Friday, April 23, 2010

Second Stop of Spring Break: Amsterdam :)

Friday-March 26, Day 1:
We got into Amsterdam around noon, after waking up at 4:30am for our 6am bus---which didn't show up until 8:00am. We were off to a rough start, but luckily it did not last long. I was worried because my phone wouldn't send a text or call my friend Jaap-who we were meeting in Amsterdam, so I wasn't able to tell him we were running late. He had studied abroad at my high school my senior year and is a good friend of Brittany and mine. As it turned out though-his train arrived 25 min after our bus arrived (we had finally gotten a hold of each other) and then he helped us find our hostel. Seeing him was another highlight of my trip-he came from an hour away to visit for a few hours. We were able to catch up while we walked and he gave my friends and me advice along the way. After we found the hostel, and got our stuff in the room, we headed to a nearby bike shop. Unfortunately, Jaap had to get going shortly after-but it was great to see him :)

We then began our bike tour-following Rick Steve's guidebook. We started going through the city and had to walk our bikes through some parts. It's a unique city in many ways-with cute streets and canals running throughout it. We saw their gigantic Grand Central Station and continued biking into the outskirts of the city where we saw a Wind Mill. Bikes are huge here-I believe it's 40% of the population rides them consistently-there are bike lanes everywhere. We saw a Dad that had 3 kids on his bike. And locking up your bikes correctly is crucial with all the bike thieves. Luckily we had no problems :)

We headed back to the hostel then and ate our typical peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with some snacks on the side. That was only the beginning of all the PB & J sandwiches we would be eating on our trip.
After dinner we headed to the Van Gogh Museum. I really loved his artwork. It was refreshing to see art that wasn't religious piece after religious piece after religious piece. I bought a couple postcards to remember the ones I really liked. Van Gogh didn't start painting till his late 20's and then killed himself at 37 I believe. He at one point thought he was a failure in the art world-which is crazy because his artwork is incredible and beautiful. It's so different - very vibrant and the strokes were very distinguished.
When we left the museum it was sprinkling and the Red Light District was pretty far so went and got our bikes. When we came out of the hostel it was pouring. We got lost a couple times in search for it, but by the time we found a place to lock up our bikes and began wandering the area it had pretty much stopped. There were a million bikes on the rail that we locked ours up on--they were all old and crappy---then you had our very tourist looking red bikes right next to them. The streets around the Red Light District were a bit intense. The Red Light District itself was a crazy experience to see-it's right on a canal, and like some people I know have said-it's like a zoo of women. It was something you can only experience in Amsterdam, but after walking around it and being on the watch for men to see if they'd actually go up to any of the doors with women-I was ready to move on to Berlin, and tired of all the things that Amsterdam city is known for...
Saturday-March 27, Day 2:
Today we decided to take advantage of the time we had left of our 24 bike rentals and headed to the Flea Market. There were some interesting things there-random souvenirs, bike parts, cell phone parts, and lots of clothes. We then realized we were going to be late for the free walking tour we wanted to do and had no time to lock up our bikes and get there-so instead we headed off to take a ferry and then bike on the countryside. We were able to find some countryside and saw some cute houses but no windmills. We went out about an hour then had to book it back to the city in order to return our bikes by 4. We made it back at 3:57 thanks to Beka's great direction sense :)
We were very luck on the weather-it was 90% chance of rain all day, and it hadn't rained at all. After returning our bikes we went to Vondelpark. We ate our lunch at a pretty monument that had beautiful flowers surrounding it.

We were going to the Anne Frank museum that night and had reserved our tickets already. We had some time to kill before then so we headed to find the 9 streets. We were able to find 3 of them-they are streets that have tiny local shops on them that are pretty cute.
We then headed to the Anne Frank Museum/her house. We did the self tour. It walked us through the apartment she, her family and 4 other Jewish people had hid in. The bottom part was the office her father had and put under his friend's name when the Jews could no longer own businesses.
They had written sentences on the walls in each room with quotes from her diary. There was a bookcase that hid the stairwell to the Secret Annex where they hid. The first bedroom was Otto's, the father, Edith, the mother, and Mango, the older sister's room. Some of the rooms had little things in them giving history to an event that had occurred during the two years they were in there. The next room we saw was Anne's and Fritz Pfeffers. Anne had decorated her walls with her film star collection and picture postcards. They had to use the toilet and sink as little as possible because the workmen below the Secret Annex in the warehouse did not know that were in hiding there.
The living room was also Hermann and Auguste Van Pel's room. They all spent a lot of time there cooking, eating, studying and exercising.
The next room was Peter Van Pel's room, and the stairs in his room went to the attic where he and Anne spent a lot of time.
They had 4 people helping-Victor Kugler, Jo Kleiman, Miep Gies, and Bep Voskuijl.
In the 'front part of the house' they had the dates of the people that hid in the Secret Annex that had died and the one survivor-Anne's dad. Then behind them there were individual photos from the concentration camps, and behind Anne's there was a small tv with actual footage from the camps. It was absolutely horrifying and terrible.
The next room held footage from an interview with Anne's Dad-Otto. He said it took him a long time to read the diary and he couldn't believe the deep thoughts Anne had had. He followed her dream and published it-she had always wanted to be a journalist.
After that room we went back downstairs where there was a wall of photos that are not normally seen by the world. They were different photos throughout her life with family and friends that her Dad had taken up till they went into hiding.
It was an incredible experience to be there and words can't describe it well. The fact that they lived in hiding for 2 years is unbelievable.
After the Anne Franks' house it was pretty late and we were hungry so we went in search of a pancake restaurant that was supposed to be really good-Sara's Pancake House. Once there, we took a while to decide what kind we wanted because they weren't cheap. Regular pancakes with maple syrup were 5.50 euros, but they had fancy kinds like chocolate, ice cream and whip cream for like 10 euros. When the lady came over she was really rude to us. The pancakes themselves were okay-just one very thin pancake that took up an enormous plate. I was glad I didn't pay more than the 5.50 euros and just ate the plain pancakes. The lady never asked if we wanted a drink and was rude till we left.
Anyhow overall it was a great day in Amsterdam and seeing Anne Frank's house was quite an experience.

Sunday-March 28, Day 3:
Today we woke up in time to go on the free walking tour. A guy came to our hostel and brought a group of us to the meeting location-the "Dam" Square. There were a ton of people there to go on the tour. The guy that led us to the square ended up being our tour guide-he was awesome, energetic, and enthusiastic (we didn't always have fun tour guides). He made the tour informational and entertaining. Anyhow-we started at the National Monument in the Dam Square and across from it was the Royal Palace-completely under restoration.
We walked by a cathedral where he told us that the priests used to make the pirates repent before they did the drinking and had 'fun times' in the Red Light District, and for God to forgive them they had to pay a lot of money. Double the amount when it was done the day before they actually committed any of the sins. The priest wasn't available the next morning (super early) when the pirates had to leave, therefore all the pirates paid a lot of money.
On a side of it there's a spot years ago where stone had gone missing, they replaced it with a bronze boob with a hand caressing it. The government took it out, but the people complained and they ended up putting it back. The artist is still anonymous.
A lot of houses are slanting or are leaning forward here because they built them on top of swamps where they had put tree stumps to help with the foundation. Between the spaces and the oxygen the foundations aren't great equaling seriously slanted houses.

In the Jewish Corridor the street where Rembrandt later lived is where the people would go to get wood when there weren't enough trees for their fires. They started from the bottom and worked their way up: smart? no. When the government chose to redo the area, they let the LSD architects do it (in the 60's). It turned out really ugly but now they won't redo it for the citizens that complain. They keep it as a reminder to not make the same mistake again.
We also saw the VOC-East India Trading Company.
Here the coffee shops that are red, yellow, green and black are actually selling weed and different joints. We went by the most famous one on the tour, or it was the largest or something. They can't actually advertise they have weed, etc. so that's why they're called 'coffee-shops'.
We walked by the Marijuana Museum too which can advertise marijuana because they are informing people about it, not selling it.
He also took us to see the outside of the Anne Frank house and we saw her statue around the corner.

While on the tour we also saw a 'beer-bike', where like 20 men sit around a table and drink beer, they have a captain who's sober and doesn't have to pedal, while the other 19 pedal and drink. It's about 400 euro to rent on our guide said.
After the tour I decided to head to the Rijk Museum because Matt had said it was worth it. And I had walked by it a lot-it was massive and seemed like something not to miss. A lot of it was under restoration, but they had all the main pieces out, and many of Rembrandt. Unfortunately picture weren't allowed. I did however manage to get a picture of a boat that was on display-about 5 feet long and beautifully detailed. I saw some beautiful silver pieces, I normally wouldn't have focused on them too much, but they were really pretty. They would be completely designed and then the animal or person's head would be sticking out from the plate or whatever sculpture it was. There was also a beautiful statue in that room that had even defined the muscles on the legs and arms and body. The texture looked real-or rather the way the stone detailed the muscle, etc. It's difficult to explain. Other rooms were filled with paintings, and I saw quite a few still-life photos which looked real-it was amazing to see. One still life had food on a table and included the dew on the fruit. And then the glasses reflected off of each other.
There was Rembrandt in a few places, but one particular room had a lot of his paintings, and then some of his students. One of his paintings was of a girl-and her pearls had the illusion of the shine in real life. I have no idea how you would do that with paint. One large and famous painting of Rembrandt's was called Night Watch, and the man in the middle-the captain/leader-his hand appeared to come out of the painting. The museum was great. :)

After the museum we headed back to the hostel. We bought Internet time and hung out till our overnight train to Berlin. It left at 11pm. The bus was full when we got on. At about 2am border control came on the bus and turned on all the lights and checked everyone's passports. The guy next to me was the only one they asked to get off and talked to him for like 5 minutes. He got back on the bus and we took off. We arrived in Berlin at about 9 the next morning with next to no sleep, but had a great time in Amsterdam.

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