Amsterdam is like the rings of a tree: It gets older as you get closer to the center– Anonymous
We both awoke this morning feeling refreshed and fairly non-jet lagged…we were even hungry for breakfast (sleep cycles are only part of jet lag–your typical eating times are thrown off too). We had to meet the Viking tour guide at 9:30 in the lobby, so we got dressed and went down to our hotel’s restaurant for a complimentary breakfast.
I have to admit that I failed in my reporting duties this morning. I was admittedly a little nervous about meeting our fellow travelers! It was very much like the first day of college or school where you size everyone up and make first impressions. I was so preoccupied with judging people that I forgot to visually record the events!
That being noted, I will say that at promptly 9:30, we were given an ear piece and radio (refereed to as your “quiet box”) and broken into a few smaller groups of about 20 and we headed out for a 90 minute walk into Amsterdam.
I’m kicking myself for completely forgetting to take photos of the tour group, the tour listening equipment, the tour route…our tour guide, etc. Maybe we actually were a bit jet lagged and that is obviously why I was off my game.
I’m going to briefly summarize the experience and move on to our post-tour part of the day. The folks in our tour group were pretty much as we had expected. We were the youngest, but maybe by a decade… or two…(or in some cases, even three). But everyone was physically fit, humorous, attentive and enjoyable to be around. And the tour was super informative. It was very immersive. As an undergraduate history major, our tour guide went deep into Amsterdam history…it was a delve into the socio-political-religious and economic history of Amsterdam with a side of colonization and reefer relaxation and several dashes of canal explanation topped with architectural and artistic visualization. I was like, “should I be taking notes? Will we be quizzed on this in order to get on the ship?” I wondered if all of the Viking tours were going to be this in depth?
Kidding aside, it was an impressive walking tour and I learned entirely too so much about so much of Amsterdam’s history. Once we arrived at the Rijksmuseum, our final stop on the tour, we were ready to break with the group and head out on our own. FYI, the Rijksmuseum is Amsterdam’s National Gallery of Art and we will visit it tomorrow morning….so I will save that for later.
On Our Own
After we broke off from the Viking group, our agenda centered around a visit to the Anne Frank house, which was a 2PM timed tour. But we had plenty of time to have a nice lunch, so we decided to take a tram to the neighborhood just near the Anne Frank House, the Jordaan, which is supposed to be a lovely and less touristy part of town.
I have to give kudos to Josette for taking the time to figure out Amsterdam’s tram system. It’s not terribly complicated, compared to say New York or Paris’s Subway/Metro system, but they have several numbered lines and when you board you need to understand the desired direction of travel…which I didn’t and still don’t.
The trams are a great way to save a little walking time. They are clean and safe and they make getting a ticket super easy…they have a little ticket counter inside the tram…so you just buy a ticket once you hop on…and they only take credit cards, so need for cash. We got a 48 hour card for 12€ each, which covers us for today and tomorrow. You just have to remember to tap the card upon entry AND exit.
Thanks to Google and a little serendipity, we found a great little “locals” type place to grab a bite…the d&a hummus bistro.
Side note: I forgot to mention that blonde hair and blue-eyed folks are fairly common here, and quite a few times people have approached Josette with Dutch rather than English. But they are so fluent in English that once they see the puzzled look on our faces, they just switch languages.
This d&a hummus bistro was a little gem, and the food was just what we needed. Healthy(ish) and just enough to hit the spot. Josette got hummus with roasted cauliflower and I got hummus with falafel. It came with a basket of soft, fresh whole wheat pita bread and little tasty side salads to mix and match with the hummus. After some water and iced coffees we were hydrated and ready to move on.
Tip: As of the first part of 2018, you can only buy tickets to the Anne Frank house on line. You can’t show up and wait in line for a ticket. In fact, they release blocks of tickets a few months at a time…so beginning in early 2018, I had to set a reminder to go online periodically to see what month and week they were releasing. It’s a very popular tourist site and tickets sell out in minutes. Plan ahead so you aren’t disappointed.
The area outside the Anne Frank house museum was very crowded and swarms of tourists hovered around the front of the house to take pictures. We had our 2PM timed ticket, and we saw people in a queue , but it wasn’t entirely clear as to when you were supposed to get in line. Eventually, we figured out that there were two employees amongst the crowd checking tickets and telling people when to enter.
I have to say that visiting the Anne Frank House was high on my list for our visit to Amsterdam. I guess having grown up reading her diary in school and seeing old movies and plays about her time in the attic…and then moving to New York in the late 90’s and meeting one of my first clients, a building owner who was an actual Holocaust survivor. It was all coming full circle for me. Amsterdam was at the western edge of the Nazi occupation…beyond was the sea and then the freedom of Allied shores in England. So for Anne Frank and her family, despite having fled Germany for Amsterdam, they found themselves trapped with nowhere to go and only a secret place to hide.
They do not allow pictures inside the house, which I think is respectful and actually appreciated. One thing that struck me was the relative silence as we walked through. We were given audio guides, but the entire time in the house, you could almost hear a pin drop…everyone seemed genuinely aware that it was a powerful place. What you may not know is that the hiding place wasn’t just an attic, but rather an Annex…a 3 story area located behind a canal fronting office building, connected by a doorway concealed with a bookcase. It was very claustrophobic and you could fully imagine the anxiety of having to remain silent throughout the day so as not to be heard downstairs.
I think most people know the dreadful end to the story. After two years of hiding out in the Annex, the Nazi Gestapo raided the house, and rounded up Anne, her sister and parents and the other Jewish family living with them. They all died in Nazi extermination camps with the exception of Anne’s father, Otto Frank. Anne was only 15 when she died in 1945. Tragically, the Allied forces liberated the Bergen-Belsen camp where she was imprisoned just weeks after her death.
“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest”–Elie Wiesel, Jewish writer, professor, political activist, Nobel Laureate, and Holocaust survivor.
Just across from the Anne Frank House is the Western Church, called the Westerkerk in Dutch, built between 1620 and 1631. We were very interested in touring the interior, but were a bit disappointed to find that it closes for tours at 3PM, and we arrived at 3PM! However, we were happy to learn that we could still climb and tour the tower, so we signed up for a 7:30 slot. Josette, Lena and I have climbed various towers all over Europe…so we never miss an opportunity to climb a new one.
It actually worked out well, because we were able to hop on the tram and go back to our hotel to relax, and where I could work on this blog until it was time to return. It also gave us the chance to figure out dinner reservations. We had read a lot about the amazing Indonesian restaurants in Amsterdam, including the famous “Rice Table” dish that is served. You may recall that Indonesia was once part of the vast Dutch East India Colonies…which has quite a controversial history that you can read about on your own time. I will take the easy route out and simply say that over the years, many Indonesians immigrated to Amsterdam post colonization and established restaurants and the popular cuisine.
When we returned to the Westkerk later that evening, we realized that we were just two of a group of 4 who were to climb the tower! They only allow groups of 6 people maximum due to the narrow “stairs” up to the tower observation area. Our tour guide was a lovely young woman who chatted with us while we waited for our fellow climbers. I asked her about religion in The Netherlands, and as she was studying the subject in college, she was eager to discuss. She told us that although she identified as a Christian, none of her family did nor any of her friends. She said that only 40% of Dutch identity with any sort of religion, which is in keeping with many of the Scandinavian countries. But I promised not to get into details about this sort of thing on this trip…so that is all tht I will say. Fainlly, the other couple arrived for the tour….and turned out to be fellow New Yorkers (but from upstate) ! We had to check our bags and we started the climb.
I will not go on and on about the climb, but it was quite treacherous…probably the most difficult and scary right behind an old tower we climbed in Bologna (see earlier post). I was too nervous to photograph 90% of it….it was just a series of circular stairs, followed by STEEP, old wood ladders with narrow little steps, worn down after a few hundred years. I am afraid of heights, I get vertigo, but I never let it stop me from enjoying awesome things like climbing a 400 year old church tower! It’s mind over matter.
We were able to admire the various bells and devices used to play the bells…all of which are original to the church.
You do not go to the very top of the tower, but that is perfectly fine…we climbed far high enough….and were rewarded with an amazing view of Amsterdam! From this vantage point, you really get an understanding of how the canals were laid out.
Shockingly, the climb down was FAR worse than the climb up. For 75% of it, you literally had to climb backwards…as you were descending 400 year old wood ladders. I was shaking the whole time and did not look down. We made it out alive, and I needed a stiff drink, so we walked just across the canal to have dinner at Restaurant Long Pura.
We chose to get a “rice table” with different meats and sides….and for appetizers we got tofu balls and goat. Goat may not be on many western menus, but despite it not sounding super appetizing, it was honestly the best thing we ate that evening. Super flavorful and tender! It was a wonderful dinner, great service, and slightly pricey (I think our dinner with 2 glasses of wine and 2 espressos was around €115). We hopped on the tram and returned to the hotel to recharge for another day in Amsterdam.
Tomorrow, we will visit the Rijksmusuem, visit a church in an attic and in the afternoon, we depart for the river cruise!