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Rick Steves’ Europe: A Coffeeshop conversation in Amsterdam

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As we’ve had to postpone our travels because of the pandemic, I believe a weekly dose of travel dreaming can be good medicine. Here’s one of my favorite European memories from the Netherlands — a reminder of the rich experiences that await us at the other end of this crisis.

Wandering around Amsterdam, every few blocks you pass a window full of plants displaying a red, yellow, and green Rastafarian flag — both indications that the coffeeshop doesn’t sell much coffee. These days, “coffeeshop” refers to a place where the Dutch gather to buy and smoke marijuana. I duck into one of these coffeeshops to get the latest.

A round table at the front window is filled with a United Nations of tourists sharing travelers’ tales stirred by swizzle sticks of smoke. From the looks of the ashtray, they’ve been here a while. The table is a clutter of teacups, maps, and guidebooks.

Taking a seat at the bar next to a leathery 40­something biker and a college-age kid with two holes in his body for each one in mine, I feel more like a tourist than I have all day. The bartender, Pieter — sporting a shaved head and a one-inch goatee — greets me in English and passes me the menu.

Swarte Marok, Blond Marok, White Widow, Northern Light, Stonehedge, Grasstasy . . . so many choices on the menu, and that’s just the wiet (marijuana). Hashish selections fill the bottom half of the menu. I point to a clipped-on scrap of paper. “What’s Aanbieding: Swarte Marok?”

“Today’s special is Black Moroccan,” Pieter says.


Above me dangles a tiny Starship Enterprise from a garland of spiky leaves. And behind Pieter stands a row of much-used and apparently never-cleaned bongs, reminding me of the hubbly-bubblies that litter Egyptian teahouses. With a flick of my finger, I set the Enterprise rocking.

Pieter says, “Access to the stars. That’s us.”

When I marvel at how open-minded the Dutch are, Pieter explains, “We’re not open-minded, just tolerant. There’s a difference. Wiet is not legal . . . only tolerated.”

I ask, “Does this tolerance cause a problem?”


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