Friday, August 13, 2010
We shortened our time in Amsterdam from two months to just two weeks so that we can visit Prague, Tallinn and Helsinki before returning to the US. The original plan of staying at a city for months at a time no longer makes sense now that Jackson is older and seems to adjust to change better than I do.
Since our plans were not finalized until a couple of days before our flight to Amsterdam, I was nervous about getting a decent apartment during peak tourist season. But as usual, James managed to find a centrally located apartment that met our needs perfectly. James had been to Amsterdam several times before but it was my first time. After just a few days here, I could see why he wanted to include this city in our world tour. It is absolutely amazing! The city is full of charm and we loved our daily stroll along the canals. The food here is also delicious and diverse. We enjoyed Dutch pancakes, some of the best Thai food outside of Thailand and tried the famous Indonesian rice table.
People in Amsterdam are extremely friendly and nearly everyone spoke English. We felt welcomed and found settling in very easy. It was neat to see all the bikers on the streets and the designated bike lanes in the city. I was initially surprised to see that no one here wore helmets (even toddlers), but it became apparent that biking in Amsterdam was a very safe activity. To experience the Dutch life, we rented bikes one day and rode around town and to a local countryside.
We also took a day trip to Zaanse Schans. It was a small town with windmills and traditional Dutch homes.
Along with canals and windmills, Amsterdam is also associated with marijuana and prostitution, both of which are legal here. You can smell pot everywhere - on the streets, in cafes, in our living room (coming from people walking by of course). I was also curious about the red light district and hesitated strolling there with our toddler, but it was not seedy at all.
All kids in the US are taught about the dangers of marijuana (the "gateway drug") and our society holds a very negative view of prostitution. I'm not necessarily advocating them, but perhaps we were all misinformed. Amsterdam is in fact one of the safest cities in the world. The legalization of marijuana and prostitution actually creates more regulations for activities that would otherwise go unchecked.
One of our final and most memorable activities in Amsterdam was touring the Anne Frank House. We all read The Diary of Anne Frank in grammar school, but to see the home is a completely different experience. Anne Frank and her family hid in these tiny, dark rooms for two years during the Nazi occupation. Anne's newspaper and magazine clippings on the walls showed a girl who daydreamed of the outside world. Seeing Anne and her sister's heights marked on the wall brought to life the length of their imprisonment in that house. At the end of the tour, we were all brought to tears. I never imagined that it could be such an emotional experience, but perhaps being a parent now, I could never imagine any child living in a world filled with fear, hopelessness and hunger. I walked away feeling grateful for everything we had but also feeling extremely sad that these injustices are still happening in the world today.
Amsterdam was a beautiful experience. Two months wouldn't have been too long a stay after all, but Prague was calling so off we went!