Each year for my son’s birthday, we take an international trip. I think travel is a wonderful education and a great way to experience other cultures. This year, our destination was Amsterdam. After all, what boy turning 16 wouldn’t want to go to this incredible liberal part of Europe?
Our journey started the Saturday before Thanksgiving. After not being able to make it to Detroit or Houston, we finally boarded a flight to Chicago to catch a connection to Amsterdam. We arrived bright and early Sunday morning and hit the ground running.
Our first stop was the Heineken Museum. Here, we learned everything about making this world-famous brew. Employees explained all the ingredients that are used, and there was even a 4-D film that lets you “experience” the brewing process. As we walked through the museum, ads from years ago as well as the first bottles greeted us. The huge caldrons were on display and really gave us an insight as to the enormous amounts of beer that is produced. It’s important to pay attention during the tour because you are asked questions at the end for chances to win beer. Out of our tour group, my son and I were the only ones who remembered the answers! The museum is open daily from 11:00-7:30 (later in the summer months). Tickets are 17 Euro for adults and 13 Euro for children. Our hotel had discount tickets so be sure and ask about that.
On Monday, we headed to the Anne Frank House and Museum. As we walked up to the house, it was surprising that it looked similar to every other house on the street. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but for such an important piece of history it was unusually normal. When we walked in, the front part of the house is as it was during the war. This is the area where the workers tended to their daily tasks. The secret rooms upstairs have been kept in their original state and remain empty. All the furnishings were taken away after the arrests, and Mr. Frank asked that they remain unfurnished. Pictures and diagrams depict what the rooms looked like at the time. We could see that the Franks and the Van Pels tried to bring some of home with them to their hiding spot. The tables were set with beautiful lace tablecloths, bedspreads covered the small cots, and pictures were glued to the wall. I’m sure none of these remarkable people ever dreamed they would be in hiding for two years. Some of the rooms were very small, and it was humbling to think they could not leave this area of their secret existence. Throughout the building, films featuring people who knew the Franks and spoke of their ordeal. There were childhood friends of Anne’s, former employees of Mr. Frank, and others. I was truly speechless when we left, and I think my son and I were both deeply touched. This is a must see for anyone visiting Amsterdam. The lines can get quite long, so I suggest going early in the day. Tickets may be purchased at the museum or online at www.annefrank.org.
Tuesday had us visiting the flower district with its beautiful offerings. Just walking through this area and inhaling the fragrances was wonderful. I wish I could have brought home some of the amazing tulips. From this area, we followed the tram tracks to the Royal Palace of Amsterdam. Several dignitaries were arriving that day, so the guards were plentiful. The majestic palace dominated the entire area. Tours are usually available but not on this day due to all the activity.
A few blocks away from the palace, we found the Red Light District. Having heard about this area, I thought I knew what to expect. However, seeing it in person is a different story! There are truly beautiful girls in red-lit windows that one can spend 15 minutes with (for about 50 Euro). Pictures of the girls are prohibited; so don’t pull out the camera. Sex shops, peep shows, and other shocking businesses line the streets. The area is actually one of the oldest in the city and boasts cobblestone streets and wonderful architecture. Of course, you have to get past all the other sights to appreciate this. Since my son had just turned 16, our time here was brief!
Amsterdam is very easy to navigate, and we walked for hours each day. We learned that not all coffee shops sell coffee, space muffins are not your everyday muffins, and street entertainers are everywhere. If you visit with an open mind, you will love Amsterdam. We had a great time there and will likely return!