The True Sin City

Amsterdam: where laws are unconventional and up is down.

Amsterdam was not part of our original plan. However, with over a week scheduled for Paris, we wanted an extra weekend adventure. Cutting our time in Paris down to five days, we spontaneously hopped on a train headed for Amsterdam instead. Nowhere to stay. No plans. And no knowledge of what secrets this city held.

After arriving, step one was to find somewhere to stay! In the summer, hostels in major European cities are in high demand and fill up months in advance. This presented us with an issue. After three failed attempts we were wandering the streets of the red light district, looking for any openings. That’s when we saw a small office labeled ‘hostelrunners.com’ and immediately piled in with our large, heavy backpacks.The man sitting at the desk turned out to be a lifesaver. He hooked us up, securing us a three person private room for 15 euros each (hostels rooms started at 40 euros each)! Only catch – it was in a somewhat sketchy, unmarked building in the heart of the red light district. Nonetheless, we happily took it. Nowhere near nice, this room was at least doable, and ended up being one of the cheapest places we stayed in, in all of Europe. Thank you hostelrunners.com!

After settling into our room we wandered through the ‘red light district’ to get a feel for what it was all about. A little naive and unknowing, I had no idea of to which extent Amsterdam allowed prostitution and marijuana – which are completely illegal in the US. I was shocked to see ‘cafes,’ salesmen touting live sex shows, and windows showcasing lurid prostitutes, covering several blocks. Definitely a little overwhelming and disheartening for someone as unprepared as I was.

Moving out of the raunchy area we got to know the rest of Amsterdam a bit, and we LOVED what we saw! We spent a sunny afternoon enjoying some local beer at the Brouwerij ‘t IJ brewery, on the East side of Amsterdam.

We basked in the warm weather and toured the streets of Amsterdam, taking full advantage of everything this city had to offer. A fancy antique market, beautiful parks, a Vincent van Gogh museum, delicious sandwich shops, the Anne Frank museum…

Vincent van Gogh Museum – My favorite peices were van Gogh’s 1887 ‘Woods and Undergrowth’ as well as 1888 ‘Landscape at Twilight’ – both had extremely beautiful colors and brush strokes.

To my surprise, there was a great deal of brilliant architecture!

I happened to stumble upon the 2012 World Press Photo exhibit, being held in a gorgeous old church.

Depicting world events through photography, this show brings together an entire year of occurrences into a single room.

Showcasing the best photos in several categories; news, arts and entertainment, daily life, nature, portraits, contemporary issues, etc… this exhibit bridges the gap between professional photojournalism and the public, uniting everyone around the world’s most important events. The show starts in Amsterdam and continues on a global tour, making appearances in several large cities such as Prague, Istanbul, Vienna, and New York City.

It was an extremely powerful display of beauty, both sad and inspiring. It was a reminder of  all the historically significant moments of 2011 – Japan’s earthquake and tsunami, the Norway shooting, the termination of Mubarek’s reign in Egypt, unrest in Libya, the ongoing battle against drug addiction, racism, environmental devastation and much more. I’m delighted to have stumbled upon this exhibit; it was by far the best 3 hours I spent while in Amsterdam.

All in all, I enjoyed what this bizarre, unique city had to offer. Underneath its risqué reputation, Amsterdam is a lovely city with rich culture, history, and architecture. Until next time, bye Amsterdam!

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