Thursday, July 7, 2011
The flight to Amsterdam (via Zurich) was smooth and I have to say we all stayed fairly sane. Once we landed however, I think mild panic set in and we were easily overwhelmed trying to get a train ticket to get to Todd's house. Not having a phone combined with not really understanding the directions or the machine made this relatively simple exercise daunting. Mild panic can lead to expensive choices and in our case this translated into taking a cab that cost three times as much as public transportation. All the same, after 14 hours of flying it felt like a justifiable if not necessary expense.
We're staying with Todd and his husband Reinhold, a connection through our friend Tom in Portland. They've been spoiling us like crazy with elaborate vegan meals cooked from their garden vegetables and bags of vegan candy for Vaughn. Today Todd took public transportation with us into central Amsterdam to make sure we made it okay. This involved a bus, a ferry and a tram and I can say with a fair amount of certainty we would not have made it on our own.
Our primary goal for the day was to visit the Anne Frank House and we were thankful for the pre-purchased tickets (thanks Sarah and Lindsay!) with their specific entry time that allowed us to bypass the massive line winding around the block. On the way to the Anne Frank House, Todd showed us a “piss wall” which is a public, semi-enclosed, three-walled outdoor urinal available to men in need (the convenience of this would hit me later when I was digging out 50 cents to pay to use a bathroom at Grand Central Station). The walls are made out of a metal design and while discrete, they are certainly not solid.
When we arrived at the Anne Frank House it was pointed out to us by the admissions clerk that our entry time was actually for tomorrow. The museum sells out way in advance and despite the fact that apparently this is a well known scam (buying tickets for another day when the day you want to go is sold out), we must have looked really authentically pathetic because after conferring with management they let us in.
The Anne Frank House is as you might imagine - small, sad, haunting. There is no furniture in the House because it was seized by the Nazi's and after the war Anne's father, Otto, decreed that it should stay empty. It was a little hard to be properly reverent due to the gaggle of obnoxious tweens racing around lost in their own conversations.
After the Anne Frank house, we wandered around to get a sense of the city and try and find something to eat. There are bicycles EVERYWHERE in Amsterdam zipping along at break-neck speed and avoiding a collision requires staying alert and focused. The weather seemed to change every 10 minutes (Todd pointed out that it was very akin to San Francisco's weather) but we luckily avoided the major downpour that had happened the day before. The particular area we were in was primarily blocks of shops of tacky souvenirs and the renowned pot-filled “coffee shops” (Todd told me that if I wanted actual coffee I should look for koffee with a 'k' and avoid the word “shop”) interspersed with higher end retail shops. Having spent almost $6 on two cans of strawberry soda that neither Jacob nor Vaughn even drank, we were starting to think that we'd better get a better grip on our spending. Jacob managed to land a falafel but I finally broke down and got a juice (strawberry with basil) a bagels and a jar of peanut butter for Vaughn and myself.
Despite our rough starts, we did get all the way back to the house on our own with relative ease. Todd and Reinhold packed us into the car with their cocker spaniel, Joey and we took off to go see Todd's plot at the community garden and then walk along the water in search of a basketball hoop. This was by far the most relaxed and peaceful part of the day and the area was beautiful and serene with swans, ducks and even a heron wading off the shore. Todd has been awesome about patiently explaining the differences in holidays, squatting laws, workers' rights and even listening to me make inane comments about how the long words here take me back to my homeland of IKEA.
The sun rises here at about 4:30 am and doesn't set until after 11:00. We've slipped into a wonderfully lazy schedule of eating dinner after 8:30 and this morning we got up at 9:30 – managing to avoid all symptoms of jet lag. The only real rough patch has been that our little traveling companion is not really acclimated to the late nights and they have been throwing him off a bit and making bedtime hard and teary. We've heard that he is “homesick” a couple times – not exactly the best sign this early on.
Tomorrow Todd has the day off and has said he'll wander around and show us some sights. And we did manage to find a basketball hoop that Jacob and Vaughn can take the bus to in the morning so that should help somewhat.