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Day 17
We both slept well. Our large window overlooking the lush yard and gardens of the hotel and the large and popular Vondelpark let in wonderful cool fresh air during the night. I was glad Carol slept well.
We woke with the bird songs and the sunlight. Breakfast at the hotel was delicious - strong coffee, excellent fresh breads, cheeses, meats, fruits, juice and cereal. The hotel cat is asleep in a chair in the lobby.
Caught the #2 tram to the Anne Frank House - a very moving hour spent there. Very well done and effective. It was an emotional hour but we were glad to have had a chance to experience her memories.
Statue near the Anne Frank House
Walked along several canals until our feet said "please find the tram," which we did and got off at the Museum Quarter where we toured the Van Gogh Museum. Four floors of the life and work of Van Gogh as well as many other Impressionist painters and sculptors from that period and later. Well worth the 15.50 Guilders ($6.50) each. Stopped for a coke and rest at Museumplein, the large park fringed by Amsterdam's cultural centers.
The day is sunny and blue with another cloudless sky - another perfect day. The dates on some of the canal houses are from the 1500s. A man varnishing his canal boat in the Friday sunshine.
Canal in the sunshine
Canal photo courtesy of Timothy Blackmore
photo © 1996 the archive of light all rights reserved
Canal photo courtesy of Timothy Blackmore
photo © 1996 the archive of light all rights reserved
Lovely canal houses
Amsterdam is bustling and the Leidseplein Centrum swarms at night, but at both museums we have visited today we have not had to wait more than five or ten minutes in queues, and the flow through the museums was smooth. It is early in the tourist season, although Paris was already feeling the crush…
Took the Circle Tram (#20) to Centraal Station. The #20 is great because it circles the city, passing many sights of interest. Near the station we walked past shops selling everything drug and sex related. We had been surprised at how many people, before we left on our journey, upon hearing that we were going to visit Amsterdam, raised their eyebrows and snickered about Amsterdam's "Coffee" (cannabis) shops. Ironically perhaps, pot is not part of our lifestyle. However, we found these shops interesting and browsed the wares at several. I asked a Rastafarian clerk at one of these shops where one would go to procure cannabis and he laughed and said "Right here… How many kilos would you like?" We laughed and left. Although we were not yet in the Red Light District (we are saving that area for this evening) we went into a nearby porno shop where everything imaginable and a lot unimaginable was on display.
"Coffe shop" - yeah, right...  Photo courtesy of Timothy Blackmore
photo © 1996 the archive of light all rights reserved
Strolled until we found a herring vendor and had tasty herring sandwiches. We then walked further west along Nieuwendijk Centrum until we came to a fragrant shop selling nothing but cheeses and breads of many different varieties. There were large wheels of cheeses stacked up everywhere. We bought some cheese and found a café over a canal where we enjoyed our cheese and a Heineken in the sun, as many canal boats, large and small, passed beneath the bridge.
Many varieties of breads... 
One of my favorite sights...
Many varieties of cheeses...
As we stood on Nieuwendijk Centrum, where all the "head shops" and "coffee shops" seem to be, a guy approached me discreetly and whispered "Ecstasy?" I looked at him, and looked at the beautiful clear blue sky, felt the sun on my face and the cool breeze, then looked at him and said "Yeah, I feel it too…" He seemed puzzled and walked away. He didn't get it. Perhaps I didn't get it…
A tomato plant?
Seeds of some sort...
Back on the #20 Circle Tram for a rest and a sight-see. Passed through Dam Square for the fourth time. Jim and I had spent much time around this area as poor traveling students in 1971.
Dam Square
There are many more bicycles in Amsterdam than cars - thousands of them - they have their own roads parallel to the streets used by trams, busses and cars. As a pedestrian, you have to pay attention to them. I often heard the ching-ching of a bicycle bell, turned around startled, and found that I was in the center of the bike street and was nearly run over. It took me a day to acclimate to the bicycles and their little streets. Often we sat at cafes where the curb was lined with hundreds of bikes, all seemingly identical. How would you know, after a couple of Heinekens, which one was yours?
Bicycles are everywhere.  Photo courtesy of Timothy Blackmore
photo © 1996 the archive of light all rights reserved
Got off the #20 tram at a street market at Stadhouderskade but the stands of American-made clothes, watches and schlock did not hold our attention, so we waited for the next #20 tram. We had purchased 2-day tram tickets and have been using the #20 to sightsee and to rest our feet from time to time.
Got off at Leidseplein, near our hotel, and went to the square, found a sidewalk café called the Grand Café and sat and watched the flow of people as we sipped our Heineken and white beer (fresh, like Heffeweisen and served with a slice of lemon) and Palm Ale, a dark draught. Life is short - taste it. Our waiter was great and looked a little like a Dutch version of Jamie Olliver, the "Naked Chef."
As we sat at the Grand Café, another couple came by and sat next to us. We introduced ourselves to Marty and Subhash, from Fair Oaks, California. They have spent time here in Amsterdam and in nearby Haarlem, and are leaving tomorrow for Basil and Geneva. Marty told us about the Servas organization, an international organization. As a Servas Host, you welcome foreign travelers into your home and enable them to participate to some extent in our culture, and as a Servas Traveler you are able to stay with a foreign family and experience their culture. It promotes world peace and understanding. We will investigate it - it sounds like a great way to learn about a place and its people. Servas can be found at www.servas.org.
Marty and Subhash
We strolled back the few blocks to the Owl hotel to freshen up before tackling dinner and the famous Red Light District. We tried to find Sema Seba for Indonesian food but could not locate it. We decided on Wagawama, a noodle chain that we had first seen in London after the theater, and that Carol had heard much about. It looked inviting in London, but we both decided that our dinners were just so-so after sampling the fare in Amsterdam.
Took the tram to the famous Red Light District, concentrated on the Oude Kerk, not far from Dam Square, and extends to Warmoesstraat to the west, the Zeedijk to the north, the Kloveniersburgwal to the east and along the line of the Damstraat to the south. Prostitiution in Amsterdam dates back to the 13th century. With so many sea-weary sailors flooding into the city, in the late 1400s, prostitutes straying outside their designated area were marched back in to the sound of pipe and drum. The Calvinists of the 1500s tried to outlaw prostitution, but by the mid-17th century prostitution was openly tolerated. In 1850 Amsterdam had a population of 200,000 and over 200 brothels.
The relatively sedate Casa Rosso
There really are red lights...
Today it is not wise to wander around alone at night in this area, dominated by garish sex shops and seedy clubs, junkies, dealers and pickpockets. But at night, barely clad prostitutes tout their charms at their windows in the soft glow of red or blue neon lights with the smell of cannabis or hashish wafting along the canals.
20 bucks, 15 minutes, condom mandatory
At 10:30 we had seen enough, and exhausted, we caught a #1 tram back to the hotel and to bed…

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