Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Two diaries, two lives and a fond farewell

Anne Frank's tiny room gives perspective to the isolation Anne and her family suffered through for two years. It is a place where hopes and dreams were recorded by the young, vibrant girl. She lived in a different era yet her desires are timeless. Any young person her age today would have similar hopes and dreams. When visiting the Anne Frank House, one climbs the steep stairs to gain access to the many levels. The highest level is where the back wall contains a hinged bookshelf which conceals a small doorway that leads to the rear annex where the Frank family lived in hiding. The annex is similar to guest quarters attached to the upper rear floors of the main house where Anne's father ran his pectin business.

The Anne Frank House was my favorite site in Amsterdam. Historical yes, but the connection you feel with the human condition is what makes it so personal and important. You can read her story, but to actually feel the space where she lived in hiding makes a visit requisite when in Amsterdam.

The self-taught artistic son of Holland finds posthumous success! And the place where his success remains on constant display is at the Van Gogh Museum. Like the Anne Frank House it contains a diary too; a diary of canvas masterpieces. We entered the museum at the ground floor which showcases the early works of Van Gogh. The museum is laid out in chronological order starting with artwork by the young Van Gogh working, literally, up to the last painting he made. One can actually experience the psychological deterioration of Van Gogh as canvas by canvas attests to the mental illness and dark psychosis he suffered from. Like Anne Frank, Van Gogh was trapped in a place he wanted to escape. The benefit to us is that, like Frank, Van Gogh's artistic output lives on for us to contemplate and enjoy.

Amsterdam folds one more page for the visitor and leaves me with an unforgettable glimpse into a tiny piece of European history. Thank you Anne; thank you Vincent. What a wonderful journey through a truly historic city relevantly positioned for the present and the future.

Thank you Amsterdam. I know I'll back.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Bikes, boats, and bridges

Our last two days in this great city revolved around bikes (dodging them as they sped by), boats (snapping pictures of them as they glided below us and boarding one for a canal level tour), and bridges (stopping on their bowed backs to pause and take in the sites).

The painter, printer, and high priced home buyer!

Our next stop was the Rembrandt House-- a beautiful home-now-museum. A climb up the antique stairway to all the levels reveals the living and working quarters of the brilliant artist. Rembrandt may have been a genius when it came to his art, but his financial skill left a lot to be desired. He defaulted on his bank payments and had to declare bankruptcy and return his home to his creditors. It is because of the detailed inventory of the home required by the bank that modern renovators were able to know exactly how Rembrandt had decorated and furnished his home, even down to the the precise location of the easel in his painting studio.

OK, it's 32 degrees out and why hadn't we thought of soup before? The opportunity presents itself as the best darn soup shop in Amsterdam is smack down the street from Rembrandt's House. A hot cup of Tuscan tomato basil warms the tummy and fuels us for our last day in Amsterdam.

Hate to leave this beautiful city of Amsterdam

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Cheating on Amsterdam: the City of Lights beckons

Don’t take it personally Amsterdam, but I must make a quick excursion to the City of Lights.  No worries, I’ll be back in a few days.  Paris was too tempting not to visit on this trip.  Travel to Paris from Amsterdam is quite convenient as it’s only a comfortable 3 hour train ride south through Belgium.  Our arrival to Paris’ Gare Du Nord station is announced by the sound of the train’s brakes.  The hustle and bustle of Paris comes into rapid focus through our cabin window.

Once checked in to our hotel in the Latin Quarter, we make a beeline to one of our favorite streets, Rue Mouffetard.  Nestled behind and east of the Pantheon, Rue Mouffetard is known for its all week-long farmer’s market and specialty food and wine shops.    Mouffetard’s small merchants and market are a foodie’s dream come true!  An eclectic wine shop here, an old madame’s cheese shop there; a cozy shop specializing only in foie gras around that corner.  The smells, the sights;  when it comes to food and wine, they’re  all on Rue Mouffetard.  It’s a shame we don’t have access to a kitchen as the desire to whip up a pot of coq au vin comes and then quickly fades.

Bonjour Paris!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Amsterdam's accordian-like homes and artsy flare

Battling that old familiar companion jetlag, we leave our coffee house and head into the Jordaan neighborhood to get our bearings on our first day in this beautiful city.  Amsterdam opens up to us as around the corner we discover the canals and idyllic attached homes, fanning out before us like the bellows of an accordion.  This evening they were playing a quiet song so as not to disturb the residents of the myriad houseboats permanently docked in the canals all around.  I think the Amsterdammers have long ago figured out how to live peacefully together since their homes are so closely packed.

A peek inside a home-gallery reveals the artsy side of Amsterdam
We discovered a quaint home-gallery that displayed an interesting painting in the front lobby; a peek inside revealed the artsy side of this historic European city.  The goal for this first day was to gain our bearings and see if we could find the Anne Frank House.  We found it, sidewalk under renovation and all.  I had recently read that the original oak tree Anne had gazed upon from her hidden room had recently died following a storm.  I could see what was left of its root stump directly in front of the house.  It must have been a recent  storm for a small digging tractor was parked and it looked like the remains of the stump was being dug up.

Tomorrow... off to the Van Gogh Museum!  Good night Amsterdam.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

You know you're in Asia when...

As a Westerner you know you’re in Asia when there is no reflection of your face in a mirror because it is mounted too low for our tall frames.  I took this picture in Viet Nam last November.  I am intrigued and motivated by travel as it allows us to experience all the differences between cultures and countries-- from the height of mirrors hung in bathrooms to the languages spoken, food served, and faces that greet us.

Today we are on our way to Amsterdam to explore the pointed roofs and canals of one of Europe’s most storied and charming cities.  Although I am a Fish, on this adventure I am going to stay out of the canals and, instead, be at street level so I won’t miss any of the action.  Anne Frank's House is one destination I’m really looking forward to.  A tragic story of Anne and her family hiding away to elude capture from the iron grip that Nazism had on Europe back then.  Thankfully, Europe is no longer under siege, and the Netherlands is one of the most progressive and welcoming countries in modern Euroland!

Amsterdam, get ready to welcome the TravelingFish!