Missing the bus in Amsterdam

“When you need a hammer, they’re perfect. They’re safe and comfortable for work. We love them in the garden because you can sit on them. They also make a great flower pot.”

This tall and tan Dutch man knew how to sell his clogs.

The small town of Edam, just outside of Amsterdam, is a picturesque village on a canal. Having a dairy with clogs and cheese served by blonde girls in traditional Dutch garb really completes the image.

20130803_095931Our group cruised the town on rented bicycles and posed in front of a windmill before going for a cheese tasting/clog making demonstration. It’s surprising how many of us made it to the early-morning tour after the previous night’s activities.

“The drugs and the pimps are strong,” warned our tour manager before the group went out.

And we’ll leave it at that.

We went back into the city to take in the sights after the bike ride. Let me tell you, Gay Pride is a good day to be in Amsterdam. The streets filled as the day went on and the canal was stuffed with boats full of pink-clad paraders.

(Fun fact: Amsterdam does their parades on the water. Cool, right?)

Some of our group went on a river cruise tour where they were swept up into the festivities and inadvertently became a part of the parade. The onlookers cheered. The group cheered back.

Amsterdam Gay Pride ParadePride in Amsterdam is the ultimate celebration of expression in the city of ultimate freedom. People are dressed in ordinarily outrageous clothes and are celebrating their individuality. You know how runway fashion is an exaggerated version that is scaled down for real-life wear? That’s what I feel pride is like. People go all out on this day-long “runway” to say “Hey, what’s wrong with being different? Let’s just all be ourselves and have some fun.”

And there is plenty of opportunity for fun in Amsterdam.

It is actually a very structured system of “vice” though. The prostitutes get monthly, government-sponsored checkups and the cafes have certain licensing on if they can carry alcohol or weed (Very few have both. If you are in mixed company, where some people just want a beer and others want to go Marie Antoinette on the space cake, a cafe called Grasshopper has all the goods).

But this city of vice also has a surprising amount of culture

As much as it has a party reputation, Amsterdam is very cultural. The city has bought out some of the infamous Red Light District windows and replaced the prostitutes with art galleries and respectable cafes.

Outside of the Red Light, there are more museums per person than anywhere else in Europe. You can go to the very house where Anne Frank was in hiding or the Van Gogh museum. There is even a sex museum if you are so inclined.

20130803_114447I spent the evening getting Indonesian food with three friends. The food was delicious and we missed our tour bus headed for the clubs in order to savor the goodness. Sometimes missing the bus is a fortunate twist that allows you to drink a few beers on a park bench along a light-lined canal. Sometimes it lets you meet a heavy-set, dark haired Swedish woman who is sitting in a random liquor store drunk out of her mind. She seemed really happy to meet us.

The houses in Amsterdam are designed tilting slightly forward with tiny doors, big windows and a sturdy hook hanging from the top used to hoist in furniture. We sat and talked as the buildings bent inward over our waterside oasis. Somehow the overflowing trashcan next to our bench didn’t detract from the beauty of the scene.

What I got out of Amsterdam

Culture and vice don’t have to be mutually exclusive. You can have a very liberal party city that is full of sex shows and museums; window-front prostitutes and eco-friendly transportation practices. A city is largely what you make it. Learn something new at one of the hundreds of museums during the day and have your fun at the Grasshopper by night. Because why not?

A life lived too far in any direction isn’t experienced fully. Balance is key, people.

Traveling Ash’s Tip: If you are going to Amsterdam for it’s legendary party scene, try starting your first morning in the city early by heading over to the Anne Frank Museum or checking out Van Gogh. You can rage your heart out the rest of the time. Then try curing a hangover with a bike ride in the gorgeous neighboring areas.

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