Netherlands, Holland, whatever you want to call it, it’s a one-of-a-kind place. Beautiful, friendly people, and historic significance are all wrapped up in this one small country. It is the one country where the lines between legality and illegality are blurred, yet the entire country has one of the lowest death rates due to drug use in the world, and 0.1% (according to the WHO in 2011). The Netherlands has a stereotype that doesn’t do the country justice, and all of the good things are overlooked.
Let’s face it: very few people who go to Holland speak Dutch; it’s not one of the most common languages in the world. As much as I tried to pick up on some key words, I just couldn’t because everyone speaks English. Every single Dutch person spoke excellent English. A Dutch girl I met said she doesn’t know of anyone in Holland that doesn’t speak English. Even when we went out to eat at a restaurant, the waitress not only spoke English, but didn’t speak Dutch. The Netherlands is a great place to go if you speak English, because you will have no problem getting around, and the people are just wonderful and super helpful.
Amsterdam especially is a beautiful city that gets overlooked for its many canals due to the other things it offers to tourists. When most people want to see canals and take boat tours, they automatically think Venice. However, Amsterdam actually has more canals than Venice and offers plenty of boat tours to view the wonderful landscape and rich and historic buildings. The city actually seems to be more water than land sometimes, and the concentric circles of canals give the city a truly beautiful (and geometric, for the nerd in me) feel to it.
I have to talk about the stereotype that plagues Amsterdam and the Netherlands in general: the “coffee shops” which sell only coffee and marijuana, and the red light district. Ironically enough, you can’t smoke regular cigarettes in the coffee shops, although you can order marijuana in either leaf form, cigarette form, or brownie form directly from the baristas, as though you were ordering a burger at McDonald’s. They also have a nice variety of tea and coffee for those of us that don’t partake in the blurred lines of legality and illegality. They don’t, however, sell alcohol at coffee shops; alcohol is strictly sold at bars, where marijuana is not. It is good that they at least have laws to keep all bad things separate.
The red light district is one of the few places where prostitution is legalized. To someone who had never been there before, I couldn’t imagine how that seemed right, but after visiting Amsterdam and walking through the red light district, it almost seemed normal. Very strange. I do think that the hundreds, if not thousands, of girls in the windows are forced to be there one way or another and I felt very bad for them and don’t approve of the legalization law in that aspect.
Besides just coffee shops and the red light district, the Netherlands offers a lot of history, from Anne Frank’s demise to the royal palace, still in use. There are beautiful monuments to honor war heroes and other national heroes. The cobblestone streets and old style houses with narrow staircases bring you back in time and it feels like the country has not aged much in recent years.
Ok, the one cool thing I have to mention if going to Holland is the Heineken Experience in Amsterdam. It’s more than a brewery tour or museum, it’s truly an experience. It was one of the most entertaining things I’ve ever done and there’s so much room for participation! I’m sure there are many other things to do in the Netherlands on the entertainment scale, however after only visiting Amsterdam, I have yet to discover them. I truly hope to get back to this country one day and see everything it has to offer!