Ah Amsterdam! The canals, the bicycles, the pizza!
I played hooky for 3 weeks in Europe, two weeks after starting high school! When I showed up to gather assignments from teachers who had barely met me, there were worried looks. With my backpack full of homework, we headed for the airport.
My younger sister and I had been “studying” for this trip for six months. This was our first visit to Europe. We went on a two week “repositioning” cruise sailing from Rotterdam to Athens, with a couple of days in Amsterdam at the start. All summer my mother lugged home Rick Steves videos on the ten countries we were going to visit. We chose sites we wanted to see (and many we could skip). To get ready for our Amsterdam visit we read the Diary of Anne Frank and went to the Holocaust museum in Washington DC.
Amsterdam’s Hotel Estherea on the Singel Canal is an old canal house with corridors that wind and ramble. The lobby is filled with antiques, a huge aquarium, and a hot chocolate machine. I loved sitting in the hotel library with a cup. Our room had high ceilings, Delft doorknobs, a white tile bathroom and BEDS. After our all night KLM flight, no bed has ever looked more inviting.
Instead we headed for Anne Frank’s house. Anne Frank and her family hid in a secret apartment through most of World War II, to avoid being captured by the Nazis. Pictures that Anne drew are still taped to the walls. Anne wrote in her diary about hearing Westkerk’s bells. We heard them too.
The following day was my fourteenth birthday and I wanted to see “no museums.” Our hotel was two blocks from the flower market. It is a great place to shop for flowers, tulip bulbs and cannabis seeds. That last one was a surprise and I took pictures to show my friends back home.
Next I wanted to see the Red Light district. We walked past the English Church (where the Pilgrims worshiped before coming to America) and the royal palace at Dam Square into the infamous Red Light district. 10:30 AM is NOT the best time to see this place. The barely dressed women in the shop windows looked more tired than enticing.
A few blocks away, at the Centrum train station; we rented bicycles and took the free ferry across the harbor to the villages on the other side. Every man, woman, child and dog in Amsterdam rides a bike. With our confusing bicycle map in hand we headed down the bicycle path for Twiske. We never made it, but did find a Dutch McDonalds and rode past two windmills before heading back to the ferry.
Mom herded us onto a canal cruise. All I remember is a lot of canal-side houses, the tour guide rambling on in 5 languages and how good it felt to fall asleep for an hour.
The hotel suggested a restaurant a block away for dinner called Casa d’David. A family from Naples Italy owns the restaurant. My pizza was literally the best I have ever eaten. The next morning, while enjoying fresh squeezed OJ and chocolate croissants, we watched hundreds of bicyclists ride by our casement window.
After that we headed to Rotterdam to board our ship. The rest of our European trip was wonderful but, for me, Amsterdam was magical. And yes, I struggled finishing homework, but I learned more from our Europe visit than I would have learned in a year in school.
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