Amsterdam Trip #1: the Red Light District & Medieval Centre

I took advantage of a second day of gorgeous weekend weather and went to Amsterdam for a few hours this afternoon. It’s less than an hour away by train, but it’s taken me five weeks to make it there! I decided to focus solely on the Red Light District and Medieval Centre, which comprise only a small part of the city and are adjacent to the train station.

I crossed the street from the train station and started off down a major street next to the canal where most of the boat tours launch. Within a block, I reached the Sex Museum. Most of the tourist book reviews I’ve read seemed to find this place underwhelming, but I just don’t think you can pass on something like that when you’re in Amsterdam. I paid the 4 euro entry fee and stepped inside into what seemed like another world.

The museum requires that visitors be over 16, and for good reason. Immediately upon crossing the threshold, you are surrounded by paintings, statutes, and even mannikins and animatronics engaged in some sort of sexual act. A mere 10 yards inside the door, there is a display of two animatronics inside what I think is one of the public urinals that are common in the Netherlands. The woman uses one hand to pull back her skirt – revealing everything – and another hand to grasp a certain part of the man’s anatomy. Her hand moves, if you catch my drift. There are also sounds to go along with this.

The museum boasts an impressive array of black and white pornographic pictures from throughout the last century so that you can follow the evolution of sex throughout the decades. There are also pieces of art from much further away in time and space, including some of the familiar pornographic paintings that I saw in Pompeii ten years ago. You are allowed to take pictures, but I didn’t really feel the need (what would I do with those pictures?!). I did start giggling with random strangers at times (two girls were taking pictures of themselves sitting on giant penis statues), which made me wish I had come with a big group of people – we could have made a good game out of seeing who could keep a straight face the longest.

From the museum, I made my way towards the old church, which is ironically now the sort of centerpiece of the Red Light District. The Prostitution Information Centre is located on the same square as the church, and there are indeed prostitutes looking out from doors and windows right across from the church. Here is a picture of an empty window:

I’m not really sure what to think about the prostitutes themselves. On the one hand, their situation is a lot better than that of prostitutes elsewhere because it’s legal in the Netherlands; on the other hand, I’m not sure that based on the prostitutes I saw that there’s any higher level of respect involved. You can’t take pictures of them, but frankly none of them inspired that kind of memorialization.

Mixed in with the windows, of course, are the coffee shops, aka the places where you can smoke pot. Marijuana smoke is the perfume of this part of the city. I passed countless coffee shops and places designed to lure in their exiting customers (see below; excellent marketing):

The Red Light District is also home to a couple of museums about marijuana, including one called Cannabis College where you can learn everything you’d ever want to know about pot. (Apparently the people who work there train the people who run the coffee shops.) I would have gone in, but it wasn’t open when I passed by. Here it the other museum:

The third part of the Red Light trifecta is the sex shops. Anyone reading Fifty Shades of Grey who wants to purchase some of Christian’s playroom accessories need look no further than this part of Amsterdam. One shop, appropriately, was playing “S&M” by Rihanna when I passed by.My favorite was the Condomerie, which sells condoms of all shapes, sizes, colors, textures, flavors, etc.

And this may be the best window display I’ve ever seen:

I wandered alongside a canal down past the Royal Palace (where the Queen technically lives although really she lives here in Den Haag) and sat in the square to enjoy some shwarma (which is also plentiful in the Red Light District). From there, I set off for the Spui, a square lined with bookshops, including one with only English titles and another with used books. I spent some time milling around but didn’t find anything worth buying.

I headed back up towards the train station and stopped into various shops along the way. I saw some pretty cool (non-sexual) stuff but didn’t end up buying anything other than an amazing waffle covered in chocolate:

So that’s my introduction to Amsterdam – I figured even if for some reason I don’t end up having time to go back (not likely), at least now I’ve seen the most famous part! What a wild place.

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