Amsterdam Road Trip Part 2

Anne Frank House

Anne Frank House

Hello dear readers. Last I left you, Chris and I were just finishing dinner in Amsterdam and were on our way to the Anne Frank house. When we got to the Anne Frank house, the line was indeed long. We took our place and waited. It was a surprisingly short wait for how long the line was, only 20-25 minutes. The outside of the house has been modernized, but apart from the lobby and the fact that they built another exit onto it, they’ve worked hard to keep the interior in its original condition, with a few extra things added for the purpose of the museum (e.g. diary excerpts on the walls). We started the tour in a room showing a video with a voice over reading parts of Anne Frank’s diary while pictures from the war and the interior of the house are shown. From there you work your way through the building, starting on the lower levels where the offices for Otto Frank’s business were. There is no furniture left in any of the building, but there are scale models showing how each room would have been furnished at the time. There are pictures throughout the house showing the office workers and those who helped the ones in hiding, there are also the previously mentioned diary excerpts on the wall. You’re touring the house and then before you know it, there’s the bookcase. The bookcase that was used to conceal the entrance to the secret Annex where Anne’s family and the others hid during the war. I can’t explain the feeling of facing that famous bookcase. It’s the original bookcase, there’s a sign asking that it not be touched. There are even old file folders on the bookcase. From the minute we entered the house I felt very emotional, but this was by far the most emotional moment of the tour for me. The bookcase is pushed forward so visitors can enter the annex.

Me, standing in front of the Anne Frank house.

Me, standing in front of the Anne Frank house.

You have to duck a little bit and take a big step up as you’re entering the annex behind the bookcase. In front of you is a very steep staircase going up to the second level of the annex, but there are 3 rooms on this first level. The first room is the one that Anne’s parents Otto and Edith shared with Anne’s sister Margot. There is a small map on the wall with little pins in it that Otto used to track the progress of the allies during the war. There is also a section on the wall that shows markings where Otto and Edith kept track of Anne and Margot’s height during their time in hiding.

Prinsengracht Canal in front of the Anne Frank house

Prinsengracht Canal in front of the Anne Frank house

The next room is Anne’s room, the one she shared with Fritz Pfeffer (who she referred to as Mr. Dussel in her diary). There are a bunch of pictures on the walls that she’d pasted there, they’re now protected by plexiglass. Being in this room, it’s hard to imagine having to stay in it alone for so long, let alone share it with a man you barely know. The next room, reached through a door off Anne’s room, is the bathroom. It’s bigger than I imagined it would be, but still incredibly small to think that 7 people had to share it. Next, it’s time to climb the incredibly steep and narrow staircase (it felt more like a ladder) to the living/kitchen/dining area which was also where Mr. and Mrs. Van Pels’ (referred to as the Van Daans in Anne’s diary) bedroom. Such a small area to be the main hub of activity in the house; again, hard to imagine! After this room is Peter Van Pels’ (Peter Van Daan in the diary) bedroom, which is incredibly small. There is also the ladder to the attic here, but visitors aren’t allowed to go up there. There is a mirror in the attic that you can see from Peter’s room that allows you to see the whole of the attic without actually going in it.

Peter’s room is the last of the secret Annex and the original house. There is an exit off Peter’s room that was added after the war because of the large amount of visitor’s they were receiving at the house, it helped to have another place for visitors to exit instead of having to turn around and go through the whole house again. While that is the last room of the original house, it’s not the end of the tour. There are a few other rooms at the end that have different items of the Franks’ on display, including Anne’s diary and pages from her other notebooks, and the paper that shows the Franks’ names amidst the names of other Jews that were arrested at the time. There is also a video of Anne’s childhood friend reminiscing about her time with Anne and when she saw her in the concentration camp before her death, and another video of Anne’s father Otto talking about when he first read her diary after her death.

The Anne Frank house was an incredibly moving and emotional experience for me. Nobody is allowed to take pictures within the house and after being there, I actually think this is a very good thing. It would be too distracting if everyone there were snapping pictures like crazy and I think it would take away a bit from the emotional aspect of the experience. There is a gift shop after the tour as well as a place where you can buy coffee and a snack. I’ve read online that some people think this is tacky, but I don’t think it is. They need money to keep up with renovations of the house and to pay their employees. I appreciated the gift shop, which is actually a book shop; they sold several different books about Anne Frank, as well as her diary, and postcards.

After visiting the Anne Frank house, we took a rickshaw tour from Dam Square. This was so fun! I recommend it. It was 20 Euros and was a half hour long. It rained while we were on it, but he had a plastic cover he zipped up so we weren’t affected by the rain and we still got to see Amsterdam at night. It was awesome! Even when someone else slammed into the back of us with their bicycle.

Dam Square

Dam Square

We went back to the hotel for the evening after our rickshaw tour. The next morning, we got up and ready, packed our stuff, and checked out of the hotel. They kept our suitcase behind the desk for us so we didn’t have to lug it around Amsterdam with us all afternoon. Our first stop Monday morning was the Red Light District. Our rickshaw driver showed us where it was the night before, but he said they aren’t allowed to ride into it on their tours (which was fine with us, we didn’t want to go at night) he just wanted us to see the red lights glowing. You may want to avoid this next paragraph if you don’t want to read about the seedy area known as the Red Light District!

The Red Light District is famous for its seedy sex shops, brothels, and bars. While neither of us were after what it had to offer, we just had to get a look at it. What’s really bizarre about this area, is that it’s a stone’s throw away from Central Station and it’s not as though there are big signs saying “Welcome to the Red Light District!” So it’s easy for anyone to stumble into it completely on accident. Be aware of that if you’re traveling with kids, you’ll want to map the area so you know where you need to avoid. We turned a corner from a street that was full of innocent souvenir shops and before we knew it there were sex shops and yes, prostitutes standing in windows in their underwear. Even knowing that that’s what it’s famous for, it’s quite shocking to see it firsthand at 11 o’clock in the morning. There were shops advertising marijuana for sale, sex toys, and everything else you can imagine. There were store fronts with images of nude women promoting the latest toy for sale. It was eye opening for sure. We didn’t stick around. We took the next turn we came upon and exited the Red Light District.

A canal we passed on our rickshaw taxi. Not sure which one this is.

A canal we passed on our rickshaw taxi. Not sure which one this is.

After the Red Light District we were going to check out a museum we passed called the Medieval Torture Museum, but one step in the door showed that it seemed to be pretty low budget so we passed. We wandered the streets, checking out the different dessert shops, restaurants, and souvenir shops. We ended up taking a rickshaw again, this time a taxi, to the Hard Rock Cafe to check out the shop and possibly have lunch. We skipped lunch as the prices were high, we weren’t that hungry, and the food didn’t sound all that wonderful. We walked over a bridge and across another street to Vondelpark. We didn’t wander through much of Vondelpark, but what we saw was very pretty!
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We took a taxi from Vondelpark back to Dam Square so we could return to our hotel for our luggage. We took a tram back to the World Fashion Center and our car. We were pros for this tram ride, it was much easier than the first time. With that, we left Amsterdam behind. We drove back to Calais, caught the ferry, enjoyed dinner and sunset on the ferry, and were home by 12:30am.

All in all, we had a lovely time and felt like 2 days was plenty of time for what we wanted to see. There were some other places I would have liked to see the inside of if we had longer, but I didn’t feel cheated that we were unable to do so. If you’re thinking of visiting Amsterdam, I doubt you’ll regret it, just be aware of all the things I mentioned if you’re traveling with young kids. Also be aware that you will smell marijuana many many times during your visit. I’m glad that my first European experience was a road trip to Amsterdam. I can’t wait for the next adventure!

Sunset from the ferry to Dover.

Sunset from the ferry to Dover.

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Amsterdam Road Trip Part 1

When I was younger, my number one dream place to visit was New York City. When I was lucky enough to go there, my new dream destination became London. I had a 10 year plan with some friends; we all planned to save a bunch of money and fly to London for a week to check out the sights. I never dreamed that I’d one day be living a mere one hour train ride away from London. Now I’ve had luck on my side again and I’ve been to London about ten times.

When I moved here four years ago, I had visions of us visiting Europe all the time since we’d be living ‘on Europe’s doorstep,’ but that didn’t happen. The cost of gas for driving or tickets for flying, coupled with the fact that I got pregnant a week after our wedding and didn’t travel well, meant that our Europe travel plans kept getting pushed to the back burner. 2013 came around and with it Chris’ 50th birthday. It’s his 50th so I knew I wanted to do something special for him. After talking about it with Chris, we decided we wanted to take a road trip somewhere in Europe using his birthday money. We eventually settled on Amsterdam. If we went to Amsterdam, it would mean we’d get to drive through three European countries and we both really liked the idea of visiting the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam. My mom was here to help me on a flight to Michigan with the kids, so she kept them for us while we went on our two day road trip. I’m going to highlight the best parts of this trip now. I got a bit carried away while writing this and decided rather than taking anything out of it, I’d simply break it up into two posts. Here is part one!

We set out on Sunday morning at 5:30 am. We had a 9 am ferry in Dover that we had to board at 8:30. When we pulled up to the ferry port in Dover, we could see the ferry sitting there ready to be loaded and I have to admit, I was panicking. I wasn’t looking forward to the ferry crossing because I have never done well with boats. I can swim and I love the water, but I do not enjoy boats. The only ferry I’d been on up to this point in my life was a tiny one that transports passengers from Mackinaw City, Michigan to Mackinac Island. This one was made for cars and a sea journey. It was massive. We drove onto it (we were one of the first ones to load), parked the car, got out, and headed upstairs to the main part of the ferry. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t what we got. This thing was nice; like the cruise ship of ferries. There was a restaurant, a family lounge, a coffee shop, a duty free shop, several lounging areas, a club level (£14 per person! That’s $21. For a 90 minute ferry ride. Chris and I were laughing our heads off as we walked away from there), and the outside deck which had another coffee shop. It was so neat! We spent most of our time on the outside deck, but we had a bite to eat inside and we checked out the entirety of the ferry as well. We did the typical tourist thing and took pictures of everything. It was fun. We were stunned when we went back onto the deck after having a bite to eat and the coast of France was right next to us. 90 minutes flew by when you had a lot to look at.

This wasn't our ferry, but it is very similar to the one we were on.

This wasn’t our ferry, but it is very similar to the one we were on.

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The white cliffs of Dover.

We departed the ferry in Calais, France and headed straight to the expressway. We were both acting like little kids, giggling at the road signs that were in French and snapping pictures of them as well. We weren’t in France for very long at all.  I’m afraid the only thing of note about France that I took away from this trip was the fact that in construction zones on the expressway they have mannequins dressed in orange jumpsuits holding flags and their arms automatically move up and down to wave the flag and alert you to the fact that there is construction ahead. So funny! I’m not sure if that’s everywhere in France, but I hope so. One day we’d like to go back and see much more of France.

One of the mannequins on the side of the road in France.

One of the mannequins on the side of the road in France.

We entered Belgium and there wasn’t a sign announcing it.  No border control; nothing that I was expecting to see. It was like driving to a different state in America, but without the “Welcome to ____” sign. I was looking forward to getting a picture of the sign so that was a bit disappointing. We had found out by this point that we couldn’t make any calls on our cell phone even though Chris had called to have international dialing activated before we left. We were a little worried about this as our car isn’t the most reliable and we might need to be able to call and make use of our breakdown insurance should anything happen.  Also, my mom had our kids here in England and we wanted to be able to talk to them whenever we pleased. Luckily I could still text my mom and she was able to call us, so that was okay. We stopped at a Texaco station on the expressway to find a pay phone and hopefully call the cell phone company to work out the problem. There was a pay phone, but it didn’t work. We stopped at another one that didn’t have a pay phone and decided we’d wait and try to fix it in Amsterdam (we never could get it fixed). We took the opportunity to look around the shop and see the different items. We bought some pre-packaged waffles of course and ate those; you can’t go to Belgium without eating a waffle! To my surprise, there were a couple more American food items there than what I can get in England. Another surprising thing? The erotic DVDs and pornographic magazines for sale. I don’t mean for sale on a top shelf behind some innocuous magazines.  I mean on a low shelf where the shortest child could see them with nothing in front of them and women’s breasts displayed freely and openly on the front. I’m a sheltered American girl so these things stunned me quite a bit.

A cylindrical hotel on the outskirts of Amsterdam.

A cylindrical hotel on the outskirts of Amsterdam.

When we got to The Netherlands, there was a welcome sign, but I wasn’t expecting it this time so I wasn’t able to get a picture. Eventually we got to Amsterdam. The outskirts of Amsterdam has some amazing architecture. The buildings looked so bizarre and neat. There was a Burger King shaped like a crown, a cylindrical hotel, and several other eccentric looking buildings. We headed to the World Fashion center on the outskirts of central Amsterdam so we could use the park and ride provided there. By searching online before we went, I found out that Amsterdam is the most expensive city in the world for parking, but there are several park and ride (P+R) places on the outskirts where you can park your car for only 8 Euros ($10) a day, including free transportation to and from the city center, so we opted for this. We parked our car and took the tram into the city. This was an experience. We couldn’t read the map at the tram stop so we weren’t sure which stop we needed when we got there. There were two Dutch women sitting there and they helped us without us even asking which was incredibly nice of them. With their help, and the help of the person working on the tram, we found out we needed to stop at Dam Square. When we got off at Dam Square, our hotel was a very short walk away so we went to get checked in.

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Our hotel.

The hotel was great. Our room was super cute, part of the ceiling was at an angle and there were two little windows down on the floor. It was so different. There were Dutch pictures all throughout; on the sheets, the complimentary toiletries, even the elevator. We picked the hotel (Die Port Van Cleve hotel) because it was 0.3 miles from the Anne Frank house, which was the main thing we wanted to see in Amsterdam. It was actually the perfect location. Not only was it that close to the Anne Frank house, it was directly across from Dam Square and the Royal Palace, and there was a tram stop right outside the door.

After we got settled into the hotel, we headed out for dinner and the Anne Frank house. We’d heard that the line at the Anne Frank house could be killer. The house closed at 9 and it was already 6 so we opted for fast food (Burger King) to save time. We finished eating and worked our way over to the Anne Frank house. We passed some absolutely beautiful canals, some questionable gift shops, and something called the Homomonument which commemorates all women and men who have been oppressed or persecuted for their homosexuality. There were several bouquets of flowers spread out there and there was an old man sitting there seemingly lost in thought. It was a touching scene.

Homomonument.

Homomonument.

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Homomonument.

That concludes the first part of our Amsterdam trip. Tune in next week to read all about the Anne Frank house, a rickshaw tour, and the Red Light District!