Exploring Amsterdam with a disturbingly curious mother is no small feat, especially if you have hang-ups about things of a questionable nature and Mum doesn’t.
Let’s start at the beginning: Amsterdam must be one of the most charming cities in Europe, with kilometres of canals, bicycle paths and tiny bridges wherever you look. Add to this already romantic picture Spring, the houseboats and the famous narrow, yet slightly leaning buildings, and you have enough to feed your imagination for weeks to come. We were told that these buildings lean slightly forward for a very good reason, and the reason is not poor architecture or moving foundations, although these exist. No, when these building went up in the 1600’s, some architects believed in the optical illusion that makes the buildings seem more imposing – they are literally towering over the onlooker.
Huge hooks adorn the top front of most buildings, which are used to help move furniture with ropes, because the staircases are invariably narrow, given the width of the building. A Dutch friend once told me that he used to live on the top floor of an old building, where the staircase simply wasn’t built to the top for lack of space. Instead, the last few steps to the top was achieved by hoisting yourself up a rope. This kind of living arrangement is obviously only suited to strong young men, Mum and I thought, and I sneaked a quick peek at our booking again.
Not to worry, we were boooked into an imposing period home close to Vondelpark, a park well known for cycling, picnicking and summer concerts – including fondling no doubt. The period home was aptly named Prince Henry and we felt like royalty, because the Dutch know a thing or two about interior design and making the most of small spaces. No ropes in our room.
Apart from doing the girly thing of exploring every little tea shop and boutique in Amsterdam – and there are hundreds – Mum eventually acknowledged that she wanted more spice, and not for cooking. This is, after all, the city known for its red light district and medicinal coffee shops. Hence our evening walking tour of the red light district. Although some early signs of spring were visible during the daytime, March evenings are still pretty fresh. Fitted out in chunky jackets, woolen scarves, ear muffles, long socks and winter boots, we set off to meet our tour guide, Sally. Meeting place: A hotel lobby across from Centraal Station.
Unless you ever had to ask: “Are you also here for the red light district walking tour?” with your elderly mother in tow, I can tell you now, I win this one.
Once we were gathered, a good 12 of us – all perfectly normal looking tourists – Sally sets out the rules. Numbers 1-10: “NO photographs of the ladies. Understood? They value their privacy as much as anyone. Absolutely NO photograps.”
Only the highlights follow, as I’m sure you’re as curious as Mum – who, by the way, asked the majority of questions, bless her:
- There are certain ‘areas’ within the red light district for every fancy that may need tickling – Eastern European ladies, African ladies, Asian ladies etc.
- There used to be ‘men for hire’, but business was so slow that they’ve discontinued that line of service.
- Rooms are rented per night, and rent is pretty steep.
- “Service fees” are charged per 15 minutes. The average “service” lasts 6 minutes.
- Police patrol the area vigorously and a “safety light system” has been introduced to ensure the ladies’ safety. Each room has a panic button inside, and if this is activated, an alarm light flashes out front and this alerts the police that something untoward is happening.
- The oldest registered prostitutes are twin sisters aged in their mid-seventies!
- By the by, Mum did try and sneak in a photograph, and when I called her on it, her casual response was: “The flash isn’t on.” Go on earth, swallow me now.
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