Amsterdam during the day is like any other European city – lively and crowded with tourists, thriving restaurants and cafes. It has its share of museums and cathedrals. Famous painters like Vincent Van gogh and Rembrandt were born in Netherlands. The river Amstel flows through the city and you can see boats for hire on standby. It was charming.
For some, it is more than enough. But give it time, for as night descends the city wakes up. It glitters, literally. In here you are free to do what you want – be it smoking weed in public, sex or homosexuality. The city does not judge you. And that is why it draws people from all over the world.
It is a paradise that men and women can immerse themselves into. It a haven with sex shops, weed museum, live porn, dingy coffee shops that sell weed and prostitution. It is no wonder that it is ‘the place’ for bachelor parties. And I, along with seven other women, flew there from Brussels for a friend’s hen party.
We reached the city centre from the ladies only hostel we were staying around 5 p.m. We walked aimlessly cracking jokes, giggling and stopping at every possible point to take pictures. (Well it was eight women on a hen party.) On the streets, you can see people in weird costumes like a guy wearing a pink princess frock and another guy lifting his skirt up with a stick. There was another a guy wearing a two piece pink and white lace swimsuit and was being carried by four of his friends. They were laughing and probably drunk, stoned or both. If it were a costume party, he would have won it hands down. But it was no costume party but a bachelor party.
For people who are not familiar, bachelor parties apparently involve not only drinking and a visit to strip club but making the bride or groom-to-be wear the funniest and most embarrassing costumes. It is so common a sight that you hardly see people giving them weird looks. People do look, but smile knowingly.
Sometimes when you are just walking, there is a high chance that some random man will ask you to take pictures with him. A guy could come ask for directions, mostly in a language you would not even understand. Or worse, he could just be in a bind, literally, tied to a pole and asks you to rescue him. These are common things you notice when you stroll around the city.
As sky turns dark, the red light district in De Wallen in the heart of Amsterdam comes alive. Beautiful women in their underwear stand in front of the window of bright orange or green coloured buildings, like they are on display. And when someone just comes out, you could hear his friends shouting ‘Good job, dude’ and patting his back. Yes the thriving prostitution in this district is legal and regulated. Prostitution in Amsterdam is a booming business and it is a well-known place of sex tourism organised by the World Tourism Organisation, a specialised agency of United Nations.
Given that gay prostitution is prominent here, you could hardly spot male prostitutes on display like their female counterparts and I heard someone say that they are easier to find in clubs and on streets.
The red light district has lot more to offer than just women.You have live porn shows where you pay to watch people do ‘you know’. There are museums on prostitution, sex photogallery and lot more on the same subject. After the women, it is one of the major attractions there. They are so packed that you would have to wait in a long line for your turn.
Darker the night gets, more cramped the street is with tourists who want to crawl from one porn show to another or to a coffee shop to smoke up. With so much people it is impossible not to catch whiff of marijuana. It is all pervasive. Smoking and selling marijuana is legal in Netherlands. Though the recent rule changes prohibit smoking in public places, it is still legal to smoke up in coffee shops and there are heaps of them in Amsterdam. These shops are dark, dingy and cloudy with smoke. They sell weed both in loose and as space cakes, which are for amateur smokers or people who do not like to smoke but still want to try. The cakes look like chocolate brownies and taste like one for most part. But it is impossible to miss the taste and smell of weed as you consume them.
Cool night breeze welcomes you when you come out of the red light district and settle in one of the bars that runs 24/7. The relative calm is soothing. You can put your feet up, clear your head and just relax with glass of wine or beer. As for the eight of us, including the bride-to-be got, while we were swept up by the city’s pace, we were just glad to end the night with our sanity intact, mostly.