Amsterdam: A Dam in Amstel

When I first heard that we were going to Amsterdam, I wasn’t thrilled. The two things that I’ve learned to associate with Amsterdam are what I’m assuming comes to mind for most of us: prostitution and drugs. Needless to say, I was a bit skeptical about what this city could offer me. Let me say first, that our accommodations were spectacular which definitely made the trip more enjoyable. We stayed at The Jaz hotel which was centrally located close to a surplus of restaurants and a short trip to Centraal Station.

The first day, we left fairly early in the morning and arrived in Amsterdam at around noon. Our first stop after getting settled in our hotel was the Anne Frank House. Thanks to my mild obsession with John Green and Fault in our Stars a few years back, I was somewhat familiar with the area. I recognized the Anne Frank statue that is located behind the warehouse as well as the bookcase which hid the annex that Anne Frank, among her family and others had resided in for two years. I read The Diary of Anne Frank quite a few years back, and although I know the story well, I had no idea how visiting this site would make me feel. The audio tour reads excerpts from Anne’s diary as you walk through the warehouse on the first floor and make your way up to the annex. Unfortunately, taking photos is forbidden in the Anne Franke House, but for any of you who are interested in Anne Frank’s story, I highly suggest you look up photos of where she stayed in hiding. While reading the book, it never occurred to me just how small the annex was. It was brilliantly hidden behind a movable bookcase. As you walk behind the bookcase, you immediately notice how small it is. The hallways are just big enough to let one person through and the staircases are narrow. I’m sure there were multiple reasons that Walsh wanted to send our cohort of Blouins to Amsterdam, and I’m sure that having the opportunity to visit the Anne Frank House was one of those reasons. We have all been spending the better part of the last three years studying genocide, peace, and reconciliation. Perhaps the most infamous case of genocide is The Holocaust, however it is hard to put the tragedy in perspective through death tolls alone. Walking through The Anne Frank House, you hear her story and through her story you manage to learn the true price of intolerance. Anne Frank and her family were discovered only 6 months before the war ended, and only Anne’s father, Otto Frank, survived the concentration camps. I’ve been to The Holocaust museum many times over, and indeed I always manage to learn something more about the crimes against humanity that were committed by the Nazis; however, being in the Anne Frank House was more raw. Walking through that annex, you are reminded that what happened was not just a memory it’s a warning to all of us of what the world can be like. It was an inspiring visit and if you ever find yourself in Amsterdam, it is worth a look.

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The next day we took a train to The Hague which is about a 30 minute train ride from Centraal Station. Being a student of international relations, I was elated to get the opportunity to visit the International Criminal Court (ICC). We even got to hear a case! It was a very neat experience and I was elated that I could listen to it in French. Unfortunately, photos weren’t allowed here either, but I did get a photo with the sign! Afterwards, we made our way to The Peace Palace, which is where cases are heard by the International Court of Justice. The difference between this organization and the ICC is that The International Court of Justice is a body of the United Nations and tries cases that are between states; the ICC, although it is an international organization, operates separately from the United Nations and tries cases against individuals who are involved in Crimes Against Humanity.

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After we took the train back, I was exhausted! We had woken up early for the second day in a row and I was ready to get back to the hotel. I picked up some dinner and made my way back. Although I had thoroughly enjoyed our visits to the previously mentioned stops, I was still not impressed with the city itself. First, Dutch was getting on my nerves. Although I don’t speak Italian, thanks to my French and Spanish background I can make educated guesses on what people are saying and manage to get around. DUTCH IS SO STRANGE! There are sounds that you didn’t even know existed. I didn’t even attempt to pronounce many of the words that I encountered on metro maps, menus, etc. Secondly, I didn’t know anything about Amsterdam whatsoever! The Netherlands is not something you learn about in school and I don’t like having no knowledge of a place I am visiting. Thirdly, although I love my fellow blouins, sometimes playing follow the leader can get a bit annoying, and finally, I’M GETTING REALLY SICK OF PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION. There is nothing I want more than to be able to jump in my car and drive myself to lunch instead of having to jump on a metro/tram/bus/train with scores of other people pressed up against you.

Anyway, Friday was our free day and I was not looking forward to it. Helen and I had gotten tickets for a free walking tour of the city and then were planning to hit the museums. I knew that our tour was going through The Red Light District and I was not thrilled; however, our tour guide, Tim, who was kind enough to take a selfie with us (as shown below), was phenomenal. The Red Light District is actually one of the oldest parts of the city and he was able to give us a lot of interesting information on the history of it…. And no, it doesn’t all revolve around sex and prostitution. In fact, we got to see two of the oldest catholic churches in Amsterdam which are centrally located where? You got it! Right in the middle of the Red Light District. At times I was uncomfortable, but Tim gave us great information and was very entertaining which put me more at ease. We walked through Dam Square and visited The Royal Palace, The New Church, The Old Church, and The National Monument. The Dutch are very clever when it comes to naming things, aren’t they? The tour lasted about three hours and I was very happy with it. Along our way, Tim had gotten us free samples of cheese, showed us the narrowest house in Amsterdam (apparently, back in the day you got taxed by how wide your house was in the front, meaning Amsterdam has many narrow houses), warned us to be weary about the cafes which are actually places to buy weed (unless you are into that thing of course… I initially thought that they just really like coffee), and told us entertaining stories along the way. It was a good time.

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After the tour, Helen and I grabbed some delicious pancakes for lunch and then went back to the hotel, rested a bit, and went back out to visit the Van Gogh museum. Helen enjoyed it more than I did, but she is the artsy one. My favorite piece was Almond Blossom because of the story behind it. Apparently, Vincent was thrilled when his brother had his first child. They named the baby boy Vincent and Van Gogh painted Almond Blossoms for the nursery. His nephew later on would go to start The Van Gogh museum.

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IMG_5590.JPGAnd there you have it! My long weekend in Amsterdam, and overall, I enjoyed it. I suppose you can’t judge a book by its cover. Although Amsterdam seems a bit too liberal for my taste, I appreciate the acceptance that they preach, and I ended up truly enjoying myself. Also, I think it is important to note the following: YOU CAN FIND GIANT BABY BELL CHEESE IN AMSTERDAM.

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That is all… Until next time

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