Categorized | Living, People, Travel, Travelogue

Adventures Abroad: Amazing Amsterdam!

By Missy Pearson
AML Correspondent

Amsterdam is known for its beautiful canals which weave through the city, earning it the nickname “Venice of the North.”

Amsterdam is known for its beautiful canals which weave through the city, earning it the nickname “Venice of the North.”

It is exam time here in Leuven and I have spent many hours reviewing all my notes including those for one of my courses entitled: Institutions and Policies of the European Union. One of the important treaties of the E.U. is The Amsterdam Treaty, which was signed into effect on the 2nd of October in 1997. Honestly, I don’t know if I will be able to remember all the details of this particular treaty six months from now, but I’m sure that I will still have great memories of my trip to the city of Amsterdam in The Netherlands.

We arrived in Amsterdam on a Friday night. After a delicious dinner of pancakes, our group visited the Van Gogh museum, which had evening hours that night. The Van Gogh museum is open in the center and visitors can work their way upwards looking at some of the artist’s most famous paintings. What made the museum most memorable was the eclectic jazz concert that was going on in the center atrium. As we looked at the art, we were provided with our very own soundtrack in the background. Starry Night, one of Van Gogh’s most well-known pieces, will be on loan to the museum from February of 2009 until June.


Environmentally-friendly bike lock...

Environmentally-friendly bike lock...

Amsterdam is famous for its canals that seem to lie as a grid–as the city opens up into the ports leading to the Northern Sea. After waking up early on Saturday morning, we crossed over one canal and walked about one block further until we reached the Anne Frank House. The house, former storehouse, and office space is now entirely a museum and cultural center dedicated to honoring the memory of the Frank family who hid in the small space in the annex during the World War II German occupation of Amsterdam. Otto Frank, the father of Anne, was the only member of the family to survive the concentration camps. Upon Otto’s return to Amsterdam and after discovering the diary that Anne had kept, Otto opened the building to the public. Having learned about the “secret annex”, it felt surreal walking behind the bookshelf and climbing the narrow steps to the teeny apartment. The small space in which eight people lived is left unfurnished but the wall in the bedroom that had been Anne’s remains covered in her movie posters and magazine clippings.

At the end of the museum, in a newly opened wing, there is an interactive poll that asks visitors questions regarding social and moral issues of freedom and liberty. I was very impressed by my visit to the Anne Frank house. Not only does it tell the story of the young girl who wrote one of the most famous accounts of the experience of WWII, but it also manages to honor the memory of the Jewish population of The Netherlands. My experience at this historic building also demonstrated to me the social influence and importance of recognizing the people who resisted the occupation and bravely went out of their way to help others during this time in history.

Our weekend trip to Amsterdam happened to be during one of the most festive seasons of the year. Sunday afternoon, after we spent the morning in the Rijksmuseum, we were able to see Sinterklaas (the Dutch name for Saint Nicholas) arrive in Amsterdam! As legend tells it, Sinterklaas, along with his Zwarte Piet, arrive by boat from Spain and then Sinterklaas gets on his horse and parades through the streets of Amsterdam. Zwarte Piet, meaning Black Pete, is a companion of Saint Nicholas and an important part of this yearly tradition in the Netherlands

The Zwarte Piet dance and entertain as part of the spectacular holiday tradition of the Netherlands. In western cultures, the Piet are akin to Santa’s elves.

The Zwarte Piet dance and entertain as part of the spectacular holiday tradition of the Netherlands. In western cultures, the Piet are akin to Santa’s elves.

Sinterklaas is similar to the American version of Santa Claus and Dutch children are just as excited about seeing Sinterklaas as kids are back home about Santa. The Zwarte Piet makes the old tradition very unique! The Piets dress up in jesters costumes, paint their faces black (to demonstrate the soot from the local chimneys) and hand out candy and ginger snaps to all the good children. I didn’t know what to expect with this party that was evolving before me in the streets of Amsterdam. My classmates and I couldn’t get over the number of Piet—from roller-skating Piet, drum-playing Piet, dancing Piet, singing Piet, Piets doing somersaults from wires off of buildings (seriously!)…they just kept coming with more and more candy and from every direction. It was such a festive celebration and so entertaining I didn’t even realize Sinterklaas had ridden by on his horse until he had already passed me!

All in all, I so enjoyed my weekend in Amsterdam, it’s such a beautiful city steeped in history, rich culture and wonderful people. I would love to experience it again in warmer weather, especially when the tulips are in bloom. Next weekend my classmates and I are on to experience central Europe and the vast country of Poland…brr!

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