Amsterdam, Netherlands: A Haven of Tolerance

The Dutch, especially those in Amsterdam, are known for their tolerance. Certain activities considered nefarious in other parts of the world are tolerated, though not necessarily embraced in this city. The sharp, skunky smell of cannabis hit my nose with an eyebrow raising force as I walked beside one of the canals in the center of the city. Tourists giggled and guffawed at tables smoking joints while sipping coffee and staring at the tranquil waters and cobbled streets. Storefronts boasted a wide array of paraphernalia from simple pipes to elaborate bongs and everything between. Marijuana is not the only the activity that is tolerated, there is also prostitution.

Hannah and I walked toward Oude Church, a 13th century Calvinist architectural beauty near the banks of a canal. Strolling up the uneven cobble stones, I noticed a change in demographic around me. There were less women around and far more younger looking men. The church was also located in “De Wallen”, the red-light district of Amsterdam. Merely 20 feet from the church doors, the bottom floors of most buildings contained large windows with red neon light trims. Inside one window was a woman who looked bored as she texted away on her cell phone. Another woman stared out as passersby with a surly frown. Yet another sat on a stool scooping her lunch out of a takeaway container. They were people, doing what people do during an average workday.

Amsterdam houseboats in the canals

One street parallel was a vibrant Asian quarter with a Buddhist temple and delicious smelling Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Thai restaurants. All mentioned restaurants were out of our price range with the average entrée being easily $15+. In fact, the cost of living in Amsterdam was arguably closer to that of what we experiences in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. Most days, we used the grocery store and ate apples, sandwiches, soups, or salads since our Airbnb had a refrigerator but no cooking amenities aside from an electric kettle. Pictured on the left are Dutch windmill cookies. My grandmother always had windmill cookies in the house when I was growing up. The buttery almond gingerbread taste brought back fond memories and I smiled every time that I ate one.

At the Albert Cuyp Market, we shared a Dutch delicacy, the Stroopwafel. It is very thin wafer-like waffle with a viscous caramel-like syrup sandwiched between. It was still warm as the woman handed it to us with a smile. We unceremoniously bit in and handed it back and forth to one another while perusing the other stalls along the street. We treated ourselves to some badly needed shaving razors from one vendor before calling it a day.

Anne Frank House, no pictures were allowed inside

One of Amsterdam most well know historical sights is the Anne Frank House. Tickets were difficult to get, as 80% are released months prior, and 20% are released each morning at 9am. We somehow procured tickets (there were at least 300 people still in the queue at 9:05). I recalled reading Anne Frank’s Diary in middle school, but the museum gave me a new appreciation. The ideas expressed by a teenager in the middle of a truly terrible time in history were profound. We saw the annex hidden behind the bookcase and read the stories about life inside. One anecdote that stood out was that bathroom use was strictly regulated and timed each evening, as the water running through the pipes could be heard in the warehouse below and could have alerted the workers to inhabitants above. Anne Frank’s father was also quoted as saying something to the extent of “you truly don’t know your own children” in response to his reading of her diary after the war ended. Her thoughts at such a young age were profoundly mature. All of her dreams that never were should remind us to pursue all of ours for all those that can not. We ought to strive for a world where no 15 year old girl must experience such as she did ever again. We brooded over the experience and walked the canals of the city for the rest of the afternoon as the sun peaked through the clouds.

Amsterdam had this funny ability to mix elegance with gritty worldliness. I expected a rundown, raunchy town where shady visitors solicited back corner alleys for this or that Western societal shunned good or service. Instead, it was rather out in the open, but not “boasted” per say. As I mentioned before, it was tolerated. The city was beautiful with its long canals, architecture, and modern way of life. Bicycles zoomed by with their riders texting with a free hand, holding an umbrella, or eating. For the most part, people seemed kind and compassionate and our stay was short but great. The Dutch cookies and stroopwafles are a definite reason to return.

The Canto, an ultra light car that can be used in bicycle lanes. It also has an alternate version that allows disabled peoples to roll their wheelchair in through the trunk.

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