The Netherlands is a country I've been hearing about my entire life. My Grandad held a job there in the 1970s, and stories from my family's time there have been retold over and over at dinners for as long as I can remember. My Dad had always hoped I'd get the chance to live abroad like he did as he remembers his time in The Hague so fondly.
Amsterdam was a blur. A good blur, but one filled with near constant downpours accompanied by powerful gusts of cold wind. Guess who packed light summer clothes? :D Next time I'll believe the forecast, I swear.
The evening we arrived was pretty simple; a quiet dinner at a great little Thai place, then we spent the rest of our time before bed watching SpongeBob Schwammkopf on German Nickelodeon.
We set out the next morning for the Anne Frank House, leaving plenty of time to wander, watch the leafy streets around the canals slowly wake, and grab a cheap bite at a tiny bakery. Like lots of people, visiting the museum has been 20 years coming. I read Anne's wickedly funny, introspective, informative account of life in hiding several times as a young teen, and reread it a couple months ago. It holds up so well for me as an adult-I think I got much more out of it this time around. There are so many lessons held within it and I can't wait for Emily to read it too. Anne was so incredibly bright and knew what she wanted out of life and had she not perished at Bergen-Belsen, there would have been no stopping her. You can watch loads of interesting videos over at annefrank.org. As for getting Emily up to speed, we spent several evenings looking at an illustrated biography and talking about the eight people in the annex. I kept it really simple and sanitized, just enough to give her a gist of where we were going and why people had to hide there (from mean people who didn't like them and didn't want them to live in Holland).
The tour is self-guided. The rooms are empty, with quotes, some small artifacts, and photos from a shoot to show what the furnishings would have looked like. You start in the warehouse and move up to the offices, and into the secret annex. Emily did pretty good and seemed to be listening as I explained what we were looking at and why, but she definitely didn't understand that we weren't going to meet Anne Frank. When she saw a photo series in the first room, she said she wanted to go see her. "She lived here a long time ago, this is just where she and her family and their friends had to hide." Later, we saw a video interview of an elderly Miep Gies. "There she is! That's Anne Frank when she got older!" *heart breaks in a million tiny pieces* "No honey, she never got to grow older. Let's go see what's over here..." The end of the attic has an exhibit about the holocaust which we skipped.
The layout of the annex and rest of the building wasn't at all how I pictured it. It's much smaller, and I got a better sense of how imperative it was to remain absolutely silent during the day. It was also shocking to realize how dim their quarters were. With one allowable window in the front attic and its small view of a chestnut tree being the only patch of the outside world Anne could gaze at and only at certain times, I can understand more clearly what that bit of light and fresh air meant. You know, but to see it...poor souls.
We left and stepped out into a downpour. Conveniently, a nice warm and completely overpriced canal boat was docked across the street. A quick ride and short walk later, we were at the Albert Cuyp street market. I picked up some souvenirs and fresh cheese to bring home and headed off to look for a bite to eat.
The rest of the day went better. We chased each other through Vondelpark, then a nap for Emily and age inappropriate American dramas for me (Our free military tv service is very limited and almost not worth turning on, so good programs tend to be a real treat when we're out on the economy).
The next morning was reserved for shopping and exploring the city center. There are so many things I miss that aren't available in Italy. Like Starbucks, which was my first stop. Some writer once called European shopping streets something like tacky outdoor malls that never represented the spirit of a place. Sure, but the things and the stuff-the stuff I haven't seen in over a year. For me, no matter where in Europe they are they will always be the charming way to shop when you hardly see pedestrian commercial districts like these in the States.
After I had my fill of familiarity, we wandered through the famous flower market, picked up souvenirs and ate probably too much falafel from my beloved Maoz. It was a good.
After a short break in the afternoon, we walked to the Van Gogh Museum on a whim. I figured the bright colors would be fun for Emily and keep her interested. I figured a lotta things. I did not figure the line would go down the block. We spent an hour waiting to get in, only to find so much crowding the paintings were barely visible. Emily finally had had enough and started whining, quite loudly, to go back to the hotel. A snack, two back to back potty breaks, and a stream of pleas for a toy from the gift shop later, I finally just gave in. We only managed a really fast circle of each of the floors, bought some crap and took off. Heed this warning travelers: buy the advance ticket during peak season, and go early, especially if naps are an issue!
Our final full day in The Netherlands was all about much deserved kid fun. We went to the Madurodam, a miniature city that shows kids of all ages how a modern Dutch city operates. You can watch planes taxi at Schipol International Airport, play games at the kiosks, use pumps to spray water on a blazing oil tanker, learn your weight in wheels of cheese, and my favorite: order up a miniature pair of ceramic clogs from the miniature clog factory, delivered in a miniature truck, of course. It was a huge hit.
We spent the rest of the afternoon at the beach. I had given up on the idea due to the weather, but accidentally hopped on the wrong tram, and in the spirit of adventure decided to see if it took us anywhere interesting in the next ten minutes. Wouldn't you know it, a few short stops later, there we were at Scheveningen Beach, just as the clouds began to part.
We had lunch at a place right on the edge of the sand, and watched the clouds roll over the North Sea, quite cozy behind the glass walls. The food was okay but the view was gorgeous. We all know what clouds look like so I guess a dead camera doesn't matter. :(
We ran up and down the boardwalk, and Emily climbed all over a huge public art display (I think it was meant to be climbed on. I hope so.) that she thought was silly but I think was meant to be a serious comment on the environment. She then went round and round for 4 turns on the merry go round. As soon as the music started, the attendant would say, "you don't want to sit in the carriage, you want a pony!" For every safe thing I plopped her in, dude was like, motorbike with no safety harness! *sigh* I have a big girl. She didn't fall off or die and she was thrilled. Europeans just can't with helicopters like me, which is such a refreshing cultural difference, even if in the moment I was like Whatno! My baby!
So that wraps up our much too short visit to The Netherlands. Emily didn't want to go home. She could hardly stand the idea of leaving the hotel with its glorious cartoons, and cool suspended orb-chairs in the lobby. If we must return, we must.