Monthly Archives: February 2014

Visiting the Anne Frank House

The next morning weA Train Lounge were up early, packed and ready to go when the breakfast area opened at 7am.

Being the A-Train Hotel, model trains were displayed everywhere and the breakfast and reception area were decorated like a train station.

This is the type of place I prefer to stay, with “local color” as opposed to an anonymous, homogeneous hotel that could be anywhere.  I was delighted to find  traditional European breakfast fare:  hard-boiled eggs with little egg cups to eat them from; fresh whole fruit; an assortment of sliced meat and cheese; a large pitcher of orange juice; and cornflakes in a dispenser.  There are so many things that I like about Europe, and their breakfasts, which leave your tummy feeling healthy and content, is one of them.  Again, I vowed to change my own breakfast fare upon returning home.

They also had a mechanically interesting toaster, where you put your bread in one side and it moves around inside on a little ferris-wheel type set up,  groaning the entire time, and where your bread would eventually emerge from the other side perfectly toasted.  They also had a wonderful Keurig-type machine where you chose, vending machine style, from a large assortment of coffee drinks and hot chocolate, and by simply pushing a button your desired drink was automatically dispensed.

Jack chose to stay behind as Vince and I took off on foot for the Anne Frank House.  I had read the book once again, before this trip, to better understand what happened and to better appreciate what we were about to see.  It sort of astonished me to realize that her story had taken place after my husband was born, which brought home the fact that this had happened not that long ago!  It seemed more likely to me that something that horrific must have happened a long, long time ago and that we are long past atrocities like that.   That is a very naive view of the world coming from the perspective of having lived in freedom my entire life.  All one has to do is to turn on the news to find that even today, people are being killed and persecuted for who they are, and this is part of why travel is so valuable.  It opens our eyes and forces us to take a broader view of things, instead of existing solely within our own, insulated world.

051At this time of the morning, the streets of Amsterdam were quiet and peaceful, the canals still, a few people out sweeping the walks or having their morning coffee.

I love early morning…it’s my favorite time of the day when everything is new and full of promise.

We admired the architecture as we walked along, and appreciated how people will pull up a few cobblestones in front of their stoop and plant hollyhocks, or other hardy plants that bloom in a riot of color.

100_2840

We paused at the Homomonument, a memorial commemorating all gays and lesbians who have been persecuted for their homosexuality.

054

It is located in a plaza in front of the Westerkerk, an impressive Protestant church with a bell tower that is mentioned frequently in Anne Frank’s diary.100_2845

A memorial to Anne Frank  stands in its courtyard.  Both are a visible reminder that the people of Amsterdam want everyone to be able to live peacefully together.

We spotted the Anne Frank House by the line already forming outside, before it opened.  We had purchased our tickets online before leaving home.  People greeted each other in line, some visibly jet-lagged, with this being their first stop after arriving from a long flight.

At last the doors whooshed open and we entered a lobby area filled with photographs and display boards.  From there, we watched a short film that told the story of Anne Frank and her family.  Then, in small groups, we were escorted through the downstairs offices and then up the narrow canal house stairways to the adjacent attic area where the families hid for over two years.

Everyone was quiet and somber; it felt as if we were in a sacred place.  Docents talked about each of the rooms we visited and people had an opportunity to ask questions.  One of the most powerful sections for me was at the end, when the family was discovered.  The only one who survived was Anne’s father.  He was given Anne’s diary and in a film, talked about reading it and reliving the experience through Anne’s eyes.  He was shocked at the animosity Anne expressed toward her Mother, feeling it painted an unfair image of her as viewed by an adolescent without the broader perspective of growing up and becoming a mother herself.  He was also embarrassed by Anne’s writing about her own budding sexuality, even though she had shared much of what she was doing with him.  The thought immediately struck me about how complicated and dangerous it would have been for everyone had she become pregnant.  As close as Anne and her father were, he said that “you never really know your own children.”  Eventually, he agreed to allow the heavily edited diary to be published, to help ensure that nothing like this ever happened again.  Eventually, the unedited version of the diary was published as well.

057If you would like to learn more about the Anne Frank House, and take a virtual tour, please click on this link.

As we left the Anne Frank house, the city was waking up, the street were filling with cars and trams and bicycles and dogs.  Jack was waiting for us at the Hotel.  We collected our luggage and bade farewell to the A-Train Hotel, telling them that we would be back in a couple of weeks.

We now expertly wheeled our luggage across the street, through the train station and onto a train, zipping south through the green, flat countryside to Rotterdam, where our ship awaited to take us on the next leg of our journey.

Advertisements

Amsterdam

Dam Square
Dam Square

Amsterdam

After making plans to rendezvous for lunch, we set off to explore Amsterdam.  Vince headed off to explore the Rijksmuseum, Dam Square, (shown above) and  visit aboard one of the many houseboats lining the canals (shown below).  041 040Jack and I set off to explore The Church of St. Nicholas (or St. Nicolaaskerk in Dutch), Museum Amstelkring, also known as “Our Lord in the Attic”, and De Oude Kerk (The Old Church).

My first impression of Amsterdam was that, like most of Europe, it was very old, but still very much in use.  Signs of renovation were everywhere.  It seemed like litter was everywhere, too.

The next thing one couldn’t help but notice was that there were thousands and thousands of bicycles!  052There were bicycles zipping past in the bike lanes, bicycles chained to every imaginable stable object, including being chained to each other, seas of bicycles in bicycle parking lots.  Once again I vowed to ride my bicycle more after returning home.  100_2796

Amsterdam is very busy, with traffic, bicycles and people, moving purposefully toward their individual destinations, along with hoards of visitors characterized by their slightly dazed expressions pretending to know where they are going.  That was us, as well, as we made our way along Prinz Hendrickksen to the massive cathedral across from the train station.  100_2819We, along with scores of other tourists were surprised to find the doors to the church closed and locked.  It was too early…they were not open for another hour.

So, we made our way along the canal to De Oude Kerk, which was undergoing major renovation.  Again, all the doors were locked, but were due to open any time…if we could just find the entrance!  My husband Jack was getting tired, so I parked him by one of the entrances and continued around the massive building looking for the main entrance.

As I rounded one corner I saw a young woman in a window display and for a moment, thought she was arranging a new display, but was puzzled by the fact that she was wearing a bikini.  Too late, I realized that I was in the heart of the Red Light District and that SHE was the window dressing!  If made me wonder if prostitution was an honorable occupation here in Amsterdam?  If this girl’s mother would not be ashamed to have her daughter choose this line of work, or if this was a desperate way to exist until something better comes along?  The thought troubled me, as I pondered this universal dilemma…a young woman on display, for sale, in a shop window, at 9:45 in the morning.

Around the next bend, there was the Church entrance!  I hurried back to find Jack right where I’d left him, looking a little nervous and very relieved to see me.  The doors opened and we walked inside.

On entering the Oude Kerk, the immediate impression is one of beautiful light. 100_2791Some of the light is colorful, shining through the medieval stained glass windows, while some of it is bright white, illuminating the centuries-old graves, entombed in the floor. 100_2785

Although originally built as a Catholic place of worship, today the Oude Kerk is one of the unique buildings expressing the national character of Dutch Protestantism.  The Oude Kerk originally functioned as a harbor church, where sailors and fishermen would pray for a safe voyage. The procession boats (hanging miniature ships) are reminders of the time when the church overlooked the open harbor.100_2784 100_2793The Old Church has four exquisite organs, which can be heard during services and concerts.  The church tower contains the centuries-old carillon and church bells.100_2792 100_2790 Click the link below to see and hear the organs.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZNd8rDfN2fo

Next, we visited the Museum Amstelkring, also known as Our Lord in the Attic, one of the oldest and most remarkable museums in Amsterdam.   Behind the characteristic facade of the house by the canal lies a largely original 17th-century home and a complete hidden church. 100_2814This hidden church ‘in the attic’ was built during the Reformation, when Catholics were forbidden to hold public services.  Jan Hartman bought this house on Oudezijds Voorburgwal and the two adjacent buildings on Heintje Hoekssteeg 350 years ago. He had the attics of the three houses rebuilt into a Catholic church conforming to the conventions of the day, yet nothing on the outside would suggest that there was a church inside. 100_2810

Here you can see where he took out the middle attic of the narrow canal house.

100_2802

100_2803

It also was being renovated while we were there.  There were lots of steep, narrow stairs, as is typical in canal houses, so Jack never made it to the attic, where the church was.

Next, it was back to see the Church of St. Nicholas, which the Sint Nicolaaskerk (St. Nicholas Church) is one of the first Amsterdam monuments most visitors spot.   It is the city’s major Catholic church.  As we stepped inside to visit, Mass was just beginning.  It was a Spanish Mass, and we stayed for the entire service.  We enjoy attending church during our travels.Netherlands Amsterdam St Nicholas interior naveIt was almost time to meet Vince for lunch, so we found a table alongside the canal and enjoyed a drink.  The earlier rain shower had passed and the weather was warm and delightful.  100_2815 100_2816

We ate lunch outside, as well, at the Restaurent Smits Koffiehuis.

Smits Koffiehuis100_2820 100_2821Vince tried the Dutch Pancake, for which they are famous!

Next up was a narrated canal tour of the city.  100_2822044

I wonder how many cars and people and dogs fall into the canals?

043100_2827Unfortunately, we kept dozing off and dropping our cameras.  Jet lag was catching up to us!   It was time to head back to our hotel to shower, read, relax and turn in early.  100_2782

Tomorrow would be a big day!

Trying It Out…

My entire working career I have always put a high priority on travel.  When I had the preschool I did not have paid vacation, so I worked a second job to pay for travel.  When I started working at the school district, my position was a year-round position and so I got vacation days.  Every year I planned our travel using every one of those days each year.

Over the past few years a number of circumstances have come together that have slowed my travel plans considerably.  As I result, I found myself with enough vacation days “left over” that I could take the week of New Years off.  I had no plans … I would just stay home.  I had NEVER in my working life just stayed home.  In fact, I had never even considered it, preferring to save my days for a big trip.

Suze Orman is always encouraging people to “try out retirement” while you’re still working .  This time would be a way to do just that.  It wouldn’t be a fair trial because it would not be long enough to really know what it felt like, but it would still be an interesting experiment.  So here’s what I learned:

  1. I had much more energy!  Even though I worked hard at home, my time at work is faster paced, more stressful and demanding.  Now, by the time I get home in the evenings I have already “hit the wall”.
  2. My house will be cleaner, because I was always taking a little extra time to more thoroughly clean.  Now, I am so tired after work that “a lick and a promise” is about the best I can muster.
  3. My husband was hoping for more together time than he got during that week.  He kind of followed me around as I busied myself around the house, hoping for a little companionship and maybe for us to spend more time doing something together instead of me being totally absorbed in my projects.  If I was working on my computer, he would want to be on his computer as well, wanting to share all the forwarded email and You Tube links he’d received.  Unfortunately, I have no interest in or patience for forwarded email crap, and his playing You Tube videos while I’m working at my computer, wanting me to watch them with him, was more than I could take.  From now on, when I think about being retired I need to include time for “us” as well as time for myself.  It WON’T include forwarded email or You Tube videos, however!
  4. I was surprised to find that I was not as physically active as when I’m at work.  Several of my projects were things like sewing, reading, working Sudoku puzzles, working on my computer…all very sedentary things.  While at work, I am up and down the stairs and hurrying here and there.  Once I’m retired I had already planned to join SARC and exercise at least 3X/week as well as walking more and working in the yard, but I did not do those things during my time off.  For sure I will have to make that conscious effort to stay active.
  5. I was NOT bored!  I did not think I would be, and in fact would have been very surprised if I had been.
  6. The TV drove me NUTS!!!  My husband LOVES TV and music and You Tube and often has all of them going at the same time…AWK!  I would retreat to my sewing room and close the door and put on quiet, background music in an attempt to drown out the constant babble, but that is going to be a problem.  We have worked around it in the evenings and on the weekend and when we go camping by him wearing headphones to listen.  But he can’t walk around all day, every day, wearing headphones the whole time.  We are going to have to work something out there.  I’m going to have to get some of my own headphones to share the inconvenience, if I like it quiet.

All in all, it was a great experiment and I’m looking forward to being retired even more than before.  I thoroughly enjoyed being home and puttering around the house and did not feel like those vacation days were wasted at all.

I was a little anxious about going back to work, knowing that it was going to be really busy… but once I got there it was fine.  I really do love my job and the people I work with.  I’m still looking forward to being retired, though! Continue reading Trying It Out…