I've done fewer drugs than the Pope. However, Amsterdam would corrupt me.
After having spent a month in Central America, the Netherlands was a shock: the flight arrived on time, there were clear signs everywhere, the streets were clean, and it was as butt cold.
I stayed in Toek's apartment in Amsterdam. Toek and I hiked together for about two days on the CDT. He is the only one from the Netherlands to complete the Triple Crown (AT, CDT, PCT). Like most thru-hikers, he has benefited from countless trail magic. He always wished to give back to the trail community, but he lived too far away from the trails to do much. However, this time the smelly trail person came to him, and he was happy to help.
Unfortunately, Toek wasn't there when I arrived. He was in Scotland, doing what he likes best, hiking. He left me the key to his kingdom and I was in Sin City: Amsterdam.
Amsterdam blew me away and I didn't even do blow. First, it's one of those rare cities that has what I adore: lots of canals. Like Venice and St. Petersburg, canals crisscross Amsterdam, making it irresistibly romantic and charming. Nearly everywhere you look, you'll see a quaint bridge, a docked boat, and the sound of ducks roaming the waterways. Unlike Venice, there are cars, but thanks to $10/gallon gasoline, the cars are small, cute, and relatively quiet. Quaint shops and elegant restaurants abound. Nearly every building is a work of art. In short, Amsterdam is a classic European city: a place that makes you feel sophisticated and worldly, even when you're not.
The modern day Sodom and Gomorrah
Of course, there are two features about Amsterdam that make it unique: legal drugs and whores. Back in the good old Biblical days of Sodom and Gomorrah, you had to visit both cities to get those two sinful treats. Amsterdam is a one-stop shop. Let me illustrate:
Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city—both young and old—surrounded this house. They called, "Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them."
The man of the house went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him and said, "No, my friends. Don't do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don't do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof."
OK, this didn't happen in Amsterdam. I quoted those two paragraphs from the Bible. And you thought the Bible was boring. Now you know why I got a degree in Religion.
It gets better. When God told Abraham that he was going to nuke Sodom, Abraham pleaded mercy. And then the LORD spoke, "No, I'm not going to nuke Sodom, I'm going to nuke Saddam!"
Sorry, wrong script. I was quoting from the classified files of Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Yosemite Sam.
Abraham bargained with God and asked him to spare Sodom if Abraham could find 50 good souls in the city. God agreed, but his angels couldn't find 50.
"How 'bout 45?" said Abraham.
"Hold on, lemme check...." God said. His angels returned and God said, "Sorry, they don't even have 30."
Abraham bargained harder, "20."
"Not even!" said God.
"Alright then, ten! Spare Sodom if there are 10 righteous dudes there!" Abraham begged.
After more peering into souls, God's angels reported that there was just one good guy in all of Sodom. His name was Lot. So God said, "There just ain't a lot of good people there. Except for Lot."
OK, although I've changed the dialog a bit, the whole story about Abraham bargaining with God is recorded in the Bible. I'm not making this stuff up. It's no wonder why Christianity and Judaism revere Abraham so much. It takes some major balls to stand up to God and drive a hard bargain.
Speaking about Sodom, I feel sorry for Admah and Zeboiim. They're two Biblical cities that God wiped out along with Sodom and Gomorrah. However, we never hear about them. Imagine if Hiroshima and Nagasaki weren't the only Japanese cities that had an atomic bomb dropped on them. Those two cities would be upset that we never mention them. Sodom and Gomorrah get all the press and that probably would piss off the sinners of Admah and Zeboiim, "which the LORD overthrew in fierce anger."
There's a wise, subtle lesson in this whole story: don't piss off God.
One last Biblical story: it's shocking to read about what Lot did with his two daughters after God spared him:
One day the older daughter said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is no man around here to lie with us, as is the custom all over the earth. Let’s get our father to drink wine and then lie with him and preserve our family line through our father.”
That night they got their father to drink wine, and the older daughter went in and lay with him. He was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up.
The next day the older daughter said to the younger, “Last night I lay with my father. Let’s get him to drink wine again tonight, and you go in and lie with him so we can preserve our family line through our father.” So they got their father to drink wine that night also, and the younger daughter went and lay with him. Again he was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up.
So both of Lot’s daughters became pregnant by their father. (Genesis 19:30-36)
Who needs the National Enquirer when you have the Holy Bible!
Prostitutes in Amsterdam's Red Light District
It was Saturday night when my three friends (Ali, Charlotte, and Remko) and I headed to the Red Light District. I figured that it would be just like any other prostitute-filled neighborhood. I was wrong.
The Red Light District in Amsterdam is delightful. There were so many people milling about that I felt incredibly safe. I expected a dirty, seedy place, but instead found quaint walkways along canals that have romantic footbridges crossing them. The light from old lamposts reflect on the serene waterways. There are also adorable alleyways that are so narrow that you have to squeeze to get through them. Best of all, sexual relief is always within reach.
The only unattractive feature about the Red Light District were the random urinals on the sidewalks. Although everyone was behaving, some were on drugs (either alcohol or something else). The locals undoubtedly were tired of drunks pissing randomly on the street, so they had open urinals installed. These minimalist urinals provide just enough cover for a man to do his business. While utilitarian, they smell just as bad as you can imagine.
The whores were different than I expected. First, I thought most would be ugly, but many looked like they had just walked off a Victoria Secret modeling shoot. Second, I thought they would be walking the streets. Instead, they were scantily clad in tiny rooms with glass doors for all to see. Ultraviolet lights played off their white bikinis, giving you the impression that they're from another world (or at least can take you there).
Although I regret not asking the price, the process is simple. Customers knock on the glass doors and the prostitute quotes them a price. If they agree on the deal, the curtains close, and the show begins.
Doing drugs in Amsterdam
As I mentioned at the beginning, I've done fewer drugs than the Pope. The Pope takes a swig of liquor ever Sunday. I've taken a sip of alcohol only a couple of times in my life. The Pope probably drinks coffee in the morning; I've always avoided it. And while I've never experimented with other drugs, God only knows what the Pope has done.
However, I was in Amsterdam! And I've always said that if I were to try drugs, I would give the hallucinogenic ones a shot. Drugs that give you a boost or drugs that mellow you out are boring. If I need a shot of adrenaline, I'll climb a mountain in a snowstorm. If I need to mellow out, I'll read something boring, like the long-winded emails that I write.
The only drugs that seem worth trying are the ones that alter your view of reality. Taking a drug that makes you want to dance all night is boring; taking a drug that makes you believe that you're dancing on air is interesting. Fortunately, one such drug was legal a couple of months ago in Amsterdam: magic mushrooms.
I bought $20 worth of Mexican mushrooms from a local coffeehouse. It's hard to find coffee in the coffeehouses, but it's easy to find weed, mushrooms, and other soft drugs. The magic mushroom looked like an ordinary, unappealing 'shroom. My friends and I headed to the delightful town of Utrecht while I munched on fungus in the car.
You're not supposed to eat two hours before or during the experience. If you want to halt the trip, just eat like an American (e.g., something heavy and greasy).
About 30 minutes after arriving in Utrecht, I started giggling for no good reason. Everything brought a smile to my face. For example, Charlotte's face looked a bit funny. Just the sound of her voice was hilarious.
Soon I could not utter a single coherent sentence. I was fully conscious of my state, but could do nothing to stop it. I stumbled a bit as I walked, babbled incomplete sentences, and spent most of my time giggling hysterically.
At one point I looked a large compass drawn on the ground. I couldn't understand why they had two Ns on the compass! I asked Remko, "Why two Ns? Where south?" Before he could answer, I burst out laughing.
I was convinced that there were two Ns, but later I learned that one of the characters was a Z, which looks like an N when on its side. Just like S stands for South, Z stands for Zuiden, the Dutch word for south. (Noorden means North.) My head was spinning so much that I never realized that I was looking at a Z. I stumbled away chuckling about "a compass with two Ns! FUNNY!"
The only disappointing aspect of the trip was that I hardly hallucinated. At times it seemed that colors would become more vibrant and that I could see the edges of objects distinctly, as if they were highlighted. Moreover, I zoomed in on physical details that I would normally ignore. In that way, I was hyper-sensitive and alert. However, most of the time I was just a holding onto my stomach, which hurt from all my laughter.
I do remember Utrecht surprising well, or at least so I think. It was another charming, quaint, perfect town in the Netherlands with a few canals running through it. Most of the time the canal is 4 meters below you, but you can walk down to its level and eat at one of the fancy restaurants that line its banks. You can eat outside, enjoy the slowly passing boats, and inhale history. I didn't eat, because I was still tripping on mushrooms. Fortunately, the waitress was quite pleasant. I was even more pleasant, as everything in the world made me smile.
After my four hour mushroom trip, I ate some food (I was starving!), which immediately brought me back down to Earth. Later, I had a minor headache. If you laughed as much as I did, you'd have a headache too.
I highly recommend the experience, but unfortunately two months ago Amsterdam outlawed the sale of magic mushrooms after a French girl jumped into the canal and drowned when she was on them. It seems I was one of the last people in Amsterdam to enjoy this fun, legal drug trip.
The Hague and Amersfoort
We also visited Amersfoort, an adorable town on the Eem River. Chartered in 1259, Amersfoort has a cute old town, with a canal, complete with a water gate, bending through it. Amersfoort is one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Europe, with several inspiring churches. If you're in the Netherlands, it's a pleasant escape from the big city of Amsterdam.
The Hague is also annoyingly charming and perfect. Clean parks, quaint stores, and romantic tree-lined streets are everywhere. The International Tribunal where the UN convicts bad people is not much to see. However, the rest of the town is lovely.
Two final points
Identity crisis. It's annoying that this country can be called the Netherlands or Holland. To make it even worse, the residents say they are Dutch. Why can't they just settle on one name for their country and name their people accordingly? They could call themselves Hollanders or Netherlanders. If they want to still be called Dutch, then call their country Dutchland or Dutchdom. Big, ethnically diverse countries can have an identity crisis, the Netherlands shouldn't. I call it the Netherlands for two reasons: that's what the United Nations calls them and it's descriptive (it means low land).
Why the Netherlands isn't Atlantis (yet). After the Seychelles, the Netherlands is the flattest and lowest country in the world. While the rest of the world fears rising sea levels, the Dutch have been living underwater since before the car was invented. Before all the carbon emissions from cars, the Netherlands was already drowning. Most of their country is below sea level. The Dutch do what Manhattan, one of their former colonies, does: pump out the water. They do it using windmills. Some who worry about rising sea levels from global warming, argue that it would be far cheaper to pump water out of the key global cities than to spend hundreds of billions of dollars migrating away fossil fuels before we've invented something cheaper. I suspect we'll follow the Dutch example until the price of fossil fuels exceed the price of other energy sources.
In summary, the four towns I saw in the Netherlands and were all perfect. Just perfect. You can trust my judgment, as I was on drugs in only one of them.