“It’s a real wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.” — Anne Frank
My first thought of Amsterdam was how perfect and picturesque it was. I immediately noticed the sheer volume of bike riders. I knew Amsterdam was a bike friendly city, but it is easily the primary way people get around there. Every street had bike lanes and separate bike traffic lights. Riders were whipping around all over. I was asked that night if we had witnessed a tourist get hit by a bike yet! The inquiry was made with a straight face too! Apparently it’s not uncommon since cyclists ALWAYS have the right of way… and take it. Keeping this in mind, I remained a bit leery every time I crossed a street… on the constant look-out for a bike-rider that had a bad day and was feening to clip a traveler. If I wasn’t going to be hit by a bike, there was a good chance of a car, scooter or tram grazing me; so much going on in the large intersections!
Safely progressing the few blocks from the train station to the hostel on the edge of the Red Light District and we were soon back on the streets. I like Amsterdam. Every row of houses over every canal was worthy of a postcard. This being said, the neighborhoods all looked the same to me! Amsterdam is arranged in a half circle so the same street names wrap around multiple neighborhoods, which could be a bit tricky when looking for an address. While wandering, I did enjoy how walkable the city was, in the sense of size and layout… not considering the intersection danger!
On our way to the Anne Frank House on Prisengracht, we grabbed Amsterdam’s popular snack of french fries with mayo. Who knew the combination would be so tasty?! Forget ketchup! I was a fan and sampled it multiple times during our short stay. We spent the next couple of hours touring the Secret Annex where Anne Frank and seven others spent 2 years hiding during the German occupation. This sobering tour walks you through the shop on the first floor, then up two steep, narrow flights of stairs and under a low walkway behind a bookcase to the attic where the families lived in silence. At the end, you enter a museum with photos and video covering the brutal history of the occupation along with the stories of the Frank family and those who helped them.
Along the tour, quotes from Anne’s famous diary were painted on the wall. Each quote was relevant to the room or section we were in. While there was no furniture in the attic, (Otto Frank, the only survivor, believed the house should remain empty) the black-out curtains were left in place so one could attempt to imagine what it would be like, shut away all day with no fresh air or even a ray of sunshine… for two years. Experiencing the gravity of what happened, one small thing that struck me the most was a quote by Anne inscribed in a small room. A plea for a simple part of childhood, amidst magazine cut-outs she glued to the wall; “I long to ride a bike, dance, whistle, look at the world, feel young and know that I’m free.”
It was a somber place to visit, but while grim… an important reminder of the past.