Being a former police officer, I visited Amsterdam to see how the city, which had legalised commercial sex and soft drug consumption, dealt with crime.
Naturally, my first place of visit was the Red Light District known as De Wallen. I began my tour with 800-year-old Oude Kerk, said to be the oldest building in Amsterdam and the most prominent landmark of De Wallen.
Built in the 13th Century, the church is a centre of both religious and cultural activities. Outside the church, on the cobbled street, is a bronze relief of a hand groping a woman's breast. A bronze statue of a woman with the inscription, "Respect sex workers all over the world" is not far away.
De Wallen has more than a hundred apartments in which sex workers ply their trade. In glass cubicles, skimpily-clad sex workers solicit customers. The area is full of sex shops, sex theatres, peep shows, a sex museum, a marijuana museum etc. All carnal desires seem to be catered to.
Hundreds of visitors, including women, thronged the area curiously gazing at the windows. I saw a tourist takeout his camera to photograph a prostitute, but all of a sudden a bouncer snatched his camera and threw it in the canal.
This area is also very famous for "coffee shops", which sell cannabis or ganja. In Netherlands, coffee shops can sell ganja, but alcohol and food cannot be served with it. As the night progressed, the area became unruly and unsafe with drunkards and addicts. We were warned of pickpockets but not a single uniformed police officer was seen on the street.
Walking along, we reached Dam Square, which is the historical centre of Amsterdam. The main attraction here is the National Monument, setup as War Memorial in 1956. The War Memorial is a concrete pillar covered by white stone. It is 72ft. high and its base has four chained figures.
Even though it was late night, Dam Square was full of life and there were thousands of tourists. The square is surrounded by the Royal Palace and the New Church. A lot of street entertainment was available and hence we remained there till midnight.
The next day, our tour began with the visit to Central Station. Completed in 1884, this historic building has been continuously remodeled. The first station roof of the building is very famous. I was surprised to see literally thousands of bicycles parked outside this railway station. The Dutch are very fond of bicycles and each family owns half a dozen of them.
In front of the station were boats offering canal rides. Amsterdam is a city of canals and most of these were built to prevent flooding. The canals are developed as four concentric semi-circles and are named as Canal of the Lord, Canal of the Emperor, Canal of the Princes etc. We hopped on to a boat to see one of the most visited places in Amsterdam - the House of Anne Frank.
Anne, a 15-year-old Jewish girl, hid with her family in a house in Amsterdam to escape the Nazis and during this time kept a diary. She was arrested and sent to a Concentration Camp where she died. Her diary is one of the largest selling books in the world, translated in seventy languages. Her house is now a museum, where her photographs and pages from her diary are displayed.
Later on, we went to Vondel Park, a lovely garden with ponds, bridges and lawns. Its serene atmosphere was quite a contrast with what I had seen the previous night at De Wallen. The park, opened in 1867, covers 120 acres and is famous for a sculpture "The Fish" by Pablo Picasso. Picasso donated this sculpture to commemorate four hundred years of Amsterdam.
Very close to the park is the Museum Square, which has four famous museums including the Van Gogh Museum. The National Museum is the most visited museum of Netherlands and has on display over 8000 objects of art and history. It has a number of masterpieces of Rembrandt.
Rembrandt was a famous 17th century Dutch painter. His house is a museum and near his house is a square dedicated to him. This square has his statue, and in front of the statue is a sculpture of Rembrandt's most famous painting "The Night Watch". This sculpture of bronze soldiers was created by two Russian artists.
Amsterdam is very famous for its Heineken beer. The old brewery has now been turned into a tourist spot. One learns a lot about how beer is made. Visitors can taste the famous beer too. Netherlands is famous for tulips and Keukenhof Tulip Gardens is an hour's journey from Amsterdam.
The next day, we went on a canal cruise which took us on a sightseeing tour of the city. The 75-minute cruise took us around top attractions of the city and after the cruise, we returned to our hotel to prepare for our journey back home.
Amsterdam is one of the most happening cities in the world and caters to all interests.