its like a less cloudy and more liberal version of London
During my time in Münster, I decided that I would make the most of my relative location and wander over to the low countries also known as the Netherlands. Before I start my storytelling, we will have an educational moment and realize what exactly the Netherlands are.
how could such a small country be so complicated?
First of all the picture above us shows the country of the Netherlands, or the Kingdom of the Netherlands for all you people that believe in formalities and drinking afternoon tea with your mum. The Netherlands literally means the low lands or lands near the sea. The Netherlands in all of it’s wonderful tulipy orange glory is divided into twelve provinces.
even in English, they are still unpronounceable
But like most if not all countries, there are a select few regions that have always been more powerful and have had dominance over the rest of the country. When you think of tulips, windmills, wooden shoes, the International Criminal Court, dikes holding back the ocean, canals, West India Trading Company and Heineken you are actually thinking of the provinces of North and South Holland, or more easily summarized as Holland.
Tulips and windmills have always been scared of Germany
Kinda like how the area between Boston and Washington D.C. is the powerhouse of the United States, the area of Holland has been the powerhouse of the Netherlands. Fortunately for the United States, we are huge and New York City is not as easily confused with the middle of Iowa or southern California.
although I don’t blame the Dutch for confusing central Iowa with the Lower East Side
Unfortunately for the Dutch, which is another story, their country is slightly larger than Maryland, which makes it more than convenient to misnomer the whole land after a certain region.
I hate to stereotype but why does every Dutch person smokes pot?
Got it? Ok, it gets better. The people, language, culture, and adjective used to describe the Netherlands is Dutch. Some English speakers say Netherlander but sadly we cannot all be as smart or politically correct. Dutch comes from an old Germanic word used to describe the Germanic people of mainland Europe. Over time the cultures diverged and the term grew more area specific to better describe the current Dutch seeing as how the Germans could not unify because they were too busy fighting each other over who could marry whose cousin and why their version of a certain religion was right. By the time the Germans decided that they could accomplish more together, the Latin phrase Germania was more associated with central European Germanic group because the Netherlanders already had the phrase Dutch associated with them for the previous 800 years.
Dutch-German relations have been good ever since
So now that you hopefully are a little bit more cultured, I will explain my trip to the Netherlands. My first excursion was into the border town of Enschede for about a day with a group of friends consisting of three Spanish guys, a Palestinian/Israeli (lets not start arguing), an ethnic Russian Kazakh, a Swiss-French, a Brazilian of Dutch ancestry, an actual Dutch, and myself. Between us we could literally from a mini U.N. and probably get away with it. If you have never heard of Enschede, I don’t blame you, but I will give you an association to help you remember the small town.
made in Enschede, drunk by Americans who drink “fancy” beer with the cool resealable top
It is about an hour and a half away from Münster and enjoys all the comforts of being Dutch while still displaying a semi-intelligible form of German/Dutch. It is a nice small city but unfortunately I went on a Sunday and the only things open were Kebab shops, bars and restaurants, and head and coffee shops, which regardless is probably most people, or at least myself, need to function.
I can assume it gets better as the thermostat jumps above zero
So being the curious young American that I am, I needed to see if the whole “legal” pot thing was true.
once you start seeing seed signs, you know you are on the right track
after further walking we stumbled upon what appeared to be an establishment that operated selling recreational drugs.
and sure enough if you look hard enough, you will find it
but like all good things in life, seeing is believing and I needed more proof. After walking in, getting ID’ed, and acting somewhat surprised about the organization of the little shop, I managed to snap a picture of all the proof I needed.
its like the Rosetta Stone for stoners
We then went and did what the current youth between the ages of 20-30’s do best, bar hop until the sun don’t shine.
6 hours in we realized we out drank the locals and they had left
After realizing that livers have limits and that final trains exist, we headed back to Germany with basic knowledge of the Netherlands. Marijuana is legal in quantities up to 5 grams, Middle Easterners and Turks are invading all of Europe and setting up Kebab/Döner/Schwarma shops everywhere but the white sauce offered in those shops in the Netherlands is amazing, and bar hopping is cheaper in Germany. A couple of weeks later, my Brazilian friend and I decided to take the dream pilgrimage of every pot smoking youth in the world, but mainly America, and travel to Amsterdam. I will start off with saying that the pictures of Amsterdam do and don’t do it justice.
drugs, sex, and canals, but mainly canals
First it actually looks like the pictures I had previously seen. The problem is that it feels ten times better to actually be there. The city has a certain vibe to it that is hard to pinpoint. So after dropping off our stuff at the hostel, we decided to search the town for things to do. On our ramblings of the town we realized how pervasive this whole Dutch Liberalness is.
Republicans and soccer moms drew up their nightmares, and the Dutch built them
The amount of head shops, coffee shops, and just plain stores trying to lure in the impressionable tourists is ridiculous. You can’t walk ten feet without seeing a pot plant in the form of a flag, box, bag, or anything that will draw attention, can be made in China cheaply, and can be sold for big bucks.
some investors are more subliminal but geniuses at the same time
We continued to roam around taking in all the sights. While there is a more touristy district aimed at “sin” tourism, once you walk out of the center, you can find something more Dutch and more locals. We were just astonished at how intricate the canal system was, how the architecture varied but still maintained its distinctive North Germanic look, and how a small country like the Netherlands could colonize lands as far as Indonesia, Suriname, and so on.
they also named their shopping center the beehive, so I guess they can be witty
So after walking around, we decided to eat dinner and go bar hopping with some Colombian and Brazilian kids we met who were visiting Amsterdam from their study abroad program in London. It was during our tipsy walkings of the town that I came to take the picture that best symbolizes Amsterdam.
prostitutes in the red light on the left, coffee shop in the back with the green light, church on the right
It is by no means a beautiful picture, but the idea that two businesses like prostitution and recreational drug selling can exist side by side with a church is pretty explaining of the situation in the Netherlands. Not that the Netherlands is a drug ridden, whore infested, degenerate country but rather that they have found a middle ground where as long as you don’t bother me and I don’t bother you, we can coexist side by side. Prostitution is a legal and unionized, so to this extent they are more advanced than half of America, and is not necessarily seen as a possible career choice but rather as a method of setting prostitution in a legal framework and controlling it. Marijuana and soft drugs work in a similar fashion. The government has decided that enforcement of drug laws on soft drugs in quantities smaller than 5 grams is a waste of time and money and that the police should worry about hard drugs and distribution. So while technically illegal, there is no enforcement and the government has created a climate where soft drug use is prohibited and if addiction exist, help is available. It works pretty well, and while it may at first seem chaotic to anyone from a puritan country like the United States, once you walk around it for a day, you get the idea of how it functions, and I can assume that once you live around it, it becomes second nature. With that small analysis, we went back to the hostel.
never a bad view before going to sleep
The following day we decided to continue our sight seeing and hit the famous spots or hit up very local spots.
The New Church where all the heathens come to repent
We continued down and found
some lady who thought it was more than acceptable to get in my Anne Frank House picture
and because a good trip isn’t good without trying a local delicacy
Herring and Onions, Anthony Bourdain doesn’t know what he is missing out on
Unfortunately our time was up as we only had two days to visit the Netherlands before we went back to school and we left Amsterdam, only taking a slight glimpse into what an amazing city it is.
Even the train station was feeling the Amsterdam vibe
I am glad to say I visited Amsterdam, even if it was only for two days, and I am more than certain that I will be back, preferably with a local. There is way more to see in this country, and I know that any visit back will have me trying to study and understand the idiosyncrasies of Dutch life and how they function.
Things to know before you go
1. While I normally recommend learning the language, or at least a little bit, before you head off to any country, the Dutch have an amazing mastery of English and I honestly believe that they probably speak better English than many Americans. English will get you by in the Netherlands without a problem, although knowing basic phrases will put a smile on Dutch person’s face.
2. Don’t just go for the drugs, sex, and alcohol. One of the most shallowest things you can do is to travel far just to be able to go crazy for a couple of days because the host country has lax laws. Go for the culture, history, food, and just overall experience and take advantage of those lax laws but don’t make your number one reason for going to the Netherlands drug or sex related. You can tell that many people in the Netherlands are not too fond of crazy tourists coming to their country to get stoned, have sex with a prostitute, and go all out crazy. Pretty much respect and the golden rule.
3. What happens in Amsterdam should stay in Amsterdam, or at least until the rest of the world catches up on acceptance of others regardless of what one does
4. Be prepared for a hodgepodge of different cultures. The Dutch conquered many lands and allowed many foreigners to come back and settle in the Netherlands. You will find Indonesians of mixed Dutch ancestry due to colonization, to southern Europeans who came as guest workers, to Middle Easterners and Africans who are applying for asylum, to even expats who just rather live in the Netherlands. Calling them “Dutch” is a whole different argument, but the diversity is there and one should take advantage of it.
5. Go with an open mind and be prepared to observe and analyze. America is not perfect, and neither is the Netherlands, but seeing the differences and how both countries and cultures handle them will greatly expand your horizons and will actually make your trip more worthwhile.
Also take a good camera, you don’t want to miss pictures like this