We're back from Europe, safe and sound, and I think we're finally back on a regular sleeping schedule. That jet lag is serious stuff, you guys.
I suppose the best place to start is at the beginning...but there's so much to tell! The next few posts are going to be very picture/word heavy, so I hope you don't have anything else to do for the next half hour...
For our first stop, we flew out of Atlanta at 3 p.m. and landed in Amsterdam the next morning at 9:30 a.m. local time. Needless to say, we were pretty exhausted, but since it was early there we knew that having limited time in the city meant taking as many opportunities as we could to get out and explore.
After many questions for many lovely Dutch locals, we found our way from the airport to the train station at Amsterdam Centraal and, hooray (!), to the bus that would, blessedly, take us to our hotel.
And, so, here is my first rule of thumb when it comes to traveling internationally: take public transit. It's cheap and you'll be able to find your way around pretty quickly, even if the only word you can speak in Dutch is "hallo" (three guesses what that means...). This rule also applies to Spain, Italy, and France. Or anywhere, really. Taxis are ridiculously priced and the metro will save your life because in addition to being inexpensive, it's also incredibly reliable.
Now! Onto our adventures!
Even though it took us quite awhile to get there, Pierce and I arrived at our hotel almost two hours before we could check in (another rule of thumb: make sure you schedule ample time between check-out times, flights, etc. It saved us from all kinds of stress). Once our room was ready, we promptly passed out for a few blissful hours before getting up to head out into the city for some sightseeing and dinner.
Our hotel was only two miles away from Amsterdam Centraal, the city center and the location of the most ornate and beautiful train station I've ever seen. Close to the station it's pretty touristy and there are all kinds of shops and restaurants lining the streets. It was crowded, but I didn't really mind because I was kind of in awe that we were finally there.
In every doorway, there stood a woman with her hips jutted out, smoking a cigarette, chatting with some passerby. We never visited the Red Light District (call me old-fashioned, but I don't really fancy seeing prostitutes sell themselves in windows), but sex oozes from Amsterdam's pores. And, to top it off, everyone smokes in Amsterdam (well, in Europe, really) and this was my only real frustration while we were there. Ever outdoors it was difficult to find a place safe from the smoke. I almost got very American on people and shouted "I'm pregnant, assholes!"
Our first dinner in the city was at an Argentinian restaurant (there are surprisingly lots of those there, as well as Asian fusion shops, too). I had steak and Pierce had ribs. They also brought us ketchup, which we thought was funny at first...until we realized later that every single local restaurant we ate in throughout the trip (save those in Italy) brought us ketchup with every meal...which we never used. Not only did we not want to put ketchup on our food, we also didn't want to fulfill whatever American stereotype they had built up in their minds about our eating habits. So there!
The next morning, we took the bus back to Amsterdam Centraal from our hotel and, after lots of wandering, found our way to the ridiculously long line outside the Anne Frank House. It curved around the corner twice like a snake and we realized that everyone else had also read their guidebook that morning. Apparently "Get there early to avoid a long queue" is popular advice. But it was worth it. So, so worth it.
I first read the Diary of Anne Frank when I was eleven. I was haunted by it, to say the least. She wasn't much older than me when she went into hiding, nor when she died. And she is the whole reason I started keeping a journal and fell in love with writing. My cousin Brittany and I used to talk about her all the time when we were younger, and we even mapped out a plan to save our money and go visit Holland at one point (we were twelve). Over the years, our love for her story and our passion for bearing witness to the horror of what happened during the war never wavered. But the notion of ever being able to visit got smaller and smaller as the years went on. Life just got in the way.
So when Pierce and I made our final plans for the trip, I told him that this was the one place I couldn't not see. The self-guided tour walked us through all of 263 Prinsengracht, from the bottom floor storeroom and warehouse, up through the tiniest, steepest stairs to the main offices, and finally to the original bookcase which so cleverly hid the entrance to the Secret Annex. We climbed even steeper, even smaller staircases to find ourselves standing the in the very rooms where the Franks, the van Pels, and Fritz Pfeffer stayed hidden for over two years. I saw the marks on the wall where Otto kept track of Anne and Margot's growth during their time in hiding. I touched the glass covering Anne's bedroom wall, which still has the collection of movie stars she pasted there soon after they arrived. I looked up into the attic where she received her first kiss. I stood in the hallway, looking out the window at her beloved Westerkerk, and while we waited quietly to head into the next room, the bells of the church tower started to ring. Anne's bells.
It was the most sobering, most incredible experience of my life.
And then I got to see her diary.
There aren't really any words to explain how I felt. Not just because it was her real diary in person but because she never knew how her dreams came true. How much her words would impact so many millions of people. And it was really very spiritual for me.
I only wish my cousin Brittany could have been there with us!
After the Anne Frank House, we ate lunch at a sweet little cafe on the Prinsengracht Canal and I treated myself to the ever-so-popular Holland fries (frites), which are basically huge steak fries with a glob of this glorious mayonnaise-type sauce, all wrapped up in a paper cone. They were fantastic.
Two days in Amsterdam was pretty perfect, and on Sunday morning, two days after our arrival, Pierce and I got up at 3 a.m. to get ready and make our 7 a.m. flight out to Barcelona. It was a whirlwind, but I will never forget it!
We love you, Amsterdam.