Thursday, 30 July 2015

(Not just a) city of vices

Red light district. Sex shows. Weed. Alcohol. These are but a few of the things vices that Amsterdam is known for. Friends who have visited the city have urged me to experience the night life, to indulge in the generous supply of weed and alcohol. Indeed. On the first night of our trip, we visited the classic red light district. Ornamented in garish lights and banners, the street lit up in an array of bright colours - it was impossible to miss from a distance. We didn't know what to expect and were hence taken aback the moment we stepped into the first shop that marked the start of the street. It was an unassuming, casual shop. If we had bypassed it in the day, we would probably have been convinced that it was a normal apparel store. The exterior was lined up with transparent window panes and in it were (what we thought) mannequins scantily dressed in lace lingerie. Except, they weren't mannequins. The motionless dolls came to live - winking and striking suggestive poses. We stood in a corner, fading into the background, assuming the role of spectator. Half-hearted seduction, hasty transactions, humiliating rejections, wounded pride. Among the lively chatters of the young and old high on weed and lust, we witnessed the sad sad reality of each lady on display. Some may argue that they chose the life, that they are enjoying it, that they may even be filthy rich (figuratively and literally); but the fact that their self-respect was at stake made them a subject of our pity. That wasn't the most surprising. The most unbelievable thing I witnessed that night was the price of a sex show. €2. The price of 2 plain Belgian waffles.

Yet, as eye-opening as it was, the red light district wasn't all there was to our Amsterdam trip. In fact, I wouldn't call it the highlight of the trip. Personally, the thing I remembered most about the trip was our accommodation. Lucky Lake Hostel. Situated outside the city centre, it brought us to a whole new level of tranquility. We lived in their makeshift cabins, had breakfast in the "breakfast bus" and showered in the common toilet. The primitive accommodation brought back waves of nostalgia of my days in the field - except that it was a lot more comfortable and pleasant. 

It was (supposed to be) Spring. The flowers were supposed to (almost) be in full bloom and the weather was expected to be perfect - not too chilly, and not scorching hot. The weather forecast betrayed us. The weather during our 5 days in Amsterdam was nasty. The sky was gloomy, the birds were in hiding, the wind was unrelenting and the atmosphere was dull. Yet, it would have been a pity if we did not snap any pictures. We braved the weather in our inadequate attire to capture the picturesque scenery - breathtaking even through the storm. (Yes, the wind speed went up to 55km/hour on one of the days.) We experienced everything Dutch: Dutch windmills, Dutch clog slippers, Dutch markets and Dutch food. And of course, the ever-beautiful Keukenhof (one of the largest gardens in Europe). Even though the flowers weren't in full bloom, they were already capable of taking of breaths away. I couldn't imagine what it would be like when they were fully seasoned. 

After visiting Amsterdam, and even Rotterdam, I came to realise that there's so much to Netherlands - not just its mere night life that everyone is harping about. To be honest, I did not get to fully appreciate the city when I was there (probably because of the weather - it was so chilly that my limbs hurt). Yet, upon documenting my visit and scrolling through the pictures, I'm thankful that I was there. Recalling the short trip, I seem to have the sudden realisation that unlike the typical European state, Netherlands seems to be pretty distinct in its own special way. 

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