The Netherlands

It’s raining, no, now it’s snowing, it’s not snowing anymore, now it’s hailing. Wait, I see the sun, oh darn, it’s raining again!  And it’s so cold! That pretty much sums up the weather for the full five days we spent in The Netherlands.

When we left France, we drove 590 km to the small city of Woerden in central Netherlands.  We stayed with Sanford’s friends, Guus and Anke, whom he met in a Haircut time!campground while biking across The Netherlands in 1997.  They are a wonderful and welcoming couple. While there we had some home cooked meals, were able to do laundry, and spent lots of hours just chatting and having fun. Anke even gave me a haircut as she used to be a hairdresser for a short period of time 50 years ago!

 

Because of the weather we had to forego a much anticipated trip to the renowned Keukenhof Tulip Gardens.  In its place, Guus took us on a local tour in and around Woerden, through the surrounding picturesque countryside and then back to the town centre where

Small fountains in honour of the Rhine River
Small water fountains in the middle of the street.

we  looked around the streets, church, town hall and windmill. Of interest, one of the main streets had small water fountains in the centre along its length, a nod to its history as the location of the original Rhine River, which was diverted around the city centre in 1960.

Windmill

Woerden is in a central location between Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht, and this fact along with the fact that it has good rail and road connections to those cities, makes Woerden a popular town for commuters who work in those cites. We decided to take advantage of this and left virtually all of our gear and the car at Guus and Anke’s place and took a 20 minute train ride into Amsterdam, where we spent two nights at a hostel.

Amsterdam is the Netherlands’ capital and known for its artistic heritage, elaborate canal system, 400 km of cycle paths, museums, red light district and cannabis coffee shops. With our short stay there and so much to see we decided on a few tours. The first evening we took a Red Light District Exposed tour and the following day we did a 3 hour Walking Tour of Amsterdam. We then split up for the afternoon and I went to the Van Gogh Museum and Sanford went to see Rembrandt’s House. In the evening we went to the Sex Museum. It rained pretty much the entire time we were in Amsterdam (unless it was snowing or hailing) but we did enjoy our time there.

We both found the Red Light District tour interesting and informative. The red light district is a designated area for legalized prostitution which consists of a network of roads and alleys containing several hundred small, one-room apartments rented by sex workers who offer their services from behind a window or glass door, typically illuminated with red lights.

As we walked around with the tour we passed by many windows where sex workers dressed in scant outfits were trying to seduce passers-by. If a male is interested, he would approach the window/door and negotiate the service and price before entering. We were informed it is a very competitive business but the starting point for all is 50 euros for 15 minutes for a “suck and fuck” (please excuse the language). Once the client has entered, a curtain is drawn across the window. The bed is often just behind the sex workers. Once the service is done, the man leaves and the curtain is opened and the worker is open for business again.

The windows the sex workers stand in are rented per shift. That’s right, there are shifts. Two as a matter of fact; a day shift from 7am till evening and an evening shift that goes until 3am. There are no services between 3 and 7 am. The rental for the window is 185 Euros per shift.  Apparently the workers during the day tend to be older than the workers during the evening and very few workers are actually from The Netherlands.  Most are from Czech Republic, Poland, and Romania.

Four windows
This is a picture of four windows.  You are not allowed to take pictures with the workers standing in the windows.  These windows are actually doors through which workers negotiate with the customer.  The beds are usually right behind them.

There are websites where clients can look up ratings for the sex workers and the ones that are very good can earn up to 20,000 euros per month. Sounds wonderfully lucrative, but now that they are a legitimized profession, 52% of that goes to taxes.   There are no pimps, pimping is illegal. The sex workers have to apply for a business license and are therefore independent workers.

Now on to other topics.  The Netherlands is a nation of bike riders. The ground here is very flat and there are bike paths everywhere. All roads seem to have bike paths and bikers are given the right of way over car drivers and when walking across a bike path, you have to be

Lot of bikes to park
Bikes parked along the canal.

careful.   At first when I saw the bikers I knew something was different but couldn’t quite figure out what. Then I realized they are all riding sitting straight up. There is no one hunched over handle bars. They all virtually seem to have the same bike, high handlebars, no gear shifts as all appear to be single speed, and a bell that is constantly ringing if you get in their way.  It is a wonderful sight to see so many people commuting around on bikes.

I noticed something really odd walking around, particularly in Amsterdam. There, like many other places we have been to so far in Europe, the sidewalks are very narrow. What I found odd though was that I would say there was a 50/50 chance that when walking towards a couple of people that are taking up the whole width of the sidewalk, that they might not move out of the way. This for sure is not everyone, but several times I was bumped rather hard when trying to squeeze past someone who did not even turn his or her body a bit and many times I stepped onto the road to get out of the way. I thought it was just me, but Sanford said he noticed the same thing. I wondered what would happen if you had two strong-willed Danish people approaching each other, do they eventually just butt chests? Just curious.

My last comment on The Netherlands has to do with (surprise!) toilets.  When we were doing our Walking Tour of Amsterdam the guide talked about the many urinals around Amsterdam and the fact that there are no public bathrooms accessible to women.

Urinal
Public Urinal

Apparently public urination had become such an issue in Amsterdam that the government erected outdoor urinals around the city.  The urinals did a great job of cutting down the problem but women were upset because they felt it was unfair that they were not provided with convenient restrooms as well.   Several hundred women protested by publicly urinating on a bridge and threatened to pick a different bridge every week until their needs were addressed.  The city did put in a series of little toilet rooms alongside the urinals but unfortunately they became havens for drug addicts and vagrants.  After a short time, these toilet rooms were removed and nothing more has been done.  The women did not carry out with more public peeing protests and the government did not look for another solution.

That’s it from The Netherlands!

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