Last Friday we touched ground in Amsterdam, the city my dad has always wanted to see. Built on the banks of the River Amstel, this surprisingly compact capital is positively chock-full of canals and bridges. Chaotic by nature, it is a land of marijuana and alcohol, teeming with tourists indulging in unique legalities and locals whisking by on bikes, ready to run you over if you aren’t paying attention (in that way it kind of reminded me of the A&M campus!). Still, it’s also somehow a peaceful place, a place of acceptance and universal tolerance. Anyone and everyone is welcome and appreciated exactly as they are. It’s the outcast’s paradise and for that, it is ever more beautiful.
So here’s the story: Ravenous after a day of travel without a proper breakfast, our first excursion was a search for food (as always). Using the tall spires of Sint Nikolaaskerk (the Church of St. Nicholas) and the River Amstel as guides, we wandered out to the Nieuwmarkt to see the Waag, one of the only surviving Medieval structures in the Netherlands and to have lunch on one of the many terraced cafes along the big canal. Per usual however we ended up walking for probably over an hour unable to agree on a restaurant, but we finally came along Oriental City and settled into a third floor corner window overlooking the busy streets of Amsterdam. After a great meal with a great view, we were refreshed for more sightseeing.
On the way to our big tourist attraction of the day, we were delighted to find ourselves in Dam Square where the National Monument looms in the center, a symbolic obelisk surrounded by statues to commemorate the Dutch victims of World War II and where busy crowds gather around street performers in front of the Koninkljn Pal. We joined the circle that had formed around one mullet-clad individual who had had an audience member wrap him up tightly in saran wrap and then lock a chain around his legs and waist. We watched him free himself-holding back no profanity or even nudity-and then headed onward.
Over many bridges, we made it to the Westerkerk, a beautiful Austrain protestant church leftover from the reign on the Hapsburgs in Holland. Set in subtle marble outside was the Homomonument, a modern testament to the resilience of the homosexuals in Amsterdam who were sent along with the Jews to concentration camps when the Nazis occupied the city. One of the monuments arrows pointed towards the Anne Frank Huis,the place where we were going, so we followed its guidance in respectful solemnity.
Ever more sobering than even the Homomonument was the Anne Frank house itself. Not really Anne Frank’s home at all, the house is actually the annex where Anne, her family and a few other Jews hid from the Nazis for two years before they were betrayed and taken away to concentration camps far away. We may have waited in line in the rain and cold for a long time, but I will never believe it wasn’t worth it. Hearing Anne’s story in her own words, seeing first hand the place where she almost survived the storm, and standing underneath the frame of the secret door she walked through, all of those things made me feel like I knew her. The loss of such a brilliant young mind was but one small tragedy within the massive one that was the Holocaust, but it was one I hope the world will never forget.
A break at the hotel let us clear our heads after such a heavy couple of hours , but then it was time to experience the city in its most special ways. I’ll leave all that to your imagination but just know that no amount of rain or cold could have dampened our fun that evening.
We woke up the next day for breakfast and then took our time getting ready before we hopped on the tram towards The Heineken Experience. Much more than a museum, this place is an adventure.
You start off with the history, presented like a traditional museum of pictures, artifacts and informational placards in conjunction with clever little videos that are both entertaining and informative. Then you are schooled in the art of making beer, guided through the real copper drums of the old Heineken brewery, allowed to pour and grind the barley yourself, and even given a taste of the sickly sweet wort (the liquid barley water that is the beer before hops are added to give it it’s bitter flavor). And after a visit with the beautiful, stout Heineken Shire horses, you’re led into the “Brew You” ride where you become a Heineken beer from start to finish, all the way from barley to bottle to the hand of a young man at a party. The rest of the experience is mostly multimedia, including a live lesson on how to properly drink a glass of Heineken, a movie theatre view of the short-film Heineken advertisements, a maze of bright green lights, Heineken-related art, films and interactive activities, and finally a visit to the modern, very cool bar, complete with two free fresh pints of your own.
The whole thing took literally hours (around three I think) but was a total blast that I would recommend to anyone visiting Amsterdam in the near future. And I would also recommend washing down your beer with a taste of ribs at one of the many Argentinian steakhouses all over the city (it seems to be a favorite of theirs) which is exactly what we did. Then of course you’ll need a nap. All that beer and beef can be quite exhausting.
Once the sun went down, we bundled back up to have our Red Light District experience. And let me tell you, the whole thing is everything you imagine it will be and then some. There really are beautiful (and some not so beautiful) women flaunting their scantily clad bodies in the red-lit windows of a neighborhood they call the Wallen. There really are peep shows and live porn acts in bright theatres along the streets. And yes, men (and even women) really do walk in and negotiate prices for unmentionable acts by very ahem…experienced sexual partners. It was definitely strange to be beckoned by beautiful women into alleyways walking arm in arm with my parents but it was also pretty interesting. A night to remember for sure. And a city to never forget.