Friday night I had an interesting discussion with a man about the fine European city's stance on illegal drug use. Amsterdam has a beautiful tradition of tolerance - whether that be of race, religion, sexual orientation or nationality. The city also, as a rule, is tolerant of those more bohemian types who like to roll a joint once in a while, provided it doesn't interfere with anybody else's business.
Last night I was listening to some music with Jos when he played for me Jacque Brel's Amsterdam. I only know Brel's work through Joseph - who considers the musician one of the greatest singers of all time. Every time I listen to the guy (or watch any of his clips on YouTube) I can't help but feel his passion for his music. Then we listened to Scott Walker's version, which wasn't nearly as unusual as some of his more recent and more obtuse music.
But Amsterdam. That's what we're talking about, right?
It is a gem of a city - a metropolis of relaxed sophistication. You can buy culture by the bucket in this watery port city. Rembrandt and Van Gogh both called Amsterdam home at one time or another, and the legendary artists are enshrined with their own museums featuring a number of prominent works. The city has other artistic venues to explore, like the many stores selling the classic blue-and-white delft pottery made in the village by the same name. Travelers can also explore the many phenomenal diamond cutting houses - likely the next best thing to Antwerp - that create stunning gems that can be considered works of art in their own right.
Amsterdam: where else will you see chickens roaming at a tram stop?
Amsterdam is a stunning study of contradictions at times - provincial markets with goods brought from the village, and around the corner boutiques hawking the height of fashion. Cozy, well worn bars pour their jenever the same way they have for hundreds of years and painstakingly modern clubs hidden in edgy industrial buildings (think: a cross between a heroin den and a condemned warehouse) radiate the latest in euro club beats.
Amsterdam is not as big as some of its European cousins. It's quite tiny compared to London, Paris and Rome. Those are fine cities (well, I've never been to Rome) and if I were to be cremated I'd want some of my ashes spread in the UK's biggest city. But Amsterdam - when I take a deep breath, it's the place where I know I can exhale.