Monday, September 10, 2012

Day 12: We Belong To A Cat Roaming Amsterdam Alleys

Last day in Amsterdam!  We started out by revisiting the Anne Frank House that we missed the night before - got there at 9am to some light rain and deserted cobblestone streets.  Only one other person ahead of us in line, which is amazing, since lines are usually 1-2 hours long at midday.  As we were practically the first ones there, we had plenty of space and time to look everything over to our desire.

I will preface this and say that I never read The Diary of Anne Frank - I never had it assigned to me in school, and I didn't really have the desire to read it at any point.  I also had no idea that it took place in Amsterdam (i guess I figured it was in Germany).  Still I felt compelled to see this famous place, and I'm not sorry for it - the experience was beautiful and very humbling.  You get to go through the rooms of the house where Otto Frank had his office and his company (in an associate's name since Jews couldn't own businesses at that time), then you duck into the doorway behind the bookcase by jumping up a step, then ducking your head to clear the short frame and climb the steps to go up.  The first flight of stairs is narrow.  The rooms are decently sized and bare, the wooden floors golden and worn down to a curved shine from millions of feet shuffling slowly along.  You come across a built scale of the two floors showing the layouts with furniture (the entire house is bare as per Otto Frank's request after returning to the house after the liberation).  You look at the staircase going to the top floor and say, "that's so steep, it must be because the model is tiny and it's hard to get the proportions right."

It's not.  The stairs to the top level are truly terrifying.  Each step is about 5" deep, so walking is more of a sideways upwards dance (the sort of thing you see women do on the subway steps when they wear silly high heels).  It's about 10-15 of these steps as well, which results in a staircase about 4' deep, when you think about it, which is just scary.  On this floor you see the bedrooms - the room where Anne stayed and the pictures she pasted to the walls of celebrities and images she found beautiful and brightening, the bathroom with it's simple but ornate ceramic toilet decorated with blue fired glaze detailing, the ladder leading to the attic where she could grab a breath or fresh air and see the sky once a day or so.  All of this was incredibly heartbreaking, but very real, and made me want to read the book.

After the house, you go through a corridor into the museum itself, the building next door that's been transformed into a larger space where they exhibit parts of her diary, the cards issued for the residents when they were sent to the concentration camps, even the roster showing the list of everyone hiding out in the house who was admitted.  There's also a large section showing what countries Jews fled to, the different countries the Franks tried for (all of which denied them), and the plight of those who lacked the correct paperwork and were sent back to certain death.

Overall it was emotionally draining, but worth the visit - definitely a must-see on a trip to Amsterdam.

Anne Frank Huis from the outside, with a well-established line by the time we left at 10am

Afterwards we headed to the Multatuli House, a free museum on a sidestreet a few canals over.  We originally arrived there at 10:06am, but the woman who was running the place was just biking up to the place and going in at that time (shit's more relaxed round these parts), so we tried to find breakfast, which was (again) impossible to find without spending upwards of 7-8€ apiece.  We gave up and trekked back to the Multatuli House, and were greeted by the woman we saw biking up earlier.  She was super nice and explained to us who Multatuli was, even though we had no clue in the world (he was a man who wrote about the injustices being done to the people in the Dutch colonies in Indonesia, sort of similar to Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe).  She showed us a wall of all the editions of the book, from the 1800s up to today, and all the different languages, and explained the history of the house - it was a house designed for the middle-lower classes, so where a rich house at the center would be all for one family, the house we were in would have 3-4 families, and the houses in the Jordaan (the next ring out) would be for poor families with 7-8 families per house. Now, of course, the Jordaan has tons of wealthy families paying top dollar and living in these houses originally designated for poor people...sound like another city you know? *wink*

She then brought us upstairs, up a freaking TERRIFYING spiral staircase that easily rivaled the one I climbed at the Anne Frank House - it was pretty much just a spiral version of that, MAYBE 3' in diameter on a good day.  On the second floor was a bunch of Multatuli's personal effects (including the couch he died on, apparently), his portraits, globe, a dried flower and clove arrangement under a glass bell protector that she removed and let us see (it still smelled of cloves over a hundred years later!), writing desk, maps, etc. She explained all the effects and their history, and gave us a little insight into Amsterdam during that time period as well, which was also really neat.  It was a very very small museum (just those two floors), but well maintained and with a very personal relaxed feel to it, almost like the City Island Museum where everything was just out in the open, more of a collection of interesting items on display rather than a formal layout behind glass and alarms.  Low key, and a nice way to wrap up being in Amsterdam.  Plus we made friends with a lazy tuxedo cat outside the museum, and he marked us as belonging to him.

Chilled out Amsterdam kitty
Afterwards, we headed back home and packed up in preparation to leave for the airport.  We figured out that the station one stop from us (Bijlmer ArenA) had a regional train that went directly to the airport, instead of having to take the train up to the nightmare that is Centraal Station and then a regional train back down to Schipol (Zuidoost [our neighborhood] and Schipol [the airport] are aligned with each other, but with no real direct path or road, almost like getting from Bensonhurst to Canarsie in brooklyn).  A quick 15 minute train ride later, we were at Schipol, and got to hang out in the cool comfy waiting area for a bit

Cool comfy waiting area, with wifi and power!
After we got cattle-called for our flight, we somehow got on the plane and got our own row together, with a spare seat in the middle. Score!  Disadvantage: we were on the side of the plane that faced the water when we flew into Barcelona, while everyone else on the other side got an amazing sunset and a nighttime view of Barcelona.  Boo, you can't have it all, it seems.  When we got off the plane, we were hit with a blast of hot and humid air, and were reminded that YES this is the Mediterranean for sure.  

After making our way out of the airport, we had to recalibrate our heads to perceive signs in a romance language - after Berlin and Amsterdam, I'm kind of used to a specific way that things are worded, most of them things I have no idea about, but Baz has a better understanding of.  Tables were now turned in Barcelona - even though I never took spanish in high school, and have only a rudimentary grasp of french, I'm still finding it easier than Baz is to acclimate to the language (possibly due to the large amount of english/spanish signs in New York?).  I also have a much easier time pronouncing things, where as Baz is still mostly playing the pointing and grunting game, which I totally played in Berlin the whole time I was there anyhow, so I don't even feel bad about saying that.  Feels good to be on top! Even if I don't actually know what's going on.

Regardless, we got freaking LOST.  We figured out that we had to take the regional rail to even get to the main metro there...everyone was running past us to get on the train sitting in the station, while Baz and I were struggling to figure out which ticket we needed and where.  The clerk said, "T-10!!" and hit the T-10 button and scurried off (T-10 is ten rides on a pass).  We simply needed the ticket from the airport to the first metro stop in the city though, so opted for the a la carte option - more expensive per ride, but better if you have no idea what the hell is going on.  We jumped on the train, which was packed, and the doors closed right after.  Lucky us! 

Not lucky for us - the train crawled from the airport to the next took about 10-15 minutes just to get to it (and that wasn't even the stop we needed).  It was hot, muggy, the A/C was no match for the hundreds of sweating luggage-dragging people pressed against each other on the train.  Meanwhile, we had our luggage on our backs and felt like we were dying (and I was wearing long pants and a long sleeved shirt from Amsterdam).  We met a couple on the train who were from Vancouver who were just as lost as we were - apparently we were both fiddling around with our metro apps for twenty minutes, trying to figure out where the hell we were...good to know it wasn't just us!  We tried to form a game plan of where to get off and which stop to go to, except when we got to the destination we bought our ticket was in the middle of a deserted parking lot and no one else got off the train.  Plus it was 10pm.  Red flag!  We decided to risk it and stay on the train, even though we would be outside the validity of the ticket.  It was so late, and hot and crowded we just didn't care, so we rode the regional all the way to the neighborhood we were staying in, then bought a one stop ticket and went the one metro stop to our place.  It's in the northeastern part of the city, very residential, with no touristy stuff going on - just the way I like it.  We came across a chinese restaurant (Restaurant Xines) that was still open, which was a novelty to us coming from Amsterdam where everything is shuttered up by 6pm.  Grabbed a menu and realized they had amazing prices (three course lunches with drink and dessert for 6.50€, dinner menu with more choices for 8.60€, etc.  We vowed to drop our stuff and go there for a bit of grub.  

Got to the apartment, which ended up being very nice - brand new building, elevator, quiet A/C, separate bathroom for us, etc.  The hosts are super friendly and know some english, and gave us a rundown of all the must-see things in Barcelona, which was really nice!  Unfortunately we were sweating and hungry from the trip so it was tough to pay attention, plus it's tough to absorb so much so quickly, so we noted what we could, gave up on going to the restaurant, and turned in and went to sleep.  Well-earned, cool, deep sleep.

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