Friday, February 28, 2014

I Am Sterdam

After a weekend in Brussels with Olimpia, we said goodbye and I headed alone to Amsterdam. Seriously only like 2 minutes after the train crossed the border into the Netherlands, I starting seeing a lot of these...

Don't you love when stereotypes are true? I took this through the train window because I thought it was hilarious.

It was a little disconcerting arriving in Amsterdam because I don't speak a word of Dutch. This was the first time in Europe that I've been somewhere not knowing a single word of the language- not even 'hello' or 'thank-you.'

It took a while, but I was able to figure out where the tram was, how to buy tickets, and how to get to my hotel. I found a pretty good deal and I got to stay in a much nicer hotel than I usually do, which was fun! 

Right after checking in, I had to rush to make it to a tour that I'd booked in advance.

I barely made it in time for my tour at the Rijksmuseum, which is the Netherlands' most famous art museum. I've never done a tour of an art museum because usually it's nicer to just wander at your pace; but I decided to this time because I had very limited time here and I didn't want to miss anything important.

The title of this post comes from the letters that are in front of the museum. I'm just not that creative on my own, guys.

That is most definitely NOT my picture of the museum, though. There were so many people climbing on and posing with the letters that you could hardly see them when I was there. The Rijksmuseum was actually closed for 10 years (for remodeling) and only reopened recently, so it's really crowded right now.

Here are my pictures.

And a sampling of the more famous paintings that I saw-

The museum is pretty completely made up of paintings by Dutch artists. There are a TON of Rembrandt paintings- in the picture above it's 'The Night Watch' and 'Isaac and Sarah.' Also there's Vermeer's 'Milkmaid' and a Van Gogh self-portrait.

I especially liked the Rembrandt paintings. I didn't know a lot about him, but apparently he's kind of known as the 'grandfather' of impressionism. He was the first artist to use impressionist techniques, and his paintings were sort of a mixture of classical and modern styles. I thought all of the details in his paintings were beautiful...and I'm in good company, because they LOVE this guy in Amsterdam. There are so many things named after him in the city.

After the tour, I wanted to do a little more sightseeing before it got dark. I headed to the main city plaza: Dam Square. And I won't lie...I had to pass through this place several times to get to the sites I went to, and every time in my head I said "I have to go back to that Dam Square." Yeah, that's really stupid. But it entertained me every time. #mature

After finding dinner and doing some shopping, I went back to the hotel to plan the rest of my time in Amsterdam. The most important part of my planning was watching BBC's Anne Frank movie online, in preparation for my visit the next day!

Visiting the Anne Frank house was approximately 50% of the reason I came to Amsterdam. The other main reasons included checking another country off my list (#16!), and seeing the pretty canals. I must say that visiting the house lived up to my expectations and then some. I highly suggest that everyone try to make it to this place in your lifetime (even all of you Mormons who are afraid of a place where they smoke marijuana openly and that has a Red Light district haha).

The Anne Frank house is is one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in Amsterdam. Her house (okay, not her house...her hiding place), is 3rd from the right. The 2 buildings to the right of it are also part of the museum. You can see the long line to get in, too!

Fortunately, I didn't have to wait in line because I bought my ticket online. The main part of the tour is just going through the house room by room. The building was Anne's father's office. So first, you go through the office part, and then you get to the Secret Annex. 

In every room there are quotes from Anne's diary about what the room was used for, and pictures of how it was furnished. Anne's father requested that none of the rooms be furnished when the building became a museum because he thought it would be a better memorial that way.

You're not allowed to take pictures inside, but I found some online of my favorite parts of the museum. This is the bookcase that was in front of the hidden rooms. You can see it open and closed.

I thought it was REALLY cool that the original bookcase was still there.

My first impression of the Secret Annex was that it was bigger than I imagined it to be. Anne's room is tiny, but there are also 2 fairly large rooms, another small room, the attic, and a bathroom. Of course, when 8 people lived there I'm sure it was still very claustrophobic. They lived there for about 2 years without ever stepping outside.

My favorite part was seeing Anne's room, because you can see the pictures that she glued on the wall. Here's a picture of a recreation of what it looked like furnished, and how the actual room looks now. 

I loved this because it seems SO typical of a 13 year old girl. Most of the pictures were of movie stars, and I saw a few of Queen Elizabeth when she was a little girl. Another interesting thing was seeing the pencil marks on the wall where they measured Anne and her sister Margot every few months. 

At the end of the tour, you can see all of Anne's diaries. She filled up the first one, and actually used up several notebooks. While Anne and her family had been hiding, 4 people from her father's office staff helped them and supplied them with food. After someone betrayed the family and they were arrested, the 2 men that helped them were also arrested, but the 2 women remained free. They were the ones who kept the diaries safe and gave them to Anne's father after the war when no one else from his family returned.

Her father found out from the diary that she had dreamed about being a published author...which led him to have her diary published. He also dedicated the rest of his life to telling his family's story and starting this museum. It worked! Her diary is one of the most translated books in the world, and the museum is the most popular tourist site in Amsterdam. I think it resonates with so many people because at the same time it's the story of a typical little girl and someone who was wise beyond her years. You can't know about all 6 million victims of the Holocaust, but it's nice to put a human face on one huge historical event. So, I could probably go on about this for a while longer...but I won't. Just know that you should visit this place! Even though it's sad, it's one of my favorite places I've had the chance to visit in Europe.

Right next door to Anne Frank's house is the Westerkerk. If you've read the book, these are the church bells she mentions hearing.

I stopped inside for a minute. I found out later that this is where the Queen of the Netherlands was married.

The next place I went to- go figure- was also an attic. Catholicism was outlawed for a few centuries in the Netherlands, so Catholics that still wanted to worship built this secret church in the attics of 3 adjoining houses. It's called "Our Lord in the Attic."

It was pretty interesting. You also get to tour the houses underneath the church so you can see what typical 17th century houses were like here. I appreciated the cute tile walls.

I also appreciated the pretty view from the attic window.

Something funny about Amsterdam is that apparently it's famous for steep stairs. Even at the newly remodeled art museum, they're twice as steep as normal stairs. At the Anne Frank house, it was basically like a ladder. I almost got kicked in the face by the man in front of me. At the attic church, they provide a rope to help you climb the stairs.

I'm a little disappointed you can't tell how crazy these are from the picture. I want more credit for surviving stairs that are basically vertical.

So something I didn't realize while planning my day was that the attic church is right in the middle of the Red Light district. I figured that the Red Light district would be in some seedy part of town away from the touristy, pretty city center. Nope! It's pretty much just a peaceful, picturesque neighborhood without any red lights (during the day time).

It did smell slightly more strongly of marijuana than other parts of the city did. That is not a very pleasant smell. It almost makes me appreciate that France smells like cigarettes all the time.

My only 'encounter' was when I stepped into an alleyway to get a better view of a pretty church. I took these pictures...

...before turning around to see that I was standing only a few feet away from some girls 'working the window.' Let's just say that I never knew that full-body fishnets existed before now. That was a bit disturbing, but at least I only came across that once.

The rest of my day was spent doing a free walking tour. It was nice to spend a few hours learning more Dutch history and admiring the canals. Pretty much immediately when I got out of the train station, I was already in love with the beautiful architecture. It's definitely one of the most beautiful places I've every been. I love all of the brick houses, and of course all of the water! 

Can we discuss how it would feel to parallel park right on the water with no barrier? No thanks.

Some things the guide showed us were Rembrandt's house,

The Dutch East India Company headquarters (once one of the most powerful organizations in the world),

and the former Jewish Quarter. I didn't take a picture of that because it's not cute. It's only made up of modern (ugly 1970s) buildings. We learned that before the war Amsterdam was about 10% Jewish. Almost all of those people were deported and killed. Since their houses were emptied out, Amsterdam residents used all of their houses for firewood at the end of the war when things were desperate. I thought that was an interesting tidbit.

I did get one picture of myself in Amsterdam. It's not that great of a location for a picture, but you can tell it's Amsterdam so I'll call it good.

After the tour, I spent some time at the souvenir stores and of course I found my love, Zara (country #12!). I even got myself a pair of wooden clogs because I felt obligated to.

I took a 10 hour long night train back to Strasbourg. It sounds painful, but it was actually great! I had my own compartment that I could lock and everything.

There's my little room! I got 7 hours of sleep on a train; it was amazing. Why oh why can't airplanes be like this?!

This sums up part 1 of my vacation. Next week: Munich, Vienna, and Prague. I'm so glad I decided to go to Amsterdam! I'd love to go back someday.

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