Amsterdam is a city that I was eager to visit. I imagined quaint canals, an artistic bustling vibe, bike paths, museums and culture everywhere. These all turned out to be true contributing factors of this vibrant city, however, Amsterdam is not a place where you can let your guard down!
While discussing our upcoming day-trip to Amsterdam from Rotterdam, our good friend whom we were staying with declared; "Everytime we go to Amsterdam, someone almost dies!" I was more than a little surprised at this statement. She then regaled us with funny and crazy stories of the many near death accidents that had befallen them whenever they had visited this famous city. Although humorous, I kept this little morsel of information tucked away and determined to be extra 'aware' during our trip.
Luckily I did...because her statement turned out to be true.....
For us, we had two main reasons for visiting Amsterdam; The House of Anne Frank and the Van Gogh museum. We purchased tickets to the House of Anne Frank online. These are purchased ahead of time and you are given a time slot. We were so lucky to get our 4 tickets, it's a very popular place and we were there in the summer holidays! We gratefully left our younger three kids at home in Rotterdam with our friend, and eagerly set out for a day of fun learning...and near death...but more on that later.
We had watched the movie 'The diary of Anne Frank' the night before to prepare, and we were in the process of reading the book to the family. I was truly excited for my kids to learn history at the source!! I had studied WWII quite thoroughly in high school, but nothing quite compares with actually being there. It can be difficult to imagine places and events so far away and disconnected from your own life, I was simply thrilled to be able to educate my children on this important topic in such a vivid and memorable way that I hoped would have a lasting impact.
The museum did not disappoint. It was truly amazing to walk through that tiny attic where Anne and her family hid for two years.
We felt how cramped it was.
We noticed how dark everything was with the windows covered.
We felt deeply sad at the evidences around us of how difficult it must have been for a beautiful young girl on the threshold of womanhood to be shut away because of such violent hate. We were all touched and impressed with the information that was on display. Because of the time slot system, it never felt too crowded and we enjoyed freedom to walk through at our own pace and to learn and feel heartbroken over this terrible time in our world's history.
One thing I learned to love about Anne Frank was how 'ordinary' she was. Don't get me wrong, in many ways she was extraordinary; her imagination, her ability to hope and dream through such dark times. But I also loved that she was such a normal teenager; she complained, she was moody, she annoyed her family...and the world loves her. We love her with all her faults, and the museum truly did seem to honour the value of all life.
After touring the museum, we were able to purchase a replica of Anne Frank's diary for our own daughter to write about her life and dreams. She is also imperfect; complains, is moody, and annoys us intensely sometimes, but what a wonderful way for us to be reminded of how precious each imperfect life is.
After we had finished in the museum, we walked in the direction of the Van Gogh museum. It began to rain... a lot. This is when that imperfect precious daughter of mine decided to have a meltdown about how wet she was...and her shoes were unbearably uncomfortable...and everything else that was bothering her. "Sigh", travel with kids is never perfect, it can hit you with challenges at any moment.
Despite the emotional upheaval, I did get to catch glimpses of how gorgeous Amsterdam was, even in the rain, it was all that I had imagined!
And now for our near death experience.
Ross was our direction guide, he is very good at this, I am generally hopeless with maps so I am grateful for his skill. He was frequently checking that we were heading the right way and so was sometime distracted from his surroundings...
We got to a very busy intersection, right across the road from the Van Gogh museum. Traffic in the Netherlands can be crazy!! There are cars, bikes, trams and pedestrians all whizzing past! We are Australian, and because our traffic comes from the opposite direction, it can be a natural reaction to check for oncoming cars on the right and then step out onto the road. I have almost done this a few times in the USA. As a traveller, I now make a point of checking both sides in case I forget where I am in the world.
Anyway, the road was curved, and Ross had his head stuck out over the sidewalk so that he could see if there was any oncoming traffic. Little did he realize that he was looking the wrong way! He did not see the oncoming tram that came hurtling around the corner behind him. Our toes were right on the edge of the path ready to cross the street and Ross's head was way over the track line of the tram. I grabbed the back of his shirt and yanked him back literally half a second before that big solid metal tram came thundering past and took his head off.
True. I saved his live. He now owes me a life debt.
I also saved my children the unimaginable horror of seeing their Father's head being ripped from his body in a sudden speeding Tram collision. So they owe me too.
Unfortunately the Amsterdam curse came true, someone did almost die!!!
After we had recovered from our shock, we checked both ways for oncoming traffic from way back on the sidewalk, and safely made it across the road. Wiser, but alive, with heads intact.
Onto a more cheerful topic, the Van Gogh museum was absolutely fantastic! We each had an audio guide, and because I didn't have my little kids with me, I could actually enjoy the process of listening to it all in peace. We learnt all about Van Gogh's life as we viewed the impressive collection of his life's work. I wished that I had prepared my kids a little better for this, their reaction to seeing Van Gogh's 'Sunflowers' was a bit ho-hum, but I tried to assure them that it was awesome and they were so lucky! They were much more excited by stories of madness and
a severed ear...
Our way home was uneventful. Thankfully there were no Trams of death and no emotional meltdowns after that. The kids thoroughly enjoyed both museums and I was so happy and grateful that they'd had the chance to learn in such an engaging and interesting way.
Amsterdam is definitely an interesting and vibrant city. It does have a bustling artistic vibe complete with bikes, museums, history and canals everywhere. My only word of caution is this;
Be aware of your surroundings and be on your guard, lest the Amsterdam curse come a-calling at your door.