Though I swore that I wouldn’t take a bus long distances again (Munich to Berlin via bus was a bit torturous!!) it was quite a bit cheaper to go by bus from Amsterdam to Paris, and supposedly only about 7 hours. So I caved in and went via bus. I’m “lucky” I even made the bus trip to begin with! Not because I was late getting to the bus stop, but because there were apparently multiple signs in the train station to the bus stop. The one pointing downstairs (the only one I noticed) was only for local busses while the one just outside the entrance to the train station was for long distances. This post isn’t about the departure however, (I’m just throwing that info out for other travelers in case it comes in handy) it’s really about the trip there…
All was going just fine. We got to Brussels with no issue and on time and our bus drivers traded out (we started with a quiet yet nice man and ended with an unpleasant woman who acted like she couldn’t be bothered with anything from anyone). From Brussels we headed on and were actually making really good time! I was just thinking to myself how nice it would be to make it to Paris on schedule- I’d be there by 3 and would be able to take advantage of several hours of daylight before turning in for the night.
I really shouldn’t have thought so soon… About an hour after stopping to take a snack break, the driver announced we had to pull over for gas. We pulled over for gas and there we sat for a few minutes waiting for the tank to fill.
Suddenly two men in uniform come onto the bus. They spoke in French and once translated in English they said they were there to conduct a search of the bus. Now, I don’t know if it was standard protocol to search buses coming into France from Amsterdam or whether we were just that “lucky” but yes, we were apparently chosen by the French police or rather the French DEA basically to be searched for drugs. The two officers started making their way questioning every single passenger about where they had come from, where they were going, how long they would be in Paris, what hotel they were staying in, what their business in Paris was, etc, etc.
Normally I never plan in advance where I’m staying, how long I will be there, etc, etc but on this particular occasion I actually did! I had all my answers and passport ready for the drill and when it came to my turn, the officer took my passport, checked it out for validity, said “thanks” and moved on to the woman sitting next to me and her the rundown on questions, lol!!
While the officers were going over each passenger, other officers had opened the luggage compartments below the bus and were taking out each piece of luggage and lay them on the ground. In addition, a drug sniffing dog was dispatched on the bus running up and down the center aisle back and forth. Then out onto the luggage sniffing each one for issues.
About a half hour passed and it seemed there was particular concern over one of the trash cans of the buses. The officers kept fussing over it and even removed the trash bag to take outside for inspection. They then asked 4 young guys sitting just across from the “suspect trash can” to exit the bus. They stood outside while everyone on the bus watched them get a pat down. They were searched from head to toe, shoes off, outer clothing off; this wasn’t an airport pat down (which I’m very familiar with since I always opt out of the Wave cancer scanner thing) this was a serious “we are going to put our hands on every square inch of your body” pat down. They asked for each of the boys bags and went through every single item. I’m saying that if they had a can of hairspray it was uncapped and a bit sprayed out to ensure it was what the label said it was. It was VERY in-depth.
And it got a little MORE in-depth… While they let 3 of the boys back in, two officers were escorting the 4th into the little mini-mart of the gas station… You could just hear the sound of latex gloves snapping against the officers wrists!! Needless to say, about 20 minutes later the guy who had been escorted into the mini-mart did NOT look happy!! While he was inside however the other officers were still busy with the bus and they had even plucked yet another man (who was sitting in front of me) off the bus for a pat down.
About two hours later all the bags were back on the bus and all the passengers were back on the bus except the one unfortunate younger guy who had been taken inside for a thorough search. He stayed behind with his things and the cops. His friends were total punks and I wonder if he was just the “fall guy” because they kept laughing at him from the bus and taking his picture with the cops no doubt to post them on the web.
Once we were back on the road the driver did her best to catch up on time lost but the 7 hour trip once again turned into an almost 10 hour trip, lol!
Red Light District & the church: The women are viewed as entrepreneurs and not as common prostitutes. They are self-employed, practice safe sex and are tested regularly just in case of mishaps. They are even protected by the government. Pimps are illegal and apparently part of the job of cops in Amsterdam is to question women of the district to try to snuff out any potentials for them being forced to be there. The women are even paid for their time of questioning (50 Euro for 15 minutes- That’s the going rate). Every woman is there on her own free will. Sex is not something to be ashamed of or to be banished behind closed doors and never talked about. Everything is out in the open. I adore that kind of freedom and commend the government for being so accepting and ensuring the women are safe instead of turning a blind eye and creating dangerous situations. The picture below is of a statue of sorts planted in the street in the Red Light District that pays homage to the women of the District.
The church just outside of the district just made me chuckle:) Amsterdam was a port town and many of the men who worked abroad the ships had been away from land for a year or more. So once they landed in Amsterdam and stumbled into the Red Light District, they of course had a lot of pent-up energy to get rid of. So they would spend their weekend blowing all their money with the women, then stumble out of the district and directly into the church, very conveniently located, to repent all the naughty things they just engaged in… LOL!!! Love it!
Coffeeshops & drugs: if you are looking for a cup of coffee while visiting Amsterdam, you won’t find any in any of the coffeshops around town. For real coffee, go to the Kaffe shops:) If you would like to partake in smoking a bit of an illegal substance, well then the coffeeshop is for you! Here again is an example of how the people coexist peacefully. It is actually ILLEGAL to smoke marijuana in Amsterdam. Yes, it is.
However the government turns its eye from those smoking in coffee shops. Because they are just sitting in coffee shops. They aren’t bothering anyone or doing anything wrong. They are just hanging out. In fact, the guide even said that you could walk up to a cop, tell them that there are people smoking marijuana in that shop over there and they would simply say “what are you talking about? They are just having coffee” and walk away. Again, I love the acceptance and tolerance. Even though the law is technically being broken they recognize that the people in the shops aren’t bothering anyone. They are simply enjoying something they enjoy! Sure does make our view on marijuana in the States seem so petty, especially knowing that people are sitting in jail for smoking/growing/selling/possessing marijuana while murderers are out on parole!!
I wish more countries would take a lesson from the way that the government in Amsterdam views drugs and addicts. At one point in their history, not that long ago, Amsterdam was plagued by heroin addicts. They were violent, damaged themselves and others, and even cops were not really willing to deal with them because they were so dangerous. So the government took on a different view on drugs. They divided drugs into hard and soft drugs.
People who were addicted to hard drugs (heroin) were viewed as sick people who needed help. Not as criminals. They provided places where heroin addicts could go to get their fix and they would allow the addicts to use heroine in these places where they provided clean needles and were under the watchful eye of a medical professional to make sure they didn’t O.D. The addicts were then allowed to come and go as they pleased. The addicts always had a safe place where they could go to take their drugs. If they got in trouble with the law however, after the third strike they would be sent (mandatory) to a rehab center to get them clean. If they wanted to voluntarily go at any point, they were allowed at no cost to them. Now that’s the kind of mentality that makes me believe that the government ACTUALLY CARES about their people… Does Amsterdam have a drug problem today with crimes and cartels running rampant? No they don’t!
Soft drugs (marijuana) on the other hand are allowed a “free” pass. Or in other words are simply overlooked as long as they are occurring in coffee shops:) Mind you that even though there are probably more drugs and varieties of drugs per square inch in Amsterdam than in any other place, I was never once stopped on the street or harassed in any way about buying drugs as I was when in Costa Rica and Berlin. I wonder why…???
Ok, now I know I’ve said this before about places I’ve been to… But I ABSOLUTELY LOVED AMSTERDAM!!!!! Honestly if I can find a place with such charm, spirit, acceptance and SANITY as exists in the people and politics of Amsterdam, yet somewhere warm all year round, well let’s just say I will have found home:) Alas, it does get cold there in the winter so sadly I won’t be able to call it my new home… The search continues, grrr!!!
Moving on… Why do I LOVE Amsterdam so much, you may ask?? The reasons are so numerous I’m getting excited just thinking about the prospect of writing about them! Their views on sex and drugs, their tolerance for people of different religious backgrounds, races, sexes and lifestyles. Then tack on the natural and pure beauty of the city itself with the crazy architecture and lovely Venice-like canals running throughout. So many extremes live peacefully together within a stone’s throw of each other. Everyone is accepting of one another and though they may not always agree, they don’t bother or use any sort of violence toward another. They just coexist and go along with their lives and leave what they don’t agree with in peace. Ah, just wonderful!! So many places and people could learn a lot from this kind of mentality.
Seriously??? I’m NOT High!!!
Am I High? Or are the Buildings Crooked??
Buildings and Bridges
The only warning I will give people about Amsterdam is BEWARE THE BICYCLISTS!!!! Seriously, they will run your rear over and not even look back if you dare to get in their way!! Not kidding either… I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stepped into the bike lane or even in the street and had a near heart attack because I was almost run over by a passing cyclist. As one of guides during a tour I took said (and I’m paraphrasing here): the people of Amsterdam are wonderful and friendly people. However something happens to them when they get on a bicycle. They suddenly morph into crazy homicidal maniacs who will take you out if you get in their way. LOL!!!
I stayed at the StayOkay Stadsdoelen Hostel a short distance from the train station and just a few blocks from the Red Light District. The hostel itself was nice and located directly on one of the canals, and even though I was sharing the room with 19 other people, being on the canal gave it a nice view and some charm.
When I first arrived via train into town I have to be honest that I wasn’t impressed at all. The area around the train station isn’t anything to write home about as it’s kinda dumpy and industrial. However just a few minutes of walking took me into one of the hearts of the city (the Red Light District) and the cute homes, canals and vibe started to thrill me. Funnily enough, I had no idea that I had been walking through the Red Light district while trying to find my hostel and only learned later while looking at a map where I’d been. That just goes to show you how classy the area is. It’s not “in your face” or intrusive in any way, though it’s there.
Oh wait… I did say I had only one warning about Amsterdam for tourists. Well… I just thought of one more… Do NOT take pictures of the women in the windows of the Red Light district!!! This was a warning given to us during the “free” walking tour and the “Red Light District” tour I took later that night. As it was told to us by our tour guides the women of the district are entrepreneurs. They are not things to be gawked at or disrespected. And if they catch you taking pictures and you don’t pay them anything for them, they may come out from their window, chase you down, take your camera from you, stomp it to a mechanical pulp with their 6-inch heels and walk away. Yes, apparently this does happen quite often… In fact it happened during my tour of the District to an unfortunate gentlemen. Personally I was so freaked by the prospect of my camera getting stomped to death that I didn’t even take my camera out while walking through the district, lol!
The walking tour I went on started in front of the National Monument just across from the Royal Palace. It covered the Red Light District, Rembrandt’s house, the Nieuwmarkt, coffeeshops, a little known community of charitable women, the homomonument and we were left just about a block away from the house of Anne Frank. At this point I had been on several of the “free” walking tours in various cities and what I really appreciate about them is that each is so unique. Not just because they are obviously about different cities, but because each guide tells the stories that they find most interesting. So each tour guide will give a different experience to each participant. Love it! I paid for a tour of the Red Light District which included stories on the history of the district, a peek on a live sex show, how Amsterdam has come to embrace the district and ended with drinks at a club.
Now I will admit that while I was perfectly fine during the walking tour, I was a teeny bit (fairly plastered) drunk during the Red Light District tour… I do regret that I was so intoxicated during the tour because I don’t recall as many of the stories as I would like to have. But I guess you could say it’s just another reason to go back:)
In my “defense” the reason I was so intoxicated is because I was thinking about getting a tattoo or new piercing so I would always be reminded of the good times in Amsterdam. I even went so far as to check out various options. Turned out to be too expensive and I wasn’t terribly inspired on what to get so I ended up settling on a pair of flip-flops to remember my time by, lol!!! But after deciding against a tattoo or piercing I had several hours of time to kill before my night tour, so I wandered into a bar…
Turned out it was a gay bar, which didn’t bother me because it had fabulous music, was low key and not terribly crowded at the time. However as the hours went on, the crowds grew and I had befriended several of the other bar patrons hanging out and the next thing you knew shots were being bought for me, I was buying shots for others, and well, I’m just happy I made it out of there and to the tour at all!! The shots were a typical (and yummy I may add) shot of Amsterdam called “Heuge Meug” made of cognac, Tia Maria’s and a splash of Bailey’s… YUMMMY!!! But lethal too, lol!!
As for the walking tour, here are my favorite bits. The next post on ‘Sex & Drugs in Amsterdam’ are also highlights from the tour, but I just had so much to say on them that I thought it best to put them in a new post:)
Stock exchange: The World’s first stock exchange started in Amsterdam with the establishment of the Dutch East India Trading Company, the most powerful and successful trading company to trade goods out of Asia. How did they become so good at their trade (pun intended)?? Traders in the Netherlands devised a deal with one another. Instead of sending separate ships to Asia, one for tea, one for spices, one for pepper, etc. they would send out 20 ships and load 5% of each product on every ship. That way, if one ship sank during adverse weather only 5% of each supply was lost instead of losing 100% of a supply. So everyone was able to get their particular product back for trading. Clever, clever!! The trading company reigned for more than 100 years but eventually did decline.
Coffeeshops & the Red Light District: I write about these bits in great detail in the next post but for the picture below, this coffeeshop is actually where they filmed a scene from Ocean’s 12. The scene didn’t make any sense and in the next post you will learn why:) Notice the unexpected critter in the shop too… LOL!
Hi Kitty!! High Kitty???
Community of Charitable Women: This community started back in the 1600’s and is alive and well today. The way it originally began was with a group of women who wanted to take on the charitable responsibilities of nuns without actually having to take all the vows or chastities of nuns. Hence began the community of charitable women:) Now this title I’ve assigned is my own title- it’s not what the group is actually called (since I can’t recall specifically) and I’m not even sure where the community is in Amsterdam since I neglected to take a picture of what street we were on when coming to it. But I guess it’s meant to be that way since it was sort of a secret of the city. Behind the door in the picture below lay the community of women who simply want to live life giving to others. That is how the community began and today it is a peaceful and very sought out area of town to live. This community only allows people who meet the following criteria to live there: 1) they must be female; 2) they must be over 30; and 3) they must be single. To live in this community is so sought after that women are put on a waiting list. One story told to us was of a woman whose name was finally called after 10 years of waiting. When the call came she had been dating a steady boyfriend for several years but she promptly broke up with him so she could move into the community, LOL!! The picture of the grave below is of one of the original members of the community who died in 1654. She wanted to be buried in the street so she could feel the rain wash over her. When she did die however she was buried in a regular cemetary, even though it was against her wishes (If memory serves it was her family who buried her in the cemetary). One night the women of the community knowing her final wish for her resting place went to the cemetary, dug her up and took her back to the community where they burried her in the street. Now those are true friends!
Gateway to Serenity
Gardens of Community
Gardens of Community_2
Feel the Rain 1652
XXX: No, this doesn’t refer at all to the Red Light District or anything at all to do with anything X-rated, it is merely at the core of the 500 year old coat of arms of Amsterdam. It can be seen just about everywhere throughout the city however from the flags to street signs and of course on the coat of arms itself.
The Nieuwmarkt: this building is was the old gate to medieval Amsterdam and was built in 1488. It stood in the canal until 1614 and in 1617 it became a weighing station. Interesting story told by our guide about this place is that it was also the location of several “human experiements” shall we say… Doctors and surgeons way back when used this location to perform a variety of disections on human bodies to figure out how they work. If memory serves it was also the site of many executions that then led to their bodies being taken apart piece by piece to see how they ticked… Today it is a restaurant:) Steak anyone?? 😉
Homomonument: This monumnet is made up of 3 triangles, that if viewed above form a larger single triangle where each of the three smaller forms a point of the larger one. The Homomonument serves as a memorial to all gay men and lesbians who have had to face persecution at any point in their lives because of their sexuality. To me it once again shows how wonderfully accepting and celebratory Amsterdam is of the people who make their lives there.