As we left London a couple days ago, I thought to myself: How can I leave this city? Even though we’d had unlucky mishaps, I’d fallen in love with London and its inhabitants, its food, its old buildings, and its historical sites mixed in with new wonders. Now, as we prepare to leave Amsterdam tomorrow, I’m having that feeling magnified by 10. I don’t know how I can stand leaving the cobblestone streets with their sweeping canals, the way we can walk anywhere, and with no destination in mind still see so much.
Today, we witnessed a combination of events that few can say they’ve experienced. Despite a lack of planning for this on our part, it was their huge Pride Parade. And even though I haven’t been to a Pride Parade/Celebration before (I always miss the one in San Francisco), I doubt that any come close to Amsterdam.
After breakfast this morning, we ventured to the canal two streets away, and were met with a wave of color, noise, and people. Lining the canal to the right and left were people sitting, standing, dancing, and drinking. The lucky locals were in their boats parked on the canal sides, partying harder than anyone else. Pink was everywhere, while certain boats stuck to a theme. We watched a boat overflowing with people in a tropical theme – some took it as far as dressing up as bright birds – as they pulled out the biggest bottle of Absolut Vodka I’ve ever seen and proceeded to pour shots for the entire boat. As the parade came down the river toward us, we realized we needed to leave for our special date… with Anne Frank.
I would hope that Anne would approve of us visiting her house on this day. If there’s anything I learned from walking through the three small rooms that hid her and 7 other people (and I learned much, felt much, and reflected much), it’s that a lot of people suffered so that others could progress. From her writings, I could see the way that oppression and hate had touched this innocent girl, yet it hadn’t broken her spirit, it hadn’t broken her. She grew up much faster than any teenage girl should have to grow up, yet she never gave up hope that she would survive the concentration camps, the war, the Nazis. As I read what she had written, 72 years ago, a quote by Emily Dickinson resonated within me:
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all
– Emily Dickinson
As we walked around and let the walls tell us their stories, the sounds of the party outside randomly filtered in. The juxtaposition of somber, violent history against jubilant celebration of equality and love was nearly overpowering, and definitely humbling. I couldn’t help but think how far we have come, and yet how far we have to go as there are those who choose hate over love.
After the Anne Frank experience, one that I will not soon – or ever – forget, we walked through the centrum of the city to one of the markets, the Waterlooplein Market. We had enough time to browse some stalls and find a choker necklace for me (overpriced, but now I can say “it’s from Amsterdam!”) before the market closed, the second time that has happened to us. Obviously, we need to start going to these earlier.
With nothing to do, we found a spot to sit with our legs dangling over the canal, and sat looking at the water, talking about the day, and waving at passing boats. The sun finally came out, making the water glitter and making the canal even more beautiful. The joyful vibe from the parade had filtered throughout the whole city, and we sat there, happy to be right where we were.
In order to save some money on a meal (though I’m not entirely sure we did, but whatever), we decided to visit the grocery store and make our own meal. We ended up dining on chicken mixed into pasta and spinach, covered in a sauce of two different kinds of cheeses. The fact that there are cheese shops on practically every corner has had us going a little nuts.
As the night wore on, we realized we hadn’t yet been through the Red Light District. For anyone not familiar with it, the RDL is composed of a few streets where it seems that anything is legal. People – men, mostly – walk up and down the streets, looking into neon-lit windows or ducking into shops to buy whatever they desire. There are the sparkling, magical parts of Amsterdam, and then there are the gray areas.
Though some of may not be comfortable to see, I felt it was an important part of the city and shouldn’t be missed. For a long time, I’ve struggled with taking people as they are and not expecting them to be someone or something they aren’t. I’m the opposite with cities. I can see the parts – the light and the dark and the in between, the good and not so good – and put them together to accept them, to love the sum. That, I think, is why I love exploring a city at night as much as I love exploring it with the sun: there is so much that comes out of the dark, and a city transforms under the moon.
Tomorrow we travel to Brussels. I am excited for the adventure to continue, yet sad to leave a place that I feel I understand, a place I could spend a significant amount of time.
Lessons learned from today: love one another, and when the light in the world is dim, don’t let anyone steal your hope. Hope endures, and creates a legacy for others to inherit.
Happily eating a stroopwaffle before bed,
P.S. Happy first day of the Olympics! Haven’t watched anything yet, but you can be sure I’ll go through hell to see the USA Women’s Gymnastics team SLAY.