Instead of the usual bright blue sky and cotton ball clouds that had greeted me the previous two days, my final morning in Amsterdam was overcast and drizzly. And while I’m sure a week’s worth of this weather would have been completely unacceptable, the grayness did not take away from Amsty’s charm. In fact, as I made my way to the Anne Frank House museum, it seemed somehow right that the canal snaking along beside me was dark and murky — almost as if it had known where we were going and had dressed appropriately for the occasion.
I made a point of getting to the museum before it opened to beat the insane line that I knew would form within a half-hour. The rooms are small, and there is much to see and read, so I recommend that you buy advanced tickets or go first thing in the morning or in the evening. The museum is open almost every day, from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. (even later during the summer) — making it possible for over one million people to visit annually. If you are in Amsterdam, this place is a must.
The museum is thoughtfully curated. Excerpts from Anne’s diary lead you through rooms which hold the precious few original possessions of their former inhabitants. The tour begins on the ground level, which housed the main offices and warehouse of Opekta, the spices and pectin company owned by Otto Frank. You make your way through the front rooms and then pass through the hidden door behind the movable bookcase into the Secret Annex.
I struggle as to how to describe my experience. I believe that certain places hold onto the things that happened within their walls. You know… like when you’re looking for a house, and you walk into the front door of an older home and just get a vibe? Nothing crazy, just a barely noticeable shift in energy that gives you a sense of whether or not the house is “happy”? I guess I expected for something like that to happen at the Anne Frank House. I had braced myself for some sort of emotional tsunami, given what had happened there. But it never came. There were moments when it threatened to, sure. Like when I saw the room that had served as Anne’s bedroom. She had decorated her walls with photos of movie stars, cut out from magazines that her father had managed to sneak in for her. Most were gone, but several remained, hanging — protected behind glass — exactly where Anne had tacked them to the wall. It made me think of how alike we all are, really. How the world is, and always has been, filled with thirteen-year-old girls who plaster their walls with images of their idols and crushes. And how random, and often cruel, life is in its treatment of them.
But overall, I didn’t feel what I thought I would. And that stuck with me for the rest of the day, and on my long flight home, and for days after. So I kept picking at it. And here’s where I netted out. I was born in Odessa, Ukraine, just twenty years or so after the war had ended, and grew up surrounded by a people who had somehow managed to live through the German occupation of the Soviet Union. Stories of men who died in combat and children who died of starvation swirled around me like brittle dead leaves kicked up by an icy wind. As a teen and young adult, I watched the documentaries in social-studies class and went to the movies that were meant to remind us to never forget, and that had left me sobbing. And then somewhere along the way, the past did what it always does — it faded away. And while I find that comforting, and while I know that we could not survive were it not for this fact, it scares the shit out of me. Because people forget. They move on. Until there is no one left to stand watch.
Now onto the Tulip Museum!!!! Yay!!!! (Honestly, I just couldn’t come up with a decent transition, so just deal.)
With much of the day still ahead of me, I decided to explore the streets in this part of the city. I was on the hunt for a souvenir to bring back to my mom, so when I spotted a shop across the canal that had a window filled with tulips, I made a beeline for it. (One of the many things my mother excels at, and that I do not, is coaxing to life nature’s most brilliant floral creations within the confines of the planters on her small deck.) It turned out that the store was actually the front room of the Tulip Museum — a museum dedicated to all things tulip, the Netherlands unofficial national flower.
The museum is small and quaint, with pretty, kitschy exhibits and informative films about the history of the flower and the details of modern-day tulip production.
Tulips originated in Central Asia and were first cultivated by the Turks, who’s Sultans coveted the flower for its beauty and deep, rich colors. The flower made its way to Norther Europe in the early 17th century, eventually wreaking havoc on the financial lives of the Dutch. Due to their popularity among the rich and royal, tulip bulbs began to escalate in prices reaching a zenith (between late 1636 and early 1637) where a single bulb could cost more than a house. Much like for the holders of pets.com stock in 2000, “Tulipmania” did not end well for the merchants of the Netherlands. Nevertheless, Holland remains the world’s largest producer of this lovely annual.
This little stop was fun. I learned something, saw some pretty things and found the perfect gift for my mom — a small bag of tulip bulbs that, knowing my mom, will bloom to glory next spring.
After a blah lunch at some blah spot, I zigzagged the streets shooting off the Prinsengracht canal until I found myself back in the museum district. The weather had improved by then and the idea of shuffling around a massive museum just didn’t seem that appealing, so I just meandered along the streets looking for a cafe to grab an espresso and something flaky and sweet. What I found instead was the Mecca of all the single ladies, the Diamond Museum Amsterdam. It’s exactly what you think it is. An homage to diamonds and Amsterdam’s history as the City of Diamonds; with exhibits of antique cutting and polishing tools and ridiculously sparkly jewelry, crowns and other coveted, diamond-encrusted objects.
Amsterdam has a centuries-long history of being the epicenter of diamond processing. In the 17th century, it was one of the few places in Europe where Jews were allowed to settle and work. Unlike most of the other professions, which barred Jews, the diamond industry was not under the control of the guild system and therefore the Jewish population was able to prosper. The Great Depression of 1930, and the atrocities of World War II, brought an end to Amsterdam’s reign as the world leader of the diamond trade. Although today, along with Antwerp, London, Johannesburg and New York, Amsterdam still remains a key region for this industry.
While I wouldn’t exactly put it on my “not to be missed” list, the museum had its merits. For instance, there was this cool thing….
And there was also this pretty awesome thing, which would totally go with nothing in my closet. (Although some crazy Aussie rich guy is building a replica of the Titanic, so maybe I should really think about picking one up.)
But the best thing of all. The most magical, unexpected and special sighting of all….were these guys.
Oh, hi Fiddy! Hi David! Fancy meeting you here. I mean, would you EVER have thought??? Ahahahahahahahaha!!!!!!
And since my mother has told me to always leave a party on a high note, I decided to wrap up my sightseeing and head back to my hotel for a casual dinner of wine, cheese and writing.
So that was my trip. My gift to myself for doing something that scared the crap out of me. I loved it. Amsterdam in particular. Solo travel is always a special experience for me, but certain places affect me more than others. Amsterdam, with its delicate charms and unique beauty, bore itself deep into my heart and inspired me in a way that only something authentically “true” can. If I were to design my own T-shirt to sum it all up, it would say….“Amsterdam. Come Back or Die Tryin’.”