Adventures in Amsterdam

Get ready…We’re going to go back in time.  Since my original blogging-on-the-continent plan flopped, I’ll be interspersing my Northern Irish blogs with chapters about my spring vacation!  So first, some more on Amsterdam.

Kathryn and I enjoyed our sightseeing in Amsterdam, and there is much to recommend about this beautiful city!  Each morning, we awoke to the sounds of church bells playing elaborate melodies; as Kathryn remarked, “The buildings sing!”

We got up with some pretty early churchbells Tuesday morning, with the goal of getting ahead of the crowd at the Anne Frank Huis.  It was a lovely morning to walk along the canals, stopping every so often to squint at our map, until we found the museum at about 8:40 am.  It was still twenty minutes before the house opened, but there was already a line forming!  We were glad we had planned ahead and didn’t have to wait too long.

It’s been a while since I last read Anne Frank’s diary, and the exhibits reminded me of how thoughtful, honest and articulate Anne’s writing was.  And is, truly, as people have engaged with her words for sixty-five years now, in over seventy translations.   Her story forces the tragedy of the Holocaust into sharp focus, allowing readers to get to know one bright, young mind who was lost forever in that colossal horror.

At the same time, it is a delight to know how charming and funny and wise Anne was in her writing even in the worst of circumstances.  As a writer myself, I found it incredibly moving to stand in the rooms where Anne wrote and to see the red plaid clothbound diary in which she began her now famous diary.  I also loved seeing the pictures she writes about in her diary that she posted on the walls of the room she shared with Margot: fashion ads, nature photographs, pictures of celebrities like Ginger Rogers and the baby Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, to name a few.

After Anne Frank, we revived our tired selves with coffee and went to find a far less serious museum: Kattenkabinet, an old house filled with famous cat art.  Part of the draw of this museum was that two real cats actually live there, but they were hiding in the garden when we visited.

We  bought our cat-themed postcards at Kattenkabinet, then had a simple but delicious lunch at Toos and Roos (meaning uncertain): Dutch cheese sandwiches with arugula salad, sweet chutney and warm pumpkin soup.

Continuing the theme of small, quirky museums, we then headed for the Houseboatmuseum, an actual houseboat that’s no longer occupied so that tourists can visit.  I happen to love small, cozy spaces, so I was ready to move into a houseboat!  They have electricity and running water; the only downside is that houseboats require a lot more maintenance than the average house.

We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering through the pretty Jordaan neighborhood, eating ice cream and stroopwafels  (sweet wafers filled with syrup).  On our way back to our hostel, we stumbled upon De Oude Kerk (The Old Church), which is a stunning church dating back before the Reformation.  It was originally Catholic, of course, but later was turned over to “the same kind of Protestants as you have in Northern Ireland!” as the docent told us.  Interesting.

We’ll move forward in time a bit when I blog about the next day in Amsterdam, with pictures and all….

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In Firenze!

My plan to blog a little along the way hasn’t exactly worked out, but I promise to fill you in!  I’m currently on the last leg of my journey, in Florence with fellow Scottie Emma Kearney, an Art History major.  My association with Florence up until this point has been the Broadway musical The Light in the Piazza, but I must say that it’s not entirely unlike the romanticized version in my head.  Tuscany is beautiful, and I have already eaten quite a bit of delicious pasta, pizza and gelato.  I’m getting reading to go see Michelangelo’s David in about an hour, after which we’ll tour the Uffizi Gallery, which according to Emma contains, “about 50 percent of Florence’s art.”

Yesterday was a fun day as well.  I slept in after getting to Florence by plane and train Tuesday evening, then met Emma and two of her roommates at the Duomo, which we climbed for an incredible view of Florence.  We ate delicious panini for lunch, then had tea and warmed up in Emma’s gorgeous apartment (it was raining).  In the afternoon, we went to the market to buy food for dinner.  We made pasta with asparagus and eggplant, which we ate with salad and goat’s cheese.  Then we got inspired.  With the assistance of Emma’s roommate Fran, who’s taking an Italian cooking class, we made pear pecorino tortellini with truffle oil and balsamic cream!  It was stunning.  I can’t wait to show you the pictures of making (and eating) the tortellini!

Just to recap and give you a taste of the what’s to come in my blog, after Amsterdam Kathryn and I spent a day in Brussels, a day in Rennes with our friend Sally, three days in Paris with Sally and three days in London with yet another Scottie, Uyen.  Kathryn flew back to Belfast and took the train to Coleraine, while I flew to Madrid to visit my cousin Anna Burns.  From Madrid, I flew to Pisa and took the train to Florence.

Stay tuned for more Florentine and generally European adventures! 🙂

Day 1: Easter Break Adventures!

I’m blogging from the Shelter City Hostel, where Kathryn and I are staying in Amsterdam!  We arrived here yesterday afternoon and will stay until Thursday, when we move on to Brussels, then Rennes, Paris and London.  This is the beginning of our Easter Break Adventures: two weeks of travelling for Kathryn and three for me!  I won’t be able to upload pictures while I’m travelling, but I’ll try to update my blog as often as possible so you get a sense of what I’m up to.  Then I promise to post an album of pictures once I’m back in Belfast!

Kathryn and I really wanted to come to Amsterdam after both reading John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars recently, in which the main characters take a trip to Amsterdam.  You should read The Fault in Our Stars when you get a chance; it’s sad, but funny and poignant as well.  John Green is a talented young adult author with an adorable young family, so buy his books and support him!  After checking into our hostel and napping, we very fittingly visited Bibliotheek, the Amsterdam Central Library, for our first tourist destination.

Bibliotheek is not just a free public library with seven floors of books, magazines, films, music, computers, etc.  It’s also an architectural wonder and a truly delightful place to visit.  Every floor has eye-catching and ergonomic work spaces.  For example, one of the computer areas has Macs set up in the center of low cushioned beds, an arrangement of which the Agnes Scott McCain Library should probably take note! 

We had great fun exploring the library, especially the children’s section on the ground floor.  Here, we hugged a gigantic stuffed animal polar bear, took cat naps in brilliant red ergonomic chairs, and took a good look at Mousenhuis.  Mousenhuis is an elaborate dollhouse, like Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House for mice.  These mice have cosy bedrooms, bookshops, music rooms, an art studio, even an archeological museum with large skulls that perhaps once belonged to cats (though I doubt they were real).  It’s a veritable mouse village.

The Bibliotheek was a wonderful mixture of relaxation and charm, perfect for our first outing in Amsterdam!