Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Trip to Holland: Day 13 (December 29)

This is our golden month-iversary: celebrating 29 months of wedded bliss on the 29th! Since Niels has been given grief around the world for forgetting my Christmas present, he's really been on the ball about this and my birthday (he already got my present: Season 1 of The Big Bang Theory with Dutch subtitles!).

We got our big day off to a good start on Monday night as we were coming home from Maastricht. We stopped at a flower shop and picked out 29 red and white roses. Flowers are so much cheaper here, I couldn't believe my beautiful arrangement only cost €8, about $10! Needless to say, it would have cost much more at home so I'm glad he made the big splurge here. They're beautiful!

Oma and Opa once again called dibs on Daniel so we woke up Tuesday morning with plans to spend the day in Amsterdam. I have never been on a train like the ones are so popular and common in Europe, so I was just as excited about our mode of transportation! We walked to the train station, about a mile away. (I'm very glad I'd been doing all the walking before we left. We walk everywhere here!)

This has been one of my favorite trips. I love learning about new places, and so much of what I enjoy has to do with the everyday life. Since we are here for 19 days, we have plenty of time for down days (which my brain also appreciates). We've been doing a bit of siteseeing, but there's no rush to get everything in, because we know we'll be back.

One observation I made (well, Niels pointed out to me) at the trainstation was what I thought was just a unique design to the walk way. Actually, the ridged tiles form a tactile marker for blind pedestrians. They put their stick into one of the grooves and then guided to their stop. Pretty smart, I think.

Another thing that no longer surprises me is the ubiquitous bike racks. In front of the train station, there are both regular racks and completely enclosed lockers for rent. I noticed that several places had storage lockers. It's one of those things you don't think about until you see them. Most places in the States removed all public storage lockers after 9/11. Given the attempted terror attack this week, I guess they stuck out a little more.

Helmond has four train stations, quite a few for a city of 90,000. We boarded the train at the eastern most station, Helmond-Brouwhuis (Brewer's House). It took us about 15-20 minutes to get to our first stop, Eindhoven. From there, we transferred to a double decker train straight to Amsterdam. When we got to Dutch "flyover country," we brought out the cards and played Gin 13 while nimbling on some stroopwafels we bought at the Eindhoven station.

After Niels beat me, yet again, we took out my Holland tour books and read up on Amsterdam. My first priority was the Anne Frank House. Niels and I have been to Amsterdam before, shortly before we got engaged. My dad, two sisters and brother-in-law had an 8 hour layover on their way to Israel (where my BIL's family was living), so Niels, his parents and I met them there. And that is where Niels asked my dad for his blessing on our upcoming marriage. (He proposed a few days later in Paris). During that trip, we walked by the Anne Frank house and an extremely long line. Since our time was limited (and Niels' chat with Dad was the priority), we skipped it. But first, Niels promised me that we would go the next time we were in Amsterdam.

Our second priority was the Rijks Museum, pretty much the Dutch Louve with paintings by many of the Dutch masters: Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Gogh... Ultimately, we didn't have time to make it this trip, but next time we're in Amsterdam...

Once we arrived at the train station, we walked to the local public transport office for an all day, all access pass that allowed us to go on any tram or bus in the city. It was about a 15 minute wait, but we didn't mind being in the warm building because baby, it was cold outside!

We found the tram to take us to the Anne Frank house, and then walked the few blocks to the museum, where once again there was an impressive line. Niels balked at what he thought would be a three hour wait in the cold, but only an hour later, a very happy Jen entered the museum with a crow-eating Niels. Speaking of eating, we made good use of our time in line by sampling some of the city's friet, or french fries. Here they are served in a cone shaped paper container and usually with mayo, although my hubby wisely came back with ketchup. The fries also came with a cute little plastic fork, though I still managed to get ketchup on my gloves. I didn't mind later when a whiff of ketchup cleared my nostrils from all the cigarette smoke. (Europeans are definitely not up to par with Americans on clean air codes!)

The Anne Frank house was definitely a highlight of this trip for me. I'm not completely certain, but I'm pretty sure I started journaling and recognizing my own love of writing around the time I read Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl for the first time. As noted at the museum, it's not so much about Anne, as much as it is that she put a face on what seems so inhumane. It's haunting to walk through those narrow passages and steep stairs knowing the circumstances and unfortunate outcome of those who lived there.

One thing I never quite understood before visiting is how the annex was actually hidden. The hiding place was almost a separate building built behind Otto Frank's store. From the front, you would only see the store. The building is very tall, so you wouldn't see the depth of it. Most people wouldn't see the back of the building because four blocks of building formed a closed square with a courtyard in the center (containing the chestnut tree Anne writes of seeing from the attic).

The actual annex was cleared of most furnishings when the Germans raided it. Otto Frank, Anne's father and the only one of the eight to survive the concentration camps, returned later and demanded that it remained bare. Only the fixtures (lights, sinks, etc.) remain, along with a few things on the wall--pictures Anne glued of celebrities, a map of Normandy and pencil marks indicating the growth of Anne and her sister.

The museum itself is extraordinarily well done. The actual site is very well preserved, yet accessible for visitors to experience. (Unless, of course, you are unable to climb incredibly steep stairs!). The museum has purchased several of the other homes on the block, which now houses several additional feature areas and a gift shop. Since no pictures are allowed in the museum, we bought a pretty cool gift book with pictures of all the rooms with accompanying quotes from Anne's diary for me and a new BBC version of the movie on DVD for Niels (and me!).

We walked out both disturbed and inspired. It was already 4pm by that time and the Rijks Museum closed at 5, so we adjusted our plans. We found a delft gift shop across the street/canal, so we wandered over there to get a little something for my delft-collecting stepmom.

We made the misguided decision to get off our tram to see a few souvenir shops. This was not a good decision since the next tram, which was supposed to come every 10-12 minutes, never arrived in the 40 frigid minutes we waited. So we walked the mile or so back to the central station so we could still have some heat in our bodies!

Next up was a little more modern culture. Dinner and a movie. We took the tram to suburbian Amsterdam. By this time it was raining, so we opted for the sit down Burger King, rather than the stand-only Dutch restaurant. The menu at BK was mostly the same as in American, though they had some yummy cheese balls which we had to try.

There weren't a lot of choices for us at the movie theater. There is a Dutch movie I'd like to see, de Hel of '63, about the Dutch ice-skating event, but alas, no English subtitles. We ended up seeing It's Complicated, with Dutch subtitles. Given the subject, I wasn't sure how I'd feel about it, but Niels and I both ended up laughing a lot more than we expected. John Krakowski was particularly funny!

By this time, it was 9:30 and snowing, so it was definitely time to head home. This was the longest I had ever been away from Daniel over a two day period and I was missing my little boy, even though I knew he was already in bed. (I peeked in on him when we got home).

We rode the bottom of the double decker train on our way home since there wasn't anything to see in the dark. I finally beat Niels in Gin 13 and became thoroughly engrossed in my book from the Anne Frank Museum.

At our stop in Utrecht, I managed to pull a muscle which made the rest of the trip home interesting, but I was very happy it happened at the end of the day. It worked itself out on the mile walk back to Opa and Oma's house.

We had a great report from them that Daniel was a good boy, and that he learned a new trick. When he sees a pillow on the floor, he goes over to it, puts his head on it with his legs still straight--sort of a modified downward facing dog. My son, the yogi.

After a nice hot chocolate to take the chill out of my bones, we called it a very good night!

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