunity to make fun of the French. They registered names such as Piest which means to piss, and Naaktgeboren meaning born naked.
Most of the time we weren't completely naked, but we still found ourselves easily entertained. We went on talking tours and just wandered the streets, intrigued by all the cool facets of the city. Here are just a few:
A free Rembrandts museum that running between two streets;
There is old convent with the grave of one of the most famous nuns fixed into the cobblestones.
There are buildings full of legal squatters (quirks in Dutch real-estate law allow someone that squats undetected for 12 months to have a kind of free permanent squatting right).
(the building in the middle is one of many full of legal squatters)
Buildings in Amsterdam tend to be multi-story, and deep, but very narrow. This is because land tax was based on the width of buildings. The resulting tax avoiding architecture resulted in this building, this home only wide enough to fit the door (see the red one in the middle?)
A tiny car for tiny streets? (Until recently the Dutch were the tallest men on earth - average height something like 6'4")
Public toilets - there are (open) male urinals, and these ladies enclosed toilets situated along the canals. Originally there was no female toilets, and the council was against building any. The ladies of the area organise mass pee strikes - all of the women would go and wee in public on one of the bridges. It didn't take too many of these sessions until the relieved women of amsterdam were rewarded with equality.
Unfortunately too many women were mugged by heavy drug users in these toilets - they are now all locked. Perhaps this is yet more ammunition for the iamsterdam movement.
Even without the free toilets, Lim and I are big fans of Amsterdam - we'll be back.