This is part five in my series of stories from our recent two-week vacation in Europe.You’ll find other entries here.
The Belgian city of Bruges is exactly what you think of when you imagine an old European town. It’s been turned into a very touristy (or, as they say, touristic) place, some of it worth it, some not. Of the former, we enjoyed the canal boat tour and some of the decadently delicious products from a store called Chocolates By Julie. So good.
We also got away from the tourist center and wandered off to have lunch at a tavern called Cafe Vlissinghe that’s been in the same spot since 1515. From there, we walked even further to find the city’s old stone gate, which still stands, and were surprised to see some old-fashioned windmills — the kind that Don Quixote would confuse with giants — not far away. So European!
One thing Bruges seriously lacks is good paper towels. I went into the men’s room of the Cafe, washed up, and found myself forced to use something so thin, it wishes it had a ply.
When it came to languages, we pretty much stuck with English because we don’t speak Flemish, French, Dutch, or Danish (other than please and thank you). Fortunately, everywhere we went, whoever we encountered spoke English fluently, with the exception of a few people in Paris, who I think just wanted to show off a French sense of superiority. But we were very impressed by the tour guides on the canal boats in Bruges and Copenhagen, both of whom kept up a running description in three different languages.
Speaking of Copenhagen, I know I wrote quite a bit about it yesterday, but I left out one fact: the Danes are the most attractive people I’ve ever seen. It’s not that I have a thing for blondes (I don’t), but a simple observation of a nation where “ugly” seems to be a nonexistent concept. And if they know how good-looking they are, they don’t act like it.
Which somehow bring me to the subject of Amsterdam’s Red Light district, where I’d bet the hookers, like the tour guides, also speak in several tongues (if you’ll pardon the expression). We walked through there one evening to take a look at the young women standing in the windows waiting for guys to request their services. Most of them were quite good at making eye contact or winking or doing whatever they have to in order to attract customers. There were a couple who preferred to have a cigarette and look at their phones instead of the passing crowd. I’m gonna guess they’re not big earners. As for the successful ones, they’re the women who can get their young customers to walk out of there thinking, “She really likes me!” That’s how you create repeat business.
If you’re curious about the cost, we were told that prices start at fifty euros, which seems really low and a bare (!) minimum, at best. Later that evening, while waiting for a tram to take us back to our hotel, we stood opposite a retail store display for a pair of Louboutin shoes. Because they’re famous for their red soles, that window was bathed in red light, too, looking just like the ones we’d seen with women behind them. Martha joked that the Louboutin shoes probably cost more than the services of any of the prostitutes.
Amsterdam not only has its red light district, but also coffee shops, some of which actually sell coffee. In the rest, you can buy and smoke marijuana, or take it home, but lighting up a joint as you stroll down the sidewalk is frowned upon. That means we weren’t surrounded by the scent of stink weed everywhere we went. With its legalized weed and prostitution, Amsterdam’s social attitudes are quite different from those in too many parts of America which still have a puritanical stick stuck up their asses. By the way, if that’s what you want, it’s available for an extra fee in red light district.
Among all the sights we saw in Amsterdam, my favorites were the stickers on people’s mailboxes that read nee. That’s Dutch for no, an instruction to the letter carrier not to deposit any junk mail in the slot. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that they were on every single house we passed, which made me wonder why the option even exists. Just ban the junk mail in the first place, since it’s not getting delivered!
Sure wish we had that law here.
You’ll find other entries in this series here.