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Amsterdam For The Tourist: The Tolerant City

Most people would arrive in Amsterdam via the central train station, either from a train from Schipol airport, other European destinations or one of the many coaches that bring daily visitors from many of the North Sea Ferries.

The first thing you will see on the exit doors of the station will be the now famous Amsterdam trams, boat tours a bit further on and to the right, a cycle park that must contain a half a million bikes. Three things associated with Amsterdam.

Amsterdam is in the process of building an underground train system to make travelling around the city even easier. This does mean that that on main streets and in front of the central station, building is in process, which spoils some of the first impressions at this point, but in a few years time when it is finished I am sure it will be worth it.

Carrying on up the main street from the station you will arrive at the Dam. Many years ago, it used to hold ships that came directly up the canals to trade with the city. But now it is more like a city square with the town hall and Madame Tussaudís on one side and a the main city statue on the other. In front of the town hall you will often see street entertainers and if you wish to see the city on a horse and cart, this is the starting place for the tours. The dam seems to be a magnet for people during the summer months especially in the early evening. During the winter months an ice rink is built just in front of the town hall.

The dam is also a turning point for tourists, if you turn left you can start exploring the canal system, turn right and you can walk to Anne Frankís house or if you continue on you will eventually come to the flower market next to the clock tower.

Anne Franks

If I had to select one place to visit whilst in Amsterdam it would be Anne Franks house. Her story has been well documented in her books and the films that have recreated her lifeís story during the Second World War. However being in the house, where she and her family hid from the Naziís is quite an experience. A lot of the house is the same as it was then, one room still has here writing on the walls and is a grim reminder of the horrors of that time apposed on the Jews. Because the attic room is pretty much as it was, there are steep steps; those in a wheelchair are unlikely to see the entire house.

Flower Market

During certain months of the year this is a colourful spectacle, with what appears every type of tulip and bulb available. The shops are actually boats or floating platforms on the canal, which you can clearly see on the other side of the canal but au you walk the market would just assume they were normal shops.

The Canal System

It doesnít matter where you walk in Amsterdam you going to be near a canal, but in my opinion you donít see how pretty the canals are until you have walked 15 minutes or so away from the central station. Here you will have countless opportunities to take photos of small bridges all with cycles chained to them over narrow pretty canals. As well as the canal boat tours at the central station you will come across some more tours boats along the system but beware of the canal bus. You will see bus stops for the canal bus, but you cannot buy a ticket on board you must prepay your ticket at their main depot for the day.

Museums

Most of the art museums are together in the museum quarter. Unless you like walking it is probably a bit far on foot from the station, so a tram may be the order of the day. The canal bus that I mentioned earlier also does a canal bus ticket to take you there via the canals. The Rijksmuseum and Van Gough Museums and others have some of the worldís most famous paintings in from artists such as Monet, Rembrandt and Van Gough who are all Ditch Masters. Try and pre-book your tickets online, as it is hit and miss whether you will get in just by arriving.

You canít really talk about Amsterdam and not mention some of the other aspects it is famous for and that is its tolerance to sex and low class drugs.

Red Light District

This is the only red light district I have walked through so I canít compare it to anywhere else except to say it isnít as sleazy as I thought it would be. You see normal people just going to work, elderly people carrying their shopping, businessmen and women coming in and out of the offices nearby. I am sure this place comes alive at night but during the day, it is more peaceful than I thought it would be. There are tours that will take you and around 30 other visitors around the area and explain the history of the district. In the tours you will see people from all ages including children. The sex shops have everything they sell in the window and seem to be frequented by groups of girls on their hen night having a laugh rather than sleazy men in raincoats. I think only those with extreme views would find this area offensive and if so stay away as it confined to one area of the city and you would not know it was there should you choose not to.

Coffee Shops

This is where it is legal to buy certain grown substances to be consumed in the area known as a coffee shop. If you want to know where they are, just follow the smell.

It is illegal to buy any drugs on the street though.

I have been to Amsterdam many times now, mainly because of the relaxed atmosphere of the city and its street café culture. In the evening everyone appears to be sitting outside enjoying life and this atmosphere seem to be contagious, not to mention a certain Irish bar where I seem to be able to relax more there than anywhere back at home. It is a city with much to offer that is maybe not as pretty as some cities say in Italy, but more than makes up for it with its diversity of culture and beliefs.

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