The first thing that most people do when they land in Amsterdam is smoke weed.
But after having a particularly unfortunate encounter with the herb in the past, I decided to give it a miss. The city has so much more to offer, and I wanted my adventure to be a little more unique.
So I was pumped when I finally touched down in bike city after it had been on my bucket list for literally, years. And bike city it is. I had trouble noticing the people when I first landed in Amsterdam – as the bikes were obscuring the vision. As a cyclist – I’d found my homeland.
There are estimated to be up to 60,000 bikes in Amsterdam. Some say it is closer to 100,000. Nobody really knows. What is known, is that there are more bikes than people.
The first thing I did when I landed in Amsterdam was I caught the train directly from Schiphol Airport to Amsterdam Central – which is located in the heart of the city.
As I crossed the road to jump on one of the ferries to my hostel, I dodged dozens of bicycles that seemed to come from all different directions.
After settling down into my hostel, I headed to my first attraction of the day: the Adam Lookout, which was situated just a few minutes from the hostel. Adam Lookout is an observation deck with a panoramic view of Amsterdam.
One of its defining features is a giant set of swings that gives tourists the opportunity to dangle more than 20 stories in the air while looking out over the city.
The lookout gives you fantastic views of Amsterdam’s historical centre, its port, the unique Dutch polder landscape, Amsterdam central station and of course, the famous canals, which are on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
When I first arrived in the building, I was given the opportunity to take a bunch of cheesy photos of me sitting on a bench with Amsterdam city superimposed in the back.
I was then guided into an escalator that featured a colourful light show as it carried us up to the sky deck, which featured a bar, an inside observation restaurant area, and of course, the famous 20-storey swings.
I’m a bit of a thrill seeker, so my first port of call was to purchase a separate ticket to jump on the swings. It was great fun of course – but the reality is, you only spend a minute at most on the swings.
To be honest, it’s more of a photo opportunity than a ride in the truest sense. Most fairground rides probably last a bit longer. The ticket has a 20 minute time slot printed on it, which can confuse some people into thinking they will spend 20 minutes on the swing. It felt more like 20 seconds. However, it was good fun nonetheless.
I spent the rest of the day wandering around the city, looking for boat tours that I could embark on. There were many. But what I was really looking for was the luxury boat tour that the hostel told me about. For $23 you can book an hour-long guided boat tour with a free wine or beer thrown into the mix.
Once Google maps finally got around to giving me the right directions, I booked a tour for the evening. Before my tour started, I wandered into a small museum dedicated to weed before grabbing some dinner.
The museum was a curious one to say the least. There were the usual artifacts and pictures depicting the history of marijuana use. But there were two exhibits that stood out to me. The first was a large glass box with half a room full of weed.
Beside it, was a panel featuring quotes from famous politicians about weed. This included Bill Clinton’s ridiculous “I did not inhale…” remark, alongside Obama’s more truthful “I did inhale…that was the point” comments.
But what really caught my eye was the second major exhibit: a plaque featuring American families that were locked up for decades for only having possessed little more than a joint. In one case dating back to the early 80s, an entire family and their young children were all given stiff sentences in Mississippi, America for marijuana possession.
Despite the fact that no drugs were found, both the parents and all of the children (some as young as 5) were sentenced to long prison sentences after ‘drug residue’ was found. All of them (including the kids) received prison sentences. Their house was then sold to their wealthy neighbor, J.P. Altmire – who had until that point, been trying unsuccessfully for years to get the family to sell their land. J.P was also the one that repeatedly wrote letters to law enforcement to try and get them to leave. It was those letters that led to the investigation. Read more about their story here.
I’d never heard about any of these marijuana-related human rights abuses until I set foot in that museum.
Feeling a little more sombre, I left the museum after looking at all the exhibits, and spent the rest of the evening on a relaxing canal cruise.
In many ways, it reminded me of Venice – only much cleaner and with more houseboats and mini villages that exist along Amsterdam’s waterways. It was a lovely way to end what had up until that point, been a hot and humid day, with the temperature exceeding 32%.