I reached Schiphol airport in a late March drizzling afternoon. The timing probably didn’t do a proper justice to Amsterdam: chilly wind and overcast sky resembles too much what on the other side of the English Channel. In fact the wind was so strong that makes even the howling wind in London feel like ceiling fan. Let me emphasize this up front: DON’T GO BEFORE APRIL! Dutch is famous for the windmills for a reason!
The city landscape were classic European like: lines of stone mansions, spacious paved plaza, stone statues and armies of pigeons playing with jolly kids. On the side of the road, bicycles stacked so tight that I can think only one other capital city which can ever match that: Beijing. Sun and wind merrily lifted paints off the bicycles and sea salt have rusted the exposed metals. The Dutch were generous in laying out bicycle networks which not only connects almost everywhere from city to country side but also had them safely partitioned from main traffic. The bird view of the city is like an amphitheatre. Let De Dam be the centre of it, rings of canals surrounding it were like the steps. If the canals slicing Venice were Picasso like strokes of a painter, canals at Amsterdam were geometric scissor cuts from a tailor. Using central station as the starting point, pick any of the southward roads, you can indulge yourself with yachts, museums, churches or the red light district. Just be careful of the cyclists!
Public Transportation and WIFI
Many things are important for travels. Passport being the highest on my list, public transportation and WIFI are the next two. Train conveniently connects most of Netherlands. It takes a while to remember the consonants jammed names but almost every line goes to Amsterdam Central Station which, luckily, is just a liberal spelling of English. In other major cities, bus and taxi lanes are squeezed at the side of the road. In Amsterdam, it is the opposite. Tram track, bus and taxi lanes are the main means of transportation and takes most part of the road. For 2.9 Euro, you can use any city transportation for an hour and a 7 Euro ticket is good for 24 hours. With cheapest ever Euro, you do the math! Besides the generous public transportation, WIFI coverage was as a public utility as lamp posts. WIFI = Facebook Check In = Whatsapp = Instagram = Twitter = GPS = Wiki = Translator and all come for free! With the overlapping coverage of Museums, restaurants, malls and train stations, it was hard to find a blind spot. It is one of the very few places, I don’t get excited with the sight of a big yellow M.
You need to get on a two wheelers to feel the city properly. A bike costs about 15 Euro for a day but it allows the flexibility to stop whenever you feel needed. Zaanijkt is about one hour ride on a bicycle to the north of Amsterdam. One part of the journey requires using a ferry which is free and comes around every 20 minutes. Once you reach Zaandijkt, the first thing that will grab your attention is a greenish, spooky house on the main road. Behind the building was a small shopping, tourism spot built with the same artistic taste. If you ride north for another 15 minutes and cross the bridge, you will reach Zaanse Schans which is a reconstructed idyllic community with small canals, bridges, teahouses and windmills. Continue traveling along the water, you will reach a lines of huge, iconic windmills. It couldn’t be more pleasant to pedal along the water in a cosy sunny afternoon.
Red Light District
Striding down south east from central station, red light district is just 10 minutes away. The key to cut through the maze of too similar canals and backstreets is three words: FOLLOW THE CROWD. You know you reached the place once you see the sign: red lights. Maybe because of the season, it was quieter and less crowded than what I had in mind. Reddish florescent tube faintly illuminate the curvy figures on the other side of the windows. The ladies were lavishing inviting smiles and flirting gestures. Walking down this otherworldly street, I felt that selling sex wasn’t too much different from selling a pack of Dunhill cigarette. I saw one or two passer-by stopped to haggle prices with the ladies. Then a few steps ahead, a well-dressed middle aged man finished the “transaction” and graciously shook hand with his mistress before submerging into the flowing crowd. Most just stole a look or two and moved on. There are dozens of exotic shops selling all types of things popularized by Fifty Shades of Grey. And there are always long queues of people waiting outside some exotic shows.
I wasn’t so intrigued by the Red Light District but I had my exotic mission for the trip: magic mushroom. We got it from one of the street shops which also fashioned all different types of cannabis: leaves, seeds or extracts. The mushroom came in 5 different grades. They are in vacuum packing and placed inside metal boxes not much bigger than a snuffbox. I took the second most potent grade: the Pandora. I also brought back a bottle of orange juice as we were advised by the shop keeper as an antidote if things go wrong. Since I am so rookie on this and didn’t want to get lost on the road, I decided to try it in our hotel room. The wet mushroom taste much crunchier than it looks. The texture was almost walnut like, except a dry bitterness towards the throat. After an hour, everything around me became laughable! Sore cheeks, churning stomach, running nose, flowing tears but I just couldn’t stop laughing! What follow was magical: my whole sensory went super sensitive: I couldn’t believe there are so many minute details around me – hair on the skin, dust on the table, incoming train from far away, door closing on the corridor and subtle friction on the blanket. When I drank water, I could feel the juice flowing out of the bottle and air filling in. Everything has been amplified 100 times! My mind also went super active. I was thinking 3 things at the same time and the imagination were so vivid as if they were real. Now I finally understand why artists sought drugs for inspiration.
Overall, it was a pleasant weekend trip to Amsterdam. The country side was stunning and its liberal culture has set it aside from other European cities. One thing I didn’t like: too many chimneys to my liking. They continuously spitting white flames into the otherwise spotless blue sky. The industrial footprint are scarring the otherwise perfect ambiance. One last note on the mushroom, the “superman state” did come at a cost. I was really depressed the whole following week. Amsterdam was a rich city that definitely merit a longer trip to explore. I just meant to give you a flavour what to expect.