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Amsterdam to Rome Cruise Post #1 – ‘Amsterdam: City of Bicycles, Beautiful Girls and Anything Goes’


Karen touring one of Amsterdam’s 88 canals.

The very first thing I noted, driving into Amsterdam, was a massive sea of bicycles, scooters and motorbikes. I actually saw a man, peddling away on his bike, reading his phone. I saw yet another man on his bike, riding next to a young woman on her bike, with his arm around her. There were children on bikes, senior citizens on bikes, girls, their blonde hair waving behind them, on bikes. In fact, bikes are so popular, there is a three-story garage filled to the brim with them, where one can park one’s bike – much like we do in America, except our garages are filled with automobiles. I was told the reason why everyone has as a bike, is because to park your car at a meter in Amsterdam, can cost over $30 Euros an hour ($37 USD)


The many bicycles of Amsterdam.

I visited the magnificent Rijksmuseum. We got there late, unfortunately, so the tour guide flew me around the rooms. As a result, I only had a nibble of what is housed in that brilliant museum. The Rembrandts, in particular, The Night Watch, is a towering, gigantic painting. It is so powerful, that one wonders how Rembrandt was able to capture in paint, the souls of his subjects.

One afternoon, I had a magical journey on a little private boat that took me down several of Amsterdam’s 88 canals. It felt as though I was in a ‘stony’ dream as I passed by 16th century gingerbread houses, layered against peculiarly modernistic apartments that jutted out into the air in strange patterns.

Sidewalk Scuplture. Red Light District, Amsterdam.

Sidewalk Scuplture. Red Light District, Amsterdam.

And finally, by foot, I was guided into the infamous red light district. Narrow cobblestone alleyways wound their way past windows on either side of scantly clad young women, posing in provocative ways – their eyes looking bored. One of the incongruous moments was passing by one of these window women, who was reading a book… or pretending to (maybe she was just appealing to the ‘intellectual’). I also went into one of the ‘Coffee Shops’ (a legal marijuana café) and perused their menu, which included names like ‘Bubble Gum’, ‘Pineapple Kush’ and ‘Super Silver Haze.’ I suppose if I were not with a guide, I would have sat in a booth and tried to experiment with the menu – but the guide was in a rush to show us all the spots on her agenda, so I was hurried out. One of the things I noted in the red light district was a small Catholic Church… I couldn’t believe it, but even they were charging a fee! The red light district was very interesting – to see vividly, the underbelly that we in America hide so well.

Karen visits the Anne Frank House, Amsterdam.

Karen visits the Anne Frank House, Amsterdam.

One of the main reasons I wanted to visit Amsterdam was to experience the Anne Frank House – the small apartment where she, her family, and four friends hid away from the Nazis between 1942-1944. The group was finally discovered and taken away to concentration camps. Anne Frank died one month before liberation. In fact, all the members of that little group of eight died except for her father, Otto Frank, the only survivor. Her diary was saved by Miep, one of ‘the helpers’ who hid them, brought food, medicine and everything they needed to survive in those two years. Miep found Anne’s diary and intended to return it, if she survived. The diary now, in Anne’s beautiful handwriting, is protected in the museum. As I climbed the very steep, narrow steps to their hideout, it got darker and darker (the family had to live behind black out curtains). I found myself getting claustrophobic in those dank rooms. I had no idea how they survived without sunlight, nature or breathing fresh air. Anne wrote poignantly about these things in her wonderful diary. All throughout the apartment museum, hidden behind a trap-door bookcase, are photographs of Anne and her family with inspiring quotes of survival from her diary. An occasional short film plays in some of the rooms, including interviews with surviving ‘helpers’ and Anne’s father. I was brought to tears several times. There were lines of guests, literally around the block, waiting to see the museum – this included families with children, many of them German. I thought it was extraordinary of the parents to bring their children, to let them understand what had happened during the war, what their ancestors had allowed to be done.

If ever you go to Amsterdam, be sure to visit, as it reminds us of the ugliness and the beauty of the human soul.

Photographs by Ryan Oksenberg


  1. Robin Jackson says

    I so loved Amsterdam. Especially got a kick out of all the very elegant looking ladies, grandly sailing around the city on their bicycles, scarves flowing behind, while sucking delicately on a “Super Silver Haze,” “Pineapple Kush,” or “Bubble Gum” lollypop. Lollypop identifiable only by the telltale white stick protruding discreetly from oh, so carefully glossed lips..

    I was very fortunate to visit Anne Frank House when the crowd wasn’t too huge. I too was moved to tears, several times. That tiny hidey-hole so embraces the gamut of humanity – from heartfelt caring, to the joy of children discovering their world, despite its cruelty and finally the depths of evil to which people can sink when unchecked.

    And of course, the museums. I especially loved Rembrandt’s house. Who would have thought that bankruptcy could have a positive side? If he hadn’t gone bankrupt and the courts hadn’t catalogued his belongings, we never would have been able to see his house as it was! Love your blog!

  2. Alan Mandell says

    Love your blog. Amsterdam was much the same for me, I was stunned by “Night Watch” and a number of Vermeers. One day soon I will finally get back to touring the world, Prague, Istanbul and Jerusalem are few of the places I have yet to visit.
    Keep blogging!

    Love and hugs!!

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