This morning we got up and guess what? No vomit! It’s the little things that you normally take for granted that can sometimes make your day! Justine feels just fine this morning. Whatever was unhappy in her body yesterday seems to have left completely! She felt she could stay awake for more then 7 hours today! (That’s not a joke…she was seriously only awake for 7 hours yesterday)
Our room was a little chaotic this morning, seeing as it held 10 people and only one bathroom, but we managed to get ready and scarf down some breaky. Then we hit the streets, hopping on the tram and venturing into the city center. Our first stop of the day was the Anne Frank House. We knew the lines could get quite long in the afternoons so we thought going early morning would be better…and it definately was! We walked right in with no waiting (when we walked past later there was a line halfway down the block). Anne was born in Germany but her Jewish family fled Nazi Germany in the 1930’s. Here in Amsterdam the family found great success as the father, Otto Frank, owned his own business. When the Nazis invaded neutral Netherlands in 1940 things started out decent for the Jewish community but before long they were no longer allowed access into public buildings, later public transport and even forbidden to ride bicycles around the city. In 1942 Otto Frank signed over the deed of his company to his non-Jewish employees and his family went into hiding the the secret annex behind the factory. Hidden behind a bookcase was a flight of stairs leading up to a small set of rooms where the Franks & another family, the Van Pels, lived in constant fear.
(The building on the far right is the visitor center built later, but the top two floors next 2 houses are the ones the Franks occuied.)
The exhibit was exceptionally well done. The rooms were all empty as Otto Frank had requested they be left that way. But there was the odd display case with the belongings of the Frank family or the others who lived in the house. Or there would be a television with a video interview of someone who knew Anne. Or a simple black & white photo. The collection of things they had used and their strategic placement combined with the quotes from the book, aka Anne’s own thoughts & feelings & words, that were written everywhere…well it was an extremely moving experience. As we walked through the area the 8 people had lived in for over 2 years we couldn’t help but be amazed by the size. There were only a handful of rooms with the tiniest passages between them. But then again, they really couldn’t use that much space considering they couldn’t walk around during the day for fear that workers in the factory below might hear them. Anne’s room was plastered with pictures from magazines & postcards in an attempt to brighten things up…remember she was just 13 years old when they had went into hiding. It’s unimaginable to be a young girl and not able to go outside and run & play, breathe fresh air & feel the sunshine…it’s unimaginable to be any age and unable to do those things. As with most of the war stories we have heard so far we cannot imagine living through this. We just can’t wrap out heads around how that much hate could exist and be out there, readily exposed to the world.
The most gut-wrenching part was reading of each of the occupants’ fate. After 2 years in hiding, the families were betrayed by an anonymous call to the Secret Police. They were taken to Camo Westerbork on the eastern end of the Netherlands before transported to the Auschwitz extermination camp. The father of the van Pels family was gassed and 6 others fell sick and died within the camp. Anne contracted typhus and died in March 1945, just one month before the camp was liberated. The only survivor was Otto Frank.
If you wish to hear more of Anne’s story, there is a readily available source: the Diary of Anne Frank. All through her time in hiding Anne had kept a diary. When the family had been taken away it had been saved by one of her fathers employees, who later gave it to Otto Frank when it was known that Anne had not survived. It him a lo time to read it, but was incredibly impressed with his daughters ability to write when he did. He set out to get it published, as it had always been Anne’s dream to be an author when she grew up.
We finished at the house with just enough time to walk back to Dam Square and join in the 11:15 Sandeman’s New Europe walking tour. This company offers free walking tours in major cities throughout Europe. They then tell you about all their other tours & pub-crawls, which you do have to pay for and is where they make their money. But for the free tours, the guides only work for tips, so you know they will be entertaining. And ours most certainly was! Tim was a native to Holland (being the oldest & largest province of the Netherlands) and has been living in Amsterdam for a year & a half…not that you would know it listing to him. He had perfect English (which isn’t the surprising part…all Dutch children learn Dutch, French, German & English in school from the age of 8) with absolutely no accent. He sounded like he could hav come over with us from Edmonton. He was also extremely animated & totally hilarious. And yet was still able to be serious & solemn when the story called for it. Basically he was the ideal tour guide.
Lets start with a little history: The Golden Age of Amsterdam and the Netherlands was the 16th century. At this time the country was a leader of the spice trade and homebase for the East India Trading Company. Up to 700 boats would come to Amsterdam’s port every day! The Dutch were also a colonial power at this time, laying claim to the Dutch indies (later Indonesia). Eventually the British adopted and perfected the Dutch method of trading, and so ended the Dutch Golden Age. Below is the original head quarters of the East India Trading Company or VOC if not translated.
We also saw things like Amsterdams fattest bridge and the worlds skinniest house. It was seriously skinny! Skinny enough that I couldn’t have fit laying down width-wise. Houses in Amsterdam used ot be taxed based on how wide they were, so the goal was to make them super long & thin. It’s the little pink sliver in the photo below…
One major Amsterdam thing is the Coffeeshop. The city is known for it’s Coffeeshops that definitely don’t sell just coffee. In the 1970’s when the police decided to crack down on hard drugs instead of soft drugs. At this time, 1/75 people in Amsterdam was a heroine addict. It became dangerous to walk the streets. Meanwhile, the people smoking marijuana were causing no harm to thselves or others. The police cracked down on the hard-core addicts and now the streets of Amsterdam are very safe. And while marijuana is not legal, it is decriminalized (meaning no one has been arrested for possession of it in 30 years). As a result, Coffeeshops grew in popularity. But contrary to popular belief all of Amsterdam is not constantly stoned. Only 5% of the population actually smokes weed, one of the lowest in Europe (the highest is Italy). The Coffeeshops get most of their business from the tourists.
As you can see we learned a lot about Amsterdam from Tim…and we should have considering we covered the whole of the city center in over 3 hours of tour! Not bad, especially when you consider it was free! (well we did end up giving our spectacular guide his well deserved tip) We then went for delicious lunch. We had decided, since it was already 3 o’clock, that we would have a larger late lunch and a snack for supper (instead of the reverse). We went for an old dish native to the area: Dutch Pancakes. Rick Steves had recommended a local place that had wonderful pancake creations. Kristin had a cheese & chicken pancake and Justine had a cheese & mushroom one. They were scrumptious. And as a sign that things ar elookign up on the health front, Justine was even able to eat most of hers!
At this point we sorted through the options for our afternoon and settled on a canal boat tour. We had heard the commentary on these things is uninformative & uninspired (which was very true) but we had done our “learn about the city” tour already today. We just wanted a chance to be on the water. It had turned into a gorgeous day, sunny & hot, and everywhere you looked there were boats of every type zipping or bobbing along the waterways. We were expecting to be packed like sardines onto the boat, but ours had tables and they let us keep ours to ourselves. We rode around in the sunshine, lounging on our bench seats we had all to ourselves while the light breeze ruffled our hair and the water lapped against the side of the boat. Another nice thing about the tour was that it took us to some places farther from the center that we had not yet visited. We glided along a canal lined with large mansions. These were not the worlds skinniest houses we had seen earlier! Then we crossed into the open water behind the Centraal Station and took a look at the sights out there. One of our favorite things were the several story car-park like structures made to house people’s bicycles.
Once back on land we preceded to wander aimlessly through the city. At one point we had no idea where we were. It was awesome. There were museums or sights we could have been going to, but Amsterdam is a place where the best experience is just being there. It’s all about strolling down the streets full of classic old houses lining the beautiful canals. It’s about stealing glances down the side streets full of coffeeshops and sex stores. It’s about sitting in the open square full of tourists & locals alike and soaking in the atmosphere. The entire city is like that “trendy street” anywhere else. It’s not just what’s on the street but the general vibe you get when you’re there. So we walked. And then we sat by a canal. And then we got an ice cream (it was only 50 cents, we couldn’t resist) and sat on the stairs of the National Monument just off Dam Square. It was a completely pointless, and yet extremely enjoyable way to spend the early evening.
It was sitting on these steps we saw a tour guide from Sandeman’s New Europe stroll up to the monument with a “Tour Starts Here” sign. Of course we were curious…we love walking tours! We suspected it was one of the tours our guide had mentioned earlier, that we had been interested in but forgot to ask about. When we saw some members from our earlier tour group walk up, we joined them to find out more. The tour was as we thought: the Red Light District Uncovered tour. How could we resist! Hilariously, 5 other members of our earlier tour had shown up for this one so we had a great group of young people who we already kind of knew to hang out with. This time our guide was an approx 65 year old man named Angel who used to live on the beach in California and moved to Amsterdam because he had an offer to teach meditation classes…oh the stories he had to tell…but on to the tour…
That’s Angel with a statue outside the Old Church…the statue’s inscription talks about the people’s oath to respect the women of the sex industry.
Prostitution has always occurred in Amsterdam. The Red Light District began during the Golden Age of Amsterdam. At this time the streets were filled with sailors coming ashore after spending months on boats with only other men. Naturally they wanted a lady. The people of Amsterdam decided it was better to have these sailors find the ladies who wanted to be paid for sex, instead of finding their innocent daughters, sisters, wives and mothers. The District was a way to keep the ladies of Amsterdam pure.
These days, all of the girls are self employed. They are registered individually as independent businesses and have to pay taxes on their income. The red-lit windows are owned by four companies and the girls rent window space by the shift. The price of a window is around €100, but of course it varies depending on day, time, and location. The girls themselves come from a variety of backgrounds, although each must be over 18 and a citizen of the EU. Some are students, some are mothers, some are housewives and some are elderly women. The oldest lady in a window is 72 but the oldest prostitute in the city is 83. She works out of her home and has a 2 week waiting list! The going rate for sex in the city is €15 for 15 minutes, but that’s just your base rate. Anything else is extra…that can include anythign from kissing her or taking off her top to the kinkiest things you can imagine.
The Red Light District is one of the safest streets in Amsterdam. There are police stations at each end and regular patrols of the streets. The street has been accepted as a way of life in the city and the girls are protected. They have emergency buttons in their rooms connecting them to the other girls in the area and security companies maintained by the window rental companies.
There is one unspoken rule on the streets of Amsterdam, the girls want to stay anonymous. They do not want their picture in your trip scrapbook or posted on the Internet. If one of them catches you taking their picture it is highly likely a girl will chase you down in her stilettos and smash your camera. If you’re really lucky she may even throw some stale urine on you. Doesn’t that sound pleasant! Because of this the best we can offer you is a photo of one of the District’s streets:
As a side note, we have so many more stories from this tour…when we get home be sure to ask us about monkeys for money, small penis humiliation and dyslexic transvestite bingo…
We ended our tour at a bar for free shots…Kristin took Justine’s as well as her own…Jäger probably isn’t the best for someone recovering from a stomach virus! Our walking tour budies were all there so we bonded and exchanged trip stories. Angel also entertained us with a few tales of his interesting & unorthodox life. It was a really rad evening!
– Dutch people are super nice, until they get on a bike…then all bets are off and they are possibly trying to kill you! Then they’re call cycle-paths.
– There are bikes everywhere here! We are talking with people riding them on every road, sidewalk & path in town….and also chained to every wall, fence, post, bench and any other immovable object in town!
Things we Learned Today:
– 20,000 bikes are pulled out of the canals each year.
– 1 person every week drives their car into a canal.
Tomorrow we will be out of the brothel scene and into a fairy tale…
Love, Luck & Latex (…you know what we’re referring to…),