Travel isn't something I do so I can check off a box on a bucket list. It's something I do when an opportunity drifts across my path.
My husband had to go to Germany. He had lots of miles. I was due for a few days off. With some effort and a lot of juggling this was an opportunity I'd been waiting for!
Amsterdam meant the Anne Frank house, something I've wanted to do since I read the book as a girl. I knew from online investigations that getting a ticket isn't that easy, but I got lucky.
Sleeping in a houseboat on one of the canals in Amsterdam had also been a romantic notion of mine. Trip Advisor helped me with that. I always read reviews when I'm planning a trip.
|Woontjalk Zuidenwind Houseboat in Amsterdam
When we left home I had no real idea how I was getting to Amsterdam from Germany, but knew it's fairly easy to get around within Europe. The countries are so small it's like going state to state, but the public transportation is easier and fairly inexpensive.
The staff at the hotel in Germany helped me book train tickets online. Hubby and I hopped a train, jammed our too heavy luggage into an overhead bin, and plopped into the wrong seats on the wrong car. Eventually we got sorted out—reinforced some American stereotypes—and watched Germany fade into the watery flatland of the Netherlands.
The trip didn't take long and I loved going past school houses nearly suffocating from all the bicycles parked outside. That is the mode of transportation in the Netherlands.
Arriving at the beautiful station in Amsterdam made me long for such convenient travel in the USA.
There's also an ocean of bikes outside the train station. Walking or riding a bike is the number one way around Amsterdam. I would love to spend a year there walking everywhere and seeing the sites.
It's possible I say that about everywhere I go.
From a portal of our houseboat we could see a windmill in the far distance. Staying there was a delight after our cramped days in a business hotel.
Descending the ladder into the main cabin I found the space huge compared to what I'd expected. It could easily fit a family.
The living room boasted a funky wildly comfortable couch and books everywhere. Portals let in sunlight throughout the entire boat. The eating area has a refrigerator, sink, dishwasher, and a large table. There's even a washer and dryer in a separate room! I immediately washed everything and rushed to see Amsterdam.
Of first importance? Buying bread to feed to the swans through the portals. A nearby organic gluten-free shop provided a loaf of mostly seeds.
For a brief time I was the swans favorite human.
The weather cooperated with our visit and we walked to the far side of town to visit the Anne Frank Haus (house). On the inside it's exactly like it was when Anne lived there. You enter through the famous bookcase and climb narrow stairwells. It's small and only so many guests are allowed in at a time.
The windows are covered like they were when Anne lived there. That way no one from the outside would see someone was secretly living over the jam factory. That also meant little light came in. The only place you can't go into is the loft that Anne and Peter would spend time in. It's not safe, but there's a large mirror beneath it so you can see up into it.
What impacted me most seeing the Anne Frank house was seeing it as a parent. Her father, Otto Frank, made several attempts to immigrate to the United States but was denied. Realizing how desperately he tried to protect his family from the Nazi's will break your heart.
When we left I asked my husband what he wanted to do next. He said he was too depressed to see anything else. I dragged him to the Van Gogh museum. Next on my to see list was Starry Night. Imagine the irony when I discovered that particular painting lives in New York City.
It was easy to get turned around and lost in the narrow streets, but that's part of the fun. We stumbled upon Kapitein Zeppos down a minuscule alley and had a lovely dinner. Mostly lovely. The atmosphere is a bit of a magical refuge in the hustle and bustle, and the food is delicious. Except for the local starters we ordered—a fail and the waitress did try to warn us.
When in Rome try the local food. Not bitterballen in Amsterdam.
We walked through the Red Light Distract afterward, where the coffee houses sell marijuana and no coffee. I went into one and quizzed the shop keeper. I had questions, people. As a writer I always want to know things. He was great and answered them and didn't even mind that all I wanted to buy was a bottle of water.
Of course that's what I would say but it's also the truth.
Sometimes I get vestibular migraines and the last thing that sounds fun to me is getting high or drunk. Vertigo is like an ugly combination of both, whether you like it or not.
Prostitution is legal in Amsterdam. Beautiful women stand in glass doorways framed in neon light to attract customers. It's similar to Bourbon Street in New Orleans with sometimes intoxicated tourists stumbling around and societal norms on holiday.
But you also see families on bikes zipping through and police joking with the working ladies.
Potential customers come up to the doors and negotiate services with the workers.
More than anything I'd have liked to have interviewed some of the women. I had many writerly questions. It's odd to see the ladies next to shops that sell naughty accessories also beside the frozen yogurt shops. It's not particularly sleazy compared to red light districts in other places. It's clean and well-lit and feels very safe. I think it's because it's legal.
Photography isn't allowed, and if you yank out your phone it could very well end up in the canal because they mean it.
The Red Light area seems small when compared to the whole of Amsterdam. There are zoos, parks, and museums to explore. The most dangerous thing in the city seemed to be the possibility of getting run over by a bicycle. I'm not kidding about that. Staying alert and out of the way is mandatory, and stay out of the bike lane.
The houseboat was magical. I loved all the space, the water surrounding it, the light, the swans sticking their heads through the portals hoping for food. The bed was comfortable and fortunately for me the entire boat was solid and didn't mess with my constant vigilance over potential balance problems. I'm pretty sure it was anchored down, because I can get a touch of vertigo on elevators.
The non-judgmental practicality of the Dutch makes Amsterdam a comfortable city. The city is practically bursting with art. All that walking and biking keeps the outdoors in the city. I adored the place and look forward to returning next time the wind is kind enough to toss me in that direction.