Tuesday, September 16th
My day started much earlier than I had hoped for and this early departure meant that I had to say goodbye to Folke and Linda the night before. But I was very excited to get to the next part of my trip. I had spent a long time in Sweden and was about to start on a very intense whistleblower tour that would have me in five different countries in the span of ten days. Amsterdam was my first stop!
I had a pretty complicated train itinerary to get to Amsterdam but I wasnt complaining because, finally, the trains were free! The reservations had really been adding up for me and I was very relieved to be able to do some travelling without them.
I got into Amsterdam around 11pm and immediately set out for the bar that my hostess was at. Without even realizing it, I walked straight through the red light district with my massive pack and city map. I definitely got turned around but eventually I found the small, local bar and had one of the more random and exciting reunions of my trip.
In a wonderful case of being in the right place at the right time, a close friend of Gio’s, the Brasilian CISV Interchange leader who I was partnered with three years previously (who I now consider a third sister), Hana, had recently moved to Amsterdam to study. I could hardly contain my excitement when I saw her, it was such an incredible, random chance. We immediately picked up right where we left things off three years earlier when I was living in Sao Paulo. It was like no time had passed. We talked about what we had been up to, the highs and lows we had experienced since we last saw one another, and what the circumstances were for both of us being in Amsterdam.
Exhausted, I was happy when the bar closing expedited our departure. It was a long walk back to Hanas but the time passed incredibly quickly since we had so much to talk about.
Wednesday, September 17th
My first morning in Amsterdam was a very exciting one. I had slept incredibly, knew I was able to leave my pack at Hanas, and had the entire day to explore Amsterdam. Hana had school so I was flying (no pun intended) solo on this adventure. I grabbed a day pass for the Amsterdam city transport and took a tram into the city center. My first stop was going to be the most emotionally intense of my trip, the Anne Frank house.
Fortunately, the wait was a relatively short one and passed quickly after I met two Canadian backpackers. But as soon as we walked through the doors of the house, the travel stories and laughter stopped immediately.
The beginning of Anne Franks story and the museum start in the ground floor of a neighboring building, what would have been the storage rooms of the businesses at the time Anne was there. Aa you work your way through the storage rooms and front offices of Otto Franks business, you are given the background of the Frank family, how the Nazi occupation forced them into hiding, and the arrangement they made with the incredible human beings who would help them during their time in the Hidden Room.
When you enter into the immediate area of the Hidden Room, which were the front rooms in the upstairs of the building, the air changes. The background story done, you are now walking through the same rooms and hallways that Anne, her family, and the others walked. It was haunting. I felt like gravity was stronger in those rooms, a force holding me there even though no matter of time could help me to fully understand what had happened there. Those walls had witnessed love and horror on an unparalleled level.
While my eyes had tears for the majority of the experience, the first time that I broke down was when I saw the bookcase that blocked the Hidden Room from view. Seeing the doorway opening behind the angled bookcase froze my heart. This had been someone’s front door. Walking behind the bookcase was even more intense. I have never felt so claustrophobic yet so small in my entire life. Forced to turn sideways to navigate the angle of the bookcase and the tight quarters that wait behind it, I was scared. I dont know how else to explain it. I felt as if turning sideways to enter into the Hidden Room forced me to leave something behind. An innocence. Either that, or it added something to my soul. A weight of knowledge that no text book or picture can give you. An unavoidable force that attaches to you and turns you into a witness. Either way, no one is the same person once they step behind that bookcase.
The rooms were completely bare save for a few plaques telling the story of the occupants. When the Nazi’s had discovered Anne and the others, they had stripped the space of everything and it was the wish of Anne’s father, the sole survivor of the group, that they remain that way. There were pictures of where the rooms had been temporarily furnished to the way it had been, but now they stood empty. Anne’s room, the second you walk through, still had some of the photos and comics and magazine clippings that she had put up on the walls. Seeing ‘Chimpanzee Picnic’, pictures of animals squared up side by side, and magazine ads all plastered up against the wall made it feel like Anne was in there with you. But what hit me like a freight train was seeing a comic, now unrecognizable, half ripped off the wall. I cried when I thought about the love that had gone into putting the comic up and the hate that had hastily ripped it down.
The one part of the Hidden Room that visitors can’t enter, whether it is due to logistics of entry/exit, safety, or respect, is the attic. The hatch is open and a mirror placed so you can see up into where Anne would go to watch the large tree and birds, but not even the most muffled of feet step up there. That place belongs to the ghosts.
I thought that I had gone numb as I went through the other rooms. Seeing the unattached water faucet and gas line of the kitchen, the stock exchange board game, and climbing the stairs didnt affect me like I thought it would. But then you exit the space of the Hidden Room and enter back into the neighboring building where the story abruptly jumps to the betrayal, discovery, and death of the entire group except for Otto. It was overwhelming. All lined up down the side of the room are the individual fates of each of the members. They have even gained some of the official ID cards that the Nazis used to document the movement, family members, and death of their victims. Like a roledex of whose purpose was to keep information not for ease of communication but for ease of extermination. Had someone told me that the bookcase, half ripped comic, and death documents wouldn’t be the most intense part of the experience I wpuldnt have believed them.
And then I turned a corner and saw a picture of Otto Frank standing alone in the Hidden Room, returning to the place where he had hid with his wife and daughters and friends, who were now all dead. The picture froze me in my place and I couldnt move for a long time. It was the saddest thing I have ever seen. This man who had survived hell when his loved ones hadnt and who had now returned to the last place where he had known them. It was heartbreaking.
What a terrible burden, surviving.
But it is not one that he carries alone. I, for one, now carry it more then ever.
The rest of the museum is dedicated to the physical diaries of Anne. The checkered diary that is the most well known is displayed in the center of a room downstairs and all along the walls of the room are the other books, loose pages, and sticky notes that Anne used to write her diary, stories, and quotes. The experience ends with a video of testimonials on how to take Anne’s story and turn it into a lesson to be learned and taught in the hope of it never being a reality again.
When I exited the Anne Frank House I was completelt exhausted. I slowly regathered myself and headed off into the city, following the canals and trying to digest everything I had just experienced. I found my way to the Hard Rock where I cooled off and then went to the I Amsterdam letters where I traded photo taking favors with a few others to get my tourist fix for the day. I then went for a long walk through the park just outside the city center. It was a gorgeous, sunny day and the city had come out in full force to enjoy it. Children ran every which way, the outdoor cafes were bursting at the umbrellas, and the paths were filled with the walkers, runners, boarders, bikers, and chicken suits. The chicken suit challenged me to a pillow fight which, after a second of hesitation and disbelief, I soon found myself in the middle of. It was phenomenal. It was exactly the spontaneous, quirky, loving thing that I needed. It was some sort of group making a short film or advertisement that I needed to sign a waiver for. I told them to email me the finished copy but unfortunately I have yet to receive anything. Bummer.
I made my way back to the Red Light District and into a coffeeshop, Baba, that had been recommended to me by a friend for their incredible… coffee.
Eh, who am I kidding, I got high. I sat in a corner, rolled a joint, which I realized was much like riding a bike (not that I know what that is like) and comes back to you quickly, and people watched for awhile. Then, being the fool I am and not yet feeling the effects, I took a space cake to go and went back out into the afternoon. The space cake was soon consumed and I was about an hour away from quite a ride.
I needed to be back at Hana’s around 6pm because we were going to her friends birthday dinner and by the time I got back I was stoned out of my mind. I even sent a snapchat of my face in a kite, because, you know, I was high as a kite. I laughed at my cleverness for entirely too long and the drawing that should have taken a few seconds consumed the next ten minutes of my life. Good on ya, Coffeshop Baba. Hana returned to me stuffing my face with ham and cheese toast and, after doing some loose math, told me that I was probably on the decline of my munchy-inducing high. NOPE.
We tried unsuccessfully to get me to ride a bike. I think even if I hadn’t been ripped out of my mind I would have failed but my mental state definitely doomed this attempt. I am sure we made quite the duo, Hana cruising on her bike beside my happy ass walking down the sidewalk. When we got to her friends home, we discovered much to my stoned delight that he was a sushi chef and had made homemade sushi for us! Best.munchy.food.ever. It took all my mental control to not devour each piece and to slow down and appreciate the product of 5 hours of work. Only one problem, I kept getting more high. At this point I was the highest I had ever been. Higher then when I watched the entire movie Seven with my eyes closed. Yeah we are on thst level. I went outside to get some fresh air and out of the overwhelming social interaction happening around the dining table. The evening was perfectly cool and I laid down on the balcony, which still had heat from the day’s sun, and quickly went into what can only be described as a trip. I have no idea how long I was down there, but when I arose to the Hana asking if I was okay I could only say, truthfully, that I was phenomenal.
No longer too stoned to interact with people, I returned just in time for the start of a game called Hat. We were all paired up and told to write one word down for four random categories. These words were all put into a hat and the game began! The game consisted of four rounds and in each round the pairs had to take turns trying to guess as many words as possible in 45 seconds. One would give the clues and the other wohld guess. Each round imposed new rules on what kind of clues could be given. The first was words, noises, touch but you couldnt say the word um. This was my downfall. I have never been more self concious of how much I say um! The second round limited you to one, single word, the third round you could only use movements, and the fourth round you could only use sounds and your partner had to cover their eyes. It was an absolute blast and ended the night on a wonderful high note. Get it? Ba boom pshhh.
Thursday, September 18th
I said farewell to Hana in the morning before she headed off to school. I was catching my train to Maastricht at 1pm so I killed some time by getting a cheap canal tour. Far and away the most touristy thing I have done on my trip, it was enjoyable but not something I would do again. I ambled through the city for a bit and then, eager for the next adventure and reunion with two close friends, I was off to Maastricht!!