Saturday, January 19, 2013

Among the Dutch

 There was a magnet attached to my family's refrigerator that said: "Dutch House Rules: If you make a mess, clean it up. If you open it, close it.  If it's none of your concern, keep it that way."  Ah, the Dutch, that half of me that I don't quite understand but can relate to.  All my life, I've known one thing: Someday, I would step foot in the Netherlands.

After living in the edges of Europe going on five years, this vision was finally fulfilled.  I went to Amsterdam for a 3 day layover before heading back to Kyiv.  Everywhere I looked, I saw my dad, grandfather, grandmother, aunt and uncles.  They were in the sideways smile of a stranger, the bouncy purposeful walk, the ladies on the bikes with my grandmother's and aunt's nose (which is a rather cute nose!), the friendly shop keepers who were kind enough to engage in conversation, the families huddled in a cafe and the quick sense of humor.  It was like going to a family reunion for 3 days.  However!  There were some striking places that made me laugh imagining my family there: the pot coffee shops and the Red-Light District just to name a few.

My first impression of Amsterdam wasn't that flattering.  We found ourselves in the middle of a New Year celebration (it was the 2nd of January) on a street filled with Chinese restaurants.  The firecrackers were ear-ringingly loud, the streets were filthy and we were surprised to be suddenly walking through The Red Light District.  But then, we found a small restaurant and warmed up with a bowl of soup and a beer.  The following two days improved drastically.
 There were five of us on this trip, the Black family, my friend Jenny and me.  The Blacks had some Visa business to take care of in the Hague so Jenny and I ventured out by ourselves.  Our first order of business was to go to Anne Frank's house.  The line was two hours long (worth it!) and began in front of this church.  Anne would have heard the bells from her hideout.
 Here is the canal in front of her house and the picture below is the entrance.  The hideout was, of course, the back of her father's shop.  It was business like usual for those two years they were in hiding.  We were not allowed to take pictures (the Spaniards who did received a strict talking to.  Gosh, I'm glad I'm a rule follower.) but it was a moving experience.  The recorded testimonies were beautiful and truthful.  I was struck by how relational the Frank family was with the Dutch who tried to hide them and their Jewish community.  Of course, Anne's story is completely tragic, but it is also hopeful.  The hope of a child.  The museum didn't turn her into a martyr, but a living, breathing girl with hopes, fears, and issues.  Maybe that's the beauty of her diary.

 Above is Anne Frank's house.
 After walking for miles (and doing a bit of shopping and sampling cheese along the way), Jenny and I decided to go to the Tuschinski Theater.  It was a beautiful art deco, 1920s building, a perfect place to watch Anna Karinina and be swept away by the moving pictures. 
 The following day, the Blacks went to discover Amsterdam by foot and Jenny and I rented bikes to see the city like the Dutch.  Let me tell you!  It's scary out on the streets until you learn the orderly rules of bike riding.  We stopped in front of a cheese shop we had seen the day before and stocked up on cheese.  I didn't buy black licorice and I am now kicking myself.

 Our destination was Vondel Park.  It had beautiful bike friendly clean paths, a lake and a cozy cafe where we ate grilled cheese sandwiches and drank the best hot chocolate ever.

 We biked for three hours or so and then turned the bikes in.  We met the Blacks at the giant Christmas tree at the train station.

 We almost ate on this short street (pictured below because who doesn't love things with their name on it?) but turned a corner and found the best Italian food!  Amazing!  It was so well priced and delicious. 

 Jenny and I wanted to go ice skating and we all found a little outdoor frozen rink.  This has been another dream of mine for, well, forever.  Well, some dreams turn into nightmares.  I couldn't skate at all with my skates and the choppy ice.  After twice around, I fell hard onto my knees.  So, I was out.  Jenny, being far more graceful than I, managed to skate on.

Was this my last trip to the Netherlands?  I hope not.  I still imagine myself knocking on the door of my great-grandfather's cottage asking to explore the grounds or biking in through the tulip covered countryside.  Someday, with my father by my side, I will explore again.  Just because I'm leaving Europe after this year, doesn't mean that dreams die.