Thursday, 6 August 2015

Amsterdam- cycles, canals and chefs

We took an overnight ferry called the Stena Line from Harwich, a port on the East coast of England to the Hook of Holland. The ticket was a rail-sail one. Hence the ticket price included rail fare from any station in East Anglia to Harwich and likewise from Hook of Holland to another city in Holland. The ferry is like a mini cruise, with restaurants, casinos, shops and even a cinema to keep you occupied. On one of the decks is a basket ball court, enclosed in a cage, lest the balls end up floating in the sea. I have never been on a proper cruise, I had taken a similar ferry from Helsinki to Stockholm on the Baltic Sea called Silja Line, which was a bit more posh or may be I was less posh back then.

Trains in the Netherlands seemed superior, there seemed to be a lot of them, a lot being double deckers and very fast. We reached Amsterdam around half ten in the morning and were told by the information desk that if we walk out of the station we would be able to see our Movenpick Hotel (yes of the ice cream fame.) Sure enough we did and were able to walk to the mutistoried building, check in, leave our luggage, pick up maps, have a Movenpick icecream and start walking again. The lady at the desk realised from my passport that it was my birthday and gave me some chocolates too, it was all very pleasant!

Next we got on to the hop on hop off canal cruise. Amsterdam is full of canals and bridges, which were dug and built in the 17th century to help with the sea trade. Today the canals are said to be three meters deep, according to our tour guide- one meter mud, one meter bicycles and one meter water. Yes, Amsterdam, true to how it was pictured in Aamir Khan's PK, is a city of bicycles. The cycle tracks or two wheeler tracks are as wide as the roads for cars, only thing the bikes ply in both directions. All bridges, railings etc have cycles locked on to them. People of all ages cycle around the city. The canal boats are supposedly run on natural gas thus making Amsterdam a very green city indeed. 

Our first stop was the Anne Frank house, which had a very very long queue and the temperatures reaching 26 degrees did not make it very inviting for us to wait hence we carried on to stop at a church, a market and a cafe which serves world famous Dutch apple pie with cream! I could not have imagined apple pie could taste so delicious, it looked like a cake in height and was crispy and crumbly making me wonder involuntarily about how rich in calories it must be. Monday Market days are busy days for the apple pie cafe hence they have a restricted menu. 

The hop on hop off canal cruise was a good way to see the touristy places near the museums. Amsterdam had recently hosted the Gay Pride, the slogan- I amsterdam in shape of a monument, was a place where young people were climbing on to pose for photographs.

In the evening I planned to take my teenage children to the famous red light district. Needless to say it was making me nervous but having experienced the shock when I first saw it, many years ago, I wanted them to see it. The red light district is in the old town, where the streets and canals are narrow and we encountered China Town and eateries of all kinds on the way. Lebanese, Chinese, Thai, Brazilian, Argentinian, Mexican, Italian, American but we ate at a Malaysian restaurant. Wow, I had never had Malaysian food and I knew it would have Indian influence but since I am a great fan of Chinese food, I found Malaysian food has the best of both worlds. It was spicy, had a myriad of ingredients including fish, prawn and eggs in my fried rice but the taste, they do know how to cook. My daughter had noodles with a chicken dish and my son had lamb seekh kebabs with satay sauce. All of us felt it was one of the best meals we had had. 

While we were walking to the red light district, my nervousness was making me mutter to my kids that we did not want to stay for long at all, we will get there and back and that is it etc etc. My dear daughter armed with her map was trying to get us there and suddenly we saw the windows and I said- Right we are going back! My son who had been quiet all this while, was really irritated and said- "I haven't seen anything yet!" I reassured him he would and we then walked into the busy street with lit up windows with women in underwear, sex shops and thronging crowds of people on both sides of the canal. 

Next day our target was to queue up for the Anne Frank's House. We reached there to find the queue was already 3 hours long. I stood while the kids went to find breakfast first and then  a follow on hot chocolate. It had been cloudy since the morning contrary to the scorching 26 degrees the previous day, but it soon began to rain. People went and bought umbrellas while I hoped it would stop but it only got worse and worse, until I called the kids to come fetch money and find an umbrella. So we have a souvenir from Amsterdam, one of those I love Amsterdam umbrellas!

 It was a strange feeling to see people queuing up for hours to go into the house where Anne Frank lived in hiding when she wrote her diary. The fate of the sixteen year old in the gas chambers of the concentration camp should serve as a reminder to us today. Looking at the crowd of people in the queue, we were from all over the world and I think in our hearts we all know and fear that this injustice is happening today too to a sixteen year old in some part of the world, but we hope and pray it will never happen again to so many people and of the magnitude it did, all those years ago. 

Today I read in the news that it has been 70 years since the bomb which killed 140,000 people was dropped on Hiroshima on 6th August 1945. 

Visit to the Anne Frank House is an emotional experience with quotes from her diary, her photographs, videos of her dad and sister and a friend who saw her before she was killed at the camp. They talk about her life as a normal sixteen year old who wanted to decorate the wall of her room with posters of celebrities. There are actual documents on display from Otto Frank's Jam making business, photographs of the people who brought them food and gifts, model of the furnished version of the annexe where members of three families lived. One comes out humbled and teary eyed.

Trip to Amsterdam was interesting with shopping for dry clothes, looking for the famous Dutch pancake and kids getting on to  a tram without me or any money. This happened because of my mistaken belief that tickets were only given out by the driver at the front of the tram. This is obviously not the case, but in the process of my trying to get to the front, the tram left without me. Thank God for mobile phones!

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