Day 2 in Amsterdam starts very early – almost too early and will include the Amsterdam Big 4 – Anne Frank House, Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum, and Vondelpark – an ambitious agenda that will maximize kid whining and parental stress! So we fortify ourselves with a breakfast of fresh baked rolls, ham, cheese, yogurt, fruit, and smoothies – so, basically your average light meal – and set off for the city.
It’s a beautiful crisp spring morning and we take our first tram ride from central station to the Westerkerk church on the Prinsengracht canal. The church has a small statue of Anne Frank on the outside and it suddenly hits me that 30 years after I first read her diary, I am finally going to be inside Anne’s house. It’s a surreal feeling and not one I can even begin to describe – like an out-of-body feeling of vujà dé (the feeling that this has never happened to me before)!
I was in 6th grade when I read Anne’s diary, curled up on my bed in Pune, devouring the life of this girl who was separated from me by time and geography and language and life experience – but whom I felt so curiously connected to – her love of friends and family, her little irritations at an older sister, her close connection and constant bickering with her parents, her railing at real and imagined injustices.
Our appointment is for 9:20 am and we are early but the line to get into the house already has about 30 people in it. Buying the tickets ahead of time online has been an uncharacteristically smart idea!* We duck into a coffee shop next door to wait and for some hot chocolate and cappuccino – since we had that really light breakfast – sheesh!! When 9:15 rolls around, we traipse to the front of the line, ring the bell and are shown into the house.
The first room has huge photos of Anne and quotes from her diary on the walls. I start tearing up immediately. In the next room there is a short video on the history of the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, a brief description of the timeline of Anne’s journey, and it ends with the sad realization that she was buried in a mass grave at the age of 15 one month before Bergen-Belsen was liberated by Allied troops. The next 40 minutes we walk through the house, a huddle of strangers now forever linked by this experience. I see the pictures of film stars by Anne’s bed and everywhere there are excerpts from her diary. Along with the deep, uplifting words there are also flashes of petulance and irritation and teenage angst – some words you can almost imagine accompanied with the universal eye roll. There are no photos or videos permitted but I can’t resist this one of Maya reading the diary. Maya is horrified that I didn’t follow the rules – what can I say – I’m a rebel!
We each write our names in the book of visitors after which Maya thanks me for bringing her to see Anne Frank’s house and I get choked up again – Adam brings me down to earth by loudly proclaiming how bored he is – and all’s right with the world! The tour ends in an interactive exhibit, which is actually my favorite part, called Free2Choose. We are all in this big room, where we gather around multiple monitors in an open area. There are about 20-30 stations, each with two buttons – a red one and a green one. We watch 2 minute videos about human rights issues facing various communities and governments around the world – gay marriage, free speech, religious freedoms – and each video ends with a question that we, the visitors, have to give our opinion about by pressing one of the buttons for yes and the other for no. It’s a fascinating study – some issues are very cut and dried where we all vote en masse and there is a palpable sense of camaraderie in the room. Other issues, not so much – lots of shades of gray and no neat answers.
We leave the Anne Frank house and take a walk through the quaint Jordaan neighborhood, right across the street. With lovely little streets and shops and crooked houses, this is a beautiful part of Amsterdam….that my kids decide is too quiet and so they proceed to make their presence known! Who knew that singing “Radioactive” in loud voices could make a street come alive somehow!
We head over to the Van Gogh museum for a spot of lunch and then a tour through some of the most beautiful paintings by the most tormented painter. I buy the audio guide for kids which is a great deal because it
keeps them quiet gives them some fantastic information about all the paintings they see. Totally worth the 5 Euros, and at the end they each get to pick a postcard of their favorite painting. As an added benefit they take turns at telling me about the paintings – and then we have a brief talk about clinical depression and suicide – good times!
From here it’s on to the Rijksmuseum after stopping to clamber all over the iAmsterdam sign. With the most beautiful Vermeer’s and Rembrandt’s, the Rijksmuseum is an ode to the luminous style of the great Dutch painters. The kids appreciate the Night Watch and the Pirates of the Caribbean ship and the creepiest little girl who looks like she came out of a horror film!
And finally it’s time to leave behind the museums – which inevitably result in child joygasms – and head over to Vondelpark for hot chocolate and cappuccino – and of course, chips and guacamole!
This brings us to the end of Day 2 – a very emotionally charged day which we faced with periodic and regular breaks for chocolate and fries! Tomorrow is kid’s choice – which means there will be no museums! Oh happy day!
*Tip: Book your tickets to the Anne Frank house early and online – the 50 cents extra per ticket is totally worth it. However, this requires advance planning so for the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pantsers who are reading this and thinking – “That’s soooo uncool man“, here is what the line looks like to go in if you don’t – so….there’s that!