Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Amsterdam, The Netherlands


January 24-26, 2016

Like Brussels, we spent two days in Amsterdam, the capital of Holland (or more formally, The Netherlands). This was the perfect amount of time to see the city.

Similar to how I almost missed my Barcelona plane, Casey and I almost missed my stop in Amsterdam. When the bus stopped to let passengers off, Alex got off and told us she would wait for us outside. I collected my belongings (I’m a bag lady at this point, with my duffle bag, chocolates, purse), and began to bundle up. Casey was on his phone still hooked to the wifi. All of a sudden, the bus started moving! We jetted down the stairs (the bus had two levels), and ran towards the bus driver to tell him to stop the bus. When he finally did, we got off in a parking lot about 30 feet away from the original stop. Alex got worried that the bus drove away with us. So that happened. Now, of course it was also the middle of the night so public buses were going to be rare. After waiting about 20 minutes in the cold, we finally decided to split a taxi with strangers. It turned out that our taxi driver was Turkish! We practiced our Turkish and made small talk until we got to our hostel, also owned by a Turk. We stayed at the Slotania Hostel, and shared 10 bunk-bed room with other strangers.

Bikes – The first thing I noticed about this quaint city was that people LOVE biking. Even that might be an understatement. Biking is part of their soul, their everyday life. There were so many bikers, and the public roads are feasible to this lifestyle. Bike lanes on the road, bike lanes sidewalks, and bike parks were common. Bikes of every color, size, and style could be found at these stations. I am curious to compare the mortality rates of this city to other major cities of the world. If I had to guess, these people will live longer than the average human.

Canals – As you may know, Amsterdam is known for its canals. The entire city is built around beautiful canals running through it. Walk (or biking) along the water is lovely and peaceful pastime. There are daily boat tours that attract tourists and city dwellers alike. We didn’t go on one, unfortunately. Some of my favorite scenes of canals were those that had bikes resting against railings.
 
Anne Frank House Museum – We waited 45 minutes in a long line before having the unique opportunity to enter the Anne Frank House, which is now a museum (9 euros). Anne Frank is the famous young Jewish girl who wrote a copious diary about her experiences during the Holocaust. Her family escaped Germany and hid in this house in Amsterdam. Walking through this tour-guided house was a chilling experience. Many of the rooms are kept the same way as they served the Frank family. The door to the hiding place was behind a shelf. Almost all rooms were tightly shut and windows were covered in black curtains, permitting zero light. The rooms were dark, dusty, and small. There were small plaques with quotes from Anne’s diary throughout the museum. In the final area of the museum, there were short videos from WW2 and the Holocaust, interviews with those that knew Anne, and pages from Anne’s diary on display. During the tour, I was struck by something Anne’s surviving father, Otto Frank, said in a video interview: “most parents don't know really their children.” This got me thinking about how well my parents know me. I wonder how different my parents’ views are from my own understanding of myself. The truth is many immigrant children, particularly Muslim-Americans, lead two lives; one that their parents know, and one that their true friends know. I don’t think there is anything wrong with living two lives, although it is often burdensome to keep the two spheres separate.
Van Gogh Museum – Europe has so many artists! It was a privilege to visit the Vincent Willem van Gogh Museum, which cost 17 euros. The expensive ticket was worth it to see Gogh’s original artwork. We saw hundreds of paintings that were produced throughout his lifetime. There were different galleries on each of three floors of the museum. Each gallery had a paragraph of text plastered on the wall, which introduced the time period and provided context for Gogh’s artwork. It read in a timeline fashion; from the time Van Gogh went to boarding school in Zevenbergen, to the time he spent in Paris, from the time he had his ear cut off to the time he shot himself. I don’t know why amazing artists are often mentally ill. They so beautifully capture the world around them yet almost always, their personal lives are a mess. Maybe painters seek another reality through their artwork; perhaps depicting the world around them is their escape from their own world. I was inspired by Van Gogh’s work, particularly his famous paintings that include “The Potato Eaters,” “Vase With Fifteen Sunflowers,” and “Self Portrait.” Note that Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” is exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City and “The Bedroom” is housed at the Art Institute of Chicago. We were not allowed to take pictures of the original artwork at the museum, but I have compiled them here from the Internet.
Rembrandt Museum – I actually hadn’t heard too much of the Dutch painter Rembrandt until we visited this museum. His full name is Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn. He is considered one of the greatest painters and printmakers in European art. Like the Van Gogh museum, Casey, Alex, and I all experienced this museum on our own through the audio tours. Rembrandt used a lot of oil paints, and depicted scenes from famous stories from the Bible or Greek mythologies. I loved learning about these contextual details when listening to the audio recordings while starring directly at the paintings. Here is some of this artwork – we were allowed to take pictures in this museum.

Dam Square – We roamed around the Dam Square with food. Casey bought blue Doritos chips and Rise Krispys; I was craving coconut water and tangerines; and Alex bought Coca-Cola. Dam Square typical hosts large events like concerts and public gatherings. It is a town square surrounded by nice buildings, just like Brussels’ La Grand Place.

Other things – People often joke “Will you eat a brownie when you go to Amsterdam?” The joke continues to popularize the marijuana-bearing brownies. My friends and I ate no such thing. We did, however, walk through the Red Light District. It's really unfortunate that we did not have time to explore the "postcard beauty" of Holland, as Rashid Uncle recommended to me. Next time, insha Allah!

Hesselbein Friend – Our trip ended with dinner with my friend, Nauman Janjua. He is of Pakistani origin, but has been living in Amsterdam for almost all his life. I met him in July 2013 at the Hesselbein Global Academy conference at the University of Pittsburgh. He was so kind to pick us up from our hostel and drive us to a restaurant near our bus station. I wasn’t feeling too well, so I had tomatoes soup and bread while Alex and Casey both enjoyed a burger and Nauman had salmon fish. The four of us enjoyed great conversation. Towards the end, Nauman excused himself for the bathroom; little did we know that he would got to the cashier and pick up the tab. Turks often use this strategy as well, when they want to be sneaky about their hospitality. We accepted Nauman’s kind gesture and promised to show him American hospitality whenever he was back on the stateside. Connections like these are worth nurturing.

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