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March 15, 2014

DODD: An Amsterdam good time

“Some people think Amsterdam is a city of sin. In truth it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin.” — John Green

When anyone found out I was going to visit Amsterdam, almost to the person I was asked one of two, or both, of the following questions. “Are you going to smoke pot?” or “Are you going to the Red Light District?”

In other words, Amsterdam has the worldwide reputation for these two things. I would like to simply write them off as stereotype, but in truth, both of these ideas are a viable aspect of life in the city.

However, after spending five days with my family there, it is really just an anomaly or a sideshow to the real city that is Amsterdam. In my mind, I draw parallels to Paris in the beauty of the antiquity and history of Amsterdam. However, anyone who has been to both places will readily tell you there are distinctive different personalities between the two European cities

Instead of the pot and prostitutes idea about the city of Amsterdam, I would use two other words: bikes and canals to briefly describe the major attributes to a visit there. One quote I read stated there were 150 canals and 1,250 bridges in the city.

The major canals in semi-concentric circles circumscribe the city offering a lovely visual as well as a walking tourist’s dream navigation tool. Once we reached one of the city’s major canals we were certain we were on the right track to our destination

In historical Amsterdam, the streets and sidewalks are inlaid brick and buildings which are several hundreds of years old. The architecture is unique and the tiny side streets and alleys are charming littered with shops and cafes. There are no Walmarts in Amsterdam. Small entrepreneurship is an evident plan.

There is little chance of being hit by an automobile in Amsterdam. There is every bit of a chance of being struck by a bicyclist or a scooter. Bicycle lanes give the cyclist’s absolute right-of-way. They are clearly marked and run directly next to the pedestrian sidewalk.

The bicycle traffic is nonstop day or night. It is certainly the preferred mode of transportation throughout the city. Kim and Cameron had a running bet of just how long it would be before I was struck by a cyclist. I never was, but there were close calls.

We found the people extraordinarily polite, friendly and helpful to a trio of Otiscans who for a couple of days were lost sheep. A visitor to Amsterdam will find an overwhelming majority of residents encountered have some command of the English language, which ranges from enough necessary for communication to more fluent in English than the average American.

The residents of Amsterdam are a very attractive and physically fit people. Their lifestyle involves traveling by bicycle or walking as a regular part of their daily routine. Fresh fruits and vegetables are everywhere and the diet centers around them.

Seafood and meat portions are minuscule compared to American standards. In the evening, it seems that most people are out and about or spending long periods of time in bars or cafes. The meal is a social outing and not just a reason to eat.

As to the stereotype questions, I did walk into a coffee shop or two and inquire about the laws. Young people were smoking pot and having fun much as they do in American bars with music playing. It was a social gathering that would not seem in any way unusual except for the passing of “funny” cigarettes and the heavy smell of the unmistakable aroma of marijuana in the air

The Red light district has become much more of a tourist trap than one might imagine. We were not the only family walking along the canal to observe the several blocks that is commonly known as the Red Light District.

Yes, the windows with the legal working girls do have a broken red neon light in their window which is noticeable for quite a distance. The scantily clad ladies advertise themselves in the large viewing windows.

We walked anywhere from 5 to 10 miles per day in our visit to the city. I might have even lost weight had it not been for the bakeries and European pastries on every street corner. Next week, I will review some of the things we did during our visit as well as some anecdotal stories and experiences.

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