Sunday, May 8

Sin City

France was becoming a bit frustrating and irritating, so a small side trip to Holland seemed like a nice change of scenery.

Before leaving France, I spent a few nights in Lille. I'd been to Lille before, and enjoyed it quite a bit. Lille feels much more like home [Montreal], mostly because things feel less pretentious there. Baggy clothes and dreadlocks are much more common there then anywhere else in the country. People don't feel as required to fit into a mold (and a very tight pair of pants) as in other regions. Perhaps it's the influence from Belgium, as it's right on the border.

My next stop was Amsterdam. I hadn't had time to go there on my last trip, as I was sure that I'd need at least a week to see it properly, and I had to boot it back to London at the time. And Amsterdam is indeed a lot to take in, mostly for better, but sometimes for worse.

The first place that I headed for was the hostel, which was absolutely wonderful. After spending so much time in French hostels, which feel more like institutions, I'd almost forgotten what a good hostel was like. Instead of being filled with groups of school children, this one was entirely backpackers. And the atmosphere was extremely comfortable, with lots of couches and common rooms to lounge in and talk to people. After meeting one or two people a day [if I was lucky] in the French hostels, here it was about fifteen an hour, and from all over the world.

The city was very much overwhelming. As you'd expect, downtown is overflowing with tourists. The difference here is, since pot and shrooms are legal, most of them are either in a stoned haze or completely tripping out of their minds. And most of them are American. U.S. laws being what they are, the relaxed Dutch attitudes are more appealing still for them. And the Dutch are well known for speaking English, another thing attracts a lot of people from the U.S.

Hitting the Red Light District was a bit more than I was prepared for, despite the stories that I'd already heard. Prostitution is legal in Holland, and it's also very well organized. To start with, the hookers are unionized. And they don't need to worry about catching a cold from standing around on the street in a mini-skirt. Here, they have windows set up along the side of the sidewalk, where they sit on a stool [usually in a g-string], and look as erotic and sexy as possible as tourists walk by. If they catch someone's eye, he comes into her booth, the curtain is closed, and skankiness ensues.

The part that struck me the most was that it's also categorized. Each street has a theme (ex. blonde, busty, classy, etc). That's all well and good. The thing that was the most traumatizing was that they also cater to some very nasty fetishes. There are also fat, old, and extremely experienced sections, as well as combinations thereof. And you have no idea when you're going to hit one of said sections.

To compound the problem, the district isn't just sex. There are restaurants, museums, and churches(!) all mixed in. So as you're walking around taking in some of the cleaner scenery, you'll suddenly see a 60 year old, 300 pound hooker squeezing her almost naked boobs against the glass while licking her lips and staring directly at you...

I've moved on to The Hague, an apparent political center of Europe. Today I went to one of the largest gardens on the continent. I was a little disappointed. In April, there are huge fields filled with different types of flowers. Unfortunately they were already harvested, and exported to other places. The pictures that I saw of what they should look like are quite beautiful. I'll try to add a link to them later.

There are a few other weird and interesting things about the Netherlands. First of all, everyone here is absolutely huge. Walking around, I honestly feel short. Most men are at least six feet tall, and it's not uncommon to see someone who's six foot six. The women are usually at least my height [5'10], if not taller. And they also like to wear heels that add several more inches. I was asking my Belgian friend [ex-roommate from when I lived in Nice several years ago that I saw again last week] why they're so tall, as the Belgians are more average. She said that it was hormones that were put into cattle back in the 70's that turned out to be dangerous to humans. As fucked up as that sounds, the old people are just as tall, so unless the hormones were being added for the last several generations, it might be just hereditary.

Also, this country is extremely flat. Extremely. Like, not so much as a hill anywhere. In fact, Neederlands [the name in Dutch] translated directly means low lands. And a good part of the country is actually below sea level. Perhaps as a consequence, bikes are extremely popular. In Amsterdam, most of the traffic was bicycles and not cars. As a result, the amount of noise [and pollution] is cut drastically.

Lastly, the leaders of all of the federal political parties in Canada are here for a World War 2 memorial. What perfect timing. Don't ask me why they chose here and not Moscow, where most of the political leaders in the world are right now. It's the 60th anniversary of the fall of Berlin, which was accomplished by the Soviets. Martin and company are here to celebrate the liberation of Holland, but that was celebrated nationally here last week...


Anonymous davie said...

Wow, it's already been half a year, not that I don't enjoy the overseas entries but since you mentioned montreal, when will you be back?

You can look forward to some changes amongst your old pals, changes thought seemingly impossible (ie look at Norm's homepage).


2:42 a.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yes, it's true that alot has changed since i left. it's weird that it's already been almost a year since i gave up my appartment in montreal, as well. if things go according to plan, i'll be in europe for another year. so things will likely be even more different by the time i get back... still, i really miss montreal.

5:31 a.m.  

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