Sunday, April 21, 2024

Plenty of booze and ‘booty’

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CONFESSION 1: I’m not a drinker. I’ve never acquired the taste for beer, and if you offer me a glass of wine to toast with at a social engagement there is a very good chance that after the “Hip, hip, hooray!” the level of the drink will be unchanged.

Confession 2: I cannot recall even one occasion when I smoked a cigarette.

Confession 3: I have never once taken even a puff from a marijuana spliff.

Confession 4: I have never paid a prostitute for her services — at least not that I am aware of.

With those four confessions, I begin the second and final look at my recent trip to Amsterdam, a most interesting and liberal city where drinking, smoking and prostitution appear to raise no challenges for urban dwellers.

Let’s start with the ganja. Before I left Barbados some of my more adventurous journalism students at the Barbados Community College dared me to bring back some “coffee” for them, a reference to the coffee shops of Amsterdam, where pot is legally available.

Truth be told, I did not visit a coffee shop, but I did spend some time in a number of tourist-oriented shops where a variety of marijuana-laced products were readily available. I was most fascinated with the ganja lollipops and other forms of candy, and even enquired about how safe it would be to travel with them.

amsterdam-candyIn fact, I actually pictured myself walking through the Grantley Adams International Airport with a pack of these lollipops and passing one of the drug sniffing dogs. Despite the repeated assurances from the store clerk that the dogs would not detect them because the percentage of the drug was so low, I decided not to take the chance.

So sorry, I chickened out.

But checking out the marijuana candy afforded me the chance to see just how open the Dutch are on the matter of sex in the capital city of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Based on my observation, if you were looking for a lady of the night you had to visit Amsterdam’s famous Red Light District, but if you wanted a sex toy of any shape or type it could be acquired almost as easily as smoked sausage, in an atmosphere where your enquiry or purchase did not attract even the slightest glance of curiosity.

Apparently, in Amsterdam your business is just that!

And that brings me to the Red Light District – serious business. Here’s how one tourist guide summarised it: “From brothels to sex shops to museums, the . . . district leaves nothing to the imagination. It is very likely that you will have heard about this neighbourhood and to be frank, everything you will have heard is probably true, but to really put rumours to rest, you have got to check it out for yourself.

“The Rossebuurt, as the locals know it, is unlike any other place. Guaranteed. Certainly, the Red Light District that everyone knows about is the one where women of all nationalities parade their wares in red-fringed window parlours, many ready to offer more than a schoolboy peep-show in a private cabin.

“Another familiar image . . . is of packs of men, young and old, couples holding hands and pointing in shock of it all, giggling groups of women celebrating a hen night, and busloads of Japanese tourists toting cameras (except not in the direction of the female entertainers! Strictly banned).”

Women in show windows

When my noisy group of Caribbean newspaper managers (men and women) arrived in the district it was well after midnight and raining, but that had not dampened our eagerness to take the 20-minute bus trip from our hotel.

From Day One we had determined we would not leave the city without checking out this world famous destination.

amsterdam-redlight-districtIt was an interesting hour and a half. I saw everything the tourist guide predicted – and more. I heard how we should not stereotype the women we saw in the show windows advertising their goods, since they could be anyone from the mother next door to the young and gifted university student working to pay her tuition fees.

I learnt how to break the “no-photographs” rule by positioning myself appropriately for a selfie that captured more than my image.

I also recognised how setting the right environment is also so important for business success. In Amsterdam’s Red Light District all along the streets outside the bars, groups of men sit on benches consuming beer by the gallon.

They drink beer with friends, wipe the froth from their lips and calmly walk to one of the show windows for their preferred prostitute. Fifteen minutes later they are back on the bench drinking beer, having attracted no more attention than if they had taken a bathroom break.

For the record, members of my Caribbean group drank beer, some lots of it, but not one of us showed anything more than passing interest in the prostitutes. I swear! As for me, all I drank was tonic water and lime.

If you want to experience a holiday setting that’s everything the Caribbean is not, then try a trip to Amsterdam. From the thousands of bicycles on dedicated paths, to the canal cruises, finely tuned public transport system, restaurants of every kind, orderly streets and breathtaking buildings that have been almost perfectly preserved, you are sure to be fascinated.

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