Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Red Lights!

Yesterday I went to a biergarten with some friends after school. Everything was fine till some bug decided to get to work inside me and make me rather ill. I puked 7 times yesterday! So naturally I am taking a sick day today to regain my strength.

Of course, news of being sick is boring, so here is the real story: Mandie and I took a trip to Amsterdam, the capital and largest city in the Netherlands. It was lots of fun, and a nice little vacation from work and school for the both of us. Amsterdam is city full of canals and crooked buildings. All of the buildings in the city are built on wooden piles on reclaimed land and over time they have shifted about. There are also bikes everywhere. Bicycles are one of the top forms of transportation in Amsterdam, and there are bike roads and bike lanes complete with their own signals. There are many bridges in the city to allow easy crossing of all the canals. Some of the main canals have drawbridges so that larger boats can pass. The one in the picture is historically significant, because during the second world war when the Germans occupied the city, this bridge was opened so that the Jews could not leave this particular area. Around 103-105 thousand Jews were taken from Amsterdam during the war.

We went early one morning (so as to beat all the other tourists) to the Anne Frank house. Mandie, being a teacher and having assigned Anne Frank's diary as reading to her classes, was particularly interested in going to see where Anne and her family went into hiding from the Nazis occupying the city. It was very moving being in the secret annex and imagining how difficult it must have been to always be as quiet as possible as a matter of life and death. Of course the family was betrayed and they were sent to various labor and concentration camps. Otto Frank was the only person to survive the ordeal and seeing pictures of him standing in the secret annex reflecting on all that had happened, including the death of his entire family, was paticularly emotional.

Being a former dominant power in the world and being heavily involved in the colonization of the East Indies, Holland has excellent Indonesian food. We had an Indonesian lunch and it was delicious! Also one morning we went to a chocolate bar to have breakfast. This mostly consisted of gourmet chocolate milkshakes, truffles, and chocolate cake which is a wonderful way to start off a day! We ate at other places including an Italian place for pizza, a vegetarian sandwich shop, an Asian noodle/wok place, and a Dutch pancake house. Of course, there were a few coffee shops, cafés, and bakeries mixed into our Amsterdam dining experiences as well. Once, while having some tea and coffee, we saw an old-style horse-drawn carriage hauling barrels of Heineken. It turned out that we were right around the corner from the Heineken stables. I did have a Heineken just for the novelty of it all. I also drank a beer from Brouwerij‘t IJ, a local brewery in Amsterdam, which was actually quite tasty!

The Rijksmuseum had many paintings and decorative art from the Dutch golden age. Rembrandt was a famous dutch painter, and many of his works along with works of his contemporaries are displayed in the Rijksmuseum. Here there were also historical examples of delftware on display, which was a Dutch attempt of reproducing Chinese works of porcelain. the dutch soon became famous for their delftware and there are still shops that sell expensive delftware around Amsterdam. In the Rijksmuseum there were also large doll houses from the 17th century, model ships, and works of silver and gold.

One evening, while we were standing next to a statue of Spinoza, a lady came up to us and exclaimed, "The heavens are dark!" She told us that she had never noticed the statue of Spinoza and that it might be new. This actually was the case with the monument to Spinoza being erected last November. The heavens were dark and it began to rain, so we went with our new friend, Elsa, to get some tea in a nearby café. Elsa told us all sorts of stories in German and her experiences living in Amsterdam for the past 15 years. She had been in an accident that had left her using crutches to walk since her hips were no longer able to function properly. She mentioned that she enjoyed window shopping for jewelery. After exchanging addresses so that we could write to each other, we parted and went on our separate ways.

Mandie's good friend Stephanie was on a cruise with her mom and some family friends. They met us in Amsterdam and we walked about the city sharing stories about things we had seen and learned. Later on in the day her mom and friends went back to their hotel and the three of us went out exploring the city. We ate some chocolaty space cakes and wandered about Rembrandt Square and the red light district. All the girls were in their tiny apartments dancing in the illuminated windows hoping to allure customers. We stopped and got some juice at a store and some fries at a shop. After quite a bit of exploring we took Steph back to her hotel. Mandie and I wandered about and discovered that the metro was closed. We got on a bus which luckily landed us not too far from our hotel. We of course by this point were soaking wet from walking around in the rain all night. We draped all of our clothes over chairs in our room and went to sleep.

We noticed that everyone we ran into spoke immaculate English. It even got to the point where we stopped asking people if they spoke English and just went on with our questions. This is not the case here in Germany and I think one major factor in this may be that Germany dubs their movies and television and in Holland, they do not.

Before heading out we stopped by a giant book fair in Dam Square. Along the way we came across an outdoor service/fair at a Protestant church with lots of singing. There was a brief rain shower that we escaped from via some drinks in a pub. The flight back to Berlin was fun, because after the attendants passed out the standard in-flight snack and drink, they started passing out extra drinks! Bottles of wine and beer were passed out freely as they exclaimed that it was Sunday and that we should have a party.

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