Discovering Amsterdam sans weed pass

Your days of lighting up a joint in a Netherlands coffee shop are numbered.

The Dutch government is delaying plans to ban tourists from buying marijuana until at least May, but it still plans to go ahead with a “weed pass” system only for legal residents of the Netherlands.

Under the country’s tolerance policy, marijuana is technically illegal but it is sold openly in cafes and police don’t arrest people for possession of small amounts. That’s about to change for anyone but residents.

A test rollout of the new rules in southern cities was to begin in January but was delayed due to practical difficulties. The policy will likely be in place nationwide in 2013, despite objections from the city of Amsterdam.

This law was highly debated by government officials, some of whom expect a drop in tourism as a result. But officials hope it will solve problems caused by German and Belgians who drive across the border to buy the drug.

But you don’t have to be stoned to get hooked on Amsterdam. Come with me on a tour of the road not token:

1. Go see Van Gogh at The Van Gogh Museum. Amsterdam has a museum for pretty much anything you can name (tulips, shipbuilding, etc.), and the Rijksmuseum is also a don’t-miss for the old Dutch masters. But the Van Gogh is my favorite. Learn more about the museum at

2. Eat! You won’t consume a lot of Dutch food in Amsterdam. Most restaurants feature other cuisines, often French. Among my favorite restaurants: Harkema (67 Nes), which knows how to cook cod and sea bass perfectly and has excellent house wine for $21 a bottle; Le Garage (54-56 Ruysdaelstraat), where celebrity chef Joop Braakhekke turns out beautiful tasting menus (about $75; mine included veal pate, poached ling and lemon tart); Puri Mas (37 Lange Leidsed), with its multitude of Indonesian plates for sharing; and Witteveen Jade Lew (256 Ceintaurban), where I enjoyed a simple but perfect spinach quiche with salad.

You must also eat some Dutch cheese, the country’s No. 1 export. A cheese marked “old” isn’t all dried up and crusty. The designation typically means that the cheese has been aged 10 to 12 months, making it a little firmer and stronger. The “new” cheeses are milder and softer, and also excellent.

3. Visit the Vondelpark. Here’s another thing you can legally do in Amsterdam: have sex in the city’s 120-acre Vondelpark. Sex has been had there at least since the 1960s, when hippies fell in love with the place. So a few years ago, Amsterdam’s highly indulgent city fathers decided to go ahead and legalize it, as long as it’s discreet and at night.

And while we’re talking sex: Prostitution is also legal in Amsterdam. There are two shifts. The ladies of the evening pay higher rent than the ladies of the afternoon for the windows in which they stand and beckon to passers-by.

4. Learn how to say the names of Dutch streets without strangling. Right after I checked into my hotel, I had to ask the desk clerk how to get to a street called Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal. He rattled it off handily, but I’m afraid I never was able to. Thus, I was never without a map. No way could I ask a person on the street where anything was.

5. Pay respects to Anne Frank. Anne Frank House Amsterdam is filled with itty-bitty steps. Buy your ticket at

6. Look up at the row houses along the canals. You’ll notice that each one has a hook at the top. That’s so the residents can put a rope through them and hoist furniture up, because it’s surely not going up those tiny staircases. And it’s not your imagination: Many of these houses lean forward. That’s so the furniture won’t go crashing through the windows when it’s hoisted. Amsterdammers are nothing if not practical.

7. Learn the tram system. Cabs aren’t an efficient way to get around. Many streets are one-way and interrupted by canals, and there’s often construction. Cars aren’t all that practical. In fact, Amsterdam residents are more likely to own a boat than a car.

8. Either ride a bike or learn how to not get hit by them. I was told there are 1.5 million bikes in the city, and I believe it. You can rent one from your hotel.

Meanwhile, pedestrians, be careful not to meander into the bike lane. How do you tell the walkway from the bike lane? The bricks in the bike lane are slightly pink. But if they’re old and it’s raining, it’s not always easy to tell. Heed the jingling bell and get out of the way.

9. Check out the newly reopened Het Scheepvaartmuseum (Maritime Museum). It didn’t reopen until October, so I missed it, but I’m told it’s amazing and has a good restaurant, Stalpaert, right on the water. Admission is 15 euros. More at

10. Be friendly. People say hello to random strangers in this country, so overt friendliness is not only acceptable, it’s encouraged.

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