Thursday, August 27, 2009

Sex, Drugs, and Dykes... or "Yay Amsterdam"

Not everything in Amsterdam is about sex or drugs. Unless you're a tourist.

The last official stop with my tour group was Amsterdam. This is the stop that most people on the tour were looking forward to the most, given the city's tolerance for liberal culture (read: the red light district and the ability to buy and smoke marijuana within city limits, as well as prostitution).

Throughout this trip I've adopted the philosophy that I should try and get the most out of every city, which has usually meant joining in all the recommended 'extra' activities that the tour group offered - in Vienna I went to a chamber music recital; in Amsterdam we were offered two group activities: a live sex show and a visit to a cheese and clog factory. This is my story.

The cheese and clog factory was a little outside of Amsterdam. We watched them make cheese, and then we watched them make clogs. The clog making was the most interesting part, as it started out as a piece of wood, and ended up as a piece of wood shaped as a shoe. I tried on a pair of clogs, but couldn't walk in them as they were tied together. So I stood upright in them for a while, and examined my reflection. I didn't buy any.

Everyone that goes to Amsterdam should see a live sex show. At least, that is what I've heard from everyone that's been to Amsterdam. It might also be the official slogan of the city or at least the live sex show syndicate. So with that in mind I took up the offer of paying 30 euros to watch 'an erotic review'. There was nothing erotic about this review. The curtains opened on a couple already engaged in 'erotic reviewing', though it didn't look like either of them were really interested in being there. I have some stage experience, and I'm a firm believer that if you look bored on stage, then your audience is going to be bored. I'm also a firm believer that if you're bored having sex, then you shouldn't be doing it (and that you're probably doing it wrong).

There were a couple of strip shows - one of the more interesting shows involved a giant dutch woman pulling a poor Contiki boy on stage who (despite having more muscles than Belgium) looked supremely uncomfortable at having an overweight woman thrusting her bits at his face, and making him remove objects with his teeth. The majority of the show however involved couples on a rotating bed in the middle of a stage just well... just having sex. It wasn't playful, it wasn't fun, it was barely even interesting. It was just a live sex show, where they focus on the live sex more than the show. Sitting in the front row probably didn't help either.

I'm glad I went, if only to say that I'd been to Amsterdam and seen a live sex show. It's the kind of show you see so you can tick a box; it's not the kind of show you see to have a fun night.

The rest of the red light district is a bizarre mix of beautiful buildings and seedy living. All along the main streets are 'coffee shops' which sell marijuana which you can smoke on the premises (though it's illegal to smoke tobacco inside for health reasons), and there are windows where ladies of the evening sit and advertise themselves to passers by. When I was there during the day many of the windows were occupied by older/less attractive women - presumably because they hire the windows for set periods of time and I guess the day slot may be cheaper. When I was there at night though the girls were all slender and beautiful - presumably attracting a higher number of clients. My favourite thing to do in the red light district was following the Contiki group to see who hung back or snuck into a window. Three did.

The red light district is for tourists. It's full of people attracted to the idea that they can do and get away with pretty much anything they like in Amsterdam. Hardly any of the locals ever go to the district, unless they work there.

The next day I decided to avoid the city centre and red light district altogether and walk along the city canals. This gave me a whole new appreciation for the city and the way it's built. It's basically a city built on reclaimed land surrounded by a series of canals. Beautiful buildings lean into each other across the city, most of which date back to the 17th century (don't quote me on that) as Amsterdam was never bombed in the war. This has meant that the city has retained much of the charm and glory that resulted from many years as a dominant and wealthy world power.

The Dutch have really made a beautiful city with Amsterdam - you just have to make it past the red light.

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