Thursday, October 05, 2006

Weekend Trip to Amsterdam

Day 1, Saturday, September 25, 1999 - We were up and off by 7:30. The countryside of the Netherlands is very green, and as you get closer to Amsterdam you start to see canals and windmills. The drive to Amsterdam took only two hours. Having learned our lesson about attempting to park in Europe’s major cities, we parked at a tourist information place near the outer edge of the city. I went in, paid for parking for the day, and bought passes for the trams and buses, plus tickets to the Van Gogh and Rembrandt museums. We gathered our things and caught a tram to the museum area. The conductor let my daughter ride for free. In fact, every where we went that day, my daughter was allowed to ride for free even though she was old enough to be charged bus fare.

Windmills Near Kinderdijk

We arrived at the Van Gogh museum first. We stood in line for a little while, and then went in. At first, the kids were O.K., but after half an hour they were ready to leave. I kept feeding them M&M’s and gummie bears to keep them quiet. The museum covered three floors, and had an impressive collection which included artists besides Van Gogh. My daughter had seen all of the Van Gogh paintings before in books, so she knew a lot of them by sight. My wife wanted to buy some prints, but I didn’t want to lug them all over Amsterdam.

Next, we went to the Rembrandt museum. In hindsight, this was a mistake with the kids because they were tired of museums. However, I was very impressed with this museum. Most of the works were from the 1600’s. There were paintings of Amsterdam in the 1600’s that looked just like Amsterdam today (minus all of the MacDonald’s). I could have easily spent an entire day in this museum, but we had to finish in about 1.5 hours.

After Rembrandt, we rode the tram into the inner city. We found a MacDonald’s for the kids, and then ate and studied the map. After we left, we walked around down town, including the Red Light district. The kids were totally oblivious to this, focusing instead on the boats in the canals. They would have gotten quite an eyeful if they had been looking in the shop windows instead of at the boats. It rained on us a little, but we stood under some trees until it passed. Amsterdam is really a neat city, with the canals everywhere. There is a huge downtown square that was packed full of people and activities.

That evening, we caught the tram back out to our car. When we had parked, we had been given tickets allowing us to ride the trams. I was supposed get stamps on the tickets so we wouldn’t have to pay very much. Well, I didn’t do the stamps correctly, so the guy was going to charge us a lot more. He told me instead to run down to the tram and get them re-stamped. So, next time I must remember to get two stamps on each ticket. I waited for the next tram, got the stamps, and then we left Amsterdam.

We had reserved a camping place about 10 miles from Amsterdam right on the beach. The drive out to the area was very nice. There were canals and dikes (to keep out the sea) everywhere, and the grass was so green that I commented that it looked like Ireland. We had a little cabin close to the water. There was also a marina there. When we pulled up to our cabin, there were two black rabbits in front of it. The kids got out and chased them, but the rabbits stayed around our cabin the entire time we were there.

The Kids at Our Campground

The beach there was made of crushed shells. My son dug a hole on the beach and my daughter just ran up and down the beach. I climbed up on a dike, and the view was great. In one direction you could see the beach and the ocean. The kids were playing and my wife was on the beach with them. In the other direction was the Dutch countryside. The grass was really green, and there were sheep, cows, and goats grazing. The fields were full of canals. I took lots of video and some pictures, and we had a very relaxing and memorable evening.

Day 2, Sunday - We were up by about 6:30 the next morning. I need to remember to bring a night light next time, because my son woke up scared in the dark because he didn’t know where he was. We went out and walked on the beach in the morning. My daughter asked if it would be O.K. if we moved there and lived on the beach. Next we walked over to the marina. There were lots of boardwalks leading out into the water, and we walked out on them. The names on the boats were mostly in English, so my daughter could read off the names, like Blue Bell and Little Devil.

Next we headed back to Amsterdam. First on the agenda this morning was a visit to Anne Frank’s house. Anne Frank was 13-years old when she went into hiding from the Nazis with her family and another family. They hid for two years in a secret annex above her father’s place of business. It was here that she wrote her story, The Diary of Anne Frank. After being discovered by the Nazis, all of those in hiding were sent to their deaths in the concentration camps. Only her father survived. Their hiding place is the most visited attraction in Amsterdam, attracting half a million people a year.

The Kids at Anne Frank Statue

We parked at the same place we had the day before. On Sundays, parking is free. We went over to wait for the trams, and there was a large crowd of people. We were told there had been an accident and we would need to ride the bus into town. The bus didn’t go directly where we were headed, so we would need to transfer to a tram in town.

When we got on the bus, the driver asked us where we needed to go. He was a black man who spoke excellent English, and kept telling us things like he would make our ride very comfortable, and that he would take care of us. We sat at the front and my son talked to him a lot. He told my son that he had a nice voice, and my son gave him the thumbs up. At one point, he told us we needed to get off and transfer to another bus. After we got off, he yelled for us to come back. He said that he had a better idea, that he could get us closer to where we wanted to go. He said to stay with him for about six more stops, and we would get to our destination much sooner.

I have got say that I think the Dutch people are some of the friendliest people I have ever seen. We had five or six people offering to help us with directions on the bus. We had people offering to help us when we were waiting on the bus. Everyone seemed to be willing to go out of their way to help us. And the interaction between my son and the bus driver was priceless. After we finally got off the bus, my son gave him the thumbs up and the driver returned it. The driver said something on the bus, and all of the passengers looked out the window at us and smiled and waved. My son told me that he wanted to be a bus driver AND a Power Ranger when he grows up.

We transferred to a tram, and got off near the Anne Frank house. The line to get in was pretty long. While we were waiting, it started to rain (which ultimately ruined our camera and screwed up our pictures). We didn’t have our umbrellas, so my wife and I shielded the kids while we got soaked. Finally, just as we entered the house, the rain stopped.

The house was composed of many floors. The ground floor was where the business was located. The secretaries helped them hide during the war, and their I.D. badges and things like that were on display. My daughter started asking lots of questions about the little girl (Anne), and what happened to her. I tried to explain as best as I could, but it was hard. My daughter was happy when I told her the girl was in heaven, and she said that she would get to meet her some day.

The whole experience was unreal. I had a really hard time imagining eight people living in this small area for two years. The secret annex was behind a book case, and we entered into the first room. The crowds were terrible, and we had to wait in long lines to see the things displayed on the wall. Anne’s father had a map of France on the wall where he kept track of the progress of the allies. (They had a radio, and listened to the BBC at night). Anne had pinups of movie stars in her room, and they were still there. It was really difficult for me to imagine a scared 13-year old girl and her family hiding from the Nazis in these rooms. It was more difficult due to the crowds of people. I would like to go back during the winter when fewer people are around. I would also like to go back someday when the kids better understand what we were doing.

After we left, we walked around downtown Amsterdam the rest of the day. My wife and I had decided to eat some “real food”, but when the kids saw a Burger King we never had a chance. We spent the rest of the day crossing the canals and watching the boats, before catching the tram back to our car at about 5:00. We were back home by 7:00. All in all, it was a very pleasant (and inexpensive) weekend. We will certainly have to make another trip there in the near future.

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