BY SAMANTHA LAUREN KING
Infamous for its red-light district and liberal attitude towards drugs, Amsterdam has always been something of an enigma to the outside world.
My expectations of this magical and mysterious place were based only on the stories I had heard from friends, and the odd snapshot they had shared via the deceptive hue of an Instagram filter.
I was going in blind. But boy, were my eyes opened.
The four day trip to Amsterdam was organised by the School of Health, and aimed to open our eyes to a drastically different culture. A culture where drugs, prostitution and euthanasia are all legal.
Counselling, nursing and sexual health students were all invited along for the ride. I and two others acted as the eyes and ears; reporting, blogging and experiencing as much as physically possible, all in the name of journalism.
We landed in Amsterdam at the local time of 10am. A fatal combination of an early start and jet lag left us all exhausted. But before we had the chance to rest our weary legs, our 35-strong group reluctantly ventured out into the city to buy a pass for the tram network; an essential for getting around.
After a brief lunch on the seventh floor of the library, the group migrated to Central Station ready to embark on a two hour guided city tour on foot.
Spirits were a lot higher as the sun rose on our second day in Amsterdam, which was ironic, as we were scheduled to have a talk on euthanasia that very morning.
Our talk was with a representative from NVVE, a Dutch organisation providing support and information to those considering or wanting to know more about euthanasia.
The talk gave us a valuable insight into how the process is governed and carried out; quite the contrast to our prude UK laws.
After leaving the NVVE offices with a newfound expertise in the Dutch euthanasia system, we had the afternoon to ourselves.
Rather than go back to the hotel and sleep the day away, we decided to continue the day in the same vein as it began; with a little bit of morbid fascination.
Of course at this point our group was divided. Half wanted to visit the botanical gardens, whilst the other half of us wanted to see an exhibition of real human bodies.
I opted for the latter.
Despite sounding like something straight out of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the exhibition displays were done tastefully. They included the cross section of a human head and even a fully laid out central nervous system.
It was not only fascinating, but humbling, and gave an insight into our own mortality in a way no GCSE frog dissection could ever provide.
At precisely 8pm, the group reconvened. It was Friday night, and we were venturing into the red-light district.
Our tour guide was suspiciously fluent in the workings of the area, and even shared with us his knowledge of how prostitutes fool their clients using a number of tricks and tips. As this is a student paper, I won’t over share.
The women in the windows left little to the imagination, and their white lingerie glowed garishly under the lights. Some looked as if they had walked straight out of the pages of Vogue, whilst others looked like your average, everyday girl.
We were also introduced to the blue-light district, which was for men transitioning into women; or “lady boys” as our tour guide referred to them.
Once our tour was over, we ventured off on our own and it wasn’t long until we witnessed the seedier side of Amsterdam. When darkness fell, the drug dealers came out to play.
In a similar fashion to a Disney princess, melodic whistling is the way you communicate with street dealers. If you whistle back in reply to their initial whistle, you’ve got yourself a deal.
We found ourselves back in the red-light district on the third day of our trip, but this time we were at the Prostitute Information Centre (PIC) to find out more about the ins and outs of the industry.
It was a shock to see that there were women in the windows at 10am in the morning, but our guide from the PIC who was an ex-prostitute herself explained that there are both day shifts and night shifts, much like any other job.
The rest of the day was quite relaxed, with a leisurely visit to the sex museum in the evening. If you like walls covered with porn, and mannequins engaging in sex acts, then it’s definitely the place for you.
Our final day in Amsterdam was left completely free, so I went to visit the Anne Frank museum.
Despite having almost having an emotional breakdown at every turn, I would highly recommend paying it a visit. Even if it is just because you want to recreate that scene from The Fault in Our Stars.
To conclude, Amsterdam is a surreal place; there’s no doubting that. It’s also extremely beautiful. I came back from my trip (no pun intended) feeling like I’d really experienced something amazing.
It really does sound like I’m talking about drugs there. I’m not. I promise.