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Amsterdam: Truth or Fiction?

1047435-953762-thumbnail.jpgI think a lot of people who have never been to Amsterdam before wonder what it’s really like. An adult playground like Vegas? A seedy back alley ghetto? The truth is that it’s like no other place on earth. In fact, I would go so far as to say it is one of the, if not the, most unique cities we’ve been to on this trip. And we’ve been to like millions now.

First, let’s address the common questions:

Is marijuana really legal? No, it is not. The official policy, similar to San 1047435-953761-thumbnail.jpgFrancisco but applied far more liberally, is one of "tolerance".  You can go into any number of the hundreds of very differently themed coffee shops and purchase marijuana or hashish over the counter. Many different varieties, in many different formats. Pre-rolled joints, brownies, by the gram, with a pipe, whatever.

Are other drugs legal? Yes. Mushrooms are grown and sold legally, and even come complete with a four point rating system on how they’ll mess you up. There are also various “party pills” which do various different things. Hard drugs (cocaine, heroin, etc) are NOT legal. They are sold through “Charlie Boys” which are Africans that wander around the red light district asking if you want “Charlie”. But they’re very low key about it and don’t really cause you to be uncomfortable.

1047435-953764-thumbnail.jpgIs prostitution legal? Yes. It too is as simple as picking what you want from behind a counter. Only in this case you pick from behind a window. You can walk down dozens of streets and alleys lining the red light district and choose from the available wares that are quite literally standing in a glass door with a bed waiting behind them. There is no bargaining of any kind – it’s a flat 50 Euros for whatever it is you want. Unlike the common conventions, pretty girls here do not get more money than …less pretty… ones. Although I’m sure they’re busier. And like a good Vegas casino, the entire place is designed so you can’t find your way out.

So here’s the weird part. The entire system works. The streets are safe and clean, culture and museums abound, there’s great restaurants and trendy clothing boutiques. The city is as picturesque as Venice with all of its canals, and as beautiful as Paris with its history and architecture. Some things, like The Heineken Experience are clearly designed for stoned backpackers, but I’d say 90% of the city is otherwise completely normal. Yeah there’s a few more stoned backpackers than other cities, but a stoned backpacker is a lot more tolerable than a drunk backpacker. Other than cutting in line at the waffle stands they’re completely harmless.