Welcome to Amsterdam!
I spent the past five days in Amsterdam, Holland with two of my study abroad friends. Kelly, Rachel, and I braved the freezing cold and had an absolutely wonderful time in a very…err…interesting city.
In all seriousness, I could see myself living in Amsterdam. (Mom & Dad are probably not smiling right now!). It was extremely clean, easy to get around, and felt very home-y. A weird feeling, seeing as its known for its coffee shops (where coffee isn’t the main item on the menu) and Red Light district.
My favorite part of Amsterdam was the abundance of bikes…it was also one of the scariest things! I can totally see how Sara (who studied in the Netherlands last Spring) ended up with a black eye and body full of bandages. When Meg flew off her bike in Sevilla a few weeks ago, I started wondering if maybe I should avoid the bikes in Amsterdam (and all of Europe….and Norwalk…) I was determined to prove that the Wrinn girls are coordinated and that study abroad doesn’t have to mean wearing a wrist brace.
The bikers are intense. Every bike comes equipped with a little bell that the bikers use profusely. Our tour guide warned us, “When you hear the bell, run like hell.” She was right to warn us–the bikers don’t slow down for anybody. I felt a devilish glee while riding my bike and ‘honking’ at other tourists. I’ve noticed that, in general, European parents take a lot more safety risks than Americans do. Exhibit A:
The Dutch language is also very interesting. I’ve never heard anything like it. Several people spoke to us in Dutch and it took a while to register that they were not speaking English. We had some trouble on our first night when we boarded the wrong train and then had to find our way to the hostel, thanks to signs written only in Dutch and with symbols that looked like they belonged on a Japanese billboard.
While Amsterdam was really funny, it was also a very sobering place. We visited the Anne Frank House and left very stunned and quiet. The house is empty and we were not allowed to take photos, two things that Anne’s father asked for when the house turned into a museum. The secret annexe, where the families hid for several years, had blacked-out windows and felt very stifling. The curators did an amazing job evoking what it must have been like to be captive in that house not knowing what your future held. Several pieces of the house were still intact, such as some newspaper and celebrity cut-outs that Anne had posted on her bedroom wall and the real bookcase that covered the annexe.
Afterwards, we took a train to the Corrie ten Boom house, another hiding place for Jews and members of the Dutch resistance during WWII. Corrie and her family were Christians who had an open-door policy in their home pre-war that they maintained after the Nazis invaded Holland. They took in Jews, Catholics, students who refused to join the Nazis, and members of the Resistance. The ‘hiding place’ was behind a false wall in Corrie’s bedroom and the stowaways accessed it through a small pulley-door in a linen closet.
After a fellow Dutchman betrayed the family, Nazis stormed the house but could not find the hiding place (and the people inside). They arrested Corrie and her entire family and sent them to the concentration camps–Corrie was the only one to survive. Miraculously, everyone hiding in the house that day survived. Since Corrie’s story is not very well-known, the house was pretty empty when the curator gave us a tour. While it was sobering, Corrie’s story was very uplifting. She spoke often about how her faith kept her alive and when a clerical error released her from Ravensbruck Camp, she vowed to travel the world sharing about God’s faithfulness and the importance of caring for our fellow-man.
Our hostel was a block away from the Red Light district, so we passed through every night. Our tour guide had warned us not to attempt to take pictures, and after walking through, we certainly didn’t want to. It felt very surreal to see women my age practically naked in windows. All in all, it was a part of Amsterdam that I am glad I saw, but something that will stay with me for a while.
The rest of our trip included wandering around tulip markets, stuffing ourselves with free samples at cheese shops, and riding through the streets on our bikes. We saw some beautiful, interesting, and plain weird things along the way…including meeting a beautiful princess.
I was feeling pretty sad about missing St. Patrick’s day with my family because it’s a fun affair. I was missing Grandma’s corned beef & cabbage and my Norwalk PD t shirts. Luckily, we found a great Irish pub on Sunday night that did the trick. It was my first St. Patrick’s day where I could legally drink! An older man from Belfast, Ireland bought us all a round of Guinness and we all had a blast meeting people from all around the world. Even though we were in Holland, it felt like my previous weekend in Ireland…and even more importantly, like I was back with my family. For dinner, I had ‘shamrock pie,’ a beef & Guinness stew with mashed potatoes. It was delicious!
As always, it felt so good to touch back down in Edinburgh. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to notice how much I miss my new little home when I’m traveling, and how glad I am to hear the brogue at border control! It has been a very busy two weeks with all my traveling and preparing for the end of the semester (I know, I can’t believe it either). I managed to unwind last night and went to The Three Sister’s bar (underneath my flat…how ironic!) and got a drink with a friend. Turns out we stumbled right into the weekly pub crawl; we lost horribly (our name was ‘Dumb and Dumberer’) but managed to win a pineapple. And some dog biscuits. (I’ll wander down to the meadows and find a Scottish shih tzu tomorrow).
The weather has been pretty horrible the past few days–lots of snow, rain, and freezing wind. I’ve cheered myself up with lots of scones, mint tea, and voracious studying. (Not really…but I promise I’m doing well, Mom & Dad!) Tomorrow marks the start of another exciting adventure–a week in Paris with the one and only Megan!
Oh, I almost forgot to mention one of my favorite moments in Amsterdam. The girls and I had split up for an hour to bike on our own. While crossing a canal, I also flew over the handlebars and into the water when I spotted this little girl. Meet Lucy, the Dutch shih tzu! Her Dads were more than willing to take our picture after a good snuggle sesh.
Shih tzus of Paris, beware! You have two Frankie-missing, dog-starved gemelas coming for you!