*This is a blog post detailing a past trip. The post refers to my year abroad in Germany that I undertook between the summers of 2016 and 2017 (6 years ago at the time of writing). Therefore, details shall be a little foggy, but I have written the post for completeness. Ensuring my blog captures everywhere I have travelled.
I was fortunate enough to turn 21 while living in Germany for the year. I therefore decided the best way to celebrate was by undertaking a 2-week trip around some of the major cities of Europe. First up on that list would be Amsterdam. I would be joined in Amsterdam by my flatmate Brad, and three friends from home, Ollie, John & Leo. Ollie and John would actually join me for the whole two-week trip whereas Brad & Leo would be leaving us after Amsterdam. Although there was certainly a considerable amount of partying and drinking involved over the course of the trip. We did also endeavour to see and experience as much of each place as possible. So while yes most evenings were spent at some kind of bar. We were also very good at getting up and out during the day. Ensuring we didn’t waste our time in these great cities. I think we did a pretty good job of that, but I guess you can be the judge.
Having finished work on the Friday, Brad and I caught the train to Amsterdam which took around 5 hours. We arrived in the city late that night and checked into our hostel ClinkNoord around 10:30 pm that night. The 3 other lads were flying in from England and joining us tomorrow. When they arrived the following day we spent the morning walking around the compact central district of Amsterdam. It’s a beautiful little city with all its canals and quaint little coffee shops. Everything is easily within walking distance if you stay central, or you can do as the locals do and ride a bike. There are more bikes than cars it seems so be sure to keep your wits about you when walking around and crossing streets. Walking around the city it was only a matter of time until we stumbled across the infamous Red Light District. Nothing distinctly changes about the city, it all still very much looks the same. Especially in the daytime, then all of a sudden you walk past a floor-to-ceiling window with a lady on the other side. Although you expect it, it still makes you jump a bit. Of a night time, things become a little more evident as the windows glow a distinct red and the atmosphere of the place changes a little. Maybe it becomes seedier, I don’t know, but in the day it felt like any other area of the city. Also, contrary to popular belief, the Red Light District is actually the safest area in Amsterdam as clusters of policemen, and private bodyguards employed by the girls themselves are always on duty. Amsterdam prides itself, and rightly so, on its wholly liberal and tolerant attitude, embracing the fact that people may be into prostitution, soft drugs and pornography. And that it is only human. So instead of criminalizing everything, they enjoy the honesty of it all. Nowadays, prostitution is legal in the Netherlands but not on the streets. That’s why prostitutes in Amsterdam stand up behind a window and have their own room. Since October 2000, window prostitutes have been allowed to legally offer their services. Today, prostitutes in the Netherlands are also taxpayers. In my personal opinion, I think this approach is the way to go, not just with things such as prostitution but also with most illegal drugs. The so-called war on drugs has quite clearly failed, with the industry run by a criminal underworld. Costing the taxpayer billions and for no real benefit. Unfortunately, certain aspects of society although sometimes detrimental will always remain. So regulating, providing support and protection and even legalising as they have done in Amsterdam seems to me like a much better way to go about things. Obviously, the ladies or men of Amsterdam that work in the sex industry, should do so of their own choosing. Those being forced or trafficked into the profession is an entirely different situation altogether.
Anyway history and politics aside the nightlife of the Red Light District is a lively affair and aside from the windows of women, there are some really great bars along the canal in which to enjoy an Amstel. There are even numerous museums such as the Red Lights Secrets museum, which while being very educational was also a great laugh to walk around and explore. Other museums include one on prostitution itself and also cannabis. There’s also a variety of shops that sell all kinds of memorabilia and paraphernalia which can also be quite the laugh to look around.
The following day we elected to take in some of the more conservative sites of Amsterdam. First up we took a walk past the royal palace of Amsterdam, before moving onto the Rijksmuseum. Located outside the front of which you’ll find the famous Amsterdam sign that many tourists will grab a photo with. There are many other museums here too, from the Van Gogh Art Museum. Which houses work by the famous painter and his contemporaries, to the Moco Museum which is home to works by artists such as Banksy and Dali. There is also the Stedelijk Museum which houses a wide variety of different art exhibits. Although I have to admit we didn’t actually go in any of them ourselves. None of us were really that into our artwork and although the entry fees were more than reasonable we much preferred the idea of finding a nice little coffee shop and enjoying another Amstel. Watching the world go by sat outside in front of one of the canals haha. One museum we certainly were willing to cough up the entry fee for (although the price did include two beers) was that of the Heineken Experience. The company was founded in Amsterdam over 150 years ago and is now the number one brewer in Europe and one of the largest in the world by volume of beer brewed. It really was an interesting way to spend a few hours, learning all about the history of the company and the process that goes into making Heineken as well as many other beers. Aside from the educational part, there were also lots of fun games to play along the tour, which you undertake at your own pace. To conclude the experience you end up at the bar, where you are then able to taste some of Heinikens finest beer for yourself.
For our final day in Amsterdam, a couple of the lads had to depart, Leo back home to the UK and Brad back to Germany. Meaning Ollie, John and myself were left to explore for the day, before we would catch the train tomorrow and head to Berlin. The second city of the 2-week trip. Having already had a pretty big weekend by this point we opted for something a bit more sombre today. No trip to Amsterdam would be complete without a trip to Anne Franks House. Firstly, for anyone who has never read Anne’s Diary I highly recommend it. Although utterly heartbreaking, the courage and maturity shown by a girl so young is astonishing. It’s a tragedy that her life and countless others not so well known lost their lives to the sadistic ideologies of the Nazis in WWII. The former house in Amsterdam where the Frank family remained in hiding for two years has now been converted and preserved in the format of a museum. It was an incredibly moving experience to quite literally walk and experience where the family remained hidden for so long. As well as learn more about the difficulties many Jews and minority groups faced during this time. Not only is the story of the frank family harrowing but the events that led to her diary becoming one of the most-read books ever is equally astounding. I recommend everyone read the diary and also learn a little more about the events that led to it all via the Anne Frank Museum website.
After we had finished at Anne Franks’s house we then ventured to the Museum of WWII Resistance. Which documents the response of the civil Dutch population to the occupation by the dictatorial, racist Nazi regime. Anne Frank’s story is one of the thousands of such stories during this time, with the museum detailing various other heroic tales of resistance towards the Nazi occupation. This all but concluded our time in the wonderful city of Amsterdam. We spent a little longer wandering around some of the more distant neighbourhoods we hadn’t seen yet. But after a busy few days, we took some time to relax before we caught the train to Berlin the next day. Amsterdam lived up to expectations though, but it was always going to be such a liberal and welcoming place. It was a great way to start the 2-week interrailing trip. The city is a beautiful blend of culture, experiences and charm. There is something for everyone here, no matter your interests and it’s a perfect place to enjoy a lovely city break if one desires. Having covered the Berlin portion of the 2-week trip during the Germany Part III blog, next up I shall document our time in the iconic city of Prague. Which was stop number 3 of the two-week trip.