At this hour, in my country, it has turned dark after sunset, but in front of Anne Frank’s House in Amsterdam, the sun is shining like one of summer days. There’s a long queue that would easily beat the ones during office hours in Delhi Metro. People have queued up for tickets. Amsterdam is three hours behind Indian Standard Time.
When I arrived in Amsterdam in the middle of September, the weather was cold and rainy. From the Schiphol (Amsterdam Airport), it took 40 minutes to reach Hotel Hyatt Andaz, which was to be our home for the next five days. Unlike grand five-star hotels in India, this one lacks a porch and it stands bang on the street, facing one of the numerous canals that criss-cross the city. You needn’t expect colonial Indian hospitality here. Nobody will carry your luggage to your room. And, of course, no welcome drink!
Set along the Prinsengracht canal, this chic, contemporary hotel is quite artistic. That’s the trend with all Andaz Hotels of Hyatt. The room where I was staying has a grand bookshelf with books ranging from photography, history, art of chocolate making and windmills. I was sure even the leisure hours won’t be boring.
Feeling hungry, I dialled up the room service and found their dinner will take some time. With hands inside the long-coat pockets to beat the cold, I walked down to the corner of the street and found a burger shop, Burgerlijk. A young Dutch couple runs the place. For three Euros, I was served a huge lamb burger, some fries and a coke. No sooner had I dug my first bite into the juicy burger, than the “Closed” signboard was put up. And that’s when I learnt everything closes by 6 p.m. here, except for the public transport. Soon one can find hundreds of people walking down the street, enjoying life and rowing in the canal.
Slurping up the last drop of the cheese on the plate, I returned to the hotel, took a shower and soon after was out on street on a bicycle that looked pretty vintage. Some unimaginable things were happening in my life. Like putting a lock on the bicycle in front of the Royal Palace! Buying a ticket for 10 Euros, I walked inside. It was originally built as a City Hall for the Amsterdam Magistrates in the 17th century. Today it is used for royal occasions, such as the King’s New Year celebration and the reception of foreign delegates. The white sandstones have greyed with time, the walls now adorned with paintings of Governor Flint, Jacob Zardines, Gaya Livens and Ferdinand Ball. Coming out of the palace, the next bicycle stop was Anne Frank’s House. This was where Anne Frank had scribed her diary that later turned to an eye-opening book about the Nazi rule in this part of Europe.
In July 1942, Anne was only 13 when the Nazi force’s persecution spread all over. Even though this Jewish family fled from Germany to the Netherlands, in August 1944, Gestapo arrested them. Anne kept all notes in her diary, a gift she received on her birthday. She was sent to Francis’ Belensen concentration camp, where she is believed to have breathed her last. Her story certainly leaves the reader in a state of introspection.
The next morning we were supposed to go on a boat ride. It was cancelled due to heavy rains. We went to Rijksmuseum instead. Even though this museum was started in 1800, the building was completed only in 1835. There were some masterpiece paintings of Rembrandt, Fras Halas and Johannes Wormer. But trust me, museums here are never monotonous.
In the afternoon, we went on the boat ride. The boat-woman rowed us from the national theatre to the Dam Square through the famed Red Light District. The canals meet at Amstel River near the Central station, from where trains to Holland, Germany and Belgium leave every hour. Our boat-woman Jamima told us tonnes of myths associated with various bridges on the canal.
Fifty shades darker
Here the sun sets at 11 p.m. So there’s no way one can differentiate between day and evening. Around 6 p.m. we walked into the famous Red Light District. At Amsterdam, this place is a favourite among tourists, however Amsterdam doesn’t get the tag of “Sin City”. De Wallen sits at the city centre and is a posh residential area otherwise. In the midst are numerous alleys that form the red light area. Booths lined up on both sides of street emit a reddish light. Some have curtains dropped, indicating the presence of clients inside. The booths are two-storeyed with a tiny room and a washroom upstairs. Don’t be surprised if one comes across lots of Hindi-speaking Indians in this place. The alleys are narrow but have other houses and cafes all along. Most of the women working here are not from Netherlands but from Bulgaria and Croatia.
Our next visit was a “space cake” shop. Well, space cakes are marijuana-flavoured cakes that are legal, cheap and delicious. We sat at The Bulldog, a specialised coffee shop. After two-three bites into the cake, I found I could talk to a chair for hours. I really don’t remember whether I paid for the cake, but I remember having asked horses and birds about the way to the hotel. Thankfully, I reached the hotel with just a heavy head.
Our visit to the famed Sex Museums was due for the next day. We paid 20 euros to watch a vulgar show. The mechanised artificial show once again had quite a few Indians whistling. For 5 Euros you can watch similar shows online in a booth.
On our last evening at Amsterdam, we sat for a while at Hobbemastraat, the art district with the “I love Amsterdam” city icon right in front of us. With signs reading “Beware of cyclists” everywhere, this city is ruled by bicycles.
The next day, after a breakfast of delicious Egg Benedict, we found a Mercedes Maybach ready for us. Though luxurious, most cars here are electric. The driver introduced himself as Abdallah and smilingly said he could speak Hindi. He informed he was a “Pakistani, born in Holland”. On the way, Abdallah told us stories of free education, free health care at Amsterdam. He also said how being a son of a doctor he could own a rented car agency and drive taxi.
One thing about Amsterdam is the cleanliness. At the airport, as we proceeded to the gate, I spotted a luggage tag. Finally. a piece of litter! Only, it turned out to be mine, one that fell off my strolley handle. I quickly picked it up and carefully put it in my pocket.
The writer is a free-lancer