Exactly six years ago today, Rob and I woke up in Amsterdam. That sounds a lot more salacious than it was; we’d taken the train from Berlin the evening before and slept like rocks in our hostel. The weather was getting colder, the days shorter, and after 3 months on the road we were getting tired – sleeping in longer, and looking forward more and more to new socks, clean sheets, and not being on our guard all the time against losing belongings or being pick pocketed. We were starting to lose our edge; a few weeks earlier in Poland I left my iPod in a hostel and it was taken, then, in Berlin, Rob left our collection of foreign currency in the hostel, but they retrieved and held it for us for over a week before we made our way back to Berlin just to pick it up.
The morning of November 17th was chilly but clear, and we headed out downtown to hook up with a free tour of the city. This is what we saw: That’s not camera distortion: the house on the right was built leaning in towards the road. Do you see the iron hooks on it? Dutch houses are so narrow that there isn’t a lot of room to manoeuvre on the stairs. They used to throw ropes over those hooks, and that’s how they hauled belongings and furniture to the upper stories. Rob is artfully demonstrating the pee shields, which can be found in corners across the city. They’re angled so that you’d splash yourself if you attempted it. Display windows for prostitutes. We were warned not to take pictures, as the establishments often have men who watch for that, and will storm out of the building and/or the women themselves are known to keep urine in jars by the windows to throw on passersby who take pictures without paying.The narrowest house in Amsterdam. And you thought new townhouses in Canada were narrow!I found Amsterdam to be very difficult to navigate, and I’m a bit of a directional whiz normally. The canals and streets are in a spiderweb-like pattern, but the canals are all the same width, they all have houseboats, and they’re all lined with bicycles and gorgeous houses, but everything all looks sort of the same, and since you’re never on a north/south or east/west street, it’s hard to keep your bearings!In the evening we left our valuables in the hostel and went out to enjoy the nightlife. We were there the last week that mushrooms were legal, and we found out that pot is not legal after all – it’s decriminalized like in Canada, but no one had been arrested for possession in about 30 years. We were told that the culture is such that you can do what you like as long as you do it quietly and respectfully. This came about when the Protestants let the Catholics and the Jewish immigrants practice their religions and build their holy places as long as they did so quietly and respectfully (aka, don’t try to convert the rest of us and don’t be pushy). I think it’s a pretty healthy attitude for a society to have! Our evening was quite the experience!