Sunday, July 7, 2013

Day 12 Amsterdam – In Which there is Swearing, Soccer, and History (and shopping).

Our first full day in Amsterdam started with a fabulous breakfast in the hotel’s dining room. The Dutch like savory items for breakfast so there was many types of bread available, cheese, salami, ham, boiled eggs, and the usual breakfast fare of cereal, granola, etc plus fruit and lots of hot and cold drinks.

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I was well taken care of with my granola and yogurt, and tea.

I was all set to make sandwiches for the day but thought that might be bad form, so we just had sandwiches for breakfast instead…I’m sure I drove the kids nuts practically forcing them to eat enough food to last them until dinner. Sorry kids.

We set out for a canal tour to get a feel for the lay of the land. It’s very touristy but we are tourists and so there you go. No use pretending otherwise. We had just left our hotel and were walking to the canal when I inadvertently stepped out on to the bike path. NEVER DO THIS.

Now, just to back up a moment, I’m not sure if you know this or not but there are A LOT of bikes in Amsterdam. It’s like England and sheep. They say there are 16 million people and 20 million bikes and I believe it.

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The bikes ‘share’ the bike paths with scooters, motorcycles, trams, and silly little ‘cars’ that look like the love child of a covered scooter and a smart car. There are so many bikes that they have their own  light system. Not that anyone pays any attention to it, it seems, but the idea is there.

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Anyway – back to me stepping out on to the bike path (which is very easy to do if you are new to the city). No sooner had I realized my mistake when a guy came flying along the path behind me and yelled


I think Jacob pulled me out the way. It was a bit of a shocker, I’ll admit. There I was minding my own business enjoying a beautiful morning in Amsterdam, and the next, I was being screamed at by Angry Bike Guy.  I understand it’s a little like stepping into traffic, but it’s a wide path and he could have gone around me and rung his bell. Actually, Angry Bike Guy probably doesn’t have a bell. He probably has a big stick or something and just swats at people as he goes by. He’s probably Angry At Everything Guy. Angry when he eat his breakfast, angry when he reads the paper, angry when he flosses his teeth…

I got over my rude introduction to Amsterdam and was soon happily waiting for my touristy canal boat tour to start. Amsterdam’s Canal system has been declared a Unesco World Heritage Site (although what hasn’t? Soon my dentist will be declared one too or the Indian take-out in the village of Lesser Nuthatch, or the public toilets at the Bradford bus depot) and this year celebrates 400 years of watery splendour. It’s all extremely impressive and the city is stunningly beautiful. The only unfortunate bit was that, having avoided him up until now, we ended up with a first class pratt for a captain who was possibly the least funny person I have ever encountered. I quickly tuned out his terrible jokes and proceeded to take what I suspected to be a series of terrible pictures (they are usually terrible when taken from a moving boat). I was partially right, and won’t subject you to them all…

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I only took this one as it shows the hook that sticks out from the gable at the top of the house. They all have them and they are used to attach a pulley so that they can get furniture and heavy things into the house as the staircases are too skinny and steep. They just take the window right out and hoist the piano or whatever it is right up and into the house. Smart.

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I admit to being intrigued by the people who live in these houses. As we went past, I could see the residents sitting on their front steps or in their window, reading, drinking coffee or beer or even wine, and just watching the world go by. Most of Amsterdam seems, at any one time, to be either on a bike, or sitting somewhere and observing life, whether it be by a canal, or in their house or at a restaurant.

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Why not?

After the canal tour, we set out for a visit to the Dutch War Resistance Museum, but were distracted on the way by the shopping.

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Anyone want to rub some spicy ginger on their hands and face? No? You sure? It’s on sale…There’s a whole bin of it…I’m sure the burning eyes won’t last too long…

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Oh and by the way, did I mention that apparently I am Dutch?

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Apart from the fact that the Dutch are giants, and I’m …well…not a giant, I could pass for one. A Dutch person, not a giant. I’ll just have to work on my cursing while biking. Perhaps Jacob has acquired a throwback Dutch gene from many hundreds of years ago and this is why he fits in quite well here, height-wise. In fact, he has decided that he IS probably Dutch as he has a Dutch first name, and now, a partly Dutch last name.

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Is this a script for an introductory skit about cannabis? Or something else?

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Face-Bombing! Or maybe it’s nose-bombing! Either way, Nonce, look!

By the time we arrived at the museum, we were exhausted, but it was cool in there and very interesting, so we were revived.

The museum looks at the actions of the Dutch population during Nazi occupation in the second world war by posing the question facing all Dutch people at that time. Should they Adjust to life under Nazi rule, Collaborate with the Nazis, or Resist against them. There were stories from all three perspectives and artifacts from the time on display.

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This basically means “So What?” and was painted on walls during the occupation as way to tell the Germans that their rules were not welcome and had no meaning to the Dutch.

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Dutch resistance fighters used any means possible to ship arms and information.

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Allied forces dropped food on Holland to avert starvation during the period known as the Dutch Hunger Winter in 1944-45 when northern Holland was cut off by a German blockade after allied forces has won France, and Belgium, and the southern half of Holland.

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My favourite exhibit, these tea bags were air dropped on Amsterdam and northern Holland by the Allied Forces on behalf of the people of the Dutch East Indies, who had been occupied by the Japanese from 1942-45, but were freed before Northern Holland was. The message attached told them to ‘Hang on – Freedom is coming to you too. From the Freed People of the Dutch West Indies”.


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I’m sure you can figure this out yourself.

As if this wasn’t enough history for one day, next on our list was the Anne Frank House. We had been warned that the line was usually about 1-2hours at any point. The place was open until 10pm at night and apparently was still that long late into the evening. We decided to risk it and headed out across town, dodging bikes along the way.

We passed through the main square in Amsterdam and were happy to see that the Dutch Street Soccer tournament was going on in a box in the square. It was a much needed diversion.

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When we arrived at Anne Frank House sometime later, the line was still long, snaking around the square next to the museum. When I came here as a teenager, we just walked in. No museum, no line up, no fuss no muss. Not so much now.

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These two were very tired of the line.

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We finally made it to the entrance after waiting for about an hour.

And then they put this right in front of me.

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So we waited some more. We were actually starting to get a bit wrangy when my mum straightened everyone out by remarking that Anne Frank had to live in this very house, in hiding, and in silence all day, with out ever going outside, for TWO YEARS, and so could we all smarten up and manage to wait for a couple of minutes without freaking out.

It wasn’t too long before we were in. I wasn’t allowed to take pictures so you’ll have to imagine. Actually, the whole experience was so moving that I couldn’t possibly capture it here in words. Just know that eight people (two families) lived in a hidden annex at the back of Otto Frank’s business. They couldn’t leave and had to rely on friends for everything, including all their food.

13 year-old Anne kept a diary of this time. When, in 1945 after the hiding place was betrayed to the Nazis and all members taken away to prison camps, one of the Dutch employees that was helping the family found Anne’s diary and papers. She gave them to Anne’s father Otto Frank, the only member of the family to survive, when he returned to Amsterdam in 1945. He chose to publish the diary in 1947. Anne and her sister died of Typhus in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945 one month before liberation, and their mother died at that time also.

It is an emotional experience and each time I see footage of those lines of people being herded on to the cattle trains and shipped off, I can hardly stand it. The museum also has a book with the names of all 103000 Dutch people who were killed during the Holocaust and this made me well up too.

On the walls of the kitchen, you can see the marks where Anne and her sister’s growth was measured. She grew 13 cm while in hiding. It was her dream and desire to grow up and live her life, and to be a writer

I can see why the line to get in is so long.

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More tomorrow, including lighter material, more swearing, and biking, except this time I am on the bike, and still get sworn at. WTF Amsterdam?

Oh well, at least Jacob can order beer here, which he does…


Thanks for reading,



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