Thursday, April 19, 2012

Amsterdam: Day 1

I should preface the upcoming string of Europe trip posts with the note that neither Ben nor I had ever been to Europe.  Prior to this trip, we've both been lucky enough to do limited travel growing up and had been out of the country (Ben to Canada, Mexico and Jamaica; myself to India, Mexico and Guatemala).  But even having been out of the country, and even though I've been to some third-world countries, this was our first opportunity to plan a major trip where we were in charge of ourselves and iterinary.  It was differently a welcomed challenge the I took the reins of and consulted with Ben on. 

Just wanted to share that tid-bit :O)

On to the trip!

Thursday, 3/29:
Knowing that we needed to sleep on the plane, and also not being able to get a good night’s sleep the night before due to excitement, I woke up at 4:45am (instead of my usual 5:30 or 6) and went to the gym to work out.  It felt fabulous!  I avoided any and all caffeine, which was hard to do since I am used to at least two cups and sometimes three.
I had a work conference that luckily ended up being in the same building complex as Ben’s office (not my regular office, which is a little over a mile away).  It was convenient in that I was able to leave the conference, go to Ben’s office to change into travel clothes and leave me work clothes there.  Then we hopped on the El (train) together to get to O’Hare.
We both took 6mg of melatonin when we started boarding. The flight itself was (obviously) long, about 8.5 hrs.  We stayed awake for dinner and then tried to sleep after that.  Neither of us slept well, but enough that we felt okay.

Friday, 3/30:
Customs at Schipol airport was fast, which was nice. We easily located the train into Amsterdam Centraal.  Well, we located where the trains were without issues, but it took us a while to realize we were on the wrong track platform itself.  I was happy that I’d bought the 2nd class tickets, which were 7E for the two of us because no one came to check our tickets while on the train.

The ride from Schipol to Centraal takes about 15 minutes and goes along some interesting buildings and landscape.  Once we arrived at the Centraal station, our plan was to find the Grasshopper, a bar where we’d agreed to meet our friends, R and D, and their friend A.  They’re living in Glasgow for school and came to Amsterdam to meet us as part of their spring holiday.  I was surprised that it was Ben who navigated us to Grasshopper (he’s terrible with directions), but that was only after almost getting hit by cars and then a few bikers on the way.  It took some getting used to, but we had to check for vehicles and then the bike lane before crossing a lot of streets.
 It was SO nice to walk into a foreign place and have bright smiling faces to greet us!  I cannot say enough how wonderful it felted to be greeted with hugs!  It also helped to have them there because (1): This was D’s 5th or 6th trip to Amsterdam, so he knew his way around and (2): We had people to keep us awake and moving on that first day trying to adjust to the time.

We located the rental apartment without much fuss.  I had emailed the owner two days prior to confirm a noon check-in (found the apartment via, so when we arrived at 11:50am, I was pleased with our time estimate.  However, we waited and waited.  At 1pm, when she still hadn’t shown or answered texts of emails (thanks to R and D letting us use their phones), I sent her an email that we were going to go to the pub, De Beiaard across the canal and wait for her.  It wasn’t fun lugging our luggage around, but we didn’t have much of a choice.

Bikes everywhere!

Luckily, the pub was a good spot!  They had an endless beer menu (which was cheap too) and some decent food. Around 2pm, we started thinking that maybe we got stood up and should consider looking for somewhere else to stay. We emailed the apartment owner and finally around 3pm, three hours late, she returned our email with endless apologies and some reasoning about how she’d switched from a Blackberry to an iPhone and lost her calendar or something. Who knows. We went to the apartment and were greeted by her.  She was very apologetic and nice, but definitely seemed a bit spacey!
Beulingstraat; the street the apartment was on
The apartment itself was simple and clean, perfect for what we needed.  R & D gave us the bedroom and they slept on the pullout bed in the living room (Their friend A stayed at a hostel).  In the end, it was cheaper for us to rental the apartment than stay in a hostel and we definitely had more luxury with space, kitchen, bathroom and laundry.  The cost of the apartment was 75E/couple/night (approximately $100/day; the hostels I’d looked at where 38E/person/night).
Living Room
After relaxing and unpacking some, we headed over to Anne Frank Haus for our 5pm ticket time.  Prior to the trip, I had every intention of buying tickets online.    Initially I was nervous about jetlag and having tickets for that afternoon, not knowing how we’d feel, but in the end, it worked out well as it gave us something to look forward to.  There was a line when we got there, but with our tickets (9.50E/person) we were able to get right in.

You can find of see the line of people as we approached

I’m sure most people have heard the story of Anne Frank or maybe even read her diary, Kitty, at some point.  During WWII, her family went into hiding in July 1942 at an apartment above where her father worked, which was called the Secret Annex.  Later another family and a man joined the Franks in hiding. The entryway was hidden behind a bookcase.  Ben and I both read the diary prior to the trip, so we had mental images of what to expect, but nothing could truly prepare us for what we saw.

To be honest, at some points of reading her diary, Anne was so positive that I kind of thought despite not being able to go outside and living in constant fear of being caught, that things really weren’t all that bad for them.  My goodness, was I in denial.  The rooms were SO small for what they must have accommodated (the rooms are now empty, but you get to go into them).  Not only were they small, but everything truly was so dark and grim without natural light.  In the room that Anne shared with Fitz (an older man/dentist who came to live in the Annex), the pictures she pasted on the wall are still there and I can only imagine what her life must have been like those years in hiding. You can almost picture a young girl posting these pictures and day dreaming of a different life.

The overall experience was bone chilling, not only to think of eight people living in such a confined and dark space, but also to think that they were just one group of many, and they were lucky ones to be able to go into hiding rather than sent to concentration camps or killed on the spot.  To think that one man was so powerful and convincing to create such a phenomena is really scary.

After leaving the Secret Annex, we went in search of De Drie Fleschjes, Three Little Bottles, which is an aged beer bar that one of our friends saw on Anthony Bourdain show and recommended we find.  The interior itself was impressive, with its walled lined with “family” kegs, however, besides some locals at a table, there weren’t any seats so we only stayed for a drink.
We visited Albert Heijn, the corner grocery a block from the apartment and made a pasta dinner at home, which was really nice and low key. 
The grocery
(PS- They also have the world's most delicious sugar doughnuts
 made fresh daily; we thrived on these for breakfasts!)
City tram

After dinner, we bar hopped a bit after that and also walked through Red Light District, which was surreal. It was streets of big windows lined with red lines and barely dressed women in each window daring someone to come in. Some were dancing to themselves and a few were on their phones. We saw a couple guys go in here and there, but overall the whole concept and area was just bizarre to me!! Obviously I know prostitution occurs, but for this to be such a spectacle, is just plain weird. 
We stayed awake until midnight, I’m not sure how we managed, but I think it’s due to drinks and friends :O)


  1. That is so incredible that you were able to go to the Annex where Anne Frank and her family were in hiding. I just told my H that is a must do!

  2. It was an extrememly surreal experience; I definitely recommend going!


Blogging tips