Amsterdam, what a city. I felt right at home here, and for good reason. Amsterdam and New Orleans share many similarities, the most obvious being that both are built on swamp land that lies below sea level. And just like New Orleans, all the buildings here are built on pilings driven deep into the soft wet ground. Both cities are pretty liberal when it comes to having a good time, and a good time is not hard to find in either. Not knowing much about Amsterdam other than the famed coffee shops and red light district, I was shocked at how big and beautiful the place was.
Of course, Amsterdam is known for it's liberal drug policies, but it is so much more than it's smokey reputation. During the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th century, Amsterdam was the richest city in the world. It was home to the world's first stock exchange. It was financial capital of the world, the leading frontier for all things science, art, commercial trade, military, tulips... You name it, Amsterdam was it. Due to it's "intellectual tolerance", Amsterdam attracted scientists and free thinkers alike from all around the globe. In that regard it is arguably is the most influential city in the world when it comes to the freedoms we love and enjoy today. Amsterdam's official motto is "Hedhaftig, Vastberaden, Barmhartig." Meaning "Valiant, Steadfast, Compassionate!" Sounds good to me.
Unbeknownst to us when we booked our hotel, we were literally staying in the heart of the red light district on Amsterdam's equivalent to Bourbon Street. It was a bit noisy and had a constant peculiar odor, but it was to be expected. The funniest part of our hotel was the "No Smoking" policy in the rooms. You could get high from just walking down the hall. They obviously weren't big on the enforcement.
The red light district was interesting to say the least. Just like Bourbon Street, you have everything from youthful idiots to homeless people to entire families walking up and down the street, just peering in the windows. Once you get past the novelty of it all you realize how depressing it is. It was actually a pretty sad sight. Young women dancing in windows, willing to fulfill anyone's wildest dreams...I doubt that was a part of their original five year plan. But at least Amsterdam is smart about it. Along with the weed, they figure it is better to regulate and tax something that people are going to do anyway.
Anyway, we had an amazing time but barely scratched the surface. We'll be sure to go back in the spring when the tulips are in bloom.
Live and let live!
The Royal Palace of Amsterdam (their town hall) was built on 13,659 pilings and completed in 1655.
A painting by Johannes Lingelbach shows the Palace under construction, as well as the hustle of bustle of Dam square in the 17th century. Even back then there are multiple cultures and nationalities represented.
I could live on a houseboat.
Some fun facts about Amsterdam:
- The city has 1.2 million bikes and 800,000 people. They like bikes.
- Statistically speaking, the Dutch are the tallest people in the world, attributed to good nutrition over the centuries.
- It has more canals than Venice, and 1,281 bridges over them.
- Its the most diverse city in the world, home to about 180 different nationalities.
- Like Catholicism back in the day, weed isn't legal, it's just "tolerated".
- The Netherlands is the biggest exporter of beer in the world, exporting twice as much beer as the next country on the list, the good ole USA. That's crazy.
- The Dutch consume the 2nd most coffee in the world, right behind the Scandinavians.
- It has the highest concentration of museums in the world. It's an art lover's paradise.
- About 86% of Amsterdam's residents are polyglots...meaning they're fluent in at least two languages, most of them three. Everybody there spoke perfect English with us.
- It is home to 7 of the world's top 500 companies.
Now you know!
Random LSU shirt in a small clothing shop!
Amsterdam's Central Station.
Basilica of St. Nicholas, Amsterdam's major Catholic cathedral.
It was stunning.
So long Amsterdam...we will be back!