“You like what you see?” he said, pressing down toward his crotch as the others laughed, all five of them now cornering us. They were drunk. Scottish men in Kilts touring Amsterdam for a football match and who thought that they can celebrate the win by visiting the Red Light District at the same time my friend from Canberra had asked me to join her.
“I told you I didn’t want to come here,” I whispered, feeling the tension quake through my veins, mostly from anger. People often think my hands shake from fear, but it is far from that, shuddering from the pressure of controlling and suppressing my indignation knowing that it might get me into more trouble.
“Come on,” she said, grabbing my arm and pushing through them as we tried to navigate our way back out of that debauched hole. The pressure mounted as we walked past windows filled with sex toys and women standing in front of glass doors as others mock and laugh at human life being subjected to a mere object. “It’s innocent fun,” say the moral pretenders who then go home to their ‘real’ lives.
Do I recommend going? Yes, to really get a glimpse both of who you are as a person but to also view it as a historical gallery, a museum that explains an important history and social condition. Amsterdam is, of course, much more than that, a beautiful place where Spinoza wrote his philosophical masterpiece Ethics and where Rembrandt and Nina Simone had called home for sometime.
Like most European cities, there is a combined sense of the classic and historical intertwined with modernity, eighteenth century buildings fitted with H&M or Zara, the brown bricks contrasting a neon-green medical sign signalling the available apothecary. The pathways made of bricks perfectly aligned have parked bicycles and scooters that only add flavour to the beautiful design, and if you look up you can sometimes see flowers drizzled along the window sills.
I prefer to see parts of any city as a local rather than a tourist, so I was eager to research and find in advance the Albert Cuyp Markt, a very festive and lively way of stocking up on fresh fruits (of course!) and some cheap fashion along the way. A short train ride away, we were at Leiden where I stayed most of my trip in Holland and there the Leiden Street Markt was gorgeous, lined up beside the tiny canals and where you can get fresh fish, souvenirs and much more.
I was attending a seminar to be held at Leiden University on Islamic Architecture and it was where I met a collection of Indonesian students invited by the university to conduct research. “They were terrible,” one young Indonesian man said to me, shaking his head as we talked history of their political relations. “The Dutch colonised Indonesia, yes, but it was more than that, there were English and French and so many suffered at the hands of political corruption and a fierce system of rule.”
The opportunity to learn more about this incredible history was matched with a beautiful library at Leiden University, a tour taking us to view some rare manuscripts and artefacts that the library contained and that filled me with joy. There is an incredible feeling I get when I am learning history or when I am in the presence of old and rare books as though I am engaging in important.
“Why do you look so surprised?” Lucas muttered, my Dutch love-interest that never happened. The curse of modesty. He took me out one night with a couple of friends and I was surprised to find behind a simple door a tiny little jazz club hidden conspicuously like a chameleon behind the old building. The design of Leiden is truly gorgeous, littered indiscriminately with all things trendy and cool to satisfy the student community that reside in the area. It was only moments ago we were walking the quiet, cobblestone streets of beautiful Leiden and suddenly there we were with Miles Davis and John Coltrane.
The Hague reminded me of Canberra, a manicured city created to satisfy the wealthy politicians and civil servants, but it had an important role with me in particular having graduated with a degree in International Human Rights Law. This city of ‘Justice and Peace’ has played a central role in my understanding of human rights with its judicial place within the United Nations. The experience was gratifying, perhaps even fulfilling.
For a real taste of village life, a day trip with friends to both Giethoorn made me feel like I had taken a step back in time to see what it may have been like for local farmers, an almost mystical experience. The Keukenhof or the “garden of Europe” is also a must-see and from there my official love for flowers developed, the colours, the smells and how intoxicating and difficult the process can be.
“Sorry ma’am,” he echoed apologetically. I had no energy to complain about his usage of the word ma’am, something I felt should only be used on older, married women with children. “There really is nothing else we can do. They’re all gone.”
The disbelief remained with me for several days following. All my old photos from my trip to the Netherlands was gone. Denmark and Sweden, Finland and my travels through parts of Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, even around Australia wiped clean when my old but trusty Macbook Pro was stolen. I anxiously sought help from Apple, but with the transition from iPhoto to Photo and some cloud and backup errors, poof! Gone.
All I have left are memories, but so powerful are the feelings of my experience travelling there that it has been etched into a repository within my mind and my heart. Holland is unforgettable.
- Some of the best places I visited included Geithoorn, Keukenhof Tulip garden and the Zaanse Schans Windmills that I highly recommend if you are in the Netherlands. I am looking forward to visiting them again this year when I attend an awards night for my documentary in a few months!
- I highly recommend staying at Leiden for at least one night and have a nightcap or an Apple Martini at Le Chat Noir or De Twee Spieghels.
- Red Light District was horrible for me, however, if you intend to walk through it, do so first of all with company, but also view it as though it were a gallery that explains a very important history and story of the city.
- Visit local farmers markets, my two favourites being Albert Cuyp Markt and also the Leiden Street Markt. You have the opportunity to feel immersed into the culture and community of locals in the region.
- I think that it is well worth visiting The Hague and I went because I studied international human rights law, but even so it has some amazing art galleries and museums and incredible cafes to sit and enjoy the stunning scenery.