Wednesday, December 7, 2011
I visited Amsterdam this week for a few days before a work meeting. I like to fly a day or so early due to my back situation (permits recovery) and I added on another day since I'd never been to Amsterdam.
A highlight of the trip was visiting Anne Frank (pronounced Anna Frahnk) house. I read the book as a girl and it was really incredible to see the house in person. It was much smaller than I had imagined and it was really moving to read excerpts of the diary as we moved through the house, for example, to read of how she looked at the tree through the attic window and dreamed of going outside and running around-- while standing in the small dark room (blacked-out windows) looking up at the actual tree through a window in the attic. Also to read her words about the persecution of the jews and their fear of being discovered. I reflected a bit on my impressions of the book when I read it as a kid and my response to the words now as an adult. Anyhow, a very sombering visit.
I walked around a lot- the weather was mostly chilly and rainy but one afternoon was very clear and I took the opportunity to take a canal boat tour which was really fun. I spent the entire ride in the open rear of the boat, while other tourists cowered inside the boat by the heaters.
Amsterdam was ready for Christmas-- sparkly lights were up in all of the shopping areas and there were a few ice rinks set up for skating. I found a small christmas market, where I indulged in a waffle and some stroopwaffels (deadly sweet-- yum). One cultural difference-- St Nick is apparently accompanied by a group of Moors (in blackface), who roam around with big sacks. The blackface was pretty jarring, to be honest. Here's some info on this tradition.
The bikes and bike infrastructure were really incredible. I walked around the first night I was there during the rush hour with my jaw dropped open at the sheer numbers of riders. The volume is just incredible, and the riding was assertive-- these are seasoned commuters after all. More on this later.
I also hit up the Van Gogh museum and the Rijksmuseum, the latter being mostly closed for renovations but with a small exhibit open that included some of the Dutch masters paintings that the museum is famous for. The VG museum was pretty cool- a mix of early paintings as well as some of the greatest hits. There was an interesting exhibit on conservation approaches that mapped out the recent restoration of the Bedroom (http://www.vangoghmuseum.nl/blog/slaapkamergeheimen/en/2010/07/30/van-gogh-and-colour-theory/).
I bought a tram pass, but ended up mostly walking around. I kind of wish I had my garmen to recreate my tracks, because I was partly wandering randomly and partly getting lost at every turn. The inner city has a street plan similar to a bicycle wheel, with streets like spokes radiating out from the central train station, with connecting cross streets and canals running throughout. As such, its not a traditional grid at all, and the canals added to the complexity. I repeatedly made wrong turns! It was kind of fun, though, and I accidentally found some interesting shops (eg, a shop specializing in maps and travel guides) and of course, a lot of bike shops where I oogled dutch commuter bike swag.
All in all, a fun visit. I'd love to go back and spend more time there, and also to rent a bike and see more of the town by bike.