Amsterdam, Part Twee

My first impressions of Amsterdam were quite wrong. You see, we arrived on Monday in the early evening after over 6 hours in a car. The city was drizzly and damp and we were both somewhat cranky. Our first excursion to explore the city was the Red Light District, since that’s where we were staying. But the next morning we woke up and the sun was shining and we knew things would get better.

The day started with breakfast at the guesthouse. We walked into the kitchen and prepared ourselves some cereal, bananas, and yogurt. Then the owner walked over to us and asked how we wanted our eggs and bacon. By the end, we’d had an enormous breakfast and were well nourished to walk all day.

We took a canal cruise of the city which was quite fun. Then we walked over to the “nicest” canal–Prinsengracht–which led us to the Anne Frank house. But before reaching her house, we walked by a little restaurant called The Pancake Bakery.

YOU MUST GO THERE!

We weren’t hungry after our big breakfast, but I mentioned to Mike that I’d read about this place in the guidebook and it was supposed to be good. We popped in and decided to each get a pancake with vanilla ice cream and Nutella. What came out of the kitchen was the most orgasmic dessert I’ve had in my entire life. We were positively giddy after that (and on the highest of sugar highs).

We continued our walking and picture taking a few more blocks along the canal until we arrived at the Anne Frank House. There was a line around the corner…so we kept walking. We decided to head to the gay shopping area and return to the house around 7PM when the guidebook said the lines die down.

We next stopped at a coffee shop (also on the same canal), then continued on toward Kerkstraat (an overhyped gay area). When all was said and done we headed back to the Anne Frank House and there was no line! WOO HOO.

Aside from the delicious dessert earlier in the day, this was the most amazing part of the trip. You could go everywhere in the house (except the attic). I was able to touch the sink she used and the door to her room.

The most fascinating part of the exhibit was toward the end (in a new-ish wing attached to the house) where you enter a room with a huge group of people and sit by these game-show style red and green buttons (for yes and no). A video is projected on the wall discussing modern day human rights issues and then the video was ask if you agree or disagree with what was shown on the screen (should people be allowed to protest in front of churches, should gays have equal rights, etc…).

Then a slide would appear on screen showing how the room answered (in percentages) but also how the answers have appeared historically since the exhibit began. It was so interesting to see how a random selection of people you don’t know feels about certain issues. I must admit to being particularly nervous when the gay rights question came up…but the majority agreed upon equal rights (this was Amsterdam, after all).

Unfortunately, things became a little tense when Dear Prez. Georgie showed up on screen. They started discussing the Patriot Act and the government’s ability to monitor our library book-borrowing records. Bush was quoted as saying something like, “You’re either with us, or with the terrorists” (a clip we Americans have seen a million times before), but in this context, it made me cringe. The crowd at the museum all began to hiss the moment Bush appeared on screen, then they all laughed when his idiotic quote was spoken.

As expected, about 95% of the crowd disagreed with the book monitoring, and after seeing all we saw in the Anne Frank exhibit, it made me realize how scary things have become in our own country.

OK – on to happy stuff.

We left the house and went to dinner at this place called The Getto. It was a little gay resturant in the Red Light District and I had ostrich for dinner! It was so good! The waiter was friendly and even gave us free tickets to get into a nearby bar (no cover charge).

We did some more exploring of the Red Light District, went to a few bars, then called it a night. I was feeling a bit worn out and was suffering from sensory overload. The sugar high, the somber museum/house experience, the pot smoke wafting out of every door, and the store-front window after store-front window of live prostitutes seeking your attention can really wear you down.

Yesterday we drove home. After our horrible driving experience arriving in Amsterdam (because of the horrible French highway system), we got off to a good start. We arrived at the car (no problem), drove out of the city (no problem), drove through the Netherlands (no problem), drove through Belgium (no problem). Then things fell apart in France…again.

Traffic picked up in France (as the highway signange got worse). Then, we could to the Peripherique (the highway that goes around Paris…kind of like Boston’s Route 128, except along the city border instead of out in the burbs). It took us 3 hours to get from this road to the city center….THREE HOURS! Bascially, it took nearly the same amount of time it took to drive through 3 countries just to go a few miles. And Boston and New York have nothing (NOTHING!) on Paris drivers when it comes to aggression.

I’ve driven in many cities but have seen nothing like this. Did I mention that I was driving a standard? UGH – by the time we dropped the car off we were both miserable. Then, we lugged out baggage down into the un-airconditioned subway station to find a problem with the trains. One finally arrived as the platform was practically so full it was throwing people onto the tracks. But the arriving trains were equally packed. We got on (with no air-conditioning) and sweated to death until arriving at our stop. Similar to what I’ve read about the Tokyo subway system, people actually grabbed me and physically pushed me out of the train. Otherwise, I’d never have made it.

UGH. But then we had a relaxing dinner in the Marais, returned to the apartment, and watched some Will and Grace on DVD.

I have loads of pictures from Amsterdam to show you, but they’re on Mike’s computer and I’m on Mark’s. I’ll post them later today.

 

4 Comments

  1. Comment by snarl on June 29, 2006 5:54 am

    “Coffeeshop”? “Local bar”?…Hm…

    Karl was a heroic driver in the worst of circumstances. Not only were drivers aggressive, cars practically parked on the highways with centimeters of breathing room, signs inscrutable and reminiscent of Alice’s rabbit hole (with Paris seeming to laugh at us as we orbited it for hours), but the radio played nothing but dance remixes of bad 80’s songs–all in French. I don’t know how he kept his composure with the house version of “Flashdance”” (que un feeling!?) pounding in his head while Paris kept slipping away, but he did.

  2. Comment by Mike on June 29, 2006 5:56 am

    Oops, that was Mike.

  3. Comment by Will on June 29, 2006 8:29 am

    When fritz and I are in Amsterdam we stay at a gay gotel on Prinsengracht not far from the Rembrandtplein. We love the city and have a good excuse to stop in for at least a couple of days whenever we’re in Europe–he has a neice, nephew-in-law and their delightful little boy who live there.

    I have perfectly awful associations with Paris and rental cars and driving there. Glad you both made it without bodily harm.

  4. Comment by karyn on June 29, 2006 8:46 pm

    I am so glad you went to the Anne Frank House. Please show me photographs when you get back! I am so glad you had fun. I love Nutella! Is that where it hails from – God love the Dutch!

    Yeah, French drivers are known for their … shall we say… aggressive tendencies… I can’t wait to hear more … and did you get to the UK or not… yikes…

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