Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Amsterdam

A beautiful city. The canals and bridges and narrow streets and tilting houses all make Amsterdam a picturesque city. Main streets are asphalt, while the smaller ones are paved in brick or cobblestone. The city is entirely flat except for the arching of the many bridges.

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The canals are lined with boats. Some old, some new. I saw a duck nesting in one abandoned boat. I went to take a photo, but she started squawking, so I left her in peace.

Ducks are everywhere. I've seen a few swans and another type of water fowl that I couldn't recognize. Someone has built little floating islands covered with sparse greenery, presumably to support the wildlife.

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The canals are incredibly filthy. I watched a man clean his boat. When finished, he just tossed his rag overboard. All canals have litter floating here and there. I found it rather disappointing. I'm glad the ducks are able to adapt, but wish they didn't have to.

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I'm surprised by the truck traffic. With all of the canals, I thought that they would be utilized more for commercial use. But, the canals don't reach every building, so perhaps they are not that efficient. So far, I've only seen one tiny tugboat, a few construction barges, and several sightseeing boats. That's it for commercial activity. The canals are used almost entirely by pleasure craft.

I've seen dozens of cargo boats, all converted to houseboats.
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The center of Amsterdam is a party town. No surprise, that's why the tourists come. But, with drunkenness comes a need to pee, which can lead to drunken men and boys peeing in the streets and alleyways. The city in their wisdom has built dozens of open air urinals. They have a steel spiral wall encircling them, enough privacy to pee, but not enough to have sex or move in. I haven't noticed if women use them, and I don't even know how possible it is (I haven't investigated them in detail.) But, women aren't known for peeing in the streets as often as men.

New York should take note.

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Bicycles are everywhere, and chained everywhere. Despite the traffic, accidents are rare. The only person I saw take a tumble was a tourist. The bikes are mostly old and beat up. They rattle and squeak. They only have one gear. That's to deter thieves. A thief is more likely to steal newer and shinier bikes. Regardless, I've been told that there are a hundred thousand bicycle thefts a year here. Another twenty thousand end up in canals.

People lock their bikes anywhere they can. They choke there narrow sidewalks. I've seen them chained to the railings of wheelchair ramps, which pissed me off. How callous must one be, able-bodied enough to ride a bicycle, and to just block the access of someone who doesn't have the same luck of health. I confess that I wondered if I could get away with cutting the locks and just moving the bikes to another area. But, I can't afford bolt cutters or a battery operated disk grinder at this point in life.

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Cyclists in general respect most traffic laws except the ones about pedestrians and right of way. I've learned that even when I have the light,  crossing in a crosswalk, that I should beware. A bicycle can still whiz by at high speed. I've had three or four close calls at this point. I'm more aware now.

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The hostel provides free breakfast. It consists of bread and jars of peanut butter, jelly, butter, and Nutella. And coffee. There's a toaster in the kitchen if I prefer my bread toasted. It's not much of a breakfast, but four or five slices of bread coated liberally with Nutella can fill me up for some time. It's tasty and free, so I'm not complaining.

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The kids staying at the hostel do not seem particularly friendly. Every getting that I give is returned with silence or a mumble. I suspect that they look at me with suspicion. I am twenty years older than the average age here, staying in a ten person dorm room.

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Everyone speaks English. Everyone.

American TV shows are not dubbed, but subtitled. In Italy they were dubbed. I prefer subtitles.

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The prostitution seems just so normal here. It's just out in the open, with no shame or stigma. The women stand behind glass doors, wearing lingerie, and smile and wave at the passer-byes. If you take a second look, they open the door and call you over. It's common, and somewhat disconcerting, to be walking from point A to B, and happen upon a window. Or twenty in a row.

I confess that they are tempting, but I have two problems preventing me from indulging. One, I'm broke. Two, I cannot tell the difference between the slaves and the willing participants. I've read that Amsterdam has a major problem with organized crime, forced prostitution, and slavery. I have no moral hangups when it comes to hiring a willing prostitute, but I don't want to have sex with a slave. I have seen social workers going from window to window talking to the women. I'm not sure what kind of help  they provide.

Also, it's a good thing that weed is tolerated. If I've been walking around the Red Light District drunk, I might very well have spent all my money by now. Alcohol does lower the inhibitions. Another reason why weed should be legal.

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Oh, the weed, the weed!

This is truly glorious. I can wall to the closet coffeeshop and buy a spliff of generic, cheap weed mixed with tobacco, and get a high that would last me for hours. And for only €3.50.

The Dutch like their weed mixed with tobacco, which is fine by me. They also like the tapered spliffs. About for inches long narrow at the filter end and fat at the business end. The filters are made of a piece of paperboard rolled tightly. They come in these little plastic tubes.

But, that's the cheap stuff. Coffeeshops vary by quality, and their product varies greatly. All the shops sell bags of straight weed of various strengths and prices. I could experiment and get the real good shit, but I'm happy with the cheap joints. They are plenty strong enough for me, and they are already rolled. Glorious.

Coffeeshops should be allowed in America. They really are quite civilized.

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The job search is not hitting yet. The bars all want to hire college students. I've heard that line from a number of places so far. I am too old, and not hip enough.

I have a few more ideas to try out. I'm not conceding failure yet.

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