The smell of pot lingers on every passing breeze. Beer cans and bottles pop under the tires of passing cars. Around the corner women in lingerie stand in windows, beckoning you to buy their services...
and yet 'sleazy' or 'degraded' is not how I would describe it. There is a quaintness here. The bicycles chained along cobbled streets and lovely brick bridges crossing multiple canals are charming. It's merely sensible to the people living here to legalise such things so they can be regulated, and in doing so it's removed that element of debauchery.
Of course it does present me with a predicament. Ask people what the three main attractions of Amsterdam are and they're likely to say legalised marijuana, beer and the Red Light District. Granted, I did find the black lit ladies titillating and even thought provoking, but none of these three things really interest me.
Coming to Amsterdam meant embarking on exploration of a city I knew very little about beyond the obvious three factors named above. Whilst I had thought the Rijksmuseum would be a must, circumstances altered this. Due to a lot more rain than predicted the lines for the Rijksemuseum and the Van Gogh Museum were ridiculous, with estimates of a three hour wait.
However, when you haven't got a plan, you're inclined to discover the most amazing things. Like Rembrandt Huis, where you get to walk into the actual studio space of one of the worlds greatest masters. Or the Homomonument, three pink granite triangles pointing in three important directions: To the Wester Kerk (West Church), Anne Frank Huis and the Dam Memorial, erected in memory of those lost in WWII.
The flower market is another must, if only because Amsterdam is known for it's tulips. For a laugh there's the Sexmuseum, which is nothing but silliness, as emphasized by a seat that proceeds to 'violate' anyone who chooses to sit in it. The Foam Gallery, however, offers a variety of esteemed and thought provoking photographs, and will redeem anything lost from a visit to the aforementioned museum.
Of course no trip to Amsterdam would be complete without a canal boat tour. This proved to be a particularly fun way to go about spotting the gable stones. When Amsterdam was newly established the profession of the person living in the houses would be portrayed by an elaborately carved piece of wood or stone that was mounted above the door (not in the gable, as the name would suggest.)
Even after all this, I have to say my favourite thing about Amsterdam was the ability to walk around it. With a population of 750,000, the streets are anything but crowded. Although, my arrival was strangely planned as it turned out to be Queen's Day and evidently the entire population was in the streets, along with every can of beer they'd managed to consume. But they are a very polite people and almost overnight the streets were cleared and the pleasant bustle of the city was anything but hurried. Meandering around the roads I found myself familiarising with them so efficiently that I was soon keeping the pace of locals, hopping the tram with confidence and finding my way back to interesting shops with ease.
As my confidence grew so did my belief that mounting a bicycle to get around really is another Amsterdam must. As it was, the pouring rain put off such thoughts quickly. But it's a beautiful city and I can't possibly come up with a good reason not to return. I love the Dutch, I love the art, I love the sights...
I will most definitely be going back.