Sunday, May 20, 2012

Cheese and Clogs

I'm a terrible blogger. I don't even know how long it's been since my last post. I wish I could say I've been doing something productive with my time but I really haven't. I've written two mediocre essays and pretended to study for upcoming exams, the first of which is tomorrow. So in the name of procrastination, here is my latest Europe installment.

So after my little French adventure on my lonesome, I jumped on a plane to Amsterdam. Actually, that's a fib. I flew into Eindhoven and then coach-ed it to Amsterdam. It was actually a really nice introduction to the Netherlands. I could not believe how flat the landscape was; bit of a change to good ol' mountainous Brissie.

I arrived the day before the tour started which gave me a chance to wander around a little village in Monnickendam right next to the hotel. I think the coach ride threw me off a bit because it felt so strange to have a view of a marina from my hotel window - my brain kept telling me we are way too far inland for there to be so much water around!

After a few hours delay the next morning, our tour finally started with a bike ride. Now, I'll be honest, the idea of doing a tour through the Dutch countryside was equal parts exciting and daunting. I haven't ridden my bike in years so I was more than a little nervous. Turns out I was right to be. Those Dutch bikes are damn hard to control; I think it has something to do with the huge handle bars and the fact that the only way to brake was to pedal backwards. I got the hang of it eventually and it really was a lovely way to see the Edam. That's right, it's not just a cheese. Although there was plenty of that.

We ended the bike ride at a Cheese and Clog making demonstration. Those two things don't usually go together but they do when it comes to tourism.

That night we headed into town for a quick walking tour of Amsterdam, and when I say Amsterdam it safe to assume we pretty much just saw the red light district. We were then left to our own devices for the rest of the evening. Sounds ominous, I know, but we took the cultured route and headed to dinner and then to Anne Frank's House.

Enjoy is not the right word to describe the Anne Frank House experience but I'm so glad I went. I know I would have got a lot more out of it if I'd read the book but my knowledge of the Holocaust is more than sufficient in terms of understanding and appreciating her story. Walking through the house is quite eery, especially her bedroom where some of her original wallpaper and decorations (usually cut-outs of film stars glued to the wall) still exist. I think everyone learns about the Holocaust at school, in some capacity, and as horrific as the stories are it is nearly impossible to comprehend just what life was like during that period. Being in that house made is much more real.

There were two displays that affected me most, neither of which were in the house itself. After you finish touring the house, there is a museum filled with things that had no place in any of the rooms. There is a video playing interviews with various people who knew Anne and her family. One interview was with a man who went to school with Anne, who at the time of the interview was quite elderly. He spoke about how his class pretty much ceased to exist as family after family were taken to camps or went into hiding. The sorrow in his eyes and in his voice was utterly devastating.

There was also a letter written by Anne's father Otto to a family friend, after he was released from Auschwitz. He wrote to thank his friend for helping his family while they were in hiding. His letter was full of gratitude and appreciation, in spite of his own tremendous loss. He hardly referred to the fact that he was the sole survivor of his family - his concern was only for the family of an old friend who had tried to help. His apparent selflessness was astounding and inspiring.

On a lighter note, the rest of the evening was spent slowly making our way back to the bus and eventually the hotel. Of course, not without a few photo stops on the way.

I love the architecture of Amsterdam, especially all the wonky buildings. It is a very very cool city. Everything about the city screams style...ok, except for the whole decriminalisation of pot and thriving sex sector thing. The people are incredibly well dressed, and their homes look like something out of an Ikea catalogue.  I love the idea of living there but I don't know how I'd adjust to the whole, 'riding a bike everywhere even when you can't tell if you're on a road until you realise there is a car behind you' thing. Bit daunting but a nice idea.

Stay tuned for the next part of my tour: Germany.

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