Monday, November 15, 2010

Mainland Europe via Amsterdam

Bicycles, bicylces and more bicycles. Couldn’t help but be reminded of my summer spent in Minneapolis thanks to all the bicycles in Amsterdam. I expected to see the notorious red light district and special coffee shops in this city, but bikes? They lined practically every inch of free space along the many canals, as well as the sidewalks on side streets. We were more likely to have been run over by all the people bicycling along their designated sections on the roads than cars or trams. Luckily, the little bells most people had signaled for us to quickly leap out of the way.

On Wednesday I took an ironically one-hour plus bus ride from Hartley Hall to the Manchester airport and a short 25-minute flight to Amsterdam.  The travel companions were all fellow Hartley Hall-ers - Athan from Greece,  Sercio from Spain, Tina from Swedan, Julia and Iris from Austria, Mo from Saudia-Arabia and Katlin and Mike from the U.S. We met up Tina’s friend from Serbia, who she hadn’t seen in over 10 years upon arriving in the city.  It was nice to see them so happy to finally get to see each other again.

We got creative with the sleeping arrangement seeing the hotel room was only made for seven people. And the room was a little sketchy to say the least. It was about a 15 to 20 minute walk to the city center and thanks to the many canals in the city, it was easy to get turned around. A lot of lost moments, which actually worked out since we probably saw more of the city than had it been any other way.

Overall, Amsterdam surprised me. Some things I was saddened to see but a lot more good countered that. The extensive canal system and Victorian style attached buildings are very charming. Probably a great place to see in the spring or summer. Unfortunately it was cold and rainy for much of our time there. But that made those times when we could be inside something to look forward to. The Dutch were nice and their pancakes were even nicer. Shared a Dutch pineapple bacon pancake at a cozy pancake bakery that felt more like a pizza parlor.

Time spent at the Anne Frank house and Van Gogh Museum were highlights. My interest in the holocaust probably began upon receiving the Anne Frank book and my own diary when I was a kid. It was hard to rap my mind around actually seeing the rooms, two Jewish families spent over 2 years hiding in. The Frank family moved from Germany to Amsterdam when things started to seem fishy with the Nazi’s. Otto Frank, Anne’s father, ran his business in the same house they would later hide in. Once the Nazi’s controlled Amsterdam, the business was put under other people’s names, his family hid in a secret annex on the top floors and Otto continued to help run the business. They were betrayed by an unknown source and the eight people hiding in the Amsterdam home were brought to various concentration camps just months before the war’s end. Otto, the only survivor, returned to the house and found it was emptied by the Germans. For that reason no furniture is found in the house to this day. Replicas were made to show what it did look like that between 1943 and 1945. And pictures Anne collected on her walls also remained. One of the person’s who helped in hiding them had however found papers and Anne’s diary, saved them, and they were eventually returned to Otto. He was quoted with saying “To build up a future, you have to know the past.” Anne’s diary, published in over 70 countries and their preserved home do just that. It was a touching experience.

The Van Gogh Museum houses over 200 of his painting, along with his sketches and painting from other artists who inspired him or were inspired by him. I enjoy the how Van Gogh approaches color and brush techniques. Loved seeing everything up-close. Found my-self even more in awe of all of his creations and what he brought to the art world.

First experiences in mainland Europe were good. Didn’t expect Amsterdam to be my first taste of it. I was impressed by Amsterdam’s beauty and would recommend a trip there to others.

The rest of November is going to require buckeling down with school but the recent weekends away will make it easier. Will be working to put about 10,000 words to paper in the 3 essays required for my classes.

The work will be broken up with a Manchester United game, Manchester Christmas market and trip to Lincoln, which is the home to England’s largest Christmas market. Being surrounded by Christmas spirit is making me excited to see all of you!

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