November 8, 2010
When I first booked my trip to Hungary, I was somewhat peeved that I was going to have an 18 hour layover during my return trip; that was until I realized that the layover was going to be in Amsterdam. Amsterdam is generally recognized as the coolest city in the world and it was a place I had always heard so much about, yet never visited. The flight from Budapest arrived at 3:30 in the afternoon and my connection to Atlanta did not head back until the next day, so I booked a room at the airport Sheraton and had an entire night to enjoy Amsterdam.
Having an entire night to spend in Amsterdam can be a dangerous thing, but I managed to have time to explore a little of both the culture and the world-renowned wild side of the city. The city center is an easy 20 minute train ride from the airport to the Central Station where one steps out of the station into a truly unique experience.
The city is a small big city, one that feels totally manageable and relaxed despite the frenzy of activity, especially in the famed Red Light District that was packed with people. I started off in search of something somewhat more redeeming than just following the masses to the district, following my easy to use map through the quaint canals, incredible 18th century buildings and houses to a place that I really wanted to visit, the Anne Frank House.
The tragic story of one of millions of victims of the persecution of the Jews by the Nazis in WW II was told in vivid and heart-wrenching detail in the “Diary of Anne Frank” and the house with its secret annex where the Frank family hid until they were betrayed is now a museum. I was fortunate to make it over and get in just before they stopped allowing visitors for the day.
The house is divided in to two sections, the front contained the office and warehouse owned by Anne’s father Otto Frank, the back section known as the annex was hidden behind a moveable bookcase and it is where 8 people hid for over two years during the Nazi occupation. The entire house is now a museum where visitors can see the house and the annex as well as the actual diaries that document the time the family spent in hiding. It is a moving experience, especially in light of the fact that of the 8 people betrayed and sent to the Nazi camps, only Otto Frank survived the war.
After the experience of the Anne Frank house, it was on to something completely different as I headed into the famous Red Light District. There the liberal attitudes of the Dutch are on display as the streets are lined with bars, sex shops and clubs, smart bars and coffee houses offering legal “soft drugs” and the famous prostitutes who are on display everywhere under translucent red lights behind glass doors.
Unlike what might be found in the US if such things were available, the area is not seedy at all. Thousands of ordinary looking visitors to the area mingle and wonder the streets taking it all in. Photography is frowned upon in the RLD, mostly because the prostitutes tend to lead double lives, housewives etc. by day. I tried to take a couple of shots to capture the feel of the place without revealing any identities.
The entire place is fascinating and full of life, everyone seems to be in a great mood and it seems safe and is a ton of fun. The city with its maze of canals, narrow streets full of bicyclists and tiny cars is a laid back yet at the same time somewhat frenetic place that is also incredibly beautiful. It made for a great stop-over on the way home from what was an incredible trip.
Anne Frank House website