Attempts by Aeroflot employees to sabotage our departure from Moscow were thwarted after we exhausted the efforts of the first three agents. They insisted that our flight was booked for Feb. 18 and not the 15 as our tickets said and we expected. We finally found one sympathetic agent that believed us and seemed to understand that our Russian VISA was about to expire. Our appetite for spending three nights in Sheremetyevo Airport paled in comparison to the taste of exploring Amsterdam.
Anyway here we are in one of the greatest cycling cities in the world. The visual stimulation of ancient exotic buildings hugging canals, slim low slung boats moving among the endless waterways, bicycles, pedestrians, scooters, bikes, cars, buses, bikes, dumb tourists gazing at smart phones, crazy Canadian tourists on rental bikes and trolley cars all moving to an unseen orchestral director induces the need for an owl-like neck on constant swivel.
Attempts to obtain tickets for the Anne Frank House were unsuccessful as there is a three month waiting period. Our solution turned out to be one of the best alternatives to a plan that we have ever encountered. I was looking for a bike rental outlet and found one that also offered an “Anne Frank Bike Tour”. I signed up at 4:00 in the morning on one of my regular sleep interruptions not sure just what to expect. We headed out on foot and arrived at the rental store about 1 km. from our Airbnb. The young lady just opening the store was very accommodating and eager to set us up with bikes and a tour. Since we had so recently signed up she had to contact the tour guide and make arrangements for us to meet him at their other store in Dam Square. We arrived early, had a coffee and then met Jaap Hamburger who turned out to be a fantastic tour guide. He is about our age and with his parents and grandparents has lived the Jewish experience in the Netherlands, including having relatives taken to the death camps during the Second World War. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of the local history and took us on a fascinating cycle tour of the Jewish Quarter and explained the significance of several monuments.
On our first stop we met Benedictus de Spinosa, a Jew who’s short life and very liberal minded ideas have had a lasting influence. The curious appearance of parakeets and sparrows as part of his coat symbolize Amsterdam’s multicultural society.
The plaque explaining the statue follows.
The next monument was gut wrenchingly powerful emotionally and yet extremely understated in it’s physical presence. Here you see Jaap explaining how the white stones embedded in the brickwork outline the foundation of a children’s orphanage that was here at the time of the war. The Dutch wording engraved on the stones tells the story of the Nazis raiding the building and sending hundreds of children off to the extermination camps.
We passed through an interesting neighborhood incorporating the University of Amsterdam where book sellers set up their stalls each day under the protection of an enclosed alcove and then passed houses with planters waiting for spring to come.
We also passed an interesting gallery where sculptors were using scrap iron to make large animal images. Reminded me of some local Saskatoon artists I know.
Our final monument is a fractured mirror laid in the ground intending to reflect the sky as a fractured entity that will never heal from the horror of the holocaust.
During the tour we had the most wonderful exchange of ideas and opinions on a lot of sensitive topics centered around injustice, reconciliation, and human rights. Cathy’s exuberant description of the power of a visit to the “Canadian Museum for Human Rights” in Winnipeg convinced Jaap that he would include a trip to Winnipeg in his bucket list. Our tour ended with a goodbye to Jaap and a feeling of powerful emotion and gratitude for his sensitive account of the information and all of the sights.
With the heavy lifting for the day over, it was time for lunch and people watching. As we ate our delicious goat cheese salad and satay chicken skewers we watched with eager eyes as parents arrived on mass with every type of bicycle you could imagine, all on a mission to pick up their children from school. No cars idling at the curb, children running, laughing and climbing into carriers, and parents chatting with each other make this such an enviable model for active living.
Our pathway home took us through Vondelpark, the largest park in Amsterdam where some birds happened to be waiting for portrait shots.
How these Rose-ringed Parakeets became feral in Amsterdam is up for discussion but their abundant presence in parks is not. They are shockingly noisy, beautiful to look at and present in pretty much every park in Amsterdam.