Saturday, 2 July 2011

Sex, Drugs and...bicycles?

Amsterdam, one of the few cities in the world where you can walk down the street and end up stoned without having to smoke a thing. In the main centre of town, the occasional waft greets your nose, but stroll through the red light district past the coffee houses and you very quickly feel the effects of the haze that comes through the door. Oddly enough, on many windows of these houses, 'No Alcohol' signs are present.

Wandering the narrow alleyways of the district you can't help notice the scantily clad women standing behind windows that lead to a small room. The girls are not allowed to be naked but they wear as little as possible. Probably more in fact than the bare breasted girls of the Paris cabaret shows. The girls behind the windows stand suggestively, trying to attract customers. Those obviously bored with standing, sit on stools, texting friends or reading a magazine.
No photos are permitted here, we are warned often, our tour director has seen a client try and had the girl stomp out of her boudoir, snatch the camera and promptly throws it into the canal. The client in question was lucky he didn't follow it.

Walking along the canal that borders the red light district, you start to wonder if the impenetrable air of cannabis smoke has affected your vision. The houses along the canal lean at odd angles, comical tall narrow buildings, thanks to an old tax law that taxed people based on the width of their house. The houses lean though, not as a results of being a bit high, but from boggy marsh land that has caused the piles to sink into the soil. The crooked houses rather reflect the culture in Amsterdam, a little bit left of centre and quirky.

Crossing the road here is akin to an extreme sport, or death defying act. One has to navigate through hordes of tourists, then the dual way cycle path and the thousands of Dutch that cycle everywhere. You have to then avoid the trams going past, then repeat on the other side. Dutch cyclists are an unusual breed, most of the bikes don't have gears or brakes (save cycling backwards) so they happily text or chat of their cellphones and hold an umbrella as they go.

As it rains 200 days of the year, this is apparently not an uncommon sight. No wet weather gear or helmets either, such ugly items would be unfashionable and rumple the hair. Looking at the sea of bicycles that adorn the main square, I do wonder though how they ever manage to their bike whilst high and distracted by naked women.

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