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Published: October 15th 2017
On the morning of the second day, we rented two of our hotel's bright yellow bicycles with the words "Bilderberg Hotel" printed on the frames in bold black lettering. They also offered us a neon sign to carry around that announced, "WE ARE TOURISTS!" but we declined. We headed out into the flow of bike traffic to make our way to the breakfast nook Sean had chosen. And we survived! Actually, we quickly learned that once you are inside the stream of cycling traffic, you're actually safer than trying to make your way across traffic as a vulnerable pedestrian. Biking was smooth, quick, and efficient. Enjoy the pic of Sean's backside, snapped while riding my bike!
We arrived at the Pancake Bakery to sample some Dutch pancakes--and what a sugary treat they were. Warm, crepe-like pancakes with stroopwaffles cooked in the batter, topped with cinnamon ice cream and chocolate flakes: it was like dessert for breakfast. And it was not only allowed, but encouraged! OK, dessert for breakfast. If you say so! (PS--we did have sunny-side up eggs as well, just to ensure we consumed some protein for the morning as well.)
To mark our first full day in
Amsterdam, we signed up for a canal boat tour with the charmingly witty company name, Those Dam Boat Guys. Captain Vincent Pinot narrated our 1 1/2 hour tour along the canals, under bridges, through the quiet parts of town, past stately architecture and churches, all the way out to the Amstel River and back to our starting point. Here are some things I learned that I think you will enjoy learning, too.
• The black buildings are painted so as to mark homes of those who had contracted the plague in the 1660s--beware!
• The hooks at the tops of the gables were for hoisting goods from the boats right up into the buildings.
• A stork on the front of a building meant a midwife lived there.
• The three Xs on the Amsterdam flag denote the three threats to the city in the Middle Ages: fire, flood, and disease.
• Schipol airport (where you will land when you fly to Amsterdam) got its namesake from "ship hole," reminding us that ships had sunk there when the land was still below sea level. Like much of the Netherlands, the land has been reclaimed from the sea.
• Wool blankets that live on a
By boat! Captain Vincent Pinot
Those Dam Boat Guys gave us a great tour of the city!
boat in Amsterdam smell like rank canal water, but they are warm, indeed.
To stretch our legs after climbing out of the tiny boat, we explored an antiques market in the Jordaan region. Most vendors were just packing up near the end of the market time, however, so we only caught glimpses of brass candlesticks and silken textiles as they were tucked and folded away into moving trucks. By afternoon tea time, we found ourselves in line at Winks, a charming café specializing in tall slices of Dutch apple pie and hot mint tea. Although we sampled other pie slices throughout our week there, this slice was the sweetest, packed with the most cinnamon, and crumbled with the most buttery crust!
Our afternoon site of choice was belfry of the Westerkerk (Western Church). Looming large right next door to the Anne Frank House, we paid our few Euros to climb the bell tower. The tight spiral staircase with its worn stone steps were just what I was looking for. We just don't have architecture this old in the US! Westerkerk is a Protestant church, erected after the Reformation, and is the biggest church in Amsterdam. Built
"Western Church." The biggest in Amsterdam. A Protestant church erected after the Reformation. Rembrandt is buried here (somewhere).
of brick at its base, sandstone at its middle third, and wood at the top, it is equipped to support its height with a sturdy foundation, even upon the weak bank of the Prinsengracht Canal. We marveled at its 51-bell collection! And wondered at the location of Rembrandt's body, buried somewhere beneath at tombstone in the church. Apparently the whereabouts of poor men's dead bodies were not guarded closely--even if they would go on to become world-renowned artists posthumously. The wet, gray view of Amsterdam from atop the bell tower showed us a city with steep roof lines, showy window shutters, and interconnected canals serving as conduits to and from the heart of the city.
After dinner that night, we joined the queue for the Anne Frank House. In under one hour, we were inside! Although I could fill pages with descriptions of what I felt as I passed behind the bookcase and entered the secret annex, I will focus instead on a single image: the Chimpanzees' Tea Party. This was a postcard Anne received from her mother before the war, and besides symbolizing a normal, carefree life in which a mother mailed her daughter a postcard from an
English zoo, ("The monkeys have been asking about you," she wrote), it also revealed to me the interests of a young girl not unlike myself: animals and family connections and postcards from distant places. The pictures taped to Anne's bedroom wall inside the secret annex (including images of the Dutch royal family and Hollywood actresses) brought the girl to life again, and rendered her death that much more startling, as if I had met her and then suddenly lost her all over again. The senselessness of prejudice and the loss of so many innocents hung on me like a bulky, ill-fitting, cloak the rest of the night. I found it difficult to sleep that night, imagining young Anne and her sister in their last moments inside the gas chamber. And for what? I couldn't agree with Emma Thompson's thoughts on the matter any more, that "all her would haves are our possibilities."
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