...well, at least to Germany!
13.07.2012 - 21.07.2012 19 °C
We were not able to find a couchsurfing host in or near Amsterdam, so after a lot of searching came up with a small apartment in a nearby suburb called Almere-Haven. This community is built on a sector of land was was once underwater. It seems that the Dutch people are very good at making waterways and building land. The Dutch people also use bicycles in a way that we, in the USA, need to take lessons on. Bicyclists have the right of way, there are incredible bicycle paths and bicycles are truly seen and used as a means of transport.
We were able to drive our car to the northern side of Amsterdam, then catch a little ferry boat that took a 2-minute ride across the large canal. On our first day in Amsterdam, the morning started off very cold and rainy. We went for tourist shop to tourist shop. Ansley and Eden purchased winter hats with AMSTERDAM written on them and at every shop we were amazed at the variety and kinds of merchandise available. Perhaps I'll leave it to all of your imagination as to what kinds of merchandise is available...but once you recall that Amsterdam is famous for it's liberal views on hemp and 'red-lights' you can imagine what you can find. And many of the cafes sell way more than coffee! And of course Amsterdam is known for it's over 100 canals, house boats, boat tours, bicycles (wow!!!) and many historic monuments.
...and just in case you think I'm photoshopping or something.....
Needless to say the aroma of Amsterdam is distinctive and full of 'second-hand smoke' of a particular kind.
In the afternoon of our first day, we "queued up" in a very long line and waited a good 45-minutes to visit the Anne Frank house. This was the house the Frank family hid in for 2-years to escape persecution by the Nazi regime. Of course we know how this horrific story ends, but what an honor to pay hommage to Anne Frank, her family, the others who hid with her...and to all the people whose lives were impacted by the holocaust.
While Amsterdam has a rich history and is filled with wonderful museums, cathedrals and other attractions, the older girls were very curious about the infamous red light district. Marleigh had NO interest and kept asking if had entered or exited the zone. She kept asking us:"Why is it called the red light district?" and the girls told her: "Because there are lots of red lights." It was kind of difficult to really know whether we were in the district or not, as on every street and street corner are signs and shops with overt displays of things relating to sex. However, somehow we did manage to stumble across a street that really was quite "red light" and as the girls took a quick glance down the street they noticed very scantily clad women standing in the window waiting for a customer, and then curtains closing behind them. As this is something we are not accustomed to seeing (and it isn't like we really saw anything), it was difficult to imagine and comprehend it being so opened. The girls were truly shocked and asked and really interesting introspective question: "How do the woman feel about what they are doing?" "How do they feel about themselves?"
The next day we decided to try a 1-hr canal/boat tour. The canals are used as a means of transport, recreation and living quarters and of course form the unique history and shape of this fascinating city. Two days just isn't enough time to see much of anything in Amsterdam, only enough time to take in the ambience.
From Amsterdam we headed to another couchsurf host in the village of Soest, just 1/2 hour south. This was a "last minute request" as some of our tentative couchsurf host plans changed (last minute) and we were left scrambling. We are learning a lot of lessons about couchsurfing as we 'surf' our way through portions of Europe. Here are a few key points we are learning:
1) remain flexible - with couchsuring one never knows what one will find when arriving. Sleeping arrangements, host expectations, meals and customs all vary from place to place. Being flexible is key.
2) remain open to new things -- this is pretty much the same as #1 with the exception of trying new things and places and just taking in the experience.
3) People's (hosts) plans can change - be ready for it. As people are inviting others into their homes, they can also uninvite others into their homes. Family emergencies, changes in plans, changes in one's mind can and do happen.
Couchsurfing is awesome, but it is also nice to have private (family) time. Every Couchsurf host has been different. All have opened up their homes and lives to us and each time we have been welcomed. Couchsurfing is a testament to the goodness in us all and we are very happy to participate in this person-to-person social networking experience.
From Holland we headed off to Germany (northern) and with that another language and another couchsurfing host. People say that Dutch is related to German, but we can't see it. We could not make any sense of the Dutch words we saw. We can make a little sense of some German words.
Our first couchsurf host in Germany lived in the lovely town of Bramsche. When she asked us why we picked her, interestingly enough one of the things that attracted us to her profile was her profile picture of her cat! What a wonderful stay we had in Bramsche. Here we were treated to wonderful meals. We explored Osnabruck (home of an amazing museum that houses the art work of Felix Nussbaum, an artist who unfortunately was captured by the Nazis while hiding in a secret studio. He was taken to Auschwitz with his wife and killed just one month before the end of the war. The museum was designed by Daniel Libeskind is an interesting, disturbing and bizarre space. It was intentionally designed that way to align with the life and death of Felix Nussbaum. Osnabruck is deemed the 'city of peace'. We enjoyed it immensely. We also spent a short time touring Bramsche with our couchsurf host. We had no idea that Bramsche had a huge textile industry and supplied the red uniforms to the confederate tribes during the US Civil war. I am continually amazed about the interconnectedness of everything, even in the annuls of history.
From Bramsche we headed to Hildesheim, another small town in northern Germany. Again we couchsurfed and had a lovely experience. As we were growing a mound of dirty laundry, we needed to work on travel logistics for the rest of our trip and the girls were feeling tired, we actually had a day of doing much needed chores while the girls spent 1/2 a day hanging out in a shopping mall (in a book store). We did manage to head to the main square of Hildesheim and were impressed by the historic timbered buildings. We also visited St Michael's Church which is quite famous for the painted wooden ceiling and architecture.
After a short stay in Hildesheim, we headed toward Berlin and our next couchsurfing experience. Berlin has an important place in history and we are taking a bit of time to see both the new and the old. From Berlin it's off to Prague, Czech Republic. And with that, I'll end this blog entry and will start the next with our travels and impressions of Berlin.