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Amsterdam: It’s better than you think

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Let me preface this week’s entry with a question.

Have any of you traveled to a place and found yourself thinking: This place isn’t real?

I had never experienced that feeling until this past weekend when I went to Holland to visit the historic city of Amsterdam.

Rather than beat around the bush I’ll get right to it. If you’ve never gone to Amsterdam, a few thoughts probably come to your head about the city. If your thoughts consist of marijuana and prostitutes, well…you’re not wrong.

It is completely legal to smoke weed. You can smoke outdoors and indoors, depending on the rules of each place. Coffeeshops fill the brightly-lit streets of Amsterdam, providing smokers with a forum to buy marijuana or to sit down with some buddies and pass around a joint. It’s a chill, laid-back atmosphere where judgments are reserved. Shops throughout the city sell weed paraphernalia and other drugs, including mushrooms. Amsterdam embraces its free-wheeling drug culture, knowing tourists from throughout the world will come and engage in an environment unlike the ones at home. On a similar note, that’s why the majority of the customers in the Red Light District are tourists. Dutch citizens don’t smoke weed or buy prostitutes every day. They’ve grown up with that lifestyle and become numb to it.

That’s why tourists like me are so amazed when visiting the city. I found myself thinking all the time: How is this place possible? How can you live here? How can you raise a family here?

The transparency of the city and its drug culture baffled me. But when I thought about it further, it all made perfect sense. Although the legalization of recreational marijuana is gaining traction in the United States, the end-goal of legalization in all 50 states is still light years away. Its use is so demonized back home. Starting with the D.A.R.E. program in 5th grade, through the middle and high school health classes, and in my experiences as an athlete, all I’ve heard ever about is how bad smoking it is for you. I’ve been taught to think negatively of those who do it. I was brainwashed throughout my childhood to stigmatize it. I lost friends over it because I judged them. That’s why when I arrived in Amsterdam it completely shocked me this lifestyle was O.K.

Holland boasts the seventh-best “Quality of Life” ranking according to Numbeo.com. The U.S. comes in at No. 10 on the list. Holland ranks higher than the U.S. on the list of the best education systems in the world. The same goes for healthcare. I’m not saying there is a direct correlation here, but the Dutch know how to live a good life. I’m also not saying the U.S. should abandon the principles it stands for. A lot of changes, like legal marijuana use, are incredibly difficult to implement because of the size and strength of the U.S. A small European country like Holland can embrace its culture in ways the U.S. never could due to our immense influence.

Like I said earlier, this free-wheeling culture has earned Amsterdam its fame. But as I learned this weekend, it’s not who the Dutch are. It’s the tourists that consume all the drugs and go wild at the bars and in the Red Light District, not the Dutch people. The majority of the Dutch people I spoke with hadn’t smoked in months.

Besides all the hoopla created by the tourists, Amsterdam is a beautiful city for a few unique reasons. Its prowess as a commercial shipping port in the late 1600s explains why the Dutch Empire held so much power and influence at the time. The reason for this control over the seas? Amsterdam has a canal system consisting of more than 100 canals and over 1000 bridges. When you’re in Amsterdam, you are always walking along a canal. And of course my friends and I had to take the city up on one of its canal cruises. For a person who LOVES water, this made me very happy.

As I’ve learned from my time in Glasgow, bikes are a big form of transportation in cities.

And then I arrived at Amsterdam, a city where the number of bikes on the streets at any given time exceeds that of cars. The tram system is state-of-the-art too, but the bikes were insane. I stopped for more bike traffic in my three days than I have in my entire life. There were hardly any spaces in the city for parking your car, but there were a million bicycle parking spots. Heck, there was even a parking garage for bikes.

My stay in Amsterdam was one of the most eye-opening experiences of my life. The Dutch are such a nice group of people. It’s the stereotype that the Dutch are so laid-back because they’re high all of the time. That’s simply not the case. They’re a genuinely nice people who are so relaxed just because there aren’t many things to worry about in Holland. The country takes great care of its people.

Studying abroad has afforded me the opportunity to go other places and learn about new cultures. I went to Dublin last month, and I have little desire to go there again. I’ve traveled all throughout Scotland and seen some incredible sites, but I’m not sure if I would do it a second time simply because there is so much more in the world to see. But Amsterdam? I would go there again. And again. I would love to share the experience with some of my friends from back home so they could understand what I’m talking about. Amsterdam is a city that’s hard to explain; you have to see it to believe it.

I’ll go again. Who is down?





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