This is the view from my bedroom window. I’m right beside a canal, with my window overlooking the city. Our hotel is a little out of town, but I didn’t let that stop my adventurous day. Oh my wordy wordy no. WHAT a day I had!
Our day in Amsterdam was basically a free day, with an optional tour going out to a farm with a windmill, with a little trip to a fishing village or something. I wasn’t listening too closely, because as soon as I realised it was a free day I was thinking of just one thing.
To me, Amsterdam IS Anne Frank. There is nothing in the place that means anything near as much to me, so I was going to ditch the windmill and go and see her house. To my amazement, I was the only person who wanted to go. So I had an early breakfast, put my London walking shoes on and grabbed a taxi.
I’d heard the lines to get in are outrageously long, so I got there at 8:30, which was half an hour before opening. The line was down the street and around the corner, halfway to the next corner. But I was content. I had all day and I knew I’d get in at some point. I had an apple and a bread roll that I’d… um…. realised I had left over from breakfast, a bottle of water and a book to read. I was set.
As it happened, I made friends with a nice Irish uni student who was standing behind me, so I didn’t need the book. After an hour we were in.
This museum is organised extremely well. You go through a set route, with explanations and ‘scene setting’ at the front in the modern bit, then you move through what was the old factory where the workers worked (who had no idea the families were hiding upstairs); then into the office – where the 4 people who worked there were actively engaged every day with hiding the 8 people and keeping them safe.
The actual rooms of the Secret Annexe are empty. When Otto Frank agreed to have the museum, he wanted the rooms left empty as a reminder of all of the Jewish people whose lives were swept away as if they never existed, just like the Germans did to the furniture in the Secret Annexe.
So in the offices there’s scale models so you can see where the furniture was and how cramped it was. How little room Anne and the others had to move around. You still don’t get the impact of it until you move behind the movable bookcase… yes, it really exists… and go up the steep, narrow steps and see the rooms for yourself.
They allow no pictures but I took this one sneaky peek for you. Then I was over the threshold and into the Secret Annexe.
I knew I’d love it, but I didn’t expect it to be such an emotionally overwhelming experience. There were times through the walk through the rooms that I was desperately afraid that I was going to howl like a baby. My chin was trembling and the tears were coming…. I had to sternly and silently say, “For God’s sake, keep it together!!” and frantically search for a tissue to blow my nose.
The rooms were so tiny. The room where Anne shared her space with Dr Dussell… no wonder they fought. It was so enclosed, even without any furniture in it. With two beds and a desk crammed in there, it must’ve been claustrophobic.
The windows of all the rooms were covered with blackout material. Even with electric lights on it’s still oppressive. And then it hit me what it means to not be able to see daylight, except for maybe the tiniest sneaked scraps during the weekend when the workers weren’t there. The floorboards creaked under our feet… you’d have to know every floorboard and be conscious of every footstep.
I could imagine the fears of the parents for their children, especially on the day when they were discovered. It was an incredibly moving place.
What nearly got me, just when I thought I was nearly out, was hearing Otto Frank say in an interview that although he was incredibly close to Anne, he had absolutely no idea what deep thoughts were going on inside her until he read her diary after the war, when he realised that she was never coming back. “It made me realise,” he said, “that no parent, no matter how close, ever truly knows their child.” Thank goodness there was a flight of stairs straight after that. My chin was wobbling like a crazy person and I needed the tissues to blow that pesky nose again.
I’d write more but the bags are being picked up outside the door in 2 minutes so I have to lock everything up. I saved this paragraph till the last because it was si important to me that I get it right. I’d love everyone reading this, if you haven’t already seen it, to go. My sister saw it when she went to Europe ages ago. 🙂
When I left the House, over an hour and a half had gone by. Preparations for the Gay Pride march were in full swing. In Amsterdam they do it with boats going through the canals and then out to the harbour.
People were already drinking and partying. There were food vendors lined up along the route and people were flocking to it. Music was pumping through the air and there was a huge positive feeling. It was fantastic. Everyone was in a good mood.
I decided that I was going to make my own way to the Dam, which is the big square in the centre of town. Then I was going to walk down to the Van Gogh museum, and then walk back to the hotel in time to make the cruise I said I’d go on with the group.
I looked at the map and headed off. After 5 minutes I was confused and a nice pastry vendor informed me that I was going the wrong way. He turned the map upside down and pointed me in the right direction. Off I went.
I stopped at a few souvenir shops along the way, (there’s a few Delft ornaments to add to the pile, Scott), and before I knew it I was in the Dam. I was flushed with a feeling of achievement. I was also flushed with exertion. I was almost too hot!!!! I popped my woolly cowl into my bag.
Then I saw a shop that reminded me of York. I nearly bought Scott a Putin matryoshka doll, but I wasn’t sure if he’d like it.
I ate my bread roll, drank some water and studied the map. Amsterdam has some very helpful street signs that point out different tourist attractions and these came in handy at times. I asked for clarification from passers-by a couple of times, and like magic I was soon looking at this:
I felt like a human GPS. I was rapt that I’d made it under my own steam. During the 45 minute wait to get to the front of the queue to get in *sigh* I drank some water and ate my apple.
I particularly enjoyed this window on the other side of the road from the Van Gogh gallery. 🙂
Again, no photos were allowed but I took a sneaky peek of Vincent’s palette. (I took this one for you, Mum.) There are 3 floors of paintings, most by Vincent himself, and it’s well worth a look. I bought 3 postcards of the paintings I felt most moved by. (Add these to the pile of things to be posted back to Australia, Scott.) There was also quite a large section in the museum that talked about how he used and experimented with colour. A lot of it went over my head, but I think that anyone with artistic sensibilities would find it really interesting.
Then I kept going. The weather was warm and I was beginning to think longingly of having a shower before our cruise and dinner and walk in the red light district.
The footpaths have bike tracks beside them. It’s so easy to forget about them and nearly get run over, particularly as traffic goes on the wrong side of the road here. Don’t ask me how I know this.
Vespas are also allowed to drive on the bike tracks. You can drive a Vespa at 15 here. Nothing scary about that thought at all…
Despite a canal bridge being blocked with roadworks, I made it back with just under an hour to spare. The perfect day!
My iPhone said that I walked 10kms. The top of the pink line is the Anne Frank House; the bottom is the hotel.
The remnants of the Gay Pride boats were still partying hard.
They were out on the harbour and making their music fill the air. Every boat had a different sound track.
See the two windows right in the middle of this shot? Amsterdam’s narrowest house.
I liked the attics on this house.
I love this shot. So peaceful.
The things I loved about Amsterdam?
The sound of the canals… the water lapping. The friendliness of the people. The helpful street signs. The weather. (Though Gigi, our guide, says that we’ve been very lucky and this city is utterly dark and freezing in winter.)
And finally, I’ll leave you with this. It’s a quote by Emma Thomson, from a speech she made at the Anne Frank house. We’re lucky to be living in the time we are.