Friday, November 11, 2011

Amsterdam, again

November 3rd and 4th
From Brussels we took a late afternoon train to Amsterdam. We had done a Priceline bid and gotten a 4-star hotel near the train station for a decent price.  Of course it had advertised free internet but it turned out that was only if we upgraded our room to a more expensive one!  We dropped our bags and went out for dinner.  It was already dark, but Amsterdam had many of the downtown streets decorated with lights.  One street had white bells, another street sported red packages.  It was lovely.  And when we stroll along the canals we agree that Amsterdam is the most beautiful city in the world.

Day view of typical Amsterdam canal
Of course, Amsterdam is also known for its tolerance of marijuana (in controlled establishments) and prostitution.  We accidentally ended up in the maze of small alleys with scantily clad ladies in the windows under the glow of the red lights.  You could literally window shop for sex.  A closed curtain meant the action was taking place right in this small room off the street.  Of course it was awkward and depressing, and I was glad when we escaped the maze.  I think I had been holding my breath as we walked by because I was so uncomfortable.

Sorry, no pictures of the red light district for you!  I did look up the origin of the term red light district and there were some interesting stories.  I'll leave it to you to do your own research though!

The bright side of this tolerance is that it extends to a tolerance for gay and lesbian relationships, as well as religious tolerance.  Amsterdam is home to a large synagogue from 1671.  Jews were well-integrated into the business and social life of Amsterdam until the Nazi’s invaded in May of 1940, and then it became dangerous.  We toured the Anne Frank house; established as a memorial, but more importantly as a place of education.  The Anne Frank institute has branches in many countries to educate people on religious tolerance.  Otto Frank, Anne’s father, was the only one to survive the war, and they had video clips of him speaking about Anne.  The entire exhibit was well done and extremely moving.

We also found the Houseboat Museum that we had missed last time, but I was content to just view the outside of the houseboats.  I was envious of this man reading a book on his houseboat in that area.

Find the lucky man - reading on his houseboat in the sun
Darrell’s grandfather on his mother’s side had furniture stores in Essen and Cologne/Köln, Germany as well as in Amsterdam prior to the rise of the Nazi’s, so we went to the city archives to see if we could find some information on his furniture store and where it had been located.  We followed one lead from an old telephone book, and an archivist then typed the information into the computer so we could get more complete records.  The lead didn’t pan out and we ended up without any information, but we were so impressed with the quality and quantity of data available in these archives.  If we had more information to begin with I think we could actually get somewhere!

We toured the Van Gogh museum and a photographic museum called FOAM when we were here in August with Lindsey.  We also took a canal cruise then.  So this time we just walked a lot!  We also took advantage of the free exhibit at the architecture institute.

Architecture Institute reflecting older buildings
We walked up the steps to the children’s science museum where we could get views over town, and took photos of the tall ships that were part of the maritime museum.  Recall that the Dutch had the Dutch East India Company and were world traders, so I'm sure there was lots of great history in this museum, but the weather was so nice we just wanted to soak in the views.

Tall ship - part of the Maritime Museum
On our way back to the train station, we stopped at a café on a bridge over a canal to have some Dutch cheese and beer.

Mindy fantasizing about a life in Amsterdam.
Our last stop was to see the "Occupy Amsterdam" encampment.  You can see by the lady in the front, that this is not just a movement of the youth here either!

Occupy Amsterdam
One of the perks of our Eurail Pass is that we are eligible for some of the train lounges.  This was fantastic because we could have a glass of wine along with checking our e-mail before boarding the train.  From the outside, the train looked like it was Cold War era, and it was ultimately headed to Moscow, adding to the ambience.  But the bunks were comfortable, and there was a table you could set up inside the compartment.  It was wonderful to turn off the cabin lights and open the window shade so we could watch the world go by as we traversed the nighttime Netherlands...

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