'Round the world 2012,  Europe,  Travels

Never Never Dam

It strikes me that Amsterdam is like a modern day fairy tale city, a mini utopian world. Granted, I am a tourist, visiting for only a few days, so naturally I only see the shiny, beautiful, and pretty parts of the city. But having visited many cities, Amsterdam is the closest thing to that fairy tale picture perfect town we dream of.

The canals and roads ring around the central area, forming picturesque streets lined with slightly leaning heritage houses in a multitude of colours. Each house comes with a little hook at the top, a feature carried through from the days when all these houses were merchant houses and goods were moved to the top floors from the outside, using the hooks. Nowadays, the hooks are used for moving furniture instead. Colourful flowers spill over little window planters and iron railings frame the concrete steps leading up to the doorways.

The streets are filled with the tall, good looking, Dutch people looking calm and cool on their bicycles. They zip through the streets, carrying their groceries and babies in baskets and bicycle baby seats, on their way home or running weekend errands. They are stylish, polite, and confident — they know they live in a great place. On the weekends, they flock to the parks to have picnics with friends or catch up over a coffee or beer.

Historically, Amsterdam welcomed anybody, regardless of beliefs, nationality, or colour, so long as it was good for business. This open minded attitude has continued today. A perfect example of this is seen in the monument dedicated to homosexuals (Amsterdam/Netherlands being the first country to allow same sex marriages), which sits in a square right next to the biggest church in the city.

Even the usually ugly sides of any major city have been turned around: sex and drugs, what most people first think about when they think about Amsterdam, has a place and purpose here. In a social experiment of sorts for society, Amsterdam has legalised prostitution, resulting in a clean and safe way for women who’ve chosen this route to carry on doing their jobs. Walking through the Red Light district, you see windows where women “advertise” themselves for those who are interested.

Marijuana, though not legal, is completely accepted here. Walking by the many coffee shops in the city (not to be confused with regular cafes) it’s easy to catch the smell of the drug wafting through the air. The purchase and use of pot in the cafes is regular business and the police do not enforce any of the laws that are officially written down.

It feels unreal, a bit like a storybook city come to life. Walking around the city feels like walking in a dream. Somehow, it all works, and Amsterdam is internationally recognised for its liberal policies and avante garde way of life. This stunningly beautiful, modern-but-old, trendy, multicultural, well connected international city is truly a little piece of a futuristic paradise we should all aim to model our cities after.

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