Things to do in Amsterdam, The Pig Newsletter
issue#32 June/July 2010
Minding Your Manners in The Red Light District
Amsterdam may not be as sexy as some other European destinations, but it certainly has sex. And you know you want a piece of the action. ure, there’s a ton of culture and some very nice museums, and culturally it’s quite possibly one of the most underrated destinations in Europe, but let’s throw all that to one side for a moment and be realistic: you don’t go to Vegas just to look at Hoover Dam and you don’t come to Amsterdam just to take a canal cruise. You come here because you can do things you can’t legally do anywhere else in the world: smoke some herbal remedies, eat some very tasty space cake and visit the Red Light District.
Known as De Wallen by locals, the Red Light District is located near Central Station and consists of an old church and two parallel blocks running along canals that are linked by a series of interconnecting lanes and alleyways, filled with naughty indulgences. There’s something for every taste here; sex shows and S&M parlours, video arcades and peep-booths, coffee shops and convenience stores, condom emporiums and go-go bars. And above open windows, closed red curtains and unmarked doors, are red bulbs, making the whole district glow luminous red. If you’ve spent the day in a koffieshop you wouldn’t be condemned for thinking you might be on mars, but the destination is quintessentially Amsterdam.
Most people head to de Wallen for a peek and a giggle, a quick look out of the corner of their eye as they do a figure of eight across the area, a little detour down a few tiny alleyways with red light spilling out onto the sidewalk, before doubling back for a beer and a debrief on what they’ve seen in a bar on the outskirts. Everyone has a pretty strong opinion about the merits of the area. Everyone is there to look - and everyone is watching you.
It’s a little confronting when you see the girls in their street level red curtained cupboards for the first time, less than a foot away and separated by only a sheet of glass. Under the heavy fluorescent lights, some girls appear like hallucinogenic phantoms, their white lingerie and pale make up glowing with energy.
And let’s face it - the girls want you to take a look - business is business and the goods need to be put on display. It’s a game of odds: for every few dozen people filing past in the midnight hour, there will be one punter willing to put his hand in his pocket and pay.
Safe and Sound
The delicious irony of the red light district is that it is a good place to be bad. The Red Light District is one of the most sanitised and safe places in Amsterdam. Close circuit cameras are strung like Christmas lights along the alley ways and people watch out for each other in the neighbourhood. Police roam around everywhere in plain clothes and in uniform, and the increasingly prudish city council has the area under tight control, and restrictions. If any more proof were needed as to how sanitised the area is, look out for local coffee chain - Coffee & Beans – which has opened up on a prominent corner, with free WiFi to go with your low-fat, soya, mocha latte!
One thing that always annoys me is the people who don’t mind their manners in the Red Light District. They generally fit the bill of drunken, stoned men roving in packs and sometimes the girls visiting the district aren’t much better - jeering with a superiority complex just because they’re on the other side of the glass. Then there are the visitors who just don’t think - pulling out their cameras to take photos for the benefit of their mates on Facebook.
A few times I’ve seen the consequences of these sorts of bad manners - the police telling off one guy with an iPhone, who was protesting that he hadn’t done anything wrong and more seriously, a bouncer chucking a camera in the canal. The owner just stood there looking on forlornly into said canal, before nodding his head at the bouncer and walking away. Try claiming that on your travel insurance.
Although the Red Light District may at times resemble a zoo, it isn’t one. The reality is that the working girls work damn hard. They pay taxes, pay high rents, have been through an economic downturn like everyone else and their job carries a significant health risk.
Prostitution was legalised in Amsterdam in 2000 (for the 600 years previous it was, ahem, only tolerated) to reduce child prostitution and human trafficking, ensure the health benefits of workers and get rid of criminal entrepreneurs - problems that have been reduced, but still exist. What the Dutch have done is take a pragmatic approach to a big social issue and it helps if visitors have the same pragmatism, when visiting the district.
Minding Your Manners
It’s pretty simple really - the best way to enjoy the Red Light District and stay out of trouble is to mind your manners. Firstly don’t take photos. It’s just plain rude and strictly not allowed. If you need to, grab a postcard from one of the souvenir stores around the area. Secondly be in the know. Ignorance isn’t bliss so visit the Prostitute Information Centre (located just across from the old church), take a guided tour or read up on the area. Finally always show the girls who are working some respect and some acknowledgement. Just a smile and a nod of the head will do and if you're not buying don't clog up the windows staring. If you are buying, negotiate a fair price.
You’ve also got to remember to protect yourself. Pickpockets run riot here, so watch your wallet. And if you’re going to indulge in some female company, it goes without saying that you should use protection. Also don’t buy drugs off the street unless you fancy some jail time. Do what everybody else does and head to a Koffieshop instead. Mind your manners and follow these guidelines, and you should have an easy time in De Wallen. And don't forget to relax and kick back. The Red Light District was made for good times and a little indulgence.
- Shaney Hudson top
Amsterdam Local Scene – A New Kind of City Guide
Ever visited a big city and had no clue where to go? No idea where to find the cool, hidden and upcoming spots? Well that’s what Local Scene is for!
These guys offer you the chance to experience the authentic local Amsterdam scene and they’ll take you to the places that you won't find in the guidebooks!
They do trips during the day and way into the early hours! Whether you want to go crazy at a Techno party, hang out with city socialites at a trendy cocktail bar, go tripping in the park, shop in unique boutiques or visit Amsterdam's relaxed parks and markets, these guys can make it happen.
They don’t do standard canal cruises or mass umbrella led walking tours around all the typical sights. Oh no. Local Scene takes you behind the scenes for a look at the real Amsterdam.
Find out more on their website: www.amsterdamlocalscene.com
Back Seat Surfing
Fancy getting around Europe on the cheap and enjoying a great road trip at the same time? Well the new sensation that is Backseat Surfing could be for you!
This online hitchhiking phenomenon connects you to people and places, that otherwise you’d never encounter. The idea is simple. People willing to car pool and split the petrol money chat online, talk about where they’re going, how long it’s going to take, plan a time for meeting up and setting off, and they’re away!
Drivers post their trips online and wait for other travellers to get onboard! Better yet, car sharing helps to save the environment and this online connection service is totally free! In a nutshell, travellers, travel cheaper and faster!
There are a few websites that line up this kind of stuff but the one we know about and like is www.backseatsurfing.com so if you like the idea of stretching your travel budget even further, check it out.
The Smokers Guide
This is a great guide that makes the drug culture in Amsterdam simple and transparent, with information for everyone about everything that’s going on. It’s also jam packed with handy listings of all the best coffee shops in town, the biggest parties and festivals around, and more!
These guys are good friends with us Piggies and we sell the guide in reception, so that you guys don’t have to worry about going far to pick up a copy!
To get an idea of all things Smokers Guide and just how cool this publication is, take yourselves to www.smokersguide.com - Awesome!
This association recognises the best hostels on the European travel circuit. If you book a bed in any of these hostels, you’re guaranteed a memorable stay on a cheap and reasonable budget! Every single hostel in EFH is a local treasure – giving you guys a chance to meet the people and get a real taste of local life. All the hostels have to adhere to the highest levels of safety and quality, while also preserving a local flair.
The hostels are located in Amsterdam, Bad Gastein, Barcelona, Berlin, Bruges, Cardiff, Corfu, Dublin, Edinburgh, Interlaken, Lisbon, Loch Ness, London, Munich, Madrid, Nice, Prague, Riga, Rotterdam, Rome, Salzburg, Valencia, Vienna and in the future many more hostels will join.
Check out the best bits of Europe's Famous Hostels with one click!
Each hostel has created a new video showcasing the best bits of their cities – just so that you guys can see where you’re heading to! All you have to do is head to www.famoushostels.com/hostel-videos
This month Eva previews the Julidans contemporary dance festival, a summer theatre festival programme performed in sea containers, The Robeco Summer Concerts and the Comedytrain line up, as it chugs into town.
The Over het IJ Festival
The Robeco Summer Concerts Series
Comedytrain International Summer Festival
This international contemporary dance festival is basically a snapshot of what’s being developed on the world’s dancefloors and theatrical stages. The festival focuses on choreographers who want to break boundaries and conjure up mind blowing routines. In the organiser’s words, the performances are daring, unusual and much-talked-about! Better yet you can also expect elements of what’s being develeoped on the African and Asian dance scenes. Since 2007 the leading acts have been invited to bring along young and unknown choreographers, who they think have something worth seeing. These guys – representing the next generation - form a parallel programme called Julidans Next. Look out for Julidans performances at Stadsschouwburg (the City Theatre), Paradiso, Theater Bellevue, Melkweg, Bijlmer Parktheater and the Vondelpark Open Air Theatre.
This summer theatre festival is set to go ahead in the Amsterdam Noord district - a ferry ride away from the city centre on the other side of the River IJ. At this event you can look forward to young thespians performing cutting edge theatre at a number of unexpected venues, over eleven days. There are over twenty-five performances lined up and refreshment stores galore. A benchmark of this festival is the Sea Container Programme where Dutch students stage performances in containers that are only six metres by three metres! Each container contains a different experience. The festival will be held at the NDSM quay at Overhoeks.
Held at the Concertgebouw, the Robeco Summer Concerts Series will bring a selection of super special performances to Amsterdam. From the classical to the pop world, you can expect the best tunes from around the world, and a special children's line up too!
At the end of June the Comedytrain arrives in town for six weeks of stand-up comedy at the Amsterdam's Toomler Comedy Club. This annual event features the top talent from the UK, America, New Zealand and Canada all performing – tag team styleee’! All shows are in English and you can take your pick from what’s on, using the handy directory below:
June 30 to July 3 - Rich Hall (USA) and John Moloney (UK)
July 7 to July 10 - Jarred Christmas (NZ) and Paul Sinha (UK)
July 14 to July 17 - Reginald D Hunter (USA) and Shazia Mirza (UK)
July 21 to July 24 - Pete Johnson (Canada) and Alistair Barrie (UK)
July 28 to July 31 - Arj Barker (USA) and Eddie Lift (USA)
July 4 to August 7 - Adam Bloom (UK) and Dave Fulton (USA)
August 11 to August 14 - Markus Birdman (UK) and Lloyd Langford (UK)
- Eva Dam
Mosaic House in Prague
There’s a fantastic and brand new backpacker base open in Prague and you can grab a bed here for as little as £6.63 / €7.96 per night!
St Christopher’s at Mosaic House is quite simply the best hostel in Prague. You’ll find this brand new and eco-friendly base on Odboru – mere minutes from all the sights to be seen along the river.
Mosaic House is within walking distance of major attractions like Wenceslas Square and Charles Bridge. When staying here you can also sleep easy knowing that the airport shuttle runs on cooking oil left over by the Belushi’s bar, the water is heated by solar panels on the roof and pretty much everything is recycled. The clothes rails are even made from tree branches.