The bittersweet scent of weed lingered everywhere, distinctively strong each time we passed a coffee shop, then fading to only a hint again as we continued down the alleys, down the skinny sidewalks by the canals, towards the next coffee shop. They were everywhere, small enough to hold only a few tables, but so many there didn’t seem to be any huge crowds in any of them, at least not on week days. Except maybe in the Bulldog, the very first coffee shop in Amsterdam.
I knew the city was built with canals running everywhere, the coffee shops plenty, and the red light district right in the middle of it all, but the smallness of everything, the smallness of the whole city! really surprised me. I also knew that there were probably more bicycles in that city than in all of Finland, but yet the amount of them parked everywhere and whizzing by constantly amazed me. In the four days we spent in the city, I did not get used to checking the streets for bikes before crossing; many a time was I only so close to a holiday gone seriously bad. I guess I trust my hearing quite a lot here at home.
Amsterdam is a beautiful city! All those canals lined up with centuries old small houses, leaning a bit this way and that, with decorated facades and the hooks that are – out of obvious necessity – still used for moving furniture in and out; the beautiful churches of different denominations everywhere, right next door to the brothels; the multitudes of bridges, many of them nicely lit in the evening. Approximately 2500 house boats along the canals, some simple floating barracks, some decorated with flower pots and outside lights and small statues and whatnot. The horse carriages mingling with bicycles and cars. The old meeting the modern.
Only a few days before we entered the city, people had been ice skating down the canals of Amsterdam, for the first time in fifteen years! Even though the snow and ice and freezing weather of Finland was more than enough of cold, we had sort of hoped to get to go skating down the canals too. But by the time of our arrival, the weather had warmed up sufficiently to have started to melt the canals. So we went on a canal cruise on our last day there, instead. By then, the main canals had already melted enough to let those cruise boats plough through the still icy water.
We walked several kilometers in the city each day, around the very center, in the “chinatown”, along the outskirts of the red light district – the main attractions are situated right on one of the main streets of the city center – only once venturing through the small shady alleys of the cheaper parts of the red light district. We walked from one side of the city to the other side, once taking the tram to a specific spot in town, otherwise simply wandering around in the mostly quite dreary, hazy weather.
A couple times we stepped inside a coffee shop, to explore the atmosphere and to have a cappucino. The air in those places was thick with the smell of smoking weed, but it didn’t bother. Some were rolling and smoking their joints, some were eating space cakes and yet others were smoking water pipes. A world away from where I come from! Coffee shops of Amsterdam are far from the coffee shops of, say, Helsinki. You can get a cappucino or a latte or any other kind of coffee in them, sure, but the only pastry available is the space cakes. The pastry shops are a whole different thing with their massively topped waffles and pizza slices and all.
We had rented an apartment for the four days in Amsterdam, a nice place in the Jordaan area, just a heartbeat away from the Anne Frank huis – house – which was just a coincidence, but served us well since that was the only single attraction that was a must on our list. We visited the Anne Frank house on our third day in the city, but walked past it many times on our way in or out of the center and our other explorations of the city areas.
Even simply being in the vicinity of that particular house was an intense experience; let alone visiting it, touching the walls and the counter tops, looking at the pictures on the walls of Anne’s room and the actual pages of the original diary! I had read the diary as a teenager, more or less the same age as Anne while in hiding. Her story burned it’s mark in my heart back then, starting an era of exploration into the fates of jews during the nazi time, reading book after book of and around the topic.
And there I was, walking around the city where Anne and her family had thought they were safe from the nazi monstrosity, but had been wrong. In a city with thousands upon thousands of bicycles, they had been denied the right to even ride one. And soon after, they had been denied the right to even live. And the same kind of things are still happening in the world, in different forms. In the 90’s I read the diary of another young girl, Zlata, who had to go into hiding in Sarajevo in the early 90’s. How many stories like that would we have if they all were collected and published?
Since we had that apartment instead of a hotel room, we mostly cooked our own food. The little supermarket down the street only a few blocks from the apartment was rather well stocked and we made meals like clams cooked in white wine, crab salad, chicken fajitas with self-made guacamole, crab fritattas and tuna omelettes. We ate well, and only once at a restaurant. On the day of our departure we didn’t have the apartment anymore after eleven AM, so after the canal cruise we wove our way to the “chinatown”, to one of those restaurants we had spotted earlier, and had a delciousmeal of crispy Peking duck.
Our second day in Amsterdam was Valentine’s Day. In the day time we went walking around, as usual, visiting a bar where a lady there recite an intruiging narration of the unexpected events at the Cannabis Cup last November. We walked down the side of a canal, with small floating greenhouses one beside the other. From one of those booths in front of each greenhouse, we bought a bouquet of Calla lilies for our Valentine’s evening that we already had decided to spend at the apartment, just the two of us <3
Our time in Amsterdam went by so fast! It was a lovely city and we had a lovely time there. In the city of contrasts. Like a photo where the shadows have been enhanced to be clearly visible, and the highlights being just as prominent. The city of the XXX.