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Published: November 27th 2007
One of a great many canals.
It was two a.m. when Sam and I met the tour bus at the Mannheim Planetarium. It would be a long six and a half hour bus trip as we desperately tried to sleep, squeezed into our seats behind a group of guys, one of whom was named Cowboy, as they loudly finished off their supply of rum and cola. Luckily they eventually passed out and we managed to get some sleep as well. Many of the times that I opened my eyes, we were encased in a dense fog, but the fog did dissipate and the sun briefly showed itself as we were nearing Holland, or The Netherlands. The first view I awoke to was of a large IKEA store, followed by a sign to Amsterdam, and I stayed awake until we pulled up to the Central Station.
The first thing that struck me about Amsterdam was the architecture. I’d seen plenty of photos, but until I was there I didn’t realize how much brick was utilized. There was a mix of materials in the city, but a definite prominence of brick, and nearly every photo I took includes it, from the homes and businesses, to the sidewalks and
This was actually one of my first views of the city after we got off the bus. This was taken from in front of Central Station.
streets, and bridges and churches. I thought it gave a nice ambiance to the town.
We eat a buffet breakfast at the Hotel Delta, which was a bit of an English buffet. Then we wander about the city, up and down the alleyways and along the canals. I have to admit that I was a bit surprised to be walking through a clean, peaceful alley and find scantily-clad prostitutes casually looking back at me though a ground level window, seated below a dim red light that lacked brilliance in the midday sun. Though, of course, there was not too much sun, not only because the winter sun was still low in the sky, but because the city was fairly hazy for the better part of the day. We also noticed many steel posts along the sidewalks, most of which were inscribed with “xxx.” I later discovered that these Amsterdammertjes, or steel posts, are used to keep people from parking on the sidewalks, which are the same level as the street, and that the xxx is from the Amsterdam coat of arms and represents the diagonal cross upon which Saint Andrew was martyred.
We make our way to the
Plenty of fast food: McDonalds, Burger King, and Febo. The latter sells pre-made sandwiches in vending machines.
Anne Frank House, and I play around with my camera as we waited in line for over half an hour to get inside. This museum is within the canal-side building that held the warehouse and offices of Otto Frank’s company. There were a total of eight people who hid in the upper two stories of the annex of the building for just over two years. The museum was somewhat cramped and it was not well lit, but there was paper over many of the windows which is presumably to resemble the paper over the windows during the war. The stairways are narrow and steep and the bookcase that covered the entryway to the hidden annex is still there, though all of the other furniture was confiscated by the Nazis. At the end of the tour, you can participate in the Anne Frank House’s program called Free2Choose. There is a large room where video clips of modern day news clipping are shown in relation to various issues, such as freedom of speech, free press, and freedom of religion, and after the news clippings the people in the room can vote as to whether the actions that took place should be allowed
Breakfast in Amsterdam
Buffet breakfast at the Hotel Delta.
by pressing “yes” or “no” buttons located around the room. After you voice your opinions about the French government banning the wearing of head scarves in public schools or the Spanish government banning the only Basque newspaper that’s in those people’s native language because of apparent ties to terrorism, then there is a display on the screen that shows how everyone in the room voted as well as how everyone in the past has voted.
The sun finally shows itself and we snap some brighter photos before grabbing a bike taxi to the Bulldog. Between dodging tourists and Amsterdammertjes, the very bumpy ride brings us up to the door of Amsterdam’s oldest coffeeshop. Established in 1975, and vividly painted on the outside by the Australian artist Harold Thornton, the Bulldog was here even before Amsterdam’s famous coffeeshops were legal, and there are now three cafes in the city, as well as a hotel. Inside it is dim and smoky, there are various currencies in bills hanging from the ceiling beams, and the booths and barstools are covered in cowhide. I get some espresso and Sam has hot tea as we sit at a booth near the front window, relaxing
The Royal Palace in the Dam Square.
and people watching.
After lunch we do some shopping, which for me includes my usual collector’s spoon and a miniature pair of the obligatory wooden shoes. I thought it was just too cute when we found some little sculptures of everything from flowers to frogs that appeared to be made from some sort of bright modeling clay, but they were actually shaped from condoms, so I just had to get one. We also stop into an art gallery called Gallery Candy, with a friendly but very talkative curator. Some young local artists have their work on display here, which included paintings, foam sculptures and inflated figures formed by what appeared to be plastic bags.
We knew the sun would be setting early and spend some time wandering the streets to take it all in before it was too dark to see much of anything, though, honestly, the world was still a bit blurry for me anyway. Our walking includes a stop at the flower market along the Singel Canal, where a long row of stores perched along the canal sell flowers and flower bulbs of all kinds. Soon its dinnertime and we find a little Thai place where
Madame Tussauds House of Wax.
I have some sweet and sour pork, though I did keep calling it chicken. Either way, it was pretty good.
It was then time to head back to the meeting place for the tour bus at the Hotel Victoria by the Central Station. We get lost, however, and wander through some unfamiliar streets before getting back on track. There’s a noticeable lack in people on streets outside of the main tourist hub. We finally find a bike taxi, which overcharges us but gets us to the hotel, and, quite frankly, this ride was much more entertaining for me than the last taxi. Our tour bus, however, is already getting ready to pull off the curb when we run up to it and frantically knock at the door. I’ll never be three minutes late for a German bus again.
The whole bus smelled of marijuana, but I barely notice because I sleep most of the way home. Luckily when we get back to Mannheim six hours later, the McDonalds DriveThru is still open. Fries at three in the morning are great, mushy or not. As soon as we’re home I take a hot shower and pass out the second
Monument in the Dam Square.
my head hits the pillow. It isn’t until the next morning, when the cat is purring loudly and shoving her head into my hand so I’ll pet her, that I realize how strange this journey really was. After all, it began with us sleeping at home and on the bus and ended with us sleeping on the bus and at home - I might have though that I’d dreamt the whole thing. I do know better, though, if only for the photos I took, the souvenirs I bought, the sharp pain in my back from the bus, and the distinctive smell emanating from my clothing…
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