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Food Feature: The Nether regions in the Netherlands

Sex and the city of Amsterdam (and a little hash, too)

My wife and I arrived in Amsterdam just after 7 a.m. After a short ride from Schiphol Airport, we checked into the Park Hotel. The four-star Park (Stadhouderskade 25, 1071; (phone) 011-31-20-671-12-22; www.parkhotel.nl) offers a comfortable, affordable base of operations for seeing the city. Our room — $70 a night American — was on the small side, but offered a clean queen-size bed, private bath, hair dryer, etc.

While there is much talk of European elitism and snobbery as it relates to Americans, I sensed a friendly "go about their business" vibe from the Dutch. The city actually feels a lot like New York, right down to the numerous pizzerias and skanky panhandlers.

After a nap, we walked a few blocks to the Museumplein, which is home to the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum and the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art. It was perfect museum weather — cold, damp — but we eschewed the opportunity to enrich ourselves culturally and backtracked a few blocks to the Leidseplein, a Buckhead-like area teeming with restaurants, bars, nightclubs and cafes.

By afternoon, we decided we did want to expose ourselves to some culture and hopped the No. 5 tram to City Center, where we visited the Amsterdam Sex Museum (Damrak 18; about $5; open daily 10 a.m.-11:30 p.m.). Truth be told, the "museum" has more boardwalk sideshow than actual museum. Even so, the exhibits are informative and tastefully presented. Well, as tastefully presented as pornography can be, I guess. Perhaps my favorite was the American silent film from the 1920s. This classic was textbook porn: An unsuspecting male character stumbles upon lesbian sex, menage a trois ensues, etc., etc. Another interesting "exhibit" contained a Disney World-like animatron who exposes himself to all who pass. Not exactly "The Hall of Presidents," but the dude did have a Clintonesque aura about him.

Our sexual appetites satisfied, we sought out some of the city's other attractions. We leapfrogged our way back — on foot and by tram — toward our hotel and visited a number of comfortable pubs, cafes and "coffee houses," including Cafe de Waard, The Greenhouse Effect, Cafe di Ami, The Grasshopper and the venerable Bulldog Cafe (Bulldog Palace, Leidseplein 15; (phone) 011-31-20-627-19-08).

I'm not much a coffee drinker, which is OK, because in Amsterdam the coffee houses are not known for their coffee. Upon entering the first establishment, I was transported back to my 1977 visit to Madison Square Garden to see Led Zeppelin. Customers can peruse menus offering Lebanese, Afghani or Turkish hash, and/or hydroponic, "skunk" or Jamaican weed. Most hash bars offer pre-rolled joints, but customers can purchase their goods by the ounce.

During our visit to a place called High Times, I conversed with a dreadlocked Surinamese stoner named Khalid (we stopped by to log onto the Internet — really!). Khalid was a joint roller par excellence. It was as if his "job" was to assist clumsy Americans in their cannabis preparations.

I had a few beers while my mate checked her e-mail and Khalid floated along the bar offering his services. I think he had a thing for my wife, as he offered her a "bud" from his personal stash. She handed it to me and I gave it to a very happy street musician, after making sure he wasn't a cop. Contrary to popular belief, marijuana and hash are not legal in Amsterdam, they're merely tolerated — in small amounts.

Having sampled some of the city's intoxicants, we were ready to eat and we were looking for something more than munchies. When traveling, I like to sample the local bill of fare. That said, it would appear that hash bars and sex shops are the "restaurants" of choice in Amsterdam. A quick breakfast of croissant, hearty brown bread with butter or jam, fresh-squeezed OJ and rich coffee can usually be had at any of the many pastry shops. For lunch, you can't go wrong with broojes (sandwiches) and a frothy Heineken, Amstel or Bier. Near the Nieuwe Markt, there's De Rozenbloom, where I had a satisfying Dutch lunch of minced meat (balls), marrow peas, mixed greens and fried potatoes. For dessert, it was pancakes (really crépes ) and ice cream with chocolate sauce. I followed nearly every meal — even breakfast — with a Cuban or Dutch cigar.

Besides sex and drugs, Amsterdam is known for its flea and flower markets. I scored a Dutch military beret for $2 at the flea market near the Ouderkersplein. Aside from the ample supply of second-hand military surplus gear, bargain hunters also can find leather goods, tools, electronic equipment and vintage clothing — including an endless supply of '70s-era double-knit warm-up suits made by Adidas, Puma, etc.

Afterward, we popped into a tiny pub called Cafe de Gaeper, where the barkeep had an ear for Sarah Vaughan. "Summertime," from Porgy and Bess, played as we sipped our libations and sheltered ourselves from the steady, cold rain.

We'd only sampled a small portion of the city, but we had to go. We made our way to the Centraal Station, where we hopped the bullet train to Paris. And while I've chosen not to go into the specifics of our indulgences, I will say that it is surreal to sit at a bar and sip a beer while the patron to your right is doing bong hits.

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