Well, I wasn't really sure what to expect from Amsterdam and my first impressions were not very good. As we exited the beautiful central station we walked into a mass of very diverse people. Past the people, on what appeared to be sidewalks, were the trams. I was pretty sure that I would be run over by a tram before even getting to see the city. But don't worry, I made it out alive. Before heading to the hostel to drop our bags we walked around the city for a while. Between avoiding the Red Light District (a street designated for legalized prostitution), trying to breathe while being engulfed with the smell of marijuana (which is very legal and very popular), and being overwhelmed with all of the people, deciding where to walk seemed like a daunting task. So we made our way to the hostel - the Shelter Jordan. It ended up being a Christian hostel, which I was very excited about. I also learned that a group of students from Wheaton College work at this hostel as a part of a youth ministry program and that my mom has actually worked here when she attended Wheaton. I thought it was pretty cool. Anyways, after we got situated at our hostel we headed to the Anne Frank house.
I was looking forward to visiting the Anne Frank house since we arrived in Europe. Although I didn't fully appreciate the book when I was forced to read it in middle school I have grown to understand how big of a deal her diary was and have learned a lot more about WWII. The house, although there was construction going on, looked just like all the other houses along the street. You would never pick it out to be such a point of significance or that it would contain a secret annex where at one time Jews hid from the Nazis. We all learned about the war and Hitler and the concentration camps, but when walking through a trap door disguised as a bookcase and standing in a room covered with black curtains to prevent being seen it all becomes a lot more real. Otto Frank didn't want the house to be displayed with furniture so all of the rooms were empty with the exception of little notes or books with significance to Anne Frank and her story on display. It was very surreal walking through Anne Frank's little room with the original wallpaper full of pictures of movie stars pasted on and trying to fathom that this is was where she spent her dark and lonely days writing in her diary about Peter while she was in hiding. The entire experience was very moving and a highlight of our trip to Amsterdam. It was also very cool to be surrounded by people from all over the world. All of the displays were described in multiple languages and the short film segments had subtitles in five different languages! It is amazing to me how the diary of one little girl became so universal and it started in this tiny little house in Amsterdam. At the end of the tour there is big section that deals with racial and religious discrimination practices still going on today. Otto Frank's whole idea of the diary being published was not only so people could understand what they went through but also to learn more about the past so that it doesn't happen again. It was very interesting and all this to say that if you are ever in Amsterdam, the Anne Frank house is definitely worth a stop.
After the Anne Frank house we headed back to the hostel for a yummy and only 5 euro dinner. It was great and we met the staff and ended up going out with them later that night! But i'll save that for the next post so that you don't get overwhelmed. We got back to the hostel at about 12:30 and were exhausted. But I had a little trouble falling asleep because some of our roommates were a little loud. We stayed in the 18 bed female dorm because it was the least expensive and I thought that it would be an interesting experience, and it was. We were up and at em' the next morning and enjoyed free breakfast with the hostel and were back on the streets of Amsterdam by 10:30 am. We first went to the big I AMSTERDAM sign to take some pics and then just walked around some nice neighborhoods. This part of the city was a lot nicer than what we saw the day before - it was clean, not crowded with people, and didn't smell like weed. Then we went to the Blue Cafe for lunch. It was at the very top of a shopping center and we could see the entire city from our table! It was very cool. Then we headed to one of the many canals to catch a canal boat ride! The boat was very long and had tables set up. It took us all through Amsterdam and got to see the city from a canal view. We did some more walking and then decided that we wanted some coffee before dinner so went looking for a little cafe close to the hostel. We usually walk by two or three every street but when we finally wanted to go into one we couldn't find any. The first one we saw looked very old and not necessarily cute but the sign outside said 'cappuccinos' so we were sold. Francesca noted that there were a lot of old people inside and I responded with 'well old people can be fun' and we ventured in. Well, it was not only full of old people, but old men. The only other female in the little building was the waitress and she gave us a really confused look when we walked in. The cafe was dark and creaky and I felt like a lot of 'business deals' went on inside. There was also a black cat just hanging out. We were only in there for about ten minutes and then evacuated quickly, we obviously didn't fit in. It was quite the experience. But we headed back to the hostel for dinner and then walked around a bit to see the city some more at night. We were exhausted once 10 o clock rolled around and did some reading and journaling before heading off to bed. We also had a new roommate...who yelled in her sleep. That was very nice.
In our last few hours in the city the next day we walked around some more and visited Madame Tussaud's wax museum. We were advised that it was not the greatest thing you could do in Amsterdam but we really wanted to go anyways. It was pretty cool, and a little freaky, but we did see Obama and I got my picture taken with Robert Pattinson. I mean, it doesn't get much better than that. Before we caught our train back to the apartment we did some more walking.
Overall we enjoyed our time in Amsterdam, but I would not be excited for a return trip. It is a very interesting city and a good experience but will probably not make it to my list of top ten favorite places in the world. As one of our friends from the hostel said, "It is the most beautiful city, and it is the ugliest city." It has so much history, the buildings are magnificent and there are so many happy tourist but then the city contradicts itself with a whole section for prostitution and 5 weed shops on every street. I am very glad we experienced it but did not leave the city with a burning desire to return anytime soon.