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Amsterdam - Charming buildings, canals, bikes, pot, and the sex trade

[ NEW YORK, NY - NYC - 6/21/2010 - www.Littleviews.com ]

The pictures and information contained on this page provide additional material related to a blog entry by the same name currently posted on European River Cruise.

>>  Old Amsterdam is a city of beauty kept that way because of historic preservation, a significant reduction in vehicle traffic, and an even more significant increase in the use of bicycles.

Bikes in Old Amsterdam

While its main shopping streets are filled with common, international chain stores (including McDonald's), the streets along its canals are charming.

Many homes built along Amsterdam's canals do not stand upright, and among their slopes, they often lean forward on purpose. The reason for this is to protect front walls while heavy items (such as furniture or merchandise) are lifted from roof-peak hoists. If these homes were built straight up, heavy items could scrape walls, or pound them to bits when lifted during a strong wind.

There is no particular purpose for buildings to lean sideways, even though several of them do. According to our tour guide, however, tilted homes are not at risk of toppling. Preservation laws require that owners stabilize their buildings so they remain "as is."

The Dutch are known for plant cultivation, especially bulb-type plants such as tulips. In Amsterdam, specialty shops sell bulbs, seeds, and dried flowers along a block-long area called "the floating flower market." Surprisingly, the Dutch also do a brisk business in cultivating marijuana seeds, making available what seems to be almost a hundred varieties.

Each floating flower market shop sits on its own tent-covered barge (flat boat). The picture below shows a back view of these barges as seen from across a canal.

Below is another back view of the garden shop barges, plus the buildings that stand directly in front of them. At ground level, most of these buildings house inexpensive souvenir and snack shops, many of which exploit Amsterdam's charms, including Delft (most likely Chinese knock-offs), statues of buildings, "naughty" stuff related to the sex trade, and declarations of pot-power.

As I mentioned in my blog, my husband and I like to seek out the unusual, although in Amsterdam, the Red Light District is not unusual. Its location, in fact, is prominently featured on tourist maps, it is currently free of international chain stores (thank god), and its canals are still charming. During the day, seeing bikini-dressed women (identified as "sex workers") standing in narrow rooms fronted by glass doors is less annoying than viewing skyscraper-tall, Midtown Manhattan billboards that showcase models wearing Calvin Klein briefs or Victoria Secret's secrets. We were not there in the evening when I understand that these little rooms sparkle with red light.

Local government is not exceptionally pleased with the district, but during the day, it appears to be pretty tame. Of course, a big plus is that there are no chain stores anywhere. Another plus is that the district features a number of very good sandwich shops as well as "coffee" shops, where coffee is poured and pot is smoked. That said, these coffee shops have excellent coffee, beating Starbucks at its own game! I loved the €2 cappuccino brewed by The Bulldog Energy Coffee Shop because we could sip it while sitting on extremely pleasant, canal-side table areas (see next picture).

We passed three Bulldog locations, each of which had peaceful, canal-side seating like the one below. Did we smell pot? Well, you can generally detect it all over town, so I can't say we smelled more or less in this area. That said, we visited the Bulldog two different times during the day and can only suspect that the aroma would be heavier in the evening.

During the day, tourists flock to the Red Light District. While we were there, we saw couples strolling with baby carriages as well as groups of golden agers checking things out. Amazingly, some of the tourists even arrived by tour bus! Frankly, the area feels far less intimidating than neighborhoods in the US that specialize in peep shows.

And how do the locals feel about the area's specialty? Below is a statue that honors area sex workers. Note that the statue is that of a woman standing in a doorway. The statue's inscription says that the sex workers must be respected and protected.

Questions? Ask Karen at Karen@littleviews.com

Article and photos by Karen Little. First published on 6/21/2010. All rights reserved by www.LittleviewsTravel.com.

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