Category Archives: Amsterdam

This Adventure Made Possible By…

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Anna Maria Esposita for finding us on the side of the road in Salerno, putting up with our feeble attempts at Italian, and magically making our luggage appear out of nowhere.  Maya, for introducing us to AirBnB in the first place…our travels will never be the same.  Our barista in Vietri Sul Mare (thank you for the doughnuts, we hope you made it to Australia!), and our wildly flirtatious maitre d’ (that wine was impressively strong!).  Fernando, for the ride to the Tiber (we’re sorry if we gave the impression that we wanted to boat back to Rome).  Pope Francis for instilling humanity into our visit to the Vatican.  University of Manitoba College of Medicine for changing the direction of our lives while sitting in a Roman burlap tent!  Jamie Pierce, for pointing us in the direction of Cinque Terre in the first place.  Kaya and Aeden for being the best roommates we could have asked for, and Sarah, Alicia, and Stacey for getting lost with us in one of the most beautiful places on earth.  And for the calamari cones.  Genius.  The Lemon Man, for delicious homemade wine with a side of really disgusting jokes, and the Pizza Man for abusing/believing in your employees (either way, you made a pizza in record time, well done!).  Pak Kashmir Doner Kebab for starting a 3-month-long love affair with kebab…and for not judging us when we came back twice in one day.  The Sprachcaffe receptionist for helping two confused travelers find a place to sleep in a language school.  Pietro for being a (very charming) walking encyclopedia of Florentine espionage.  All’antico Vinaio for your legendary sandwiches and free wine refills (no, seriously, it’s for real!).  The lovely couple who shared coffee with us on the train to Venice.  Archie & sons…your front hall will forever evoke in us a sense of oriental mystery.  The kiosco girl (and all of Vienna, for that matter) for your patience as we realized we knew literally NO Deutsch (“Card!…48?”).  The Musikverien Usher for engaging us in a Viennese musical intrigue and, therefore, much better seats!  Our Bulgarian/Brazillian (Bulgrillian?) cellist hostel roommate.  We tried to find you on iTunes but alas we were…so far…but…so close.  The Heinrich and Kress families for welcoming us so generously into your homes (and travel snacks that nearly broke the bus tables!).  Artur & Irina, we feel like we have a real home in Germany thanks to you.  Robert, Christian, and Erwin, we hope we can jam and play Dutch Blitz again one day!  Johannes for an unexpected evening of German tango (we’ll bring our dancing shoes next time).  Julia & your roommate for making us feel so at home in Köln.  Viel Glück to both of you in your new jobs!  Oma for always talking about your home country and inspiring us to retrace your Sunday walks down the Rhine.  Maybe one day we can go back with you!  Linda, dankjewel for your bikes, your lovely attic, and taking a chance on us as your first AirBnBers!  Edwin and Farah, for taking the time to hang out with us even with your wedding being a week away.  Once a WOOFer, always a WOOFer (ps come to Manitoba, we’ll take you to the snake pits!)  The stars, for aligning so perfectly as to allow us to have a lovely lunch with Dorien.  The Alma Dixons for getting us to and from Europe in the first place (Mom, your axiom of ‘would you rather have stuff or memories?’ has successfully stuck with me into adulthood) and for showing us all the places you always talk about.  The Farnham Dixons for a lovely afternoon and some authentically British fish’n’chips (sans mushy peas, thank-you!).  Wendy for taking this whole motley crew into your home and showing us around Glastonbury. Elly for introducing us to your family (I cannot imagine a more adorable kid to blow bubbles with than your granddaughter) and an evening of reminiscing about icebergs and penguins.  Pete & Patricia for the most incredible Welsh hospitality, and for driving us all over the country at all hours of the night.  Mark Hanford for keeping us simultaneously amused and not dead as we threw ourselves off cliffs into the sea (still waiting for those carpets!).  The disembodied Welsh couple whose voices helped us find our way out of the mist and back to the path somewhere on Mount Snowdon.  Jack Johnson, for being you, and for entirely coincidentally being in Paris at the same time as us.  Andréanne, for showing us around your beautiful new Swiss home.  Irene and Martin for sharing so many things with us: your inspiring work and outlook on life and faith, the truly breathtaking landscapes, and yes, the little bears :P.  Andreas and Simone, also for sharing so many things with us (like mother like son, eh?): your friends, your family, your food, your car, your bike…. That night with the giant map (and the many road trips that ensued) is still a memory that we talk about regularly!  Aric and Gabriel, for being as excited about the high-ropes garden as we were and never judging us on our (lack of) Swiss German. Joël for sharing your beautiful pays et famille. Yannick for the best duck I’ve ever tasted, and Hélène for showing us the work you’re doing to help new immigrants become self-sufficient in Toulouse.  Ron, Nicole, Aimée, Sean (and yes, Cougar) for making us recognize the name Carcassonne, even if we’ll never pronounce it properly.  Les Cabys des Taillades (et oui, de Paris aussi!) for sharing your passion for history, many hours of games (we now have our own Möllky set!), French puns, and more wine and cheese than any North American could comprehend.  Mami Caby, for a beautiful afternoon in St. Jean du Gard, and the silk scarf that’s currently on display in our living room.  Isaac and Sylvia of JUCUM Barcelona for the generous hospitality, the 2AM tour of your majestic city, and showing us what we truly believe is the best beach in Europe.  Hind, Nour, and Adam for helping us finish off the bag of snails and confirming everything we’d heard about the welcoming nature of Moroccans.  Nour, of Sahara Desert Crew, for an unforgettable few days of sights and culture unlike anything else we’ve ever seen (also, your mad photography skills. ‘Nuff said.).  Cafe Restaurant Nora, for providing a literal oasis in the desert (Nothing tastes as good as Berber pizza and Berber whiskey at +50C!) The Samnoun family for taking us in when our hostel was suddenly infested with bedbugs, and Bousha for introducing us to the madness of the Medina (and many, many friends ;)…)

And of course, contributions from VIEWERS LIKE YOU!

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Dutch Blitz 1: From Argentina to Amsterdam

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It wouldn’t necessarily seem that a volunteer at a commune in Argentina and a wedding photographer at a small get-together in rural Manitoba have a lot in common, but I’m sure that the one thing they do have in common in obvious: the Netherlands!! (Right? Isn’t it obvious?)

Three years ago, Josh and I arrived at the commune at the same time as three other WWOOF volunteers. We quickly became friends, but knew our contact with each other would be limited once we parted in Buenos Aires, since our homes were spread across the world in Winnipeg, Wisconsin, Washington, and Amsterdam. Still, we offered the quintessential travel-friend promise of “If you’re ever in _____, come visit me!”

Doce Tribus WWOOFers!

One year ago, Josh and I arrived at his grandparents’ home in rural Manitoba to attend a small get-together where his cousin got married. After the wedding, Josh and I and the wedding photographer, his cousin’s YWAM friend from Rotterdam, spent the night at his grandparents’ place. Her flight home didn’t leave until the next day, so the three of us spent the day sitting around the table playing Dutch Blitz and discussing why exactly it was called Dutch Blitz when, according to our resident Dutch expert, there was nothing Dutch about it. This of course led into a discussion of all things Dutch, which eventually culminated in that wonderful phrase: “If you’re ever in Rotterdam, come visit me!”

As stated previously, our goal of this trip was to make good on all those generous offers. Happily, it turned out that this time there was something we could offer in return. When we emailed our Argentine WWOOF comrade about visiting him in Amsterdam, he responded enthusiastically, then added that he was getting married the week after our visit. “Would you be up for some WWOOFing in my garden to get it ready for our wedding reception?” he wrote.

We arrived in Amsterdam armed with excellent directions to his apartment, but when we arrived, we couldn’t find the right house number. We contemplated singing some of the commune’s mihnka songs loudly in hopes that it would draw him out, then finally found a doorbell to a building we thought could be his. “Wouldn’t it be great,” we mused, as we waited nervously on the stoop, “if Edwin himself could just magically appear at the door?” And then… He did! Never mind the fact that we hadn’t seen each other in three years, and that the last time we saw each other was in a Buenos Aires McDonalds as we sat shell-shocked from the abrupt adjustment from the commune to mainstream civilization. It felt as though we had just said ¡ciao! yesterday (the fact that we were wearing the same travel clothes as three years ago may have helped).

Making the garden wedding-worthy: Before…
Sara garden

Josh garden

…and after!
Josh after

Sara after

Highest quality Amsterdam weed:
Weed

That evening, Edwin and Farah (his lovely fiancée) left us with insiders’ tips on where to find good music and amazing views of Amsterdam. Josh and I watched the sun go down from Bim Huis, enjoying excellent jazz performances, art exhibits, and red wine.

Swing

BIMHUIS

Sunset

Since we were in Holland, it only made sense to see Amsterdam by bike… canal bike, that is! Built on a network of canals that rivals Venice, Amsterdam can only be truly appreciated from the water. Albeit a bit goofy, pedaling down the canals of Amsterdam offered a relaxing and gorgeous tour of the city, starting from Anne Frank’s house and climbing out of the river at the Van Gogh Museum.

Canal1

Canal2

Josh and I have discovered throughout our travels that we are infinitely more engaged by museums focused around the story of a particular individual, rather than museums that are simply massive warehouses of culture. The Van Gogh Museum* guides you chronologically through not only Van Gogh’s works of art, but also through significant events in his life, personal and professional relationships, places he lived and worked, and the evolution of his painting techniques. It was incredible learning to appreciate his work on two different levels. On one hand, great works of art have the capacity to provoke a personal response regardless of what you know or don’t know about the artist. On the other hand, knowing the technical details of a piece – the health issues leading to a move to a certain location, the history of the place where it was painted, the relationships the artist was invested in at the time of painting, the revolutionary painting techniques that discomfited society – can tell countless other tales.

*FYI pretentious people everywhere: it is not pronounced “Van Gof.” It is “Fon Hchuhch,” or try clearing your throat twice with a hiccup in between.

I am!

The Anne Frank House is an unassuming (except for the line winding around the block) apartment facade on the corner of a quiet square. Inside, all the rooms have been left untouched and completely empty at the request of Mr. Frank, as a memorial to the void left by the thousands of extinguished Jews. As you slowly move through the home, reading the accounts of co-workers who participated daily in hiding the Franks and seeing the tiny rooms still wallpapered in Anne’s magazine clippings, you begin to feel like you know this girl and her family. In so many ways, you do know them – they are simply an ordinary family who happened to live through an extraordinary time. The realization of their ordinariness makes the final room even more devastating: the attic has a series of video clips playing footage from concentration camps, and you see the brutal horror that this ordinary family was forced to endure.

There was nothing unique about Anne that she should be remembered over any other little girl. But her incredible story serves as a reminder that this horror could happen to anyone, and is happening right now to so many little girls and ordinary families. Hatred – whether it’s towards Jews, women, First Nations people – is hatred. The cause of hatred is ignorance, and the result is always destruction.

Ignorance and destruction also go hand in hand in the Red Light District. We had the chance to tour the hostel where Edwin and Farah had both worked and where they met. The Shelter is not only full of comfortable rooms, fun cafés and bars, and wonderful staff, but it also uses its proximity to the Red Light District to educate tourists on the consequences of an abusive industry that is often just taken for granted as part of the “Amsterdam experience.” The hostel is also connected with Not For Sale, which “provides job training and access to dignified employment to survivors of human trafficking.”

Berlin Wall

Amsterdam is a beautiful city with a rich culture of innovation and personal freedom. However, it needs to be asked:

Is it innovative to still participate in the medieval mindset of selling and buying humans as merchandise? Where is freedom when “personal liberties” depend on another person being enslaved? And when choices are made in ignorance, who is held responsible for the resulting destruction?