I’m sitting in the coffee house Coffee and Coconuts in Amsterdam, it’s a renovated cinema that looks like it’s been taken over by bohemian surfers. But it’s not the dirty drape, cluttered mess of British bohemia- this is the stylish, open plan, communicative, bared piping, railing and brick, triple story bean bag and sofa loving bohemia of a generation of teenage bohemians you have grown up to discover that they are now successful executives.
For my youth Amsterdam was a mystical, terrifying place that existed not only in another country but a different hemisphere and I’m a little ashamed to admit that up until my mid twenties my knowledge of this city was limited to the first ten minutes of Pulp Fiction. Then, when I was old enough to understand what a “Red Light District” and the affects of smoking weed, this only increased my initial fear that I would be woefully inadequate to enjoy a city that, in my mind, was caught in a perpetual fog of smoke pouring out of every available doorway and every wall was cracked thanks to the endless, thunderous thumping occurring within.
I am a man who conceals his ignorance behind a thick and gloriously well woven curtain of imagination. But there is no longer the appeal of having an alleyway lined on both sides with doorways casting a red glow while gorgeous, scantily clad women stand behind the glass beckoning me with fingers. Nor does the idea of spending a day lolling upon a bean bag breathing in copious opiates while declaring that I am king of the Jelly Fish. I feel that I have matured (My twitter notwithstanding).
Ah, Amsterdam. How I love thee.
There is still a red light district in Amsterdam and it fits in very well with a well visited restaurant, bar and canal scene. I took a stroll to browse the merchandise and do some window shopping, in the hope of quelling my fears of being yanked by a shepherd’s crook into a red room, and found that you’re just as likely to find a restaurant serving food to families, or a beer house offering sporting channels and gourmet hamburgers. Thanks to a general indifference of the red light district and everything it stands for, everyone just accepts it as a tourist attraction and even, from what I could tell, something to be a little blasé to. If you ask locals about the infamous red light district they will shrug their shoulders indifferently, “If you like it, good.” they will say.
As for the smoking? There is a debate regarding the actual laws on smoking marijuana and the other inebriates that are easily available- mostly debated between the people of Amsterdam and those making the laws. But if you’re not looking for that kind of thing it’s actually quite difficult to find it. Every so often you’ll get a head turning whiff of something, but then it’s gone. And also, hardly any fishy smells.
There are hints that certain parts of Amsterdam are still heathen, bohemian and reckless, but the same could be said about Wymondham and the prevailing culture now is a mature bohemian style. The love of open spaces and chilled interiors, coffee houses serving great brews and great food, a general all-encompassing tolerance to differences and cultures; beanbags and benches, sitting areas and areas that are “laptop and phone free” and such, such style.
It isn’t cheap. Amsterdam is definitely Netherland’s answer to London. Coffees will cost upshot of 4 euros and drinks can be expensive too, but still not as expensive as the Big Smoke in Britain.
I stayed at the Hotel V, a 15 euro taxi ride away. As far as hotels go it’s clearly part of a chain, but the styling in it is just my kind of thing. Exposed brick, exposed concrete, piping and fantastic showers and comfortable beds- nothing too verbose or finicky. Unlike some hotels which try to impose a style on you with a lot of inessentials, Hotel V and in a way the city itself, offers a style that you can model around yourself, a place that allows creativity to grow and expand and fill all the available space.
That’s my point. Outside of Amsterdam people think that the mind expanding experience you’ll get in this city has to do with opiates and too much sex- the reality is that it is the style. It says, “Come here, grow and be at one with me.”
… which I suppose is true of the red light district.