Maastricht

Thursday, September 18th
I got into Maastricht around 3pm and wandered around the city for awhile while I waited for Aaron, a friend from my Birthright trip last spring, to meet me. I would be staying with Aaron for the next two nights and was very excited to see him. A fellow CISVer and an all around great guy, we had really hit it off on Birthright and I was really looking forward to experiencing Europe through his perspective.
Maastricht was larger than I thought it was going to be, but it definitely was no Amsterdam. I liked the small town feel that it had to it and once Aaron came he was able to give me a lot of history and informstion on the place. We sat at a bar by the university where Aaron teaches to catch up over some beers. Aaron was able to recommend what I should try which helped me get a truer (and tastier) local experience. When we got to Aarons, we decided to do a homemade dinner and went to go get the makings for tacos! Here Aaron introduced me to a self checkout process that took it to the extreme. There was no worker checking your bags, you scanned and put your groceries in your own bags in the store so there was no moving of groceries from a cart to a bag, and the entire thing just involved such a high and evolved level of trust it was astounding.
Aaron, a whiskey lover, then treated me to some great whiskey and conversation to end the night. It was a good first night in Maastricht.

Friday, September 19th
Had a wonderfully lazy morning where I was able to take a long shower and eat a big brekky. I had missed fresh muesli and milk.
I headed into town where I was meeting an old friend from high school, Carlene, who had recently moved to Maastricht with her boyfriend. I was pretty nervous to see Carlene. Even though it was only to hang out for a day, I hadnt seen or spoken to her in five years and confess that I had done a poor job of keeping that friendship a priority. Thankfully my worries were without need.
Carlene and I had been close senior year of high school. We had been partners in crime, so to speak. It was incredible how quickly we got back to that ground. It wasnt immediate, I know I personally was unsure how to go about conversation, but eventually we were once again comfortable in each other’s presence. I have had my share of reunions at this point so youd think I would be used to seeing an old friend sitting across a table from me in a random place in Europe, but even then I still couldn’t believe that it was actually happening.
Carlene and I grabbed lunch at one of the many cafes in Maastricht and then went and enjoyed a traditional fry cone. I was advised to get curry ketchup, mayo, and onions on mine so I hesitantly put aside my dislike for mayo and was treated marvelously for the decision. They were delicious and apparently the favorite of the locals. We then walked through the shopping streets and made our way to the riverside where we enjoyed a nice Belgium beer (truly great beer but I do miss my IPA). By then it was time for me to meet back up with Aaron so Carlene and I said goodbye and made some tentative plans to try and go to Oktoberfest together.  Unfortunately these plans fell through later but it meant a lot to me that Carlene invited me in the first place.
I returned to the same bar outside Aaron’s university and soon was joined by him and a group of his coworkers. This was the first time that I realized that over the past month I had legitimately lost some of my social skills. I was intimidated and felt out of place in a social setting that I had always flourished in. I got my social feet underneath me soon enough though and it turned into a wonderful evening.
We all went to dinner at a really nice local spot. Halfway through one of Aaron’s coworkers learned he was an uncle so that added some cheer and excitement to the night. Set on making sure I had experienced Belgium beer, Aaron then led the way to another bar where we had a few drinks before calling it a night.
This day was incredible but far and away frol anything I had experienced so far in the trip. Eating out twice, having drinks throughout the day, and being in constant social interaction was not something I was used to. I loved every minute of it, but knew that it wasn’t sustainable with my budget or approach to the trip.

Saturday, September 20th
That morning I finalized my bus ticket to London from Brussels later that night.
I packed up everything from the past two days, which included newly washed laundry, and joined Aaron for a final lunch in Maastricht. It was so good. A heaping chicken sandwich that had me more than satisfied. I was sad to be on the road so quickly, because Maastricht had been really awesome, but my trip to London was quite possibly the most excited I had been for anything the whole time I had been on the road.
My train to Brussels, where I would catch my bus to London, left just past 2pm. I would only be in Brussels for a few hours but I wanted to make the most of it so when I got in just before 5pm I grabbed a map and optimistically set out to find my bus stop and then go explore! If I am being completely honest, I was overwhelmed by Brussels for the sheer reason of trying to locate where I would pick up my bus. I had taken the train to the central station but my bus left from one of the other main city terminals. In an attempt to gain my bearings I approached the ticket counter where I was reluctantly greeted by the douchiest ticket teller of all time. As soon as I uttered the word bus, he interrupted me to let me know that this was the place to get train tickets. I explained that I knew that but was hoping he could point me in the right direction to the station I had to go to. He outright refused, stuck on the fact I had mentioned bus even though I was asking for the location of a train station. So I smiled, told him he was absolutely no help at all, flicked him off, and walked away. I am not proud of it, but in the moment I was so beyond furious with that human being it was the most polite option I had to choose from. I dont know if I would have sped up my car if he had been standing in the road, but I definitely wouldn’t have braked.
Anyways, I found the station on my own and once I was confident I could navigate to it I ventured out into Brussels for a few hours. But I was so out of sorts that I had lost a lot of interest in walking around. I explored the Grand Place which, as its name suggests, is quite grand and impressive. A marching band had been going through the square and the gypsies were peddling their flowers and magazines as a group of Russian tourists followed their guide like baby ducks. It was a wonderful sight. It was dusk so the buildings were all lit up and the side streets were all bustling with the sound of cafes and bars and chocolate stores.
I retreated into the Hard Rock (I really do have a guilty pleasure with these places) and actuallt sat down for a meal. The staff immediately had me feeling better as they all asked where I was from, joked that my pack needed a meal of its own, and informed me of the unknown perk of a free sundae for Eurail pass holders! I left Hard Rock in a complete different frame of mind and headed to the train station where I would catch my bus. Once there Brussels continued to redeem itself as the lady at the car rental office let me chsrge my phone at her desk as I read my book outside. When confronted by security for sitting down in that area, she even came out of her office to tell them I was allowed to stay. It was then that I really began to feel bad about my behavior with the attendant earlier and I told myself to never let something like that get me that frustrated ever again. So far, I have kept thst promise.
I was really anxious about catching this bus. The company didn’t have an office in the station and there was no sign for where the bus would be. All I had was a general sense of where it would be. Thankfully I attached myself to other people waiting for the same bus so that eased my mind a bit.
I boarded the bus just past 11pm and wouldnt see London until 6am. Lets tango, iDBus!
The bus ride was good. I didnt get much sleep and customs was a really weird, drawn out experience but I did get the second passport stamp of my trip which was fun! To cross the Channel, the bus actually drove onto a train that then used the tunnel. I remember the bus driving onto the train, but after that I was out like a light.

I would wake up in England.

Amsterdam

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!!