Sunday, February 17, 2008

Germany - Day 17: 2/16 (Wait...Amsterdam Is In Europe, Too?)

Days Left to Departure: 7

This morning we left for the Netherlands to visit the capital city of Amsterdam. We took a double decker purple bus with a white unicorn on the side of it which became even funnier when Erin started saying “Shun the non-believer!” when we made it off of the bus. If you don’t understand the reference, watch the following video, entitled Charlie the Unicorn, which is guaranteed to drop your I.Q. at least a few points. Erin, I am thinking about an early birthday present. You can sneak a peek of it, here. I was in good spirits this morning, especially after the play last night. Three hours of high school drama in a foreign language could have been deadly, and to be honest, I had to battle narcolepsy during the first 90 minutes because of all of the dialogue, but by the end I was happy that I went, even if Hannah’s friends didn’t understand why I would want to go to a play in a language I didn’t understand. It did allow me to concentrate harder on the visuals, including stage design and just the physical presence of the actors, but it was a high school production, which I tried to keep in mind. Something that was a little bizarre and hard to get my head around: first, alcohol was served at the performance. It was also tradition that during intermission that the actors go out into the lobby and run concessions themselves which I thought was somewhat interesting to have that level of interaction with the cast DURING the performance. Also, students in the play smoked on stage. It was crazy to see a high school character light up on stage, even though it was true to the character that they were playing.

After how solemn and serious most of Friday was, I was looking to have a lot of fun on this trip and even though morning brought the usual amount of grumpiness from students (which was a little surprising as the party at Laja’s last night was reported to be over at 11 PM and we didn’t have to be at the bus until 8 A.M.), I would not be denied. True to form, I started messing with people and trying to get people to laugh so we could lighten the mood on the way, and by the time we reached the rest stop, about 90 minutes into the trip, everyone seemed to be ready to enjoy the day. Even though we stopped at McDonald’s, I tried to find some way to have fun. After ordering coffee (you offer small size only… “GOOD GOD? WHY SHOULD THEY MOCK POOR FELLOWS THUS???” - Harry's St. Crispin's Day Speech, Henry V), and Canavan had her Happy Meal with wind up roller toy included, there was some fun to be had at the McDonald’s castle. I shot a “slide cam” video, although it is apparent my action footage skills could use some work.

Soon we arrived in Amsterdam and after a brisk walk (traffic had made us late), we arrived at the Anne Frank house, where Anne Frank and seven other people tried to hide from the Nazis, but ultimately failed in doing so and were sent to concentration camps where only one of them survived (Peter Van Pelt, if memory serves). Although it was bigger than what I pictured in my mind, I cannot, for the life of me, imagine what life must have been like in the top of that warehouse/factory. Unlike a variety of memorials that I have visited, such as the Vietnam War Memorial or even ground zero where the World Trade Center used to exist, this just felt different. To be walking the same floors that Anne Frank walked 60+ years ago was just different. It felt like I was touching history, if that made any sense. It was even different than being at the Nanjing Massacre Site. Even though I was in the same place as the atrocity that happened there, the Anne Frank House was just more intimate. Maybe it was also because I read The Diary of Anne Frank as a ninth grader and some 16 years later, I was seeing the setting I had only read about as a teen. I wish pictures were allowed, but I understand why they are not.

There was a pretty wild display at the end of the self-guided tour. It was called “Free2Choose” and asked people to weigh in on decisions they would make based on most of the same freedoms that are guaranteed to us by the “Bill of Rights”. It was interesting to note the number of students who were surprised how these decisions were not so cut and dry. After each scenario was presented, visitors had 10 seconds to vote yes or no to a prompt and then were allowed to see the percentage of each response by the people in the room and then by all visitors who had taken part in the interactive display. Not surprisingly, filled with teachers and teens, the responses were usually more liberally minded than the overall average, although I found myself voting in the mass minority, once or twice. D.J. had some good insights on some of the hypocrisy that was shown by people who okayed some forms of protest and nixed others, based on familiarity or personal connection with the groups involved.

We grabbed lunch a cool little run down café while students had an hour to themselves to explore the shopping and shop area we were in. It felt like a community pub that one might see in England or Ireland and the food was pretty good. It is still so bizarre to see pets in reaturants. There was cat who continually circled our table and I thought how the health and safety inspector would have a stroke in the U.S. if he or she saw something like that.

We next took a boat tour of the canals of Amsterdam, which I enjoyed very much and from the liveliness of the boat, everyone else did, too. It was nice being on the open water as I have done in almost every place I have visited. It was wild to see how much Amsterdam is like Venice, at least what I have seen fronm pictures. There were a ton of small bridges, most that I was surprised that our boat could fit under, and a lot of house boats, which I was surprised to find out, was a very popular place to live in Amsterdam, although the city is slowly weeding them out and forcing them north. There were even some house in the city that were ONLY accessible by boat We saw some great sights during the approximately hour long tour, including a recreation of a ship used by the Dutch East India Trading Company, the largest company in the world at its height and recently made famous the Pirates of the Caribbean Trilogy. The houses in Amsterdam are so narrow, Herr Fabricius explained, because for a time, taxes were accessed on the width of your house and not on the value. The rest was that each building has a hook for a pulley so you can get your furniture to the third or fourth floor, because doing so through the stairwells would be impossible.

The last organized event of the day was the walk through the flea market. Despite several warnings, some students did not realize that haggle with vendors and ended up getting hosed on prices. There were some interesting wares available, such as a box of old power cords and another of random spoons, but I didn’t find anything that was really worthy of a purchase. Nikki, however, found both what she said was her future wedding dress and a fire engine red fluffy skirt, for which she did not know that she could haggle about the price, and because of that, I won't post for her parents how much she spent on it. I mean, nowadays, a lot of teenagers have mortgages, right? Casey did point out that one shop was advertising cannabis lollipops, which we found as funny to see being sold on the street. Fear not, only a picture was taken and that picture is for educational purposes, only.

There was a split as what next to do. Much of the group wanted to see the Van Gogh Museum, but a faction wanted to buy t-shirts at the Hard Rock Café, which I thought was fad that died in 1996, but that could just be me. What resulted was a mass debate, then a rush to a trolley car, which left Herr Fabricius behind (intentionally or unintentionally, we are not sure) and literally took off as I was throwing students on board and had one foot on the deck and one foot on the street. The best part was when the door tried to close the first time, the only thing that stopped half of us from being left behind was, ironically, J-Fogg’s derrière.

With time waning, we were not able to see Van Gogh’s work and although I was tempted, dropping $37 on a tie depicting Starry Night was not something I was ultimately going to do, so Frau Canavan, Jessia, and myself found a small coffee café called Small Talk, and enjoyed cappuccino (and for myself, some rocking apple pie type thing) with a hilarious multi-cultural wait staff. We were able to see the sun set on Amsterdam from the window and the arrival of Charlie the Unicorn to take us back to Moers, promptly at 6 PM, when all museums and sites of cultural important close, and all other “activities” in Amsterdam begin.

On the way home, Casey, Frau Canavan and I talked about BH-BL’s leadership program for upwards of 65 minutes and then, on Colleen’s request, I told stories from China that got everyone in the general area rolling with laughter. Combined with a story that I told Jessia earlier in the day about Chinese toddler and their clothing in Nanjing, we laughed pretty much non-stop for the last hour of the trip. At one point, Jessia’s laughter went ultra sonic and I thought she might pass out. Good times. We were back by 8:30 PM and everyone quickly departed to head home.


Anonymous said...


Pete Mody said...

Of course it is. It was hand selected by none other than myself for this occasion.

And contrary to what J-Fogg will tell you, just looking at this shirt, it is obvious that I just exude a trendy sense of fashion that most can only aspire to achieve.