Days 180 & 181 (7.13.17 & 7.14.17): Amsterdam

Yesterday we left Bergen in the morning, bound for Oslo and then on to Amsterdam in the Netherlands.  We arrived to the Amsterdam airport mid afternoon and took the train to the city center.  From there, we caught a bus to the neighborhood where we had rented an apartment for two nights.  It took a little while to get keys and such, leaving little time to explore the city.  The result was that we woke Thursday morning (7.13.17) excited to explore the city.

We had a busy day planned.  Biking is huge in Amsterdam, so we wanted to start by renting bikes. Once we had wheels, we planned to visit the Anne Frank House, checkout the Van Gogh Museum, and explore the city along the way.

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We started by walking to the nearest bike rental store we could find.  Soon, we were mounted up and on our way.

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We started by biking through the city, crisscrossing the bridges that spanned the many canals that cut through the heart of Amsterdam.

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We thought about renting tandem bikes so we could stick together, but such a large bike would have been tough to ride through the small, crowded streets.  From time to time, we had stop to double check the map to make sure we were on track.

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We worked our way south and decided to stop for a quick snack.  Apparently, Amsterdam is known for its french fries.  Amsterdam fries?  Nether fries?  Whatever.  They were delicious.

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We made our way toward the Anne Frank Museum, where there were huge lines to get in.  Tickets for the museum can be extremely hard to get during the high season.  Fortunately, we bought our tickets ahead of time — seven weeks earlier, back when we were still in Woodstock.  Indeed, visiting the Anne Frank House was the primary reason for our trip to Amsterdam.  Lydie read the Diary of Anne Frank last year, and we had been talking about seeing the house for a long time.

Naturally, it was a powerful experience.  The basic features of Anne’s story are well-known.  Starting in July 1942, she and seven other people began to live in a secret three-story annex in the back of a commercial building in downtown Amsterdam.  For more than two years, the eight Jews hid in the annex from Nazi authorities, constantly living in fear of discovery.  In August 1944, the group was discovered and deported to the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, where Anne’s mother died.  Anne and her sister were later transferred to another camp, where they also died in 1945.  During the Holocaust, the Nazi’s killed six million Jews through horrific means.

We had been talking to the girls for some time about the Holocaust, starting in Germany, when we visited the Dachau Concentration Camp.  We had also talked to the girls about the scope of the genocide during World War II.  But going to the Anne Frank House is different.   The statistics of the Holocaust help to convey the scope of the genocide, but in a somewhat anesthetized manner.  Anne provides a personal face that helps to remind that each of the victims was an individual.  Moreover, Anne entered the house when she was 13, just a year older than Lydie and Cassie.

The tour started at the ground floor, and where there was information about the uses for these parts of the building as well as information about the start of World War II.  The tour then climbed up through the house, with similar information about the building and war.  There was a wonderful audiotour that we listened to in each of the rooms.  Once the tour reached the annex, however, the audio tour stopped.  Through some unspoken agreement, all of the visitors also stopped talking as we passed through the rooms where Anne and family hid.  With no speaking, the sound of our footsteps reverberated, the floors creaked, and every cough echoed loudly.  We could not help but think of Anne and her compatriots struggling to stay quiet, every day for more than two years.  All together, it was a terrible and wonderful experience.

We did not take any photos inside of the house or museum, but after our visit we paused in front of the house for a quick photo.

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We jumped back on the bikes and continued to explore the city, making our way towards the Van Gogh Museum.  Along the way, we passed through a park where there was a street performance in front of a huge sign that said, “I  amsterdam.”  Julie and I couldn’t see what was happening, but Lydie and Cassie managed to climb up onto the second “m,” where they could look down on the show.

IMG_4641 After another short ride, we reached the Van Gogh Museum, where we split up to enjoy the art.  Lydie and I started at the top of the museum and worked our way down, while Julie and Cassie did the opposite.  We all picked our favorite works by Van Gogh, but we had a hotly contested disagreement about one self-portrait.  I thought Van Gogh would look better without a hat, while the girls insisted that he keep it on.  In the end we called it a draw.

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(No, mom, this was not a real painting.)

After the museum, we hopped back on our bikes and started to find our way back towards our apartment.  Along the way, we passed underneath the Rijksmuseum (which we did not have time to visit), where we found a troupe of classical musicians performing.

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We made it back to our apartment as the sun was setting, and decided to eat at a small restaurant next door.  It was a somewhat seedy joint.  It looked like they would serve just about anyone or anything a drink.

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After dinner, we went home and were soon asleep.  It had been a full, wonderful day.

The next morning (Friday), we biked down to the Bloemenmarkt, a floating flower market of sorts, where did a bit of shopping.  The girls found some wooden clogs that would fit them — and had plenty of growing room.

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In the end, though, the opted for clog slippers rather than wooden shoes.

Soon, it was time to take the bikes back and to head for the airport.  Along the way, we found out what people in Amsterdam drive when their bikes are in the shop.

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Soon, we were at the airport and on our way back to Germany, landing in Munich six months to the day after we arrived in Europe.  We would be back at this airport in a week, when we would fly back to the United States.  Our time in Europe was quickly running out!

-Will

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