Fear and loathing in Amsterdam

Alyssa Mease (right) took a tour of the Heineken Factory in Amsterdam during her semester abroad in Paris. (Photo courtesy of Alyssa Mease)

By Alyssa Mease
Foreign Correspondent

Despite my misgivings about Amsterdam and its sordid reputation, I hopped on a bus last weekend and headed on my way to the city of pot and prostitutes.

First of all, let me warn anyone who thinks that an overnight bus is a good idea — it is not. Heed my warnings and never take a seven-hour bus ride. I sat upright in a chair for the entire time and tried, though unsuccesfully, to sleep, while about 50 obnoxious Americans screamed about how excited they were to legally get high.

When I got to Amsterdam I was disappointed by the lack of wafting pot smoke — not that many people smoke joints as they walk around anyway. Also, don’t expect to find prostitutes wandering the streets like in shady neighborhoods in the United States. Prostitutes in Amsterdam have their own “offices,” usually equipped with a chair and privacy blinds.

My favorite place in the red light district was a place named Condomerie — a store that specialized in the sale of condoms of all shapes and sizes. There were colored condoms, scented condoms, oddly shaped condoms, oddly textured condoms, glow-in-the-dark condoms and even condoms that aren’t approved for use.

It’s also important to note that coffee shops don’t always sell coffee, but with names like “Smokey’s” and “Bob Marley’s Café,” what would you expect them to sell? Signs in the windows read, “Smoking allowed but no tobacco.”

So back to my original point of being disappointed in the lack of craziness, Amsterdam is actually a gorgeous city. There are a bunch of canals and cobblestone streets, and everyone there rides a bike. There a three-story parking garage just for them.

Of course, I had to visit the Anne Frank house. I would have walked right by the house, if it wasn’t for the sign on the door.

For the typical college student in the city, the Heineken Factory is a must-see. The tour was really fun, and it afforded my friend and I the opportunity to sing a Dutch song and send it to our friends and family. The tour guides also gave us a free tasting of the beer, and two free beers at the end. We probably should have had the beers before embarrassing ourselves with the singing.

For those who prefer mixed drinks, the House of Bols is a great way to spend an hour or two. Bols is the maker of a variety of liqueurs, and the tour of its old factory lets the tourists test their senses, primarily taste and smell. At the end of the tour each guest receives a free cocktail and two free shots.

After you have been sufficiently liquored up, you will be prepared to visit the infamous red light district. I was expecting red lights Las Vegas style, but there were none. Mainly, it was girls dressed in lingerie dancing in floor to ceiling windows and trying to attract male tourists. However, like in any profession, there were many girls ignoring the passersby and instead focusing on texting on their cell phones, and one girl was even seen eating a bowl of pasta. But hey, I guess some guys are into that.