Friday, September 10, 2010

European Vacation Day 5

Amsterdam was less than impressive the night before. We hope, as we get ready for the day, that the city has more to offer.

We strike out for the day working our way to the Anne Frank house, which is actually her Dad's old company's headquarters and warehouse. It is a bit of a walk away, so we figure that we will be able to see another part of the city other than the tourist trap areas we saw last night.

We first thing that we need some coffee, so we stop in to a coffee shop. It is very dark in the coffee shop and smells strongly of cannabis. We notice that there are some people in the coffee shop with their lips around a large bong... We realize that coffee shops in Amsterdam are not necessary for coffee. We make a quick exit, and find that real coffee shops are called cafes. We get our morning coffee and start making our way to the house. After getting past the more tourist areas of Amsterdam, we start to realize the charm of the city. The buildings are very close together, most are touching one another and very thin. These buildings have been up for nearly 300 years, so you get a feel for the old town of Amsterdam.
You also get the feel for the canal culture of Amsterdam. Amsterdam literally means "Dam on the Amstel." When the people dammed this river, it created a reservoir. In order to use this excess water, it was channeled in to canals for people to use to quickly move through the city. These canals still remain, and really add to the uniqueness of the city. The people have taken to living in houseboats in the canals, so the sides of the canals are just as crowded as the buildings on the land.

While enjoying our coffee, and crossing many canals, we come up to the Anne Frank House, only to find that the line is out the door and around the corner of the museum. Not good. We then realized that a canal tour was leaving from just in front of the House in just a few minutes. SCORE! This is what I wanted to do in Amsterdam.
My lovely wife ducks in to a little cafe, and gets us an excellent ham and cheese croissant and we board the canal boat for the tour.

On the tour we learned that the houseboats are permanently attached to the sides of the canal, and are even wired in to the city's electric grid, and plumbed in to the sewer system. The boats have been on the canal for nearly as long as the buildings on the shore, some for over 100 years.
The canals and the bridges that cross them, used to be part of a large sea lock system, and the doors are still visible today. Four times a week the lock doors are closed in a certain way to flush the water out of the city canal system to ensure that the water, and the canals are clean. The city has such confidence that the water is clean that last year the mayor of Amsterdam dipped a glass in to the canals and drank it... He did not die.

The interesting part of the canal system is that the old school Amsterdam folk thought of their own defense, and in many areas built defence towers to fend off attacks. The Towers still exist at choke points, still defending their city 400 years later.
The buildings that line the canals are specifically built to lean forward. This makes it easier to haul stuff up to the upper floors via the block and tackle system that each building has. The buildings are so narrow, that it is impossible to get furniture up to the upper floors with out this system. You also notice that some buildings are leaning to the left or right... This is not right, and comes from sitting in foundations that are sunk in to a riverbed. Foundations can be repaired, but it is ghastly expensive.

After seeing the city from the canals, we arrived back at the Anne Frank house, and we stood in line to do the tour.

I read Anne's diaries in High School, but the smallness of the anex astounded me. Realizing that they hid in the anex for nearly 4 years put me in to shock.
In her diaries Anne writes about how she decorated her walls with pictures from the cinema books that the staff of the business used to smuggle in to her. The pictures still hang on those walls.
As you pass through the annex, then learn the fate of those who lived there, you begin to feel a great sadness... Not for the loss of this pretty, talented little girl, but for Otto Frank, her father. When the Nazis captured the Franks and the Van Pelts, they were carted off to different concentration camps. Otto was the only one to survive. He returned to his home, only to lean that his wife and daughter died just a short month before their camp was liberated. This man lost his entire family to the war. You leave the museum heart heavy and thoughtful,

The building in the middle.

Using the city map of sights we got from our hotel, we moved on to the next sight, the Royal Palace. The facade was wrapped in scaffolding, as the front is being worked on. The Royal Palace was once an administration office for the city of Amsterdam. It was built at the height of their power and wealth. It shows. The place is overwhelmingly awesome. Everything is marble, paintings by Rembrandt adorn the ceilings, massive sculptures dominate the doorways. In the main reception hallway there is a huge map of the world inlayed in to the marble floor.
Interestingly enough, this is also where the city decided to do their torture and executions. In a little room off of the main hall is what is called the "Room of Pain." This is where the guilty were tortured and executed. Sculptures of death, and of horrific punishments adorn the walls... It is reasonably messed up. The offices of the burgermasters, the rulers of the city, have large windows that oversee this room so that the screams of the tortured and dying could be observed and heard. A mccabe reminder to the city leaders of their massive responsibility.
When France took over the Netherlands, the puppet leader converted this city building in to a Royal Palace. Even today, this building is the traditional house for the royal family, even though they live in The Hague.
While the seat of Government is in The Hague, Amsterdam is the capital of The Netherlands, so specific state functions take place in the Royal Palace royal marriages are announced from the balcony, and state visits are conducted here.

The center hall. Notice the maps of the world on the floor and the massive Atlas sculpture.

The Palace before restoration

We made our way back to our hotel, and then onward to the train station. Time to head back to Dusseldorf to meet back up with my wife's friend, and to meet her husband for the weekend.

As we passed the border of The Netherlands in to Germany, the train was stopped... A little while later two large plain clothes police men went walking through the train with a drug sniffing dog. Guess what? There were at least two people on the train who were escorted OFF the train. Drugs are bad. Don't bring them in to Germany!

We arrive in Dusseldorf, and check back in to our familiar hotel of the NH Dusseldorf City Center. From there we made for the Asian section of town to have dim sum with our buddies.

Dinner was great, and, of course we had some altbier. My wife's friend's husband likes his pilsner and suggested that I try it. It was awesome, but, of course, much less hoppy than American pilsners that I am used to.

We ended dinner and headed back to the hotel. Tomorrow we are going to see an old fortress town, and to get there... AUTOBAHN!!!

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