To read the previous chapter, Introduction, and access the Table of Contents, please visit this link:
Thursday, June 24
At 4:30pm local time, we arrived at Amsterdam’s airport. Being 9 hours ahead of California, this meant it was 7:30am; their day was just starting! The weather was overcast and chilly, similar to a winter day in Riverside, when it was about to rain.
After claiming our luggage, we met with our tour guide, an Austrian man named Johannes who appeared to be in his early 30’s. He had a man purse slung over his shoulder, and was holding an ISE sign that said S-24 (the section name of our tour group). After all 47 of us gathered around him, he led us to a red and white bus outside, where we met our bus driver, a Greek man named Lakis, who appeared to be a little older, and spoke limited English. Our luggage was stowed in a compartment beneath the seats, we climbed on, and headed for our hotel.
We soon arrived in the city, which consisted of enormously tall, narrow brick buildings. The streets themselves were narrow, with a canal in the center of every major one. Trolleys vied with cars in the limited space, and in spite of all this, everyone drove very fast. In a way, it reminded me of Washington DC or a flat San Francisco. I understand Amsterdam is one of the most crowded cities in the world – yet in spite of this, it was very clean. Even the uppermost windows of the tall narrow townhouses, most of which were at least 5 stories high, glittered, and had white lace curtains in the windows.
Our bus soon pulled up in front of one of those brick buildings, and we got out and took our luggage. We entered a lobby that was narrow with a high ceiling, and were given our room assignments. The clerk spoke excellent English, and had only a slight accent. Then we went to our rooms. I admit, when I saw mine, my heart sank. It was a narrow room, dingy even though it was painted yellow, and 3 rickety-looking bunks were crammed into it. It had only one window, way up high, which let in very little light. I was rooming with Margo and Gayla. “Oh no,” Gayla groaned when she entered. “I know this trip has a bargain price, but now I’m wondering what I got myself into. Is it going to be like this everywhere we go?”
“At least it’s clean,” Margo answered.
We put away our things, then met our group in the lobby for the welcome barbeque dinner. It turned out the others had similar complaints. “Don’t worry,” Johannes told us. “Amsterdam is one of the most expensive cities we’ll be visiting. All the other accommodations are much nicer.”
“How come we’re having American barbeque?” I asked Johannes, after we all sat down to dinner. “It seems to me we should be having local cuisine.”
“Like Frikadel Special?” he asked me.
“What’s Frikadel Special?”
“It’s sausage made from brains and intestines, eaten with onions, ketchup, and mayonnaise.”
“Well – uh…”
He laughed. “You’ll get to eat local cuisine throughout the trip – but it will be food Americans are used to. So don’t worry.”
Towards the end of dinner, Johannes announced, “Everyone meet in the lobby at 8 o’clock. We’re going for a canal cruise.”
I took that to mean a night cruise, so we could see the city lights. It turned out 8pm was almost as bright as 4:30pm – even though it was overcast! We all got into boats in the canal, and the guides handed each of us a bottle of Heineken beer. “Wow!” Bruce exclaimed.
I was puzzled. “What’s the big deal?”
“The big deal? This is one of the most expensive beers in the US, and they’re just handing it to us like it’s nothing! Oh, that’s right – it’s a local beer here.”
“So you’re getting to sample local cuisine after all,” Johannes told me.
“So am I!” responded Joe, proudly waving his bottle.
“No drinking age in most of Europe!” announced Bruce. (That’s right, Joe is only 15 years old.)
We were given a tour of Amsterdam by canal, while we drank our Heinekens. The streets were made of brick and cobblestone; very few of them were asphalt. “See these boats lining the canals?” our local tour guide told us. “They are house boats. Mostly young couples live in them, because there’s such a serious housing shortage in Amsterdam, and rents are very expensive. They get their utilities for free by hooking it up to the street lights. That’s illegal, but since so many people do it, no one enforces the law.” I thought that sounded incredibly romantic, living with your lover in a houseboat in a canal in one of the great cities in the world virtually for free.
It didn’t get dark until 10pm, when the tour ended! We went back to our hotel, and went straight to bed. My mattress was lumpy, but I figured this was a small price to pay to see Europe – especially compared to what I had experienced today, and would get to experience for many days to come.
Sailing to Maarken
Friday, June 25
It was already broad daylight when I woke up. Margo glanced at the high window, and leaped out of bed. “Shoot, it’s late. I wonder if we missed breakfast,” she said.
“I don’t know,” I said, leaping out of bed too. “It seems to me someone would have knocked on our door.”
“Will you two be quiet?” Gayla snapped. “It’s six o’clock in the morning!”
Knowing breakfast wouldn’t be until 8 o’clock, Margo and I went back to bed. Since this was my first time this far north, I was unused to early sunrises and late sunsets. However, I’d heard of the midnight sun; though we wouldn’t go far enough north to see it, I figured that explained the long days and short nights.
At 8am, we went to the dining hall, where we were served rolls with coffee and juice. “I want a real breakfast,” Gayla whined.
“This is what’s called a continental breakfast,” Johannes told her. “Europeans eat their biggest meals at lunch and dinner.”
“You mean we’ll be having coffee and rolls for breakfast the whole trip?”
“Where can I go to buy a real breakfast?”
“I don’t think you’ll find any restaurant near here that serves it American style. Besides, in an hour, we’ll be sailing the North Sea, so you won’t have time to look for one and eat there.”
“Great!” Gayla moaned.
Johannes ignored her complaint, which I thought was prudent of him.
Aftger changing our American money to Dutch Guilders, we met at a dock at 9am. We boarded a wooden ship, and set sail for the town of Maarken, which is very quaint. After walking around there awhile, we went back to Amsterdam.
The tour provided breakfast and dinner; for lunch, we were on our own. So after we returned to the hotel, I had lunch at a nearby café. I stood looking at the menu posted on the wall, but since I can’t read Dutch, I had a hard time figuring out what it said. Three tall blond German guys walked in; they spoke fluent Dutch and English, so they helped me choose sandwiches. Then they joined me for lunch.
“Where are you from?” one of them asked me.
“I’m from California. This is my first stop on a 40 day tour of Europe.”
“How do you like it so far?”
It’s great! We’ll be going through Germany as well. Where are you from?”
“We’re from Hamburg.”
“Shucks – we won’t be going there. We’ll be going to Munich and Heidelberg.”
“Where are you staying?”
“In the hotel next door.”
“We’re staying at the same place you are. Pretty disgusting, isn’t it?"
“Yeah, it’s a bit grungy,” I agreed. “But at least it’s clean.”
“You got a clean room? Ours was really dirty. Obviously they didn’t clean it since the last person was there”.
“I think that’s deliberate,” another one said. “This country really discriminates against Germans. That’s because during World War II, they rolled in here with their tanks, and now they drive through with in their Mercedes Benz.”
“Germany currently has the best economy in Europe,” the third one explained.
“Really? What is its unemployment rate?” I asked.
“It’s 8%. That’s less than half the rate of the country that’s worst off, which is Ireland; theirs is 17%.”
“What is Holland’s?"
“Not much higher than Germany’s. But they’re still very bitter about World War II.”
“Do you know much about Amsterdam?” the second one asked me.”
“I’ve read a little about it before coming, I answered.”
“They have a hash bar down the street. You can buy some for real cheap.”
“Thanks, but I’ll pass.”
All three of them gave me a puzzled look. “Are you sure? It’s perfectly legal to smoke it here.”
I began to feel paranoid. What if they were setting me up for a trap? “Well – I understand some countries in Europe have lax laws on such matters, while some are very harsh. Rather than trying to keep track, I’d prefer to just not use while I’m here. I’ll stick to alcohol, thanks.”
Shrugging, they said, “Okay”.
Chiara and Jennifer came along. They wanted to explore Amsterdam, so I joined them. Walking along those streets was utter chaos! Everywhere were cars, trolleys, even middle-aged women wearing dresses riding bicycles, zooming along at breakneck speed. The only place we dared to cross the street was at a light, and even then, it was scary.
We went to Anne Frank’s House. It was still in the process of being made into a museum. In the main lobby, it showed displays of her actual diary, and where she was editing it. It also showed family photographs of the inhabitants. Her photograph on the cover of her book apparently was chosen because she said it was her favorite picture of herself. I’d always thought she looked way too serious in that picture; I preferred the one where she is beaming. But come to think of it, due to the topic of the book, I guess a serious picture is the best choice for the cover.
The Secret Annex was very cleverly designed. After going up two flights of incredibly narrow and steep stairs, you walk down a hallway with rooms off each side to a bookcase at the end of the hall. This bookcase swings open to reveal another flight of stairs, which leads to the Secret Annex. It is 3 stories tall, with the living quarters on the “first” floor, the bedrooms on the second, and Peter’s room on the third. We couldn’t go into Peter’s room, because it was still being worked on. Also, Anne’s movie star photographs weren’t up yet, but they had a few pictures of comics she had pasted to the wall in her room. I could not take any indoor pictures, because I didn’t have a flasher unit for my Canon AE1 camera; the only picture I could take was looking out her bedroom window at the building behind the house, with the tree she called “nature”, and the sky she called, “heaven”.
I’ve been a fan of Anne Frank since I first read her diary as a senior in high school. She’s someone I wish I could have known. What I really liked about her was her ability to attract boys; I have always been highly deficient in that area, and would have enjoyed learning from her. It’s a shame someone so energetic had to be cooped up in an attic for over 2 years, only to suffer death anyway! But at least she had her wish fulfilled, of living after her death.
Next, we visited Rijksmuseum, viewing its many famous paintings. When we reached Rembrandt’s Jewish Bride, Chiara turned to Jennifer and asked her, “Does this painting make you nervous?”
“Not really,” Jennifer answered, shrugging.
It turned out Jennifer is Jewish, and engaged. I was puzzled; not only wasn’t she nervous, but why wasn’t her fiancé on the tour?
“Are you worried about going into Germany? I asked her.
“Not at all. The Germans are helping the Jews now, and Nazism is illegal. Those guys you had lunch with – how were they?”
“They were really nice,” I answered.
“I figured they would be. The Nazis discriminated against blacks, but now Germans see them as exotic.”
At 6pm, we reported back to the hotel for dinner, which turned out to be a buffet of stew, vegetables and rice. Still American, though the stew seemed to have some foreign qualities to it.
At 10pm, we were taken for a walking tour of the Red Light District. Crossing streets in a group was less scary than with only a couple other people, plus there was less vehicle traffic at that hour. On the way there, we saw numerous street musicians; one that really impressed me was a black guy sitting on a giant boom box singing and playing the blues on a saxophone. He was being accompanied by a recording of a piano played on the boom box.
The Red Light District consisted of porno shops, night clubs, and a bunch of buildings that had red lights outside, with large front windows on the first floor; in the windows sat scantily clad women on large beds. “When a man sees a woman he wants, he pays and enters the house. The woman draws the curtains while the transaction is being done, then opens them again after the man leaves,” our local tour guide explained.
“Hmm,” said Chris, gazing in a window. “I think I’ll try it.” We all gaped as he went in! “Go on ahead,” he told us at the door. “I’ll either catch up with you later, or meet you at the hotel.” He wound up doing the latter.
Saturday, June 26
Today, we walked to a diamond factory, where we got to see diamond cutters at work. We got to try on diamond rings, some of which cost more than a house!
Afterwards, we returned to the hotel to pack our things, since after our next Holland tourist stop, we would be going to Germany. I went to the money exchange place there and asked for German Marks, and got a taste of what those three guys had told me yesterday. The clerk refused to do the exchange, snapping, “You should go to Germany for that!”
Chiara beckoned me over, and quietly told me to go to a bank around the corner; I’d get better rates there, anyway. So I did, and had no hassles there.
Then we rode the bus to the country to see the New Land, which is where the sea had been pushed back; this meant it was lower than sea level.
Italian Tour Group That Took Pictures of Me
We went on to a cheese factory, where we were given a tour and got to sample cheeses. The guide explained how it was made, and how it took a long time to age; “After a few months, it starts to get ripe. After a year, it is considered fair. After 2 years, it is much better. After 5 years, it is no good.” We all laughed.
The cheese factory was full of tourists. Among them was a group from Italy. A couple came up to me and the woman asked, “Excuse me, may we take our picture with you? It’s not often we see black people.” My group gaped at me. I laughed, and said, “Sure.”
I wound up posing with the whole group! After they all took turns, I took pictures of them; they thought it was hilarious. Apparently, Germans aren’t the only ones who find blacks exotic. I have a feeling I’m going to love Italy!
Then we went on to an open air clog shop, where we got to see a clog maker at work. The guy simply just gouged out a log, and quickly shaped it into a clog! It was amazing! A few of our tour members bought clogs. I didn’t but I tried on the largest pair.
Then it was time for us to leave Holland and head for North Germany, where we would stay tonight. We got back on the bus, and headed off.
The Clog Maker
To read the next chapter, North Germany, please visit this link:
© 2013 Yoleen Lucas
Yoleen Lucas (author) from Big Island of Hawaii on January 17, 2016:
Glad you enjoyed it. Amsterdam msy be the decadent capital of Europe!
Ssemakula Peter Luyima on January 17, 2016:
Excellent article and very informative about your Europe tour
Yoleen Lucas (author) from Big Island of Hawaii on January 07, 2016:
Thanks. You're the first to comment here. Most people don't think of Holland when they tour Europe, but it's actually an interesting country.