'Hello. You're welcome. Live sex'...There's only one city where one could walk by without even a backward glance after hearing such a catch-cry from a local theatre hawker. Amsterdam...that mysterious, liberal melting pot of open-minded individuals. I find Amsterdam to be a remarkable city, despite the absence of really distinct landmarks normally associated with European cities. Adam and I celebrated his 30th birthday with a weekend in the Dutch capital. He'd long wanted to visit, as most red blooded men do I suppose, and I'd long held he'd be best to do it with his brother or a mate rather than with his reasonably conservative and undeniably very 'good' wife by his side. But as he plunged headfirst toward the third decade of his life, lamenting the fact that he was indeed coming ever nearer to that significant milestone of the big 3-0...I felt we could delay a visit no longer. And indeed, Amsterdam may well be one of the best cities in the world to revisit one's youth and experience again the reckless abandon and the invincibility reminiscent of those adolescent years of experimentation...a chance to behave in a way that flies in the face of the established normalcy of
being a grown up.
Adam was very keen to explore all the sights of Amsterdam and on arrival, I think he was quite disappointed to discover there aren't that many. Amsterdam does have some brilliant shopping (it appears almost endless as you begin wandering), canals filled with sun-seeking boats, quaint streets over-run with cyclists (it really is as flat as a tack in the city), and of course cafes, 'coffee shops', the red light district and the infamous ladies of the night. Of course, there are museums and galleries too-but sex and drugs really are the big calling cards of the city and are still very much enough to draw in hoards of tourists each day. After a quiet Friday night spent nibbling great food at a fantastic Greek restaurant, we spent a big Saturday night wandering this historic part of town, visiting a few coffee shops, getting silly and giggly, and strolling around amongst the tiny maze of streets housing those windows lit up with their red lights and ladies. Two years ago I remember feeling very sad when I imagined the types of lives those girls in those windows must lead, with endless streams of men gawking
at them, weighing up their assets and determining the price they were willing to pay. But this visit, I felt more in awe of their continued survival in a city that is trying so hard to reinvent itself. There have been many recent reports that Amsterdam is attempting to beautify and redevelop the old town, with classy designers and architects attempting to purchase canal houses long occupied by street workers. Their aim, it appears, is to introduce more designer clothing, arts and crafts into this historic centre, 'cleaning up' the sleaze of the red lights . However, despite some evidence that the red light district had shrunk ever so slightly in size, it very much seemed to me that the area remains as prolific as ever. Even with the slight reduction in the size and number of window call girls offering their booty, there was still more than enough to go around, or so it seemed by the hoards of men staring joyously at the workers of all shapes and size on offer. Truly it seems almost any taste or desire can be catered for by the array of girls and boys offering their wares. Wandering around, the iridescent glow
of the red bulbs, the red velvet curtains drawn across occupied windows and the red plush interiors of many bars and restaurants seem a resounding testament to the ongoing resiliency of the world's oldest profession and this famous area.
Beyond the red lights of the night, Amsterdam does have some great cultural assets also. On my last visit here I'd been to Anne Frank's House, now a museum (and I think Adam was quite relieved we didn't need to visit this site on this trip!) We did visit the Rijksmuseum, an art gallery which celebrated the great Dutch Masters and we were both thrilled to see such famous works as 'The Night Watch' by Rembrandt and 'Woman Holding A Balance' by Vemeer. But the cultural highlight of Amsterdam for me was the Van Gogh Museum. Arriving at the museum, my despondence at the long queue we encountered was immediately overcome by elation as I discovered the 'Colours of the Night' exhibition showing. This showcases Van Gogh's famous 'Starry Night', one of the world's most loved paintings and certainly one of my favourites. I'd been fortunate to catch this exhibition at MOMA in New York late last year but I
couldn't believe my amazing good fortune to have the opportunity to see this wonderful painting again. Adam was quite excited too-visiting the gallery, marveling at the true genious Van Gogh was, I couldn't quite believe how much we've both fallen more and more in love with art and how many hours we've spent wandering through galleries all over the world. It certainly has become a passion for us both and one of the great loves we've shared during our time traveling.
The rest of the weekend time was spent wandering about, soaking up the sunshine seated by the canals, watching boats pass by and eating ice-cream holding hands. It really was a lovely, relaxing weekend-and Adam assured me it is a great place to celebrate turning 30. Now that he is undeniably grown-up, we'll have to make the most of my final years before turning 30...and who knows? Another visit to Amsterdam's famous 'coffee shops' may be called for...;-)
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