I started by doing a free walking tour of the city, which was actually quite good despite the fact that our tour guide was an expat from New Jersey. Free walking tours tend to be the best way to see a city as the guides try much harder than someone who is being paid, since they depend solely on tips. I wasn't blown away by the beauty of the city, I found it a little dull and lacking in the old European charm of many of the other places I've been. However, the city has a rather vast and important history in Europe and around the world. This is probably my bad, but I never even realized that New York used to be New Amsterdam. The New World's most important port city actually went between the hands of the British and the Netherlands several times, until the Netherlands decided it was no longer worth the effort to keep it - admittedly a big mistake. I also found their policy on tolerance and balance particularly interesting. From hard-core prostitution to soft-core drugs, Amsterdam would seem to be the epitome of an out-of-control party town, but to the contrary they make it work. You can walk through the streets at night and feel safe, and the drugs and prostitution is legal but controlled. In fact, by legalizing marijuana the government can collect taxes on it, and there is a line item particularly for prostitution when filing your taxes. And here is another fun fact for you...Amsterdam is not even in the top 10 pot smoking countries (The US, Canada, Italy and New Zealand make that list). Most of the smoking is done by visitors, not residents of the Netherlands. I guess when something is legal it is less of a draw.
I also did partake in a bit of the tomfoolery (so happy I have a reason to use that word). I met a few fellow travelers in my hostel when I heard them talking about the free walking tour and recommended we all go together. They were a fun crew, 2 girls and a guy from Australia, and a couple from...Canada I think. We ate panakuken, walked the red light district, visited a "coffee" shop, ate a space cake, smoked in the street, and even saw a live sex show. That last one was actually quite disturbing...can't say I recommend it.