You could probably care less about all the stuff I've told you about the Netherlands so far. Everyone wants to know about Amsterdam's Red Light District and all of the marijuana smoking going on over there.
I did visit the Red Light District. No I was not a paying customer. I had to pass through the district to get to the church hidden in the attic museum (Our Lord in the Attic) which was unfortunately under construction but still worthwhile anyway. Let's just say around 4pm the women in the windows might want to make you turn out the red light from what I can tell. Strangely enough, the Oude Kerk or "old church," Amsterdam’s oldest parish church, is right in the middle of this district. It was odd.
After vising the Anne Frank museum, I went back to the Red Light District and found it picked up around 8pm. Tons of people were just walking around and gawking - men and women actually (I thought the parents with young kids in tow were out of line). The photo above is the only one I took because the guide books say big bouncers show up and attempt to take your camera away if you get to picture happy. Also a camera makes you a big theft target.
I felt safe there because this time of year it does not get dark in Amsterdam until 10pm. There were also lots of police around. And let's face it, when there are elderly tourists walking around with canes, it's hard to have a sense of too much danger. Especially if there is no Viagra around. (Guide book says get out of there by 10:30pm because of drug users and other trouble hanging around.)
The girls in the windows at the later hours are what you expect. They do anything to get attention but nothing over the top (other than wearing swim wear looking stuff). The guide book said there are all types of women offering services and they are independent contractors who pay taxes. Wow, there are supposedly people in high levels of the US government that don't pay those.
I found it amusing that there were restaurants, bars and dessert shops mixed in throughout the area. Must be a place where people work up an appetite. The area is called De Wallen and you can read more about it here.
Now for the marijuana. Unlike Los Angeles where there is currently a war going on against medical marijuana dispensaries, these shops are all legal. The only time cops bust the so-called "coffee shops" is when normal tobacco is being smoked inside (just like much of the US now).
Like the Red Light District, I was not a customer at the "coffee shops" but I clearly saw a lot of people who were (and could smell their patronage too). When you exit the Amsterdam Central train station, the first place to go is the Red Light District which is full of these shops. The guide books say the shops cannot advertise weed - you as the customer must ask for a menu. Typical US and UK pot smokers are not used to the level of the strongest Dutch product. The book says you can remain high 10-12 hours on the strongest stuff. Supposedly light weights can order a weaker joint (or brownie). There is supposedly one shop run by two Americans that can help out North American tourists.
As you can tell Dutch society is pretty tolerant and progressive. Although that openness might be in danger of getting the door slightly shut according to Wednesday's election results.
Netherlands full coverage
ALL OF MY NETHERLANDS PHOTOS