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Holland Trip - Boxed in!!!
It all starts where it ends...

Date: 2007-11-14 12:22
Subject: Holland Trip
Security: Public
Location:Amsterdam, Netherlands
Music:Jab Bhi Cigarette - No Smoking OST
Tags:destinations, picture post, travel
This weekend I took a trip to Holland, to meet up with a friend, Su, hit Amsterdam together, and scour the countryside. Su is a student at Utrecht, not very far from Amsterdam. I took a late night flight into the Schipol airport, and headed directly off to Utrecht, since Su and me had loads of catching up to do! The next morning we headed to see Su's university, and meet up with her multi-cultural class. Gary, the Taiwanese, was more than happy to grab markers and detail Amsterdam centre and the attractions for us on a white board too!

The city of Amsterdam is laid out along four concentric semicircles of canals: Singelgracht, Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht, or the Golden age canals. Along these canals, 16th- and 17th-century merchants lived in elegant homes, most of which are still standing. Connecting these canals are many smaller canals and streets radiating out from the centre, and effectively dividing the city into an archipelago of tiny islands linked by bridges.

The first thing we did once at Amsterdam Central Station, since we didn't want to miss out on it, was taking the tram to the Anne Frank Huis. It's a typical Amsterdam canal house, with very steep interior stairs where eight people from three separate families lived together in silence for more than two years during Nazi occupation of Holland in World War II. The hiding place Otto Frank found for his family, the van Pels family, and Fritz Pfeffer kept them safe until, tragically, close to the end of the war, it was raided by Nazi forces and its occupants were deported to concentration camps.

A very sobering and solemn experience, the house has excerpts from Anne Frank's dairy on the walls, recounting her day to day life, relationships, all fringed by the Nazi terror raging outside. Bending under the very bookcase which concealed the eight people during the war, seeing the very yellow cloth star which the Nazis used to brand Jews,  passing through the light deprived rooms these people shared, and specially Anne's room, with the magazine cut-outs she put up on the walls in a desperate attempt to ward of the fear and gloom, the washroom where running water in certain hours could mean detection and consequent death, right up to the point where a colossal book stands encased in glass, the book of the name lists of the Dutch Jews carted away for gassing at the Auschwitz concentration camp, was eerily real enough to give me goose bumps.

Exiting Anne Franks House, at Westermarkt, we proceeded to the Tulip Museum, the towering Westerkirk, or West Church and the Homo-monument, in remembrance of all the persecuted homosexuals during Hitler's regime. It takes the form of three rose-colored granite triangles, recalling the shape of the badge the Nazis forced homosexuals to wear.

Next stop, the centre of Amsterdam, the Dam Square. Amsterdam grew up around a dam on the Amstel River that's now this monumental square with the Koninklijk Royal Paleis or the Palace on the Dam and the World War II obelisk shaped monument. Also clearly visible from the square is the Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky, the street from behind which leads to the oldest part of Amsterdam, De Wallen or The Wall, which houses Amsterdam's notorious Rossebuurt or Red Light District. To the far left is the Begijnhof, a once-religious cloister for women founded in the 14th century, and now a residence for elderly women. The other lane to the right leads to the Dutch Chinatown, with a superabundance of restaurants and eateries. Towards the right are the Amsterdam Diamond Centre and Madame Tussaud's wax museum, and a line of souvenir shops. We popped into one of them for a spot of shopping, and then hit Chinatown for some of the most amazing Chinese food I have eaten in a long time : Noodle soup, egg rolls, and steamed rice with sliced curried chicken.

Post lunch, more shopping ensued, and finally we were ready to head into the Red Light District. One has heard umpteen times of Amsterdam's Rossebuurt, but all the tales and accounts were nothing like actually cruising along the area! Along the notorious street of Oudezijds Achterburgwal, gaudily painted hookers adorned red-lit glass showcases like mannequins, preening and parading. The more uninterested ones were having a relaxed chat on their mobile phones or taking a nice peaceful drag of their cigarettes. The whole atmosphere was strangely relaxed, even while the business flourished all around. The heavy red and golden glitter of the shops lay reflected in a quiet canal in the middle of the street, with swans swimming about. The pimps would pounce out at you from almost anywhere, announcing their "happy hour" rates, with drinks on the house and detail featured shows which left virtually nothing to imagination. Stoned, glassy eyed dope heads and heroin whores passed by and ever so often, and you could catch repetitive snippets of conversation you felt were targeted at you. But far from being a seedy neighbourhood, the bustle and vibe of the area with its glaring red and yellow lights and lively women was really something I did not expect.

Also in the Red Light District, is the Hash, Marijuana and Hemp museum, which we turned into and which really teaches one everything one ever wanted to know, and much one didn't about Cannabis, including some bizarre tales from the prohibition era and instances from the war against the drug. For instance, any amount of Marijuana cultivation can get you a life sentence (90 years!) in the state of Oklahoma! Dutch Policy, however, has always maintained that the use of Cannabis is no more problematic for society than alcohol, and should not be a criminal offense. On Queens day, joints and space cakes are sold openly on the streets of Amsterdam. There was also a Marijuana plantation on the premises, plants at various stages of development filled the air with an unmistakable and heady fragrance.
One even gets to sample the hash grown here, from a vaporizer nearby.

Almost all the coffee shops in this area have strange sounding names, pictures of Bob Dylan, red-yellow-green-black decor, and their very own Cannabis menu.  

Quite mesmerized by all the glitter and dope, we headed home...

The plan for the next day was to head out to Zaanse Schans, in the Dutch countryside.

 A short train ride later, we were at the train station of Koog-Zaandijk, from which we followed the little green signs for the short walk that lead us there.

The bridge across the River Zaan provides one of the most breathtaking and memorable views in Holland.

At the far end the community at Zaanse Schans is visible, with its traditional green painted houses, warehouses and windmills giving the feeling of having stepped back into the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries of a colourful living and working neighbourhood.

We first stepped into the Wooden Clog Workshop, originally De Vrede, a 1780 storehouse from Westzaan serving as storage space for snuff and grain. De Vrede was moved to the Zaanse Schans in 1984. Part of the storehouse has been devoted to the Wooden Shoe Museum, one of the largest and most beautiful collections of every imaginable wooden shoe in the Netherlands, massive ones for work, sunday clogs, and elaborately crafted ones for wedding days, which are ritually carved by the groom for the bride. There were also clog making demonstrations complete with the process and tools.

Crossing over a bridge, we arrived at a replica of an original Cheese Farm from the village of Oostzaan. Different types of Dutch cheese are made here daily, and available for tasting. Had the most divine cheese sandwiches and syrup waffles here.

Next was the path heading to the windmills. Headed to "De Kat" or the paint mill, which offered panoramic views of the other mills, De Poelenburg (Wood Sawing Mill) and De Bonte Hen (Oil Mill). In 1646 paint windmill 'De Kat' was built at its present day site on the Zaan, later to become part of the Zaanse Schans. In 1782 the mill was destroyed by fire but was rapidly rebuilt again.

Done with Zaanse Schans, we returned to Amsterdam for a little more time in the city, then headed to the Schipol airport. That sort of wrapped it up for the trip. Holland leaves one with a vibe of wholesomeness, stretching out for miles altogether, just like its flat and endless grassy green plains.
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Mai Selph a.k.a. Monami Bhattacharya: enlanterner
User: moccacino
Date: 2007-11-14 14:53 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
2 weeks back, actually, on the 1st of Nov. I lazily wrote about it last week.
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November 2007