Windmills, wooden shoes and marihuana leaves: many people would be quick to associate those with The Netherlands. They may be surprised that they actually need to search for windmills should they want to see one. The same for people wearing wooden shoes. And even though marihuana can be easily obtained, it`s especially the tourists who openly consume it in the streets of Amsterdam.
Year after year, crowds of tourists find the way to Amsterdam. Many of them are in their twenties, and they are attracted by the many freedoms Amsterdam has to offer. Lars (25) and Joachim (25) from Norway perfectly fit the profile of stereotypical Amsterdam tourists. `We have come here to do everything that is not allowed at home`, says Joachim. He explains that their three-day program consists of little more than smoking, drinking and finding amusement in the Red Light District. Lars`s facial expression has been somewhat reduced throughout his stay. He is barely able to talk, but is convinced he is having a good time. The two friends visit Amsterdam regularly and plan to return in three months time.
`Everything we can do here is forbidden at home`
Most of the people I speak to today are only in Amsterdam for a few days and travel in small groups. Sarah (26) and Ursula (32) from Ireland have come over to celebrate New Year`s Eve, without a particular plan of what to do: `We arrived today and have only seen Anne Frank`s House today. We`re now looking for a nice place to eat, and later on, we will have a look at the gay district in town.
Orlagh (28) and Tim (35) are part of a small group of British friends. They are staying at a friends` place and will visit the Vondelpark, the Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum, the Sex Museum and the Torture Museum. Orlagh tells about their plans for the evenings: lots of coffee shops.
Georgio (22, photo) and Juan (22) flew in from Sevilla to discover the Amsterdam and its exotic natural products. When I meet them, they are excited to tell me about the magic mushrooms they ate a few hours before, and how everything slowly become much more colourful than usual. Juan says: `Everything we can do here is forbidden at home, Amsterdam is a great city!`
Julie (21) and Amaury (21) came over for one day from Lille in the North of France. They are not in Amsterdam to smoke joints but simply to walk around and see the city. Although Julie has been to Amsterdam before, she is still impressed by the number of people moving through town on bicycles. She is not the only one. The Amsterdam bike `system` seems to surprise most international tourists. They are invariably amazed by the quantity of bikes cruising through town, the swiftness of the cyclists` moves as well as the very existence of dedicated cycling lanes, traffic lights and parkings. `We have got nothing like that in France, and we really like to see how the Dutch use environmentally friendly modes of transportation.
Laurianne (29) and Ludovic (26) from Switzerland are visiting Amsterdam simply because it`s a big European city. `We have also been to London and Paris, and Amsterdam was next in line`, Laurianne explains. Both Laurianne and Ludovic appreciate the pedestrian-friendly set-up of Amsterdam`s city centre, and add: `There`s no other city like Amsterdam. There`s so much freedom here, but they seem to manage it all well. But I guess you have to live her to really know about the consequences of the liberal policy.`
Michiel (28) and Drees (36) regret that many tourists seem to use a few square kilometers in the centre of Amsterdam to shape their opinion about The Netherlands. `They come to Amsterdam, spend a few days with fellow tourists hanging out and going crazy, and have no attention whatsoever for what else The Netherlands have got to offer. Or even just the city of Amsterdam and the range of architecture it has got to offer`, says Drees. At the same time, they are quite happy that tourism is pretty much restricted to the centre. `They should not be allowed to ride bikes, because they can`t do it. Tourists on bikes are a danger and a pain in the ass`, explains Michiel.
In the coffeeshop
Tourists and locals have a hard time mixing with each other. Patricia (21) and Lisa (26) both work in a coffee shop next to Amsterdam Central Station. `We don`t get any locals here, it`s just tourists`, Patricia explains: `Most of them do not seem particularly interested in visiting the rest of Amsterdam ? we`ve got most of what they are looking for. We sell mushrooms, marihuana and weed, and people can get beer upstairs if they want to. We are not allowed to use one and the same selling point for alcohol and drugs.`
Adjacent countries frown at Amsterdam`s position as drugs capital of Europe. The most recent example is a diplomatic row with France. Last summer, a French girl jumped from a tall building after having consumed magic mushrooms. France blames the liberal Dutch drug policy for the tragic death of the girl. Lisa agrees that coffee shops provide documentation about the use of drugs, but do not actively prevent improper use: `We do occasionally have people who go out, but no other incidents other than that.` According to Dutch tradition, everybody challenged to set his/her own limits ? wherever or whatever those may be ? as long as they cause no nuisance to others.
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