European Excursion Day Four: Struggle City and a Home Away from Home
Amsterdam was definitely a defining moment in our trip. We fondly renamed Amsterdam to Struggle City. This part of our journey didn’t go exactly as planned, but we made the most of it none the less. We arrived in Amsterdam at 6:30am from Paris via Megabus and we only had about five hours before our bus to Brussels. The bus ride was actually rather nice. I didn’t get a lot of sleep, but the bus was a lot more comfy then I expected. So, we arrived in Amsterdam bright and early, though it may have been early but it certainly wasn’t bright. It was actually pitch black and raining. Little did we know we had to take a tram into the city. Lucky for us we were once again in the presence of helpful strangers. We met a nice French girl and an American backpacker who helped us get into the city. The tram ride was rather expensive because the ticket is good for an hour and you can’t buy a simple one way ticket. The tram dropped us off at Central Station and we began our search for a free map. Since it was so early in the morning nothing was really open, so we had to wander around looking for a place to ask how to get into the city center. We did eventually find a ticket counter were we asked for directions and got a map. I’m saying this now and I will repeat this many more times, I am not a fan of public transportation. I was raised traveling in a car and public transportation can be really really confusing, especially when it is a city you do not know at all. Since it was still raining we decided to take one of the trams to the Dam, a large square in the city center. So there we were waiting in the rain, carrying our backpacks, and chatting with this nice old lady who was visiting her daughter (though I don’t know why so early in the morning). She helped us catch the right tram and told us where to get off. Though we were really lost when we got off and ended up walking in the wrong direction. European streets are labeled on the side of the building, if they are labeled at all. We stopped in a bar, which was open at 7:30am, and asked for directions. The bartender was super helpful; he even gave us a better map and drew our route on the map. We were then off again in hopes of finding the Dam and we did, after asking another man for directions. I don’t know what it was about Amsterdam, but we were mighty confused. Though a great thing is they nearly all spoke perfect English, which is good because I know absolutely no Dutch. Like literally not one word.
Anyways we did eventually find the Dam which is a large square, that is not really square, surrounded by very eastern European style building and a Madame Tussaud’s’s wax museum! Everything was still closed so we just walked around looking down the streets and we stopped in a McDonald’s for a quick breakfast and to avoid the rain. This McDonald’s had the slowest service, but I had a nice little chat with two older gentlemen about their city of Amsterdam. They were so cute giving us directions to the Anne Frank House and telling us about how it always has crazy lines. Since we were in Amsterdam I wanted to visit the Red Light District because that is just something I felt like I had to do. We didn’t go all the way into the heart of the district, but we did walk down a road lined with sex shops and pot cafes. Oh the charm of Amsterdam!
After that culture we made our way to the main reason for our short day in Amsterdam, the Anne Frank House. This was definitely a highlight of the trip. I love history, so to be in the house where the Frank family hid from the Nazis was great experience, sad but great. The only downfall of the museum is that we had to carry our backpacks on our front through the museum. Which wouldn’t have been too bad, but for walking up the old stairs that was more like a ladder. The whole house was so tiny and to think that eight people hid in the secret annex. The museum took us through the office space below the hiding place and contained original items. There was also videos in nearly every room with an interview playing from the people who hid the families, friends, and Otto Frank himself. These videos gave a real insight of what happened in the house. We then made our way up into the secret annex through the hidden door behind the bookcase. The total space in the hiding place is 500 square feet. Eight people lived in that tiny space for just over two years. It is unbelievable. During the tour we saw Anna’s room with the walls covered in pictures from magazines and the loft where she looked at the outside world. The tour ended with room that told about the ending of the Anne Frank story. There was videos about the Holocaust and also the information about when each of the members of the house died. It still strikes me how Anne died just one month before her camp’s liberation. The museum was amazing and I would suggest it to anyone who is visiting Amsterdam. Just make sure to buy in advance, because there is always a line to get in. Anne Frank’s story brings over a million people to the museum every year. This little girl’s story is so powerful. The museum really put my hardships into perspective.
Once we left the museum we headed to a gift shop before taking the tram back to the bus station to catch our bus. If Amsterdam hadn’t already presented us with problems the bus certainly did. I’ll just cut to the case. The bus was delayed two hours in which we huddled in a snack shack across the road to avoid the rain and cold (though we were already soaked to the bone). When the bus finally did arrive the driver said he need to clean the bus and then take a 45 minute break before we could leave. We then crowded into a broken bathroom to keep out of the rain, since there wasn’t a proper bus station just a small information building. I am normally a positive person, so this set back didn’t upset me too terribly. I was just thankful that it happened on our way to Brussels where if didn’t matter if we arrived later. Plus we hung out with a couple of American girls who are studying fashion in Paris. That is the great thing about traveling, you meet so many awesome people. Another plus is that after we got back to England I wrote to Megabus about the situation and they actually refunded my money. Talk about a great company! Nearly three hours after our original departure time we set off to Brussels.
I slept a good deal of the time, which was rather nice.But when we got close to Brussels I looked out the window to see the different landmarks including a national palace and the Atomium, which is a large stainless steal structure made for the 1958 World’s Fair. Once we got off the bus we headed straight for the metro to figure out how to get to where we were staying. Unknown to Sam she has family living in Brussels. Which means we had a place to stay for two nights and friendly company to chat with. Getting to the correct Metro station was actually really easy. The first station we went to had a direct line to where we had to go! So we literally jumped aboard and headed to the suburbs. And I mean literally not because we jumped, but because we just walked on. The ticket machine was hidden and we walked right past. Oops. The only tricky part was we had to find Theresa, Sam’s cousin. At first we could find her at all, so we went to a fast food restaurant to use their wifi and check for new emails. This was really useful because we found the email from Theresa giving us the time she would be there. After a quick walk back to the station we waited for our ride. And soon enough there she was! Sam and Theresa talked away about their family and I sat in the back taking in the passing neighborhoods. Belgium is very cute. Our evening then consisted of using their dryer to dry our wet clothes, hanging our with Theresa and her family, which consists of three energetic kids, Connor, Ryan and Caroline, ages 6 to 10, her husband Mark, his brother John who was visiting from New Jersey and John’s 10 year old daughter Claire. It was a full house and amazing to be in that family atmosphere again. To top that off we had a pork dinner with potatoes and wine. Talk about classy and delicious. We eat while watching American football on their American military tv channel. I ended the night with a hot shower and a warm bed in our own room on their third floor.
It was truly an amazing day, even with the late bus and the nonstop rain. I was able to walk through history, seeing a place that I read about in my 8th grade English class. Then I ended my day surrounded by a happy family full of crazy kids and friendly conversation.
Until next time…