The "welcoming sign" outside the Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam.| Photo by Charry Garcia
By Charry Fatima D. Garcia

Deuce Bigalow’s been to places, but one of the most remarkable he visited is that city covered with red lights at night – Amsterdam.

Amsterdam, the capital city of The Netherlands, is not covered in red on daylight after bloodshed, but at night because the Red Light District had opened its lights and is now ready for business.

It was after we rested from the long flight that we headed straight out and our cousins introduced us to the city they grew up in. It was a cold afternoon and it was raining snowflakes, so we slipped into coats and boots on ready to explore the “red” city.
Amsterdam at night with our Dutch cousins.| Photo courtesy of Charry Garcia
With my sisters and cousins, we drove to the district wrapped with red lights and dancing Barbie dolls in front of windows. Oh wait, those aren’t Barbie dolls! Those are women in their bikinis trying to attract “customers” and earn for the night. It was around 9 p.m. and the sun just set. They have really long daylights in Europe, or at least in the Netherlands, and for a tourist, like me, it is quite difficult to adjust. 

But, before heading out to see one of the things Amsterdam is famous for, we went to the city (the central business district). There were stores, boutiques and restaurants for the foreigner who wants to spare some Euros. I spent my money in one of the most famous boutiques, but is nowhere to be found in the Philippines, H&M. My eyes feasted when I saw the tag prices on sale.

It is quite astonishing that everyone’s woman friend, Maryjane, is legal in this land. Dutch people can freely buy them in coffee shops and stores. Even the word “coffee shop” has a different connotative meaning among Amsterdam natives – a place where you can buy marijuana and smoke inside. The scent of marijuana permeates the air in a lot of cities and towns in the Netherlands, but most especially in what they call “gay street”. Well, the name implies the meaning, and it is amazing that the Dutch society is open to these kinds of “deviant” behavior.

The colorful tulips in Keukenhof.| Photo by Leslie Mejino for Streamline News
We stayed with our relatives for quite a month, but it isn’t enough for a first-time world traveller because there are so many places to go. Amsterdam is also famous for its tulips, and a tourist dare not to miss the Tulip Garden Reserve near the capital – Keukenhof.

At the entreé of this huge flower park were topiaries and big pots of different kinds of flowers. The main attraction, the tulips, can be found everywhere. It’s just too unfortunate that only a few stalks of these colorful beauties have bloomed because of the unusually cold temperature of spring time. But, there was a pavilion within the garden where we saw hundreds of different tulip species, just enough to cover almost two basketball courts. 

Of course, any trip would not be complete without feasting on their native foods. Febo, a Dutch walk-up fast food restaurant, produces only the best in town. Make sure to sample some the famous Dutch croquettes. It just takes a Dutch beef and an egg white to make one perfect Dutch snack. I went crazy when I first tasted it, and every time we go to the city, I never forget to spend some €4.00 for a croquette and a strawberry milkshake.

The family in traditional Dutch costumes.| Photo courtesy of Sassa Garcia
PictureAn Amsterdam boat in one of the canals.| Photo by Charry Garcia
There were also loads of cheap chocolates in supermarkets that cost less than a Euro per bar. Yes! You heard it right. For a Hershey’s-sized bar, it’s unbelievable to pay a coin and still get a change.

Nothing beats a get-together with the whole family, so we took a stroll to Volendam, a town about 30 minutes away from Amsterdam, best known for its old fishing boats, and also a place where you can take a photo wearing traditional Dutch costumes.

But, we were running out of time with our departure fast-approaching. Days before we left for Manila, the whole family again went out and cruised the historical Amsterdam canals. The water is so calm and there were “boathouses” on the sides. Nothing beats the relaxing mood that the canal cruise brings.

For a small city sitting comfortably at the heart of the Netherlands, it is amazing to see how things are a lot different there. The way of life is not an inch similar with the Filipinos’, but the love of a family binds these two far different cultures into one. Indeed, a trip to Europe is as expensive as it seems, but the satisfaction and fulfillment you get is too much to contain because your heart will burst with joy when you see the beautiful land of Amsterdam. 

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