Oh oh oh Amsterdam.
We first arrived at the Grand Central Station in Amsterdam on a late Monday night. Gazillions of neon street lights that reflected off canal waters guided our way to our hostel, The Bull Dog, whose coffeeshop to the left of the actual entrance we almost entered first. Although it was colder than ol' Paree, the atmosphere was so exciting that it didn't matter. Anyway, the hostel itself was pretty neato inside. Very seventies. Lots of dim lighting. An entire wall of different types of Absinthe. And in the lobby, a people-hating cat guards the Dog...or...sleeps in a basket and gets angry when petted...by me...
Our room was nice enough- it was a 10-person dorm and the only other person there when Laura, Kelley and I came in was a sleeping Brit. Alas, we woke him up, probably with our southern American accents. But it turns out that he was totally cool about it! And everything! Josh from London. He came to Amsterdam by himself for the week because he sees his friends at work everyday and he likes it better that way. Anyway, of course the first thing Laura wanted to do was, well, it IS Amsterdam. And Josh wanted to come along, so we walked a whole of 30 seconds to the coffeeshop nextdoor where they all bought their...goodies...and I got amused by the secret herbal menus that light up when you press a button. Then we walked back to the Bull Dog to sit in the lobby/bar area (you can't sell alcohol and weed in the same place, that's why the coffeeshop is separate) and...relax. Well, I don't know how the others were surviving at this point, so instead of learning to roll a joint from Josh, I bought chicken wings like a decent American and ate them with glee! Or as much glee as possible while pot smoke was curling around my nose. (To be honest, I rather enjoyed the smell by the end of the trip...)
Now some might say, why not join in on the fun with the others? Or, why did you sit with them if you didn't want to smoke? And to this I say- because high folks are funny...and proper English Josh gets very very chatty when he's hit a few. We mostly talked about the differences between Britishers and Americans the whole time, but I remember a lot of good American oldies' music was playing and Laura kept boasting Josh's talents with grass and paper. Hahaha
In truth, I was going to post an entire blog entry on the reasons why I don't smoke pot or get drunk when all of my friends are...but I'm lazy and tired and I don't have my laptop yet, so if you want the full spiel, shoot me an e-mail.
Now! The morning! Free delicious breakfast of rolls with jam, ham and cheese, and boiled eggs. It was the same thing every morning with the addition of different types of fruit of questionable age, tea, milk and orange juice. The only type of cereal they had was granola and I think I got sick off of that in France, so I haven't been able to touch the stuff since. After breakfast, while Josh stayed to...relax...the rest of us went out exploring!
We saw the town square in daylight- quite lovely and covered with pigeons (I've become rather obsessed with taking pictures of city squares covered in pigeons. I think I'll post an entry with all the pigeon pictures I've taken in Europe so far). And across the way stands the oh so phallic obelisk memorial. I really should have taken one of the walking tours so I could have appreciated some of the architecture and monuments around the city more, plus a little history always helps, but we simply didn't have time during the 3 days we were there. Anyway, we walked around for a bit, getting accustomed to the easily navigable little city, and saw bicycles piled against every open space of railing along the canals. It was wonderful! Although, I was a little bitter at first because, being the number one city in Europe for cyclists, I felt sure I would get run over at some point. I kept saying, "bikes are not cars". But I got used to it and I really really want to buy a bicycle now just so I can go back to Amsterdam and ride it.
What else...oh yes! Then we walked over to Anne Frank's house. The other girls were intimidated by the line of people and didn't seem to want to do anything that would be possibly depressing that day, so they left and I stayed. There was no way in hell that I was going to miss out on the Secret Annex.
There are three buildings on the end of the block that includes Anne Frank's house. The 2 end buildings make up the museum that houses the cafe, the bookstore, interactive computer stations and other bits of memorabilia (like the Oscar Shelley Winters won for her role as Mrs. Van Daan). The third building on the block is the actual Annex. Now, standing outside these buildings, waiting in line, gave me time to observe what Anne and the others weren't able to see very often while they were locked up in the attic of the back building of Otto Frank's office (except, as Anne said, through a chink in the curtain of the room where she and Margot took turns bathing on Saturday afternoons). It is literally on the canal. There are adorable, leaning buildings all along the canal and the historic Westerkerk church (under which lies Rembrandt...) sits just left to the Annex block. I can't imagine what it would have been like to know you live in a beautiful place and know at the same time that you won't be able to be free in it...indefinitely. So, going inside, I learned immediately that I wasn't allowed to take pictures, which is good because it made the experience less... occupied by touristic goals. After walking through a series of small rooms that played mini-videos about the Franks, their business, etc. (which, by the way, was pretty cool- I can't imagine that there are too many jam-making industries booming in canal-side buildings anymore...), I got to see the small, unfurnished rooms where Miep Gies and the others used to conduct their business. In fact, Margot and Anne would sometimes come down to the office to help do clerical work. Oh, and I forgot to mention--none of the rooms of the Annex contain the original furniture because after the arrest, the Secret Annex was stripped bare, and after the war, Otto Frank said he wished the rooms to stay empty. However, there is something to see in each room-- for example, there's a scale model of what the house looked like while they were all in hiding and several different exhibitions of letters, identification cards, etc. that belonged to the Franks or Otto's employees. After all of the warehouse/office rooms, I saw it. The bookcase. A.k.a. the secret entrance to the staircase leading to the Annex. They kept all of the original books and such on the shelf (which consists mostly of severely aging binders...) and it is the only way you can make it up to the Annex. The staircase is narrow and it's difficult not to bang your shins with each step. I can't imagine that Miep Gies ever complained, though, when she was carrying groceries that she brought over on her bicycle. Anyway, when I finally made it into the actual hiding place, I was amazed. It looks just as you'd imagine it, minus the furniture. The rooms are very small and all of the windows are darkened with blackout blinds, just as they were during the war. Of course, this part of the visit was the most crowded, but that made it more...realistic? Peut-etre? I had to squeeze past lots of people to get a good look at all the images Anne posted on her walls (which are the originals, sealed with glass), but I was determined. She had lots of photos of the Dutch royal family and even some of Elizabeth and Margaret, but my favorite was a picture of chimpanzees at tea. I think Anne Frank and I could have been friends. On the living room wall, there are still the original markings that showed the children's growth during the time they were in hiding. In Peter's room they have the stock exchange game that he received for his birthday on the wall, but the staircase leading to the attic where he and Anne spent lots of time together is blocked off with a sheet of glass. You can sort of glance at the attic, but it's probably too unstable for millions of tourists to be walking about in it. In fact, before the house became a museum, it was up for demolition (praise the Lord it was saved!), so you can imagine how difficult it must be to keep this very old building steady with so many visitors. Anyway, as you leave the actual Annex, there's the Otto Frank Room where he talks about the diary in a video. He says that when he first read the diary, he was completely surprised by his daughters' deep thoughts and that it was a completely different Anne than he knew. He concluded that parents know very little about their children. Later, you can take a peek at the garden and coming back to the museum buildings, a quote from Nelson Mandela is written along the walls in several different languages -- "Some of us read Anne Frank's diary on Robben Island and derived much encouragement of it". Eventually you come to the diary room, where the real thing is on display. Her handwriting was much neater than mine. And she was much younger when she wrote all of that. I can't describe what seeing all of this meant to me. All I can say is that Anne and the others were such strong people, you can't help but feel inspired by their bravery and their endurance. The fact that Anne could still feel that in spite of everything, there is still good in everyone--is a true miracle. The Anne Frank House was my favorite part of Amsterdam.
Though later closely rivalled by our visit to the Van Gogh museum...
After the Secret Annex, I met back up with the girls for lunch. But I can't remember for the life of me if I actually ate anything besides some cereal bars I brought from Carrefour. I remember going to a coffeeshop and not getting anything, but I can't remember what exactly we did after that. I know we went shopping in some cool vintage stores and oh! There was this one store that had the coolest little trinkets and lovely collections of porcelain teacups and other dishes. It was all so colorful! I kept thinking of Mom the whole time we were there. And another store had the cutest little voodoo keychains...hahaha...Anyway, this might have been the day I bought a hamburger out of a vending type machine...But it was a restaurant! You stick your 1.60 euros in the slot and pull out the burger (I saw the guy slide mine in just a few seconds before I bought it, so it was fresh!). It was actually quite tasty! More shopping + a mini tour of the Red Light District from Josh. After hearing about it from the cool Australian girl in our hostel, the girls just haaad to see it. Personally, I didn't want to see prostitutes hanging about in windows with very little clothing, but I saw them nonetheless. Seriously- there's a reason why that shit's illegal. Ew. EW ew ew. And what were all those swans doing swimming in that particular canal?!? Geez birds, can't you find a...cleaner...place to chill?
Anyway, we ate at an Italian place for dinner where our waitress was an angry man/girl who refused to smile or do anything politely and was completely annoyed when we didn't understand that you couldn't drink free tap water (France is apparently one of the few European countries where you can get a free 'carafe' of water). The cheapest meal that sounded filling enough was cheese pizza. Yay for exploring new foods! HA! Sorry folks, real Dutch food is expensive. I don't think I ate anything really Dutch the whole time...In fact, later that night, (and I'm sorry if this is completely appalling), we ate ice cream at McDonald's because it's close to our hostel and it was only 50 cents.
Afterwards...more...lounging in the lobby while watching football. I went to bed. Unhappily, I was awoken by she who shall henceforth be known as Crazy Lady. Crazy Lady, who smelled of rancid pot, cigarettes and other types of foul, smoky scents, crashed into the hostel around 3 AM making all kinds of racket and she TURNED THE LIGHTS ON AND KEPT THEM ON. There are mini-lights on each bed for a reason! Oy Vey. So then Crazy Lady just so happens to sleep in the bunk below mine where she keeps me up for at least another hour with her obnoxiously loud snoring. AH! This is just a sneak peek of the Crazy Lady's antics that unfortunately can't be erased from my otherwise splendid memory of Amsterdam.
Next day. Breakfast again. I spilled tea on my white shirt. I also amused everyone with my pajamas (I was wearing my white thermal shirt under my DI shirt with my gray thermal pants and I had my black shorts on top of that, sooo, yeah, I was looking good. When I told Laura about my rubber ducky flip flops, she yelled at me to go change).
Then it was off to the Heineken museum! Oh darn. 15 euros just to get in. Sorry folks, that's just too much! I took some pictures of the museum shop! But since I wouldn't drink the beer that comes with the admission fee and we all still wanted to see Van Gogh, we just couldn't go inside.
Next- VAN GOGH MUSEUM!
Oh man oh man, that line was even more intimidating than the Anne Frank House. And the entrance fee was also 15 euros. But the admission included a fancy-sounding exhibit, so it seemed worth it. OH BOY WAS IT EVER! Not only did we get to see the largest permanent exhibition of Van Gogh art, we also saw "Colors of the Night" (the special exhibition) where STARRY NIGHT AND STARRY NIGHT OVER THE RHONE WERE ON DISPLAY!!!!!!!! HEAVENS! I knew that Starry Night is owned by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, so I had no idea until we actually saw it that it was in Amsterdam for a limited time only!!!!!! How incredibly lucky!!!! Sometimes, God reeeeeally loves us. :D It is seriously the greatest thing ever. Oh, I could write forever on all the works we saw, but that's another one that you'll just have to ask me about it later. I'm getting weary of all my Amsterdam stories. But! You know, Van Gogh was 27 when he decided to be a painter?! 27! That makes me feel much better about being completely lost. Some of us are late bloomers who may or may not cut off our own ear in a fit of rage.
Other things...we played around in the I amsterdam letters for a while taking lots of silly pictures with the reasoning that, "We're only here once!" (Although I fully intend to go back...) And I think Kelley has one of all three of us in a different letter of the "dam". Hahaha
Next...more shopping? We looked for a pancake place but ate a closer sandwich place instead (delicious pesto, pine nuts and cheese sandwich, by the way!) and then I think we split up again because they wanted to go back to the main shopping area, and I wanted to find other things including the church where they used to have a bunch of executions (and I wanted to find the Tulip museum...haha...), but the Westerkerk church was closed (no Rembrandt...:(...) and it got dark before I could find much else. But I did get to take some better pictures of the Anne Frank house and I had fun exploring some off-the-beaten-path stores and sights by myself. I love that sense of secure independence that comes with neat little towns. It reminded me a lot of how I felt in San Antonio...
Then, I got back to the hostel on my own where Josh and I talked about why I don't smoke pot (I don't know if he really got it...lol) and then I met back with the girls. I think I ate falafels for dinner...Hahahaha- like I said...no Dutch food the whole time. Hahahaha
Well, not too much left in Amsterdam. We were only there for two full days, one night and one morning. Oh! I almost forgot to tell you the rest about Crazy Lady. So, I come back the last night to her speaking English to what I assumed to be her boyfriend/partner in crime, even though earlier that day she pretended not to understand me when I asked her to move her towel off the bunk ladder. She kept everyone up again by playing tetris on her phone with the sound on and snoring that asthmatic snore later. THEN! She was up before everyone the next morning and when I woke up to get dressed, she was sitting next to the lockers----topless. Now, this is a nasty large woman of questionable age (isn't there a limit at YOUTH hostels????), so when I saw this atrocious sight, I quickly averted my eyes and climbed back into bed...after she had asked me in Dutch if I needed to use the bathroom to which I replied, covering my face, "NO!" Anyway, when the rest of us finally got the chance to get ready to get to the airport, Laura kept fighting Crazy Lady over the light switch because everyone else was still sleeping and Crazy Lady insisted upon turning it on. UGH. And I KNOW she spoke English, but she kept pretending to speak only Dutch whenever she spoke to us. Ugh. We all heard her on the phone later on our way out of the lobby, speaking English... again. Ew. What a gross, crazy lady.
Haha, well, with the addition of a hurried exit to the train station in the very quiet morning streets of Amsterdam, that finally concludes my Amsterdam saga.