' I long to ride a bike, dance, whistle, look at the world, feel young and know that I'm free...' (Anne Frank)
I've had a hectic few weeks; a visit from my friends, Hedi and her daughter Sabine, followed by four days in Amsterdam. Having never been to Amsterdam I was looking forward to a four day break in my hectic schedule, but what a day to choose to travel! I'd already booked my train and ferry crossing (I had been visiting my mother in Suffolk, so a quick shuttle to the port of Harwich was the chosen route) when the St Jude storm blew across the south and east coast of England.
My journey started precariously; all East Anglian trains had been cancelled that Monday morning so I had to drive the short distance to the port, still not sure if the ferry would sail. However, unlike other ferries, Stena Line sail in hurricanes but the captain with only a handful of passengers, decided it would be safer to set sail 45 minutes early. The gusts were so bad that the five walk-on passengers, including me, had to be bussed onto the ferry due to the instability of the foot tunnel in high winds. Three barges were the only support holding the gigantic ferry stable and stopping it from clattering into the harbour walls. However, something, maybe a crane, maybe a previous ferry, had damaged the holding pylon in the harbour. This is why I love to travel - the drama!
storm damage at Harwich harbour
We missed the worst of the storm while out at sea as the crossing while rough, was nothing more than a very breezy and choppy swell. However, we caught up with it again when docking in Holland. The storm was now passing through their coast and had already hit Amsterdam causing some problems there resulting in the cancellation of trains to the city.
approaching the Hook of Holland
but the storm quickly closes in
I managed to get by train to Schiedam and had to take two slow trains to Leiden and The Hague before boarding a bus, laid on by the train companies, to Schiphol airport. However, even that wasn't without its problems. Due to arriving at The Hague, thousands of Dutch were also trying to get home from a hard days work and had been waiting hours to find out what when and where to finish their journey.
Every bus that arrived at the station was met with hoards of pushing, frustrated commuters and I was no exception. Every time I waited patiently for my turn at the front of the queue, the bus would be full and then the crowd would turn as one, and swarm towards the bus coming up behind, leaving me at the back of the queue and therefore missing that one as well. So when the fourth bus came along, I remembered my British manners and love of queuing, thought, 's..d this!', copied what everyone else did, engaged my elbows and like Bodicea's spiked chariot and leaving a wake of bruised masses behind me, my luggage catching their legs and ankles as I pushed, pulled, eventually struggled my way to the front. It worked! I climbed aboard with not one person moaning or swearing at me for doing it!
man waiting for the train
An hour later I arrived at Schiphol airport and without any regard for the expense, I hailed a taxi and arrived tired, relieved and 40 Euros lighter at 10.30pm. I had been on the road since 6am in the morning!
My taxi driver had a sense of humour. My hotel was situated in the middle of one of the most exclusive shopping streets in Amsterdam, the Pieter Corneliuz Hoofstraat, full of Bond street style high end shops. An odd location for a budget hotel. My taxi driver pointed out with a sincere and jolly smile on his face, all the shops I could frequent during my stay. What I didn't tell him was that I didn't think my luncheon vouchers would stretch to Armarni, Tommy Hilfiger, Hugo Boss, Fermango and Cartier! Budget hotel it may have been but it was clean and comfortable and all I wanted was somewhere to put my head for four days.
Anne Frank House
I have always wanted to visit the Anne Frank House. I got up early the following day to beat the queues (the Anne Frank House and museum attracts over 1000 visitors a day and they queue all day) and at 9am experienced one of the most moving occasions of my life. The exhibition is over 5 floors and each floor is accessed by the steepest stairs I've ever seen. Near vertical wooden stairs took me through the house and its empty rooms with only photographs on the walls, purposely furnished in the photos to show how they lived and worked. As you climbed the steep wooden stairs you eventually came up to the original bookcase and hidden annexe area where the families (8 people) had lived for two years.
Up until then it had been a museum but when entering the dimly lit, blacked out, narrow rooms where Anne and her family hid, the claustrophobic atmosphere caught up with you. The bedroom walls still had the original pictures of magazine cut outs of famous stars that Anne had stuck on these dreary walls and to help her keep cheerful, was simply overwhelming. Anne was thirteen when they had to go into hiding and seeing the pencilled marks drawn on the wallpaper to indicate their growth in height during the time there, really hit home. It makes you realise that she was a teenage girl like all of us were and still going through the rights of passage and every day experiences that all teenagers have done, while suffering that impossible incarceration. And on top of this, the routine and discipline of not making a sound or moving around during the day time so as not to alert the warehouse workers below was unimaginable.
Anne died in a concentration camp three months short of her sixteenth birthday and one month before the liberation of Bergen -Belson concentration camp. She didn't live to become the journalist she wanted to be but her legacy lives on with her diary selling 35 million copies around the world.
Scenes of Amsterdam
I needed a contemplative break after the Anne Frank House. So I decided to walk around the city and canals soaking up the design and atmosphere of the canal network.
bikes and canals
bikes and canals
the 'dancing houses' due to subsidence
iron lift bridge on Prinsengracht canal
The best terraced café view in Amsterdam at the Café De Jaren
on the Prinsengracht canal
Bike and canal
..and I thought Primark's clothe strewn floors were bad.
Flea market near Rembrandtplein
The weird and wonderful of Amsterdam
Picasso style post box on houseboat
sculptured cat on wall of Amsterdam house
the latest designer shoe
blues brothers statues on roof of a blues club in Jordaan district
End of part one - due to the number of pictures, part two will be in a separate blog following this one.
(c) Deborah Anne Brady