After the great four day weekend Holiday in October the majority of us Champlain College kids could breathe a sigh of relief. The weekend of travels gave everybody, what I think was, a necessary breath of fresh air from the stuffiness of always hanging out with the same people. Once my parents left Ireland, and I was back enjoying the time with my roommates and our group of friends, it was not hard to see that the little break away from each other helped bring us all back to a better place here in Dublin. After a crazy Halloween weekend it was time to prepare for our big shebang weekend trip to Amsterdam.
Amsterdam was one of the first group trips we all bought tickets for towards the beginning of the semester. It took us awhile to choose between Berlin and Amsterdam, but eventually Amsterdam won out and we were all booking our flights on Aer Lingus (a nice little break from the chaos that can be Ryanair). The tickets were a little pricier than we had wished, but we were all pretty positive that it was a city we all wanted to see before leaving Europe and heading back to the States.
Despite our excitement for the trip, our first challenge was finding a hotel that would comfortably fit the ten of us that wanted to go. I don’t know what it is but booking the hotel always seems to be the most stressful part of the trips I’ve taken so far. We booked two rooms at the HEM Hotel Amsterdam just outside the city centre two days before we were to fly to the Netherlands. We flew in on a Thursday evening so we didn’t get to our hotel until around 10 or 11, by that time we were all tired and figured it’d be best to just hang out at the hotel and have a fresh start the next day. However we did decide to hit up the hotel bar before we headed to bed.
It was there that we met Yvon. Yvon was a crazy Dutch woman, who we proclaimed was “our kind of bartender”, who surely gave us some fun things to remember Amsterdam for. She quickly began talking to us like we had known her forever. She told us the story of her spontaneous marriage to a man in Barbados and subsequently their spontaneous divorce. She proclaimed that she didn’t see the need for a man in her future, considering she was so fine on her own. I loved her independence. She also told us what we should and should not do while in Amsterdam. She pulled out a map of all of the major tourist attractions in Amsterdam and then excitedly flipped it over to show us the map of Amsterdam’s night life. She also gave us an unlimited supply of bar peanuts which we easily scarfed because we were all starving, the hotel restaurant was closed, and the area we were staying in didn’t really have much to offer with regards to food. Shocker: there wasn’t even a McDonalds in sight.
We ended our first night in Amsterdam with some good laughs with a new friend and a stomach happily filled with the good taste of Jupiler beer. Yvon also gave us all free Coca Cola glasses to take home with us. It’s nice to also have people to attach to these places that we visit. When I visited Belgium, Marissa’s aunt Sonya and her cousin Cindy are people that I can attach to the experience that I otherwise never would have known. This woman, Yvon, is now engrained in my memory as a part of an experience I will never forget. She is now a character in the stories I will tell my future friends and family of my trips abroad. I think that it was one of the coolest things about this entire studying abroad experience. Meeting people from all over the world really puts into perspective how similar we all are. Sometimes I think we are all more similar than we think.
The next day we woke up fairly easily and headed out in search of the city. We immediately bought our I Amsterdam passes the second we hit city centre. We then made our way to the famous Van Gogh museum that houses some of his most famous pieces. Some of these include : Sunflowers, The Potato Eaters, and The Bedroom. After that we headed to the Rijks Museum which included some of the finest works from the 17th century. One of the exhibits was devoted to Golden Age. This is where they featured works of art on the Dutch Republic, Frans Hals, Rembrandt, and Johannes Vermeer. My favorite exhibit in this museum happened to be in this one room that had on display four or five different illustrated children’s books. The exhibit had on display the process it took to create the characters that were featured in these various Dutch books. They also had on display the final product so that you could flip through and gain a better understanding of how it came to be. One of the books was called De Boomhut (The Tree House). This book was illustrated by a father and a daughter by the names of Ronal Tolman and Marije Tolman. The book has no words, it is all pictures. I fell in love with this book and had to buy myself a copy in the gift shop. If you have time you should really check it out, it’s about how a brown bear and a polar bear grow to be great friends, but the illustrations are up to you to decipher, (if you want to check it out:http://www.lemniscaat.nl/Jeugd/Prentenboeken/titels/9789047702290/De%20boomhut).
When I signed up to study abroad in Ireland, I knew that meant that I would be travelling to several other countries in the four months I would be living in Europe. I went into the experience knowing that I wanted to travel to Amsterdam to visit Anne Frank’s house. I first read The Diary of Anne Frank in the fifth grade. I remember taking the diary off of the book shelf in my schools library and noticing right away that the first entry written by Anne was June 12th. It caught my eye because I realized that we shared the same birthday. Needless to say, I immediately formed a connection with this young girl. We were required to read her dairy in school, but I had already bought the copy and began reading it before it was assigned. Her story is fascinating and her writing is even more compelling. Her intelligence at the age of thirteen was crazy for me; I still don’t feel as if I could ever write as eloquently as she. Her maturity and her grasp on the entire situation is eye opening to so many people.
When my cousin had the opportunity to visit her house during her study abroad experience, I knew that I had to do it during mine. We made it to her street on a rainy Saturday to a line that wrapped all around the building and a couple of streets over. I instantly thought that we weren’t going to make it in. I feared that nobody else in my group would find it worth the wait. Luckily I was not the only one that thought it was important that we did this one activity while in Amsterdam.
Walking through the house is unexplainable. The first room you enter is a room with four blown up pictures of Anne’s smiling, innocent face. On the wall reads her quote, “One day this terrible war will be over. The time will come when we will be people again and not just Jews! We can never be just Dutch, or just English, or whatever, we will always be Jews as well. But then, we’ll want to be.” That quote was written by Anne in 1944, she was 15 at the time and already spoke with the maturity of a wise 51 year old. She has to be the world’s most compelling teenager.
What was even more eye opening about the experience was how Otto Frank had made the decision to leave all of the rooms completely unfurnished. He wanted to keep them as they were the day that they were discovered, after the war was over and the Germans had taken everything. Walking through the houses there are random pictures and quotes on the wall and models to show what the rooms once looked like. On some of the walls you can still see where they marked how tall the children grew over the course of their hiding. It was overwhelming existing in a space where a family once spent years of their life fearing discovery. It’s nothing you can fully describe.
Several times throughout the experience the museum reiterated how important it is to bring awareness to global acceptance to those of us who are different; whether it be your religion, race, or sexuality. The Anne France House is a living reminder of how narrow-mindedness and the inability to practice tolerance can have the treacherous power to destroy. For two years the Frank’s lived in fear of deathly discrimination. It is scary that even in the present day the world still struggles with the idea of tolerance, if only they could all visit the Anne Frank House and feel how I felt walking between its ghostly walls.
I think it’s safe to say that Amsterdam will be one of the more defining trips I take while I am staying here in Europe. We experienced so many extremes while we were there. We saw art and diamonds. We were lifted by the cities beauty and temporarily deflated by the intensity of Anne Frank’s House. We saw the Red Light District (which can only be described as unreal). The city was eerie, beautiful, and captivating, with so much history. I hope to find myself there again.