Lance and I just dropped Kim off at the airport a few hours ago. We had a nice visit, although she had a jam-packed itinerary in the week that she was here: Aachen, Cologne, Rhine castles, Monschau, and then yesterday we went to Amsterdam for the day.
I MUST GO BACK!
Amsterdam is a very fun city...very lively and with friendly people. I was surprised that EVERYONE we spoke to spoke flawless English. In fact, they speak English first to everyone before they'll speak to you in Dutch.
There is a lot to do in Amsterdam, so of course we couldn't do everything in one day. I have to go to the Van Gogh Museum and the Rembrandt Museum the next time I go.
After we got to our hotel (too early for check-in), which was located near the airport, we took the shuttle bus to the airport and then took the sneltrein (semi-fast train) into Amsterdam's Centraal Station. One thing I noticed was how insane it was in the area surrounding the station. It's loud and vibrant and jam-packed with people (same with the Markt, which is the area where the Royal Palace is situated). By contrast, the residential streets along the canals are very quiet and peaceful, with quaint sidewalk cafes.
It was nearly lunchtime when we arrived, so we headed to the Jordaan district, which is where the Anne Frank Huis is located (the one absolutely sure thing I had planned for the day). We found the Prisengracht, which is the canal along which Anne Frank and her family hid during WWII. As we were walking down that street, we found The Pancake Bakery, which claims to make the best pancakes (pannekoeken) in town. Now in the Netherlands, they don't make pancakes as a breakfast item...this ain't no IHOP. Their pancakes are both sweet and savory. You can get them with fruit and ice cream and whipped topping. Or you can get them with bacon and egg and cheese or any sort of meat that you wish (they even had international pancakes with exotic savory fixings). So I ordered a bacon and cheese pancake and I got this gigantic, large plate-sized thin pancake, which was absolutely fantastic (the bacon and cheese is cooked inside). The waiter talked me into trying it with a little of their house syrup, which was in a large plastic flower pot and you drizzle it over your pancake with a wooden spoon. It was made of sugar beets. And let me tell you, it was GOOD. It was a fantastic, very filling lunch that sustained us well for the rest of the day.
We walked to Anne Frank Huis, but the lines to get in were huge (no wonder, as it's the most visited museum in the world). So we decided to try later.
Our next objective was to hop on a canal cruise. So we found a boat that was about to depart and enjoyed a lovely cruise through Amsterdam's canals and also into the harbor on the North Sea, which was a bit rocky. That is definitely a good way to see the city. It took us past some pretty nice buildings that we wouldn't have noticed otherwise.
After our cruise, we strolled around and checked out the various shops. They had these great cheese shops, but as tempted as I was to look around, we passed on those. And of course there were plenty of shops selling drugs. They're legal in Amsterdam, at least soft drugs are. And "coffee houses," which are actually weed bars. It was just an interesting glimpse into Amsterdam culture. And I think we were fairly near the Red Light District, because it seemed that the stores kept getting raunchier and raunchier and mannequins in the store windows were displaying fetish type stuff.
After that interesting walk, we headed back to Anne Frank Huis. The line seemed to be just as long as before, but we decided to just go ahead and wait. As it turned out, we didn't stand in line all that long. And it was so worth it. I can't even tell you how somber it was in there. There were a couple of times that I started crying. All the footage of the concentration camps and the victims...the pictures from Anne Frank's film star magazines still pasted to the walls...her original diary and various other documents on display. It was just an incredible and emotional experience. I'll never forget it. When we first walked in, they had a brief film on Anne Frank's life, including footage of Hitler and the concentration camps. A large group had gathered to watch it, and when it was over, there was dead silence. I think everyone felt something in that museum.
We decided that we needed something to lighten the mood after that, so we walked to the Markt. There was all sorts of stuff going on there - various street performers, places crammed with tourists. Lance wanted to sit at a bar and take a load off, so we went to this place across from the Royal Palace and sat at an outside table (the weather had been good all day despite the weather reports we got before we left). We sat and had a few drinks. While we were there, a huge group of drunk British men were putting on a show at the bar. They were singing a lot of songs VERY BADLY and VERY LOUDLY and making general spectacles of themselves. People were actually videotaping them. They kept trying to get passersby involved in their antics. At one point, they actually got a woman walking by to flash her breasts at them. And after that, they tried to get any woman who was walking without a man and who was obviously not wearing a bra to flash them. One guy from their group actually fell into the street and almost got hit by a car (if you want to call it a car, it was one of those tiny things that you could drive through the front door of your house). We enjoyed their performance for awhile before moving on. I stopped to get a picture of the Royal Palace (although it turned out badly because the sun was behind it) and we went in search of food. We all agreed on Italian and Sbarro was the first place we saw. But the food there was bad. Definitely not the Sbarro we have in the States.
We went back to Centraal Station, took the train back to the airport, caught the shuttle back to our hotel (and that was the scariest bus ride I've ever taken in my life). And we checked into our hotel. The rooms were awful...smashed bugs all over the walls. Actually, Lance and I were given someone else's room at first...we punched in the code to unlock the door and found an unmade bed and luggage strewn all over. Thank God nobody was in the room at the time. The hotel next door, which is owned by the same company, was awesome. I'm kicking myself that we didn't get reservations there, but we were allowed to use their facilities. So we availed ourselves of their all you can eat breakfast buffet this morning, and then we set off for the airport to drop off Kim. And if her flight left on time, she should be airborne right about now.
I should mention that it was a neat drive to and from Amsterdam. Yes, there are a lot of windmills. They're neat. I wish I could've gotten pictures.
Here are the pictures I did get:
The Royal Palace
Prisengracht - the canal on which Anne Frank lived
Anne Frank statue outside the Anne Frank Huis
Anne Frank Huis