August 17th – Berlin to Amsterdam
After two travel days spent having to get to the train station early and fight for unreserved seats, we were glad to have assigned places for the trains to Amsterdam. We spent just shy of three hours on a train from Berlin to Hannover before switching and finding our compartment on the final train to the Netherlands. It looked like this was going to a be a long, but easy travel day.
When we got to our compartment, there was already an older Australian couple sitting by the windows, trying to figure out where to put their giant suitcases. There are luggage racks above the seats, but both the lady and the man seemed not to care that the entire interior space of the compartment was being taken up by their bags. Finally a German passenger assigned to a middle seat, got came in and more or less threw one of the suitcases onto the rack so he could sit down. The Australian man left to look for other luggage storage, and a pair of American girls approached the compartment and did the old “there are people in my seats” double check before asking politely asking the woman if she had that seat reserved. She barked back that they had reserved the seats months ago. Somewhat shocked by the tone of the response, the girls left to find some train staff to help sort out the situation.
The man came back, followed a short time later by the conductor with the girls in tow. She asked to see the tickets of the Australian couple and started a very awkward back and forth that ran more or less as follows.
Conductor: Sorry, you don’t have reservations on this train.
Man: Yes we do.
Conductor: No your reservation was for an earlier train.
Man: We did on a previous train, but you’re incompetent to so we missed it. We’re not moving.
Conductor: Sorry, you have to move, you don’t have reservations for these seats.
Man: Yes we do have reservations, we made them months ago. Because of your incompetence, we’re not moving. (Man folds arms)
Meanwhile, Jenny, Steve, and the German guy are exchanging looks like “well, this is awkward.” The American girls stepped back a bit from the entrance to the compartment while the conductor went on.
Conductor: You had reservations, but not on this train.
Man: We’re not moving.
Conductor: So you want me to get the police?
Man: Yes, get the police, we’re not moving.
Keep in mind, you should only advocate getting the police if you’re clearly in the right and have the paperwork to prove it. This old Aussie pair had reservations on a different train, not on this one, so had the police come, they would’ve been kicked off the train at the next stop and probably fined. Luckily for them, as the conductor was about to leave she mentioned something that is obvious to anybody who has been on a train before – you can sit elsewhere. Or stand. You’ll still get where you’re going. The man agreed to move if there were other seats for him and his wife, which there were. He dragged his giant bag out of the compartment and they left, taking a whole lot of tension out of the compartment with them.
The American girls, Natalie and Audrey, walked in and there was a collective “well that was weird” shared amongst us. They ended up being at the tail end of a summer long trip not too different from ours. The ride into Amsterdam was spent sharing the pleasant bug and toilet stories that travelers collect during their months on the road.
We got into the station, sorted out the details of our next train day into Brussels, and made our way into the city. Walking down the main street through throngs of tourists, Steve was instantly reminded of the trip he took with his dad back in 2006. They had stayed a short walk east of the Damrak, the main street down the center of town, at a hostel right in the red light district. We were staying a short walk west of the main street, in a much less colorful area (i.e. we couldn’t see prostitutes from our room). In one of our better stays through AirBnB, we found Megan, an Ohio State grad now working in Amsterdam, to host us. She and her English boyfriend, Ed, gave us an early reintroduction into the anglo world with plenty of good conversation.
After eight hours of traveling, we hit a grocery store and Jenny made an improvised asian inspired chicken and vegetables for dinner. Food, beer, bed.
August 18th – Around Amsterdam
We managed to drag ourselves out of the apartment by 2pm to walk around the city. After a rainy morning, the afternoon turned into a combination of clear and cool that is perfect for walking over bridges and canals. Amsterdam is often mentioned in conversations about either drugs or prostitution, but outside of all that, the majority of the city is a gorgeous mix of treelined canals, houseboats, little bridges, and tall blonde bicyclists. First we got waffles.
We went out into the Jordaan neighborhood. Then down by the university. Then finally over to the seedy red light areas. During the day the activity is fairly tame. The bulk of the working ladies don’t come out until the evening, so the few we saw scattered around were the B squad at best, and generally rather frightening. We found a coffee shop by the old church where Steve and his dad stopped on their trip, as well as the hostel they stayed at. We got some beers and wings at the hostel bar and then headed home.
That evening, Megan and Ed invited us to join in their Sunday dinner. We were treated to a fantastic spread of roast chicken, leeks, corn, bacon, sausage, roasted potatoes, pak choi, and Yorkshire puddings, while being informed of things like the proper pronunciation of “Yorkshire.” After dinner, we waddled around the red light district at night. Now full of people and glowing with its namesake hue, the area is a lot different after dark. Steve was warned against taking pictures anywhere near the girls, and frankly we were too full to think properly, so we weren’t out long.
August 19th – Anne Frank and the rice table
Another ambitious morning got us out of the apartment just after 2pm. We walked a few canals over to visit the Anne Frank house. After waiting in line for just over an hour, we made our way through the building that housed Anne and seven other people for over two years during the war. We passed through the passage behind the bookcase that led into the annex (as their hideout was called). It was eye opening to see how this group of people, with the help of a handful of outsiders, was able to get by in hiding for so long. The walls of Anne’s room are still decorated with the magazine cutouts and pictures she glued there during her stay.
Of the eight people in the annex, Anne’s father, Otto, was the only one to survive the war. Anne’s collection of writing, which went far beyond a single diary, was saved by one of their accomplices and given to Otto after he returned to Amsterdam. He published the papers, and now we get to see a sad, but worthwhile reminder of the war.
On a happier note, that evening we went to a restaurant recommended by our hosts. The Dutch have a take on Indonesian cuisine where they make many small dishes and serve them with rice at what literally translates as “rice table.” We enjoyed egg, chicken, pork, beef, lamb, and vegetables several different ways, and for the second night in a row, were left too full to move afterward.
August 20th – Van Gogh and kitties!
Steve got up early and went to the grocery to pick up more coffee and some fish for lunch. Now a habit, we got out around 2pm to go visit the cat boat.
One of Amsterdam’s many houseboats has been converted into a cat sanctuary called De Poezenboot. For a small donation, you can go inside and see a bunch of cats wandering freely around the boat. Some of them are up for adoption, others are prissy lifers on the boat, as indicated by little drawings of various cats saying “Don’t touch me, I’ll bite you.” We’ve had some terrible cat withdrawal on this trip, so getting to pet some furry creatures was nice.
After our cat fix, we made the long walk to the southern part of Amsterdam that has the main art museums. We passed plenty of things along things along the way.
We finally made our way under the Rijksmuseum and into the line for the Van Gogh museum. At 15 euros, it was one of the more expensive museums of the trip, but it was very detailed in its descriptions and had everything from his paintings to his tools on display, as well as details on restoration and color changes in the works. Van Gogh didn’t decide to be an artist until he was 27, and was dead at 37. He managed to do a lot of work in a very short period of time.
After the museum, we stopped at a cafe to get a healthful snack.
That evening was spent eating the rest of our food in the fridge and watching Oblivion with Megan and Ed. We totally called the clone thing.
The next morning – Brussels.