Amsterdam: Dutch Food, a Museum and a Windmill

This morning we woke up very slowly again.  I think my eyes first opened at 10:00 when I heard the clock on the church across the street chiming.  I laid in bed picturing the people below rushing to get to church on time, debated getting up, consulted with K and went back to sleep.  Oh, what a rough life this is.  I hardly remember what work is anymore.

We finally woke around noon again, and same thing as yesterday:  make espressos, drink espressos on the porch, shower, decide where to go, lazily and sloooowly make our way out the door.  Today we decided on the Anne Frank House and that was all we really wanted to see.  We didn’t make it out the door until after 2:00.  I had a sore throat and scratchy voice this morning and wasn’t in a hurry to get out.

We stepped out to find that the skies had changed from yesterday’s bright blue, puffy white clouds and brilliant sun.  Today was gray and dreary with a chilly bite to the air.

Elsa’s Cafe:

We decided to stop first at Elsa’s today.  We kept missing the food here, and Lidy had raved about it so I really wanted to make sure we got to eat here.  We sat at a cozy table inside and ordered soup and sandwiches.  I had the soup of the day – don’t remember what she called it – but it was gooood.  It was creamy with all sorts of delicious veggies and chicken.  It made me feel better, warmed my insides and lifted my mood just like that.  The sandwich was…interesting.  I ordered a club sandwich with came with the typical deli meats, but also salmon, eggs, cucumbers and onions.  It looked like a ginormous Scooby Doo sandwich, and was hard as crap to hold together, so I ate it in layers.  It was good, but not my favorite.  Especially with the eggs.  (My disdain for eggs is a whole other story.)

The service was good and the price was decent.  I left feeling content that we’d finally been able to manage a meal here, and my throat was feeling much better.

Anne Frank House:

With our bellies full, we hopped on the tram, bound for the Anne Frank House.  We finally arrived around 5:00, stood in line for roughly 20 minutes and made it inside.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read Anne Frank:  The Diary of a Young Girl; probably 15 years or better, so it’s difficult for me to remember all of the details of the secrecy and imprisonment inside of the annex.  Nevertheless, the tour was incredibly moving and eye-opening to put actual dimensions to the space.  It was surreal to know that I was standing on the very floorboards on which the Franks and van Pels stood, praying for their lives and hoping not to be found.

There is no photography allowed inside the Anne Frank House.  I didn’t see anyone enforcing the rule, but I didn’t want to be that annoying tourist breaking all the rules, so I refrained.  The Anne Frank House website has a 3D, interactive representation of the annex that’s really neat, too.  It gives a great idea of what’s in the museum since photos aren’t allowed.

We started the tour in the office areas – 263 Prinsengracht used to house two companies.  The offices were in the front of the house and looked normal.  You’d never guess that the secret annex existed behind the office walls.  As we filed through the house, there were pieces of memorabilia – ledgers from the store, desks with old papers, etc.  There were video monitors that would play telling of how Anne and Margot (her sister) would come down and bathe in the office area on Sundays and occasionally – always after dark – steal a glance outside through a slight part in the curtains.

From the office area, we were led up steep, narrow stairs to the hallway where the bookcase guarded the entryway to the secret annex.  As the floor shifted and creaked beneath me, I thought of how impossible it must have been for those poor families to remain absolutely still and unnoticed for so long.  We ducked through the narrow passageway into the secret annex and began to explore the hiding space.

There was no furniture inside.  When the Nazis raided the annex, they removed the furniture.  Although it was eventually recovered, Otto Frank requested that it not be replaced in the annex.  There is a tiny replica of the secret annex on display in the office area that shows how the furniture was set.  Even with no furniture, the spaces are small and horribly claustrophobic.  The blackout shades remain over the windows and immediately made me begin to feel slightly panicky.  I can’t imagine the feeling of knowing that daylight and the outside world was right beyond those midnight-shaded blinds, yet not being able to even so much as peek out.  I can’t imagine how much tinier and more claustrophobic these space must have seemed with furniture crammed inside.  It’s so awful and overwhelmingly emotional to think about – these people were caged animals, forced into imprisonment with no regard for their well-being or quality of life.  I shudder to think of what it had to have been like.

The first room we started in was the Franks’ bedroom.  This was where Anne’s parents and sister stayed.  Along the walls were glass cases with memorabilia – some were Anne’s diary pages, some were books recovered from the room, some were artwork that adorned the walls.  The room was small and narrow and it was difficult to imagine three people living in the room.  This room connected directly to Anne’s bedroom that she shared with Fritz Pfeffer.

Anne and Fritz’s room was the same length as the last, but even more narrow.  The walls were still adorned with the posters and magazine clippings that Anne decorated with, covered with plexiglass to preserve them, but it’s amazing the shape they are in given the amount of time that has passed since she hung them.  We exited Anne’s room and entered the bathroom area.

The bathroom consisted of a small – barely large enough for a person – closet with the toilet inside, a wash stand and a sink.  The bathroom area itself was decent sized – large enough for 4-5 people to stand inside.  The kicker here is that they had a toilet and a sink, but because the water moving through the pipes could be heard downstairs, no one was allowed to flush or use the sink during business hours downstairs.

That’s all there was to the first floor of the annex.

We exited the bathroom to find another incredibly steep set of stairs leading up to the van Pels’ family room.  This room was also the common area for everyone in the annex because it was on the second floor and less likely for anyone downstairs to hear them walking around.  There were two beds, a table, a few sitting chairs and a small kitchen area when the families were in hiding here.  It was difficult to imagine so much furniture in such a small space – hardly the size of my own kitchen now – yet it made the bedrooms downstairs look like mere cracker boxes.  The glass cases in this room displayed handwritten recipes and a page from Anne’s diary describing the meals they were eating – meager meals prepared with spoiled ingredients because that was all they had.  No afternoon trips to the market for these folks.

Outside of the van Pels’ room, we found ourselves in a tiny landing with a stairway leading up to the attic.  There was barely room to move in this space, which made it difficult to believe that this tiny room served as Peter van Pels’ bedroom.  There was a bed and tiny table and little else in the room when Peter lived in it.  He and Anne would often sneak up the stairs to the attic for a rare view of the outside world.  They could see the sky and the branches of a chestnut tree in the neighbor’s yard from the attic.  The windows were uncovered in the attic and this was the only place that Anne could escape to “experience” the outside world without intense fear of being discovered.  Sadly, the chestnut tree she wrote off fell and was sawed to pieces just two weeks ago.

That was all of the secret annex.  A claustrophobic space – smaller than our tiny townhome – for eight people!  We exited the annex through a door that was locked and forbidden during the hiding.  It led us into another part of the attic where this now a small area with TVs playing video clips of the war, the liberation, and telling the grim fates of all but Otto Frank – the only one of the annex members to survive the Holocaust.  There were also the original pages of Anne’s many diaries under glass, lining the walls.  It was surreal and amazing to see the actual handwritten pages of this young girl.  It was so much more powerful to see the slanted and sloping cursive writing poured across the colored, fading pages than to read a typefaced copy.  This experience has definitely made me want to read the book again, now with a space and perception in mind.

de Otter Windmill:

We left the Anne Frank House and headed toward our next stop – de Otter windmill, one of only two windmills still standing in Amsterdam proper.  To me, nothing says Holland like the old fashioned windmills – I’m talking the old-school wooden, fan blade-looking windmills, not these new fangled things like we have stuck all over the mountainsides in the states with their super aerodynamics and all that.  Since we didn’t leave ourselves enough time to get out into the Holland countryside to see the beautiful flower fields full of windmills, I just had to go see this one.

So off we went, on foot, headed several blocks north toward Central Station in pursuit of this wonderful Holland icon.  We wound along side streets, finding ourselves in some of the most tourist-deprived, local residential neighborhoods of the city.  We must have looked really silly with our maps out, stopping every 3 blocks to recalibrate, find our bearings and carry on.  Eventually we turned down an incredibly residential looking street with row houses and small businesses.  I didn’t think there was any way in hell we would find a windmill hiding back there – I mean, aren’t those things supposed to be out in the wide open, or along the water to catch the breeze?  Anyway, a few more steps down the road, and there it stood in all it’s glory…or, um…disrepair.

The old wooden windmill, built in 1638, was a mere shadow of what I expected, worn down and beaten up, tucked back between two buildings on a shabby gravel path with overgrown weeds surrounding its base and no signs of life.  Its blades even stood still.  It was slightly disappointing, yet hugely gratifying at the same time.  I supposed this will  have to do until our next Dutch adventure…


From here we decided to wander back up to Central Station and peruse some of the gift shops to find postcards and penis paraphernalia for everyone back home.  We found what we were looking for near Dam Square where we bought:  penis salt and pepper shakers (everyone should have a set!) for my dear friend, V, who is home watching our cats and house, the token souvenir underwear for K (complete with pot leaves, not penises…penii…whatever) and postcards for everyone else.

With the obligatory souvenirs in hand, we hopped the tram out of Dam Square again, bound for Rembrandtplein, hoping to score some yummy dinner.

Cafe Tante Roosje:

When we got off the tram, it was starting to rain and it was getting pretty cold; nothing like our gorgeous day yesterday.  We ducked into Cafe Tante Roosje to get out of the cold and wet.  The cafe was nice and quaint.  It reminded me of my favorite college bar, Fenwick’s, with the old, rustic, dark wood floors and interior and open-faced front.  Even in the rain, the front was wide open with an awning covering several tables out in front of the place, all full of people enjoying beers, socializing, people watching and oblivious to the fact that the cold rain was really starting to come down good at this point.

The dim light inside glowed a reddish hue and was supplemented by small mosaic glass candle holder on each table.  The perfect combination of trashy bar scene and romance on our last night in this city of scandal.


We had an okay dinner – flat, slightly overcooked burgers with no cheese and mayo as the only condiment choice – and sat and drank a few (too many!) Amstels as we watched the world go by and the sun set in front of us, wishing we had another few days to explore and enjoy the amazing Dutch culture.


After a while, we decided it was time to get headed back home to pack up for Italy in the morning.  We hopped the tram – in the freezing cold rain at this point – and headed back.  No stop at Elsa’s for beer tonight.

Remember those clothes we washed in the tub our first day here?  Three days ago.  They’ve been hanging in the bathroom, the bedroom and the living room since then.  With the fan on, on top of the lampshade for heat, spread out as far as they can, hanging on hangers…and they’re still wet.  And I don’t mean just a little damp; I mean wet.  So now what are we supposed to do?  Exactly what any normal person would do in this situation – we got the hair dryer out and started blow drying and ironing our clothes dry.

Ever seen someone iron socks and underwear?  It’s quite the sight!  We spent a good hour and a half ironing and blow drying clothes so that we could pack.


I’d hate to see what we did to the electric bill in this place in just an hour.  I’m going to be hesitant to sit down tomorrow for fear of wrinkling my crease-free undies.

With everything finally dry(er) and packed, it’s time to crash – with sweet dreams of Italy in our heads.  Tomorrow we’re moving on again.  *sigh*  I wish we had another few days here…

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