I found Amsterdam to be a romantic city with its canals, old-fashioned street lamps, picturesque shops and cozy coffee houses. Night fell at 4:30 pm and the decorative lamps cast a golden glow over the canals and cobbled streets. It’s a compact, walkable city, however a word of warning – beware when crossing the street! Squadrons of cyclists advance at a swift rate and I nearly got myself run over more than once. In the dark it was even worse. But cycling’s a good thing. When you think of the toxic air pollution in Paris, primarily caused by automobiles, I guess I’d rather have cyclists.
Christmas wreaths hung in windows and adorned doors. As I walked along admiring them, I thought to myself “In France, they’d be stolen overnight, along with the bicycles.” (A declining crime rate in Holland is the reason 19 prisons were scheduled to close in 2013. Because of the country’s progressive philosophy and best practices, there are apparently not enough offenders.)
There’s a sense of…..virtuousness about the Dutch that I find deeply refreshing and appealing. They look virtuous as they cycle vigorously along (whole families sometimes, the children in a little cart attached to the bicycle or riding on the crossbar) fresh-faced and smiling, their bodies lean and fit. They also employ a no-nonsense pragmatism in their politics. Amsterdam has the most liberal and tolerant policies with regards to prostitution and soft drugs. Prostitution is legalized. There’s a common sense to this. By working in a controlled environment, prostitutes are protected from violence and exploitation. As for health issues, they must undergo regular medical examinations to prevent the spread of STDs. This sounds saner than what one sees in Paris – male and female prostitutes lurking behind trees in the Bois de Boulogne.
As for legalized hash and marijuana, the benefits are a safer product, elimination of dealers and illicit revenue going towards criminal organizations and drug cartels.
As is the custom in all of the northern European countries, coffee and cake (koffie en gebak) is a delicious morning and afternoon ritual in which to enjoy almond and butter cookies, apple turnovers, gingerbread, streusel, different cakes and fruit-filled pies. Coffee shops and tea salons abound.
My hotel (link below) was perfectly located at number 15 Keizersgracht, a very long road that runs parallel to a canal and winds around the city. It’s a 10-minute walk from the central train station. The soundproofed rooms come equipped with extremely comfortable beds and a deluxe espresso machine. Small shopping streets, lined on either side with darling boutiques, coffee shops and restaurants are just up the road. I was charmed the whole time I was there. Already I’m planning my return in 2015. (note – if you book your train tickets well in advance, you benefit from a considerable discount.)
MORE TO COME – the canal houses, more photos, and the famous Rijksmuseum.