**Photo rights to Oliver Thompson, Bethany Dixon and Char Penlington**

To celebrate Beth’s 21st Birthday the gang decided to take a “rite of passage” trip across the water to the European “City of Sin” – Amsterdam. After a slightly panicked and sleepless last night before the flight, thanks to beloved house bunny, Teddy falling ill and requiring an emergency trip to the vets followed by 2 hourly medications into the small hours (It’s a good job we had an abundance of eager vet students on tap who were keen to take on a bunny in need of some TLC while we jetted off on holiday!) we set off to Liverpool Airport. After the usual departures shenanigans and passport control tom-foolery we boarded our flight and flew in true student budget style – in Ryanair economy class, to Amsterdam International airport.

We were all keen to get started on our weekend’s frivolities and began by taking an obligatory tourist snap of us all in front of the huge Amsterdam sign (you can’t not really can you?). The small army of us trundled along attempting to navigate and bickering amongst ourselves heading in what we hoped was the general direction of our hostel.

The hostel we stayed in, ‘The Flying Pig’ was what we kind of expected and hoped for in Amsterdam, it had a very cool, colourful, hippy vibe (or maybe that was the “passive high” giving me that impression from the clouds of smoke pooling from the “weed room” conveniently situated in the foyer of the hostel). It was conveniently situated within walking distance of most of Amsterdam’s main attractions, had 24 hour take-away service (excellent when you have a case of the midnight munchies) and was full of students and gap-year goers (and as we found out later a few people who’d ran away from responsibility and never found their way out of the “weed room”) and we were convinced we’d have a good time here. What as quite interesting at times was the room sharing – we opted for the communal rooms as we wanted cheap and cheerful and as students we weren’t really that fussy, however our “roommates” we found could be rather interesting…. We first found a number of them had accosted our beds (luckily the burly 6ft something lads were too trollied to put up much of a fight when we kicked them out) but the real showstopper was when a number of them decided they were “skydiving” and started throwing themselves off the top bunk screaming and whooping. Now excuse me if I sound very old and parental here but it’s a miracle that none of them ended up in A&E!

We decided the best way to get our bearings was to do a bit of a self-designed walking tour. Olly, Beth and Char, our photographers for the trip took this opportunity to capture some snaps of the general scenery as we wandered up and down the maze of canals. I came to the conclusion that Amsterdam would be best described as an oxymoron; everywhere you look there seemed to be a smash of quirkiness, colour, art and culture standing out boldly against the quaint and reserved feel of the architecture and serenity of the gently lapping waters of the canals (and I can honestly say this was a completely sober opinion with no noxious substances on board!). We moseyed through the floating flower markets and gift shops and had a giggle in the sex shops, the one which still springs to mind most was the novelty condom shop ‘The Condomerie’ which seemed to design condoms for all shapes, sizes and sexual peculiarities (though I’m not sure how functional many of them were!).

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One of the main things on our hit list was Anne Frank’s house, we had all read and learnt about the story of the young Jewish girl Anne and her family who were stowed away by friends in a secret annex to try and escape the Germans during the world war. We were all eager to see the Annex for ourselves, and then we saw the queue……  It stretched all the way around the building and down past several more as far as the eye could see (I felt a picture of the epic queue was a necessity). We promptly decided we’d try again the next morning and opted to go to the Heineken experience instead!

After a stop in a quaint little cafe for lunch we decided to split forces for the afternoon. My little group decided to go to the Van Gogh museum. Now I’m not massively into art but again, I can distinctly remember from my school days being tasked to recreate Van Gogh’s famous ‘sunflower’ art piece and always distinctly remember being horrified when I heard the part about him cutting his own ear off! It therefore seemed fitting while we were there to visit the museum where the majority of his work is displayed. The museum took it’s viewers on a journey of the development of Van Gogh’s style and gave information about Van Gogh and his upbringing and life, much of which inspired many of his pieces of work.

As the evening began to draw in we decided it was time to wet our whistles at the Heineken experience. Now I am not the greatest fan of beer (though who would say no to free alcohol ?…. I’m not that picky!) but it was actually a really interactive and interesting tour with lots to look at and do (including taking novelty photos on Heineken bicycles!) and I would definitely recommend it to any Amsterdam goers looking for a way to kill an hour or two.

That evening, out of morbid curiosity, we decided to hit the red light district. I will admit to feeling a little uncomfortable in the district, not because I felt in harm’s way but just because it felt really rather seedy. The public were filtered down narrow alleyways with windows sporting scantily clad women soliciting for custom on either side,now call me a prude but the concept did make me feel a little uncomfortable. I just couldn’t help but think on a more personal level about what those women must be feeling and if they actually wanted to be there at all, I mean don’t get me wrong I’m sure plenty of them have chosen that line of work and I don’t have a problem with that but it is sad to think that some of them haven’t.

Anyway,onto less morbid things…. Our next stop was the sex museum which was hilarious. We spent our time running around the place like children putting eachother in the various sex contraptions, taking pictures of eachother beside 10ft willies and delving into learning about humanities weirdest and kinkiest fetishes. Feeling well and truly tickled we then moved onto the neighbouring Museum of Prostitiution. This was to our suprise really informative and we came out feeling a little better about the lives of the girl’s who worked as prostitutes and much more informed about the inner workings and the intrigueing history behing Amsterdam’s red light district.

The next day we committed to standing in the agonisingly long queue to visit the Anne Frank museum. We passed the time playing eye-spy and despite the cold the queue thankfully moved relatively quickly and we were soon inside. I would definitely recommend anyone who visits Amsterdam to take the time to visit the Annex as it truly was a fanttastic educational but sobering experience. The Anne Frank foundation have gone to great lengths to ensure it’s visitors gain the most realistic experience of what life was like, not just for Anne and her family but for all Jews suffering persecution during the Nazi regime. I made a point of picking up a copy of Anne’s diary as a token gesture of recognition to the firey and outspoken little girl who managed to make the most of her situation. I only wish I had half the literary ability she did!

In short, there’s so much more Amsterdam should get credit for other than it’s infamous “sins” and I implore anyone who visits to appreciate the culture along with the hash brownies!

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