08 May 2008

Gone Dutch

To be honest, this is part of my column I am writing for the Lennox Independent, well my own blog verison, changed to sound more like me!!

My Let’s Go Europe guidebook said, “Amsterdam is not merely the city of garish sin. While the aroma of marijuana smoke does waft out of the coffee shops and prostitutes do pose provocatively behind windows bathed in red light, these vices have to be understood in a broader context.” Feeling intrigued, I felt it was necessary to say ‘hallo’ to the Dutch in person.

I wanted to find out the truth about Amsterdam, so I called up an American friend studying in Berlin, booked some train tickets and packed up my backpack for another Euro trip. Yes, I am coming to you from the legendary epicenter of tolerable cannabis use and the city of commercial sex, but Amsterdam is proving to be a multi-cultural hub.

The Dutch have a tolerating and accepting attitude that has welcomed with opens arms millions of visitors every year and has attracted foreigners worldwide to make Amsterdam their home, “less than 45% of the [city’s] population identifies themselves as ethnically Dutch,” another melting people of diverse faces.

The crimson ambience of the Red Light District is nothing like I have ever seen. It’s a place of utter contradiction. With prostitutes and ‘ladies of the night’ call the area their nightly workplace; it’s the ironic home to the city’s oldest church, Oude Kerk. Old Amsterdam was a major European port city, with ships and sailors bringing good in from all over the globe. Laurel and I found out what do sailors want more then to have a good time before going back out to sea. This could be a dangerous when God could punish them for their sins in numerous ways, disease, storms, pirates etc…so they needed a place to repent their sins. Practical, not completely crazy.

I am so excited!!! In Amsterdam, my friend Laurel and I got to meet up with my Dutch friend Xander who I studied with in Wales. He hadnt changed a bit!!!! I was soo great to see him again, I dont even know what to say. He took us to his very local bar, restaurant, cafe, club in the top floor of this building so we could see the whole city!!

One of the most interesting things I learned in Amsterdam was why marijuana use was acceptable all around the Netherlands. If they deregulated the use of ‘soft drugs,’ it was easier to focus on cracking down on ‘hard drug’ use; those that are more harmful to a person. He emphasized that it may not be a policy that could work in all countries but had been extremely successful for Holland. Only a very small percent of Amsterdam locals use any drugs at all. Again practical, not completely crazy.

We toured the famed Van Gogh Museum to view original works from the post Impressionists artist, visited the home of Anne Frank and the secret hiding place during World War II. The city carries an energetic atmosphere fueled my thousands of Dutch bustling around on bikes. Serously, watch out for the bikes! They will run you over and they will yell at you if get hit!!!

For any of you who have been in a foreign country or visited a foreign city you understand the frustration and challenge of navitvaging around in the foreign language. Amsterdam was completely different. Even though its not the same, we could figure most Dutch sentences with our combined German background! We didnt feel soo lost!! Turned into an interesting game and we could understand some of what the Dutch were conversing about!

As I sit on my train heading towards the German border, Amsterdam turned out to be exactly what Let’s Go said. A city of “indulging desires and garish sin” but only if you go looking for it; my Amsterdam was an intriguing mix of famous art and history, uniting with friends, diverse people and understanding tolerant unlikely norms.

So when in Germany...head to the Netherlands or on our Eurotrip it was called 'Dutchland', you will find its close to German, similar in Language and Culture. The Dutch are totally accepting of many things so they will welcome you with open arms!!!!!