Love Letter to Amsterdam (and the Netherlands as best I know)

No, despite all the ugliness of the past week, I have not decamped to The Netherlands. That said, because I am desperate to take some mental space from the devolving country in which I live, I want to tell you more about our trip to Amsterdam, including a magical day trip to The Hague, and share some of my favorite photographs from both places.

For starters, I adore much of Dutch architecture, especially what visitors can glimpse by walking through the Canal district in Amsterdam. I love the matte brick facades, painted in all colors, the narrow (but deep) structures designed and built when cost and taxes were based on house width. I love the steep roofs so many of which are threaded with a massively strong beam running front to back which supports not only the roof but also a functional pulley, an exceedingly necessary element of homes whose cramped, precipitous interior stairwells make moving furniture and appliances in impossible or nearly so. 

I love how the buildings have settled over the centuries, some walls bowing out, some windowsills looking as if they were built on the diagonal. I love the striking doorways and the shiny enamel-like paint used on doors and trim. I fancy the unique plaques, carvings, and other various types of facade bling many homes boast. I love the big old windows and the trailing vines growing from the tiniest plots of earth nestled between sidewalk and stoop up and over entryways and window frames.

I love the ambience in the Netherlands. In my most romanticized notions of it, no one ever sues anyone because they are happy on free love and soft drugs. Kids run barefoot through the parks and playgrounds. Parents do not helicopter but when they are alongside their kids, they are joyous, warm, and easy. It is always time for a coffee or an aperitif. In the Vondelpark's Groot Melkhuis, you can purchase juice boxes, Belgian beer, and appeltaart, sit at a picnic table and watch your kids play the afternoons away.

I love the thousands of bikes that call the city home, love that no one wears helmets when they ride, and that even the most laid-back Amsterdamer follows the bike rules of law. You've never seen such orderly, chockablock mayhem. I love how comfortable people are with their bodies, how cosmopolitan they are, how most everyone is at least trilingual. I love that the swastika is a banned symbol.

It's a beautiful place, visually and culturally, and I cannot wait to return. 

Anne Frank House and Charlottesville

Last Thursday, Mom, Tom, the boys, and I spent the morning at Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. Although we knew the story, although I studied the Holocaust extensively in college, although I thought I knew what to expect, we all of us were rendered silent and emotional. We each listened intently to the audio tour, bearing witness to the horrors and courage and human spirit the Frank family (and millions of others) endured and demonstrated. 

Today, just two days later, I am back in America and watching with a heavy, outraged, disgusted heart the white supremacists marching and beating peaceful counter-protestors in Charlottesville, VA. Governor McAuliffe has declared a state of emergency, three are dead, dozens are injured. And that's just the physical damage. Imagine the psyches of Americans of color right now, as white men and woman wave confederate flags and scream about "taking our country back." Imagine how Jews watching Americans raise their arms in Sieg Heil salutes, swastikas waving at their sides (see below) must feel. 

72 years separates the end of World War II and now. 72 years. 72 years since Anne Frank was murdered after hiding for two years in a dark annex. 72 years since the hate-filled Hitler took his own life in cowardly fashion. Less than that between the turbulent Civil Rights movement in America and now. What are we doing? 

I am nearly speechless. I am sick to my stomach and desperately sad to be back in this country after enjoying two weeks in beautifully progressive, largely tolerant places. I'll leave you with this, courtesy of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect. 

Geiranger and Ålesund, now back in Amsterdam

After a magnificent day boating around Geirangerfjord and moseying through the little town of Geiranger, and after a lovely stop in Ålesund, a town on Norway's western coast which burned almost completely in 1904 and was then rebuilt in art nouveau style, we spent a final day at sea before docking back in Amsterdam (pics from Amsterdam will follow in subsequent posts as the number of photos here might fully overwhelm you).

Geirangerfjord  

Geirangerfjord  

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 Ålesund:

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fresh fish soup at Lyst

fresh fish soup at Lyst

View from early in the climb to the top of the fjell (mountain) 

View from early in the climb to the top of the fjell (mountain) 

Ol gleefully working his way up

Ol gleefully working his way up

getting close

getting close

view from the top! 

view from the top! 

commemorating the rebuilding effort

commemorating the rebuilding effort

Art nouveau style drives me wild!! 

I mean seriously, just look at that! 

I mean seriously, just look at that! 

gorgeous slate work on the roof of this church

gorgeous slate work on the roof of this church