Wednesday, 29 July 2015 – Day 4 – Amsterdam – Rhineland Area, Germany (Day 50)

Wednesday, 29 July 2015 – Day 4 – Amsterdam to Rhineland Area, Germany (231 miles/370 Kms) – Day 50)

After breakfast, we headed down to the Amstel river to go on a Canal Cruise in a glass-enclosed boat and cruised along Amsterdam’s UNESCO World Heritage – listed canals. It was a very pleasant way to enjoy seeing Amsterdam at water level.  We passed the Heinekin Brewery, Anne Frank’s House, the Golden Bend, the Skinny Bridge, the seven bridges on the the River Amstel, the old port area and the many picturesque gabled houses that line the waterfront. All along the canal there were many houseboats – all shapes and sizes.  You could see into the “homes” and their gardens were very colourful. Passed some lovely churches.

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For centuries after the Reformation, the Catholics were not allowed to openly practice their religion. All big churches in Amsterdam were Protestant. While tolerated, Catholic churches were forced to hide, often inside other buildings as in the attic of the canal house is now serving as a museum –  Our Lord in the Attic Church.

After the cruise,we then proceeded to visit the Coster Diamond Centre.  It was interesting to hear all about the processes of the different carats, colours etc. of this precious gem. We were then given the opportunity to spend some money if we so wished.I could not resist buying a diamond ring.

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After being in the Diamond Factory we boarded the coach to be driven down to the main area of Amsterdam. We passed some interesting buildings that had big hooks at the top of the buildings. These were used to hoist up furniture to the higher levels as the homes had very narrow stairways and tiny windows.

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We passed one of the 7,000 windmills that are around the country.

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De Wallen is the largest and best known red-light district in Amsterdam and consists of a network of alleys containing approximately three hundred one-room cabins rented by prostitutes who offer their sexual services from behind a window or glass door, typically illuminated with red lights. These “kamers” are the most visible and typical kind of red light district sex work in Amsterdam and are a large tourist attraction. The area also has a number of sex-shops, sex theatres, peep shows, a sex museum, a cannabis museum and a number of coffee shops that sell marijuana.  Prostitution is legal in the Netherlands, with the exception of street prostitution, but work permits are not issued in the form of a green card for prostitution; therefore legally working in the trade is limited mostly to EU citizens or foreign permanent residents. (A non-EU citizen can work legally in Netherlands without a work permit in certain circumstances, for instance, if they are the spouse of a local citizen.) From January 2013 the legal working age of a prostitute in the Netherlands was raised from 18 to 21.

We were told if there was a sign “coffee shop” it was not a normal coffee shop, but a shop that sells hash/marijuana. If one wanted a normal coffee, you had to look for a shop that said “Koffee” shop.  We came across a “coffee” shop and decided for a bit of fun we would go in and order a “space cake” that contains 0.3 gr of cannabis or hash! They cannot be exported. We were advised not to eat the whole cake if we were not used to having cannabis. It takes one to one and a half hours to feel the full effects and last for 3 to 5 hours.  Kevin and I ordered a cake but Susan said she felt as though she would get “high” just being in the shop. Cannabis coffee shops in the red light district and elsewhere in the Netherlands are licensed to sell cannabis and serve soft drinks. Food, alcohol, and indoor tobacco smoking are generally not permitted.

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Before the onset of coffee shop licensing, some began openly selling cannabis. The first coffee shops opened in the 1970s. These faced trouble from police and the local councils with frequent closures. In 1976, the government of the Netherlands began to take steps to decriminalize the use and possession of cannabis by changing the law so that possession of up to 30 grams of cannabis was no longer a criminal offense. The ‘Gedoogbeleid’ or tolerance policy gave rise to coffee shop licensing which meant that as long as coffee shops did not sell hard drugs, they were allowed to operate. Coffee shops were not allowed to operate in certain cities near the borders of Germany and Belgium because it was felt soft drug use might raise crime there.

The government of Netherlands has continually been under pressure from different western countries to reign in coffee shops, leading to several coffee shops being shut down for flouting rules, with no licenses issued to new operators. This approach has continued since 1995. In the 1990s, the coffee shop owners organized themselves into a union, the Bond van cannabis Detaillisten or BCD, set up to represent the interests of the coffee shops which were under constant pressure from local councils. A recent policy has ordered that 26 coffee shops in the De Wallen area will have to close their doors between 1 September 2012 and 31 August 2015.

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After we ate our “space” cakes, we wandered along the little alleyways and decided to have lunch. By this time, Kevin seemed to be having an affect from his “space cake” as he was not talking very sensibly. I jokingly said that I was going to ask for a refund as I did not feel any effect at this time.  I have to admit, I was thinking that I hoped I would not be walking back to our pick up point and suddenly be lying in the gutter. I decided to buy another cake but the same thing – no reaction whatsoever.  Kevin and Susan and I parted company as we wanted to do things separately.  It started to rain for a short time, so I had a super serving of Dutch pancakes and strawberries and a conventional cup of coffee. I got some postcards and then went to join the coach at 2.00.

We left Amsterdam and now heading to Germany.  The scenery was beautiful – towns down in the valleys and then thicker forests. We passed through the huge city of Koblenz which was bombed by the Americans.  At some stage we saw the rivers Mozelle and Rhine meet. We were travelling on the autobarn built by Hitler. We came to the German border after about one and a half hours. Germany has a population of about 81 million and Berlin is the capital. Names that are associated with Germany are Marx, Bach, Beethoven, Handel and Wagner and Michael Schumaker. There is no speed limit on the autobarn. Cars that are manufactured in Germany are Mercedes, Audi, VW, Porche, Opal and Jaguar.  The Octoberfest is celebrated is the world’s largest Volksfest (beer festival and travelling funfair). Held annually in Munich, Bavaria, Germany, it is a 16-day folk festival running from mid or late September to the first weekend in October, with more than 6 million people from around the world attending the event every year. The Oktoberfest is an important part of Bavarian culture, having been held since 1810. Other cities across the world also hold Oktoberfest celebrations modelled after the original Munich event. Germany is known for its variety of sausages. There are 1400 varieties – Bratwust, Metwurst and Bludwurst are just a few.

We travelled through the Rhine Valley area and came to our accommodation at the Mercure Airport. After dinner, I had a little tinker on a lovely grand piano in between drinks with Susan and Kevin and then it was off to bed after another full but thoroughly enjoyable day.

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