Week 8, part 4

A Dutch music shop.

Thanksgiving day in America was just another Thursday in Holland. The commuters to Amsterdam were long gone by the time we got to the station. On the way there we passed a place called the Sauna Center, where we made appointments to get massages at 9:00 that night. On the train we studied our map of Amsterdam to try to figure out the best way to use our limited time in the city. The map showed a large pedestrian zone that started close to the station, so we set out for it after our arrival.

What we found was an area overrun with shoppers. We had seen the mobs of shoppers in Haarlem and thought that that city must be a popular shopping destination. Now we know that the whole country is a haven for shoppers. Along with the bland and generic chain stores is a variety of specialty shops that is hard to find in one place anywhere else in the world. English is widely and fluently spoken, and credit cards are cheerfully accepted.

A window display in Holland.

A painted maiden on the wall watches over this plant in an Amsterdam grow room.

Cannabis is not the only thing worth growing in an indoor grow room. These hot red peppers appear to be doing quite well.

Unfortunately, this turned out to be a rainy day, so we were discouraged from doing much extensive walking around the city, and the digital camera stayed mostly packed up away from moisture. One indoor site we spent a lot of time in is a place called Cannabis College. This is a non-profit institution that compliments the Hemp Museum, a more commercial place up the street. The first thing we found at Cannabis College was a display of the casualties of the war on drugs. There were pictures of ordinary and respectable people who's lives (and the lives of their families) were destroyed by the draconian sentences received for possessing or growing small amounts of cannabis for personal use.

The rest of the ground floor can best be described as a display of the various economic benefits of recreational, medicinal, and industrial hemp. There were books on growing cannabis, cooking with cannabis, and the politics of cannabis. Industrial hemp produces extremely versatile oil, pulp, and fiber; and there were hundreds (thousands?) of products on display that were made using these components. None of the products displayed are sold by Cannabis College, but they can refer you to a place where they are. For a small donation one could tour a room on the lower level where about a half dozen specimens of some of the world's finest medicinal/recreational cannabis were being grown using modern indoor techniques.

A close look at one of the flowers from the plant to the left.

Down the street from Cannabis College was the Cannabis Connoiseurs Club and the Hemp Museum.

Obbie looks up from his coffee in Amsterdam.

Artwork decorates this window on a Dutch street.

One of Amsterdam's most distinctive characteristics is its canals, which form concentric semi-circles radiating out from the Centraal (yes, it's spelled with two a's) train station. The streets follow this pattern as most of them are alongside canals. Most of the city that we saw was very bicycle and pedestrian friendly, and they have an extensive system of buses and trams as well as a high-speed underground. As a result, most people are content with their bicycles, but the small number of people who drive cars in Amsterdam do it so aggressively that we're amazed that people don't get run over regularly.

We should also talk about the motorized scooters, the mopeds and micro-motorcycles that seem to be quite popular in Amsterdam and many other European cities. In our country, they are not normally tolerated on sidewalks and in pedestrian zones, but they are here. They are noisy and obnoxious, and too many people drive them too fast and dangerously for us to feel comfortable sharing walkways with them.

We got back to Haarlem early enough to eat some Thai food and lounge in our room for a while before heading back to the Sauna Center for our massages. It took us a long time to find this out, but in Scandanavia and northern Europe, most cities of any size have at least one bath house like this. This place had a very hot sauna, a steam room, a hot whirlpool bath and showers. All of the facilities are coed, towels are provided, and all clothing is to be left in a locker while the attendant holds your key. Hanging out naked in a public bath house may be foreign to us Americans, but our hang-ups toward nudity are just as foreign to Europeans.

A three-wheeled truck makes a delivery in Amsterdam.

A Temple in Amsterdam.

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