Amsterdam – so much more than sex and drugs

I recently returned from Amsterdam. I’m no stranger to the Dutch port city but it was the first time I went on business, which gave me a different perspective to Dam.

Of course you can’t go to Amsterdam and not see the Red Light District! Apart from wondering in amazement at the choice of career these young girls had opted for, or were maybe forced to do, I was more uncomfortable at seeing that nearly all the young men along this stretch were British…what does this say about us?! It was more cringing when I saw some guys going in to see a girl, and one brash looking man who walked out with his head held high as if he were proud of what he had done! I’m not prude but paying for sex has got to be the ultimate low for anyone! I sneakily took some photos although I risked being escorted away because its strictly not allowed.

I wasn’t sure whether the city’s frivolous side had mellowed or whether I was desensitised in the eight years since I’d been there, but there was a definite reduction in prostitution and drugs. Later I came to know this was as a result of the authorities looking to ‘clean up’ Amsterdam.

I’m sure the masses of, mainly male, tourists who flock to the city all year round, especially for stag weekends, would not be supportive of this. But I couldn’t help but wonder whether this would encourage tourists to see the other attractions that are not necessarily associated to Dam.

The Dutch are cosmopolitan, artistic people. Even in the smallest of café’s or restaurants, the décor is an eclectic mix of art deco, hip and new age. Even in the sweet shop displays, shop fronts and street flower displays – you find a hint of art in every corner.

Of course the Rembrandt and Van Gogh museums are a marvel to see. But you can’t help but sense art in the history, infrastructure and buildings. Everything seems so skilled about the city – the transport links, the discipline of cycling lanes, the cleanliness. It’s the first city I’ve been to where I was convinced I could work here.

And more importantly, the Dutch are the kindest and most helpful people. You can stop anyone going about their daily life and they will always make an effort to help you. Everyone knows English so language isn’t a barrier – how British of me to point that out! But they all seem so willing and approachable to assist a tourist in need. That’s pretty impressive.

I managed to mix work with play so experienced the night life too. And I can’t go far without shopping. It’s not a cheap city – as you would expect with any major capital – but the Dutch are stylish so you’re bound to be lured in to buy an accessory or garment (make that a few in my case!)

Amsterdam has a lot to offer. Maybe it’s the concerted effort to reduce prostitution and drugs that made me realise this, or the fact that I went with a more mature mindset than eight years ago. Back then I had said it wasn’t a city I was interested in revisiting. Now, I wouldn’t mind even living there for a few years!