XXX (part IV) / by Deborah Clague

We spent a few days on the west coast of The Netherlands fighting heavy tourist traffic in the tulip field region. We were lucky to be visiting when they were in full bloom. The rainbow of colour was a spectacular sight. We were also lucky to find available hotel rooms; most were booked solid. For this reason I regret not being able to stay in The Hague, one of the prettiest cities we drove through during our holiday. I hope to return one day. 

My father seemed to enjoy the country as well, and slowly eased his disposition against Amsterdam. He had to. I used my iPad to book a hotel for two nights near the city and it was non-refundable. 

This is the official flag for the city of Amsterdam. Also a good warning for the remaining content of this post. While it does have a rich history and culture, the city is known as the "sex and drugs capital of the world" for good reason: these people are open-minded to the point where I'm certain the word "shame" doesn't exist in Dutch dictionaries. I am by no means prudish but there were times when part of me felt I had stepped off a time machine from Victorian England, shocked and appalled by the wanton hedonism that carried virtually no consequence in this strange land.

The other part of me was envious. 

One person I talked to, a well-dressed professional who claimed to be the accountant for a local football club, described it as such: "We respect our freedom. We enjoy our freedom." 


I checked the weather before we left the hotel. It called for sunny skies and a high of 20 degrees celsius. There was no mention of the cloud of hashish smoke that permanently hangs over the city though or the residual high that one gets while strolling the streets. It is omnipresent. I kept overhearing other tourists (mostly English accents) comment on it as well. I always assumed stoners treated this place as a mecca because marijuana - and only marijuana - was decriminalized. Imagine my surprise at the number of shops openly selling all manner of narcotics. Noticeable by the red/white mushroom signage hanging over their doorways (which, to me, resembled Toad from Super Mario Bros.), these stores would have "menus" in the front windows advertising their wares, potency and any potential side effects. It was like no window shopping I'd ever seen before. Until we went to the Red Light District that is…

The cobblestone streets of Amsterdam, while beautiful, weren't helping my father at all. At one point, instead of farcical praying for the good lord to take him away, he wanted his picture taken with someone dressed up like the Grim Reaper. I refused but was relieved he hadn't lost his sense of humour, no matter how dark. 

You have to possess a sense of humour when visiting here. It's too crazy a place to not laugh at things and situations you find yourself in. Behold my personal case study: I had a craving for Doritos one day and thus entered a general store selling all manner of respectable merchandise from gardening supplies to baby items to housewares. Spying a shelf packed with cookies through the corner of my eye, I assumed that potato chips would be in the general vicinity. I was well surprised when I got there to see sex toys located next to the Chips Ahoy. I'm not sure how the two correlate but viewed it as a missed marketing opportunity. Clearly they should have been placed next to the batteries. 

Another missed marketing opportunity - why the hell aren't Doritos available in Amsterdam of all places? 

It was only 5:00pm but it had been a long, tiring day and my dad was due for a nap. Before leaving however, we had to visit the infamous Red Light District. Seeing it in daylight offered a different perspective, the faces of all the other perverts loitering the area unobscured by low ambient lighting. I expected visitors to be older men (not sightseeing with their daughter) but most were roving packs of 20-something males, ear-to-ear grins plastered on their overly-enthusiastic faces. Despite being relatively early, the workers of the district were present in their windows attempting to entice passerby with the tiniest and sheerist of lingerie. Each venue seemed to have a different specialty; the one that stood out the most advertised something called "electro-sex", which immediately made me think of the movie Eurotrip. I overheard no screaming, but again - it was early 

Coincidentally, walking through the Red Light District was the first time I didn't hear my father say "may the good lord take me". It was worth the trip after all. 

Arriving at Amsterdam Centraal Station

Arriving at Amsterdam Centraal Station

Weird food dispensing machine in Amsterdam

Weird food dispensing machine in Amsterdam

McDonalds in Amsterdam…not to be confused with "coffee shops" in Amsterdam

McDonalds in Amsterdam…not to be confused with "coffee shops" in Amsterdam

Drug store

Drug store

Side effects: crying and screaming for up to 15 hours

Side effects: crying and screaming for up to 15 hours

Amsterdam coffee shop

Amsterdam coffee shop

Amsterdam's flower market

Amsterdam's flower market

Streets of Amsterdam

Streets of Amsterdam

Automobile and boat traffic go side-by-side

Automobile and boat traffic go side-by-side

Red Light District in daylight

Red Light District in daylight

To view more images of Amsterdam, click here