It was slow progress out of Rotterdam on account of the rush hour traffic and Jonathan soon became drowsy and dropped off to sleep and while he dozed my thoughts went back to our previous visit in a very cold February 2004.
That had been our very first Ryanair flight and on that occasion we stayed in the capital at the Hotel Amsterdam on Damrak, right in the city centre and I inappropriately introduced him to the Red light District and because of the weather and the need to be indoors we visited some of the city museums .
We were close to the Anne Frank House on Prinsengracht and as this was close to the top of our ‘to do list’ we thought we might check the queue situation which the guide book warned could be quite lengthy at peak times. Although it was mid afternoon this was February and there was no queue at all so we decided that this was an opportunity not to be missed and paid our entrance fee and went inside.
The house was built in 1635. The canal-side facade dates from a renovation of 1740 when the rear annex was demolished and the taller one which is rather the point of the visit now stands in its place was built. The Frank family left Germany as the Nazis established power and Otto set up his spice and pickling business in the premises. Later Nazi persecution followed the Franks and spread to the Netherlands and over one hundred thousand Jews were deported so the Frank family sensibly went into hiding inside the house in an annex at the rear.
The Secret Annex, as it was called in the English version of Anne Frank’s ‘The Diary of a Young Girl’ enjoyed a secluded position which made it an ideal hiding place for the family and four other Jewish people seeking refuge from the authorities. They remained hidden here for two years and one month until they were anonymously betrayed to the Nazi’s, arrested, and deported to their deaths in concentration camps.
Of the hidden group, only Otto Frank survived.
After those in hiding were arrested, the rooms were cleared by order of the arresting officers and all the remaining contents of the Frank family and their friends were seized as Government property. Before the building was cleared however two friends who had helped hide the families, returned to the hiding place and rescued some personal effects.
Amongst the items they retrieved was ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’.
It was an interesting experience to go through the hidden door behind the bookcase and to climb the steep steps into the rooms where they lived and hid, the little guide book calls it a ‘Museum with a Story’ and this sets it out against other museums that do not have the same emotional connection. It is only small of course so the visit doesn’t take too long before finishing in the inevitable book shop at the end.
I read the diary after a previous visit to Amsterdam but the problem with it of course is that even before you start to read it you already know the end.
After the Anne Frank house we moved on to the museums. The first of these was the Scheepvaartmuseum or Maritime Museum which was a short walk from our hotel and told the story of the Dutch association with the sea through an interesting collection of maps, atlases, charts, paintings and scale models but best of all a full sized replica of the three masted ‘Amsterdam’, a ship of the Dutch East India Company, which in its maiden voyage sank in a storm in the English Channel in winter of 1749.
Admission to the museum included entry to the ship and we wandered around the decks and cabins completely alone because this was an early morning in February and the temperature was some way below zero.
In the old town we warmed up when we visited the Rembrandt house museum and visited the reconstructed rooms and historically correct restoration based on the artists own sketches and drawings.
In the afternoon we walked to the Van Gogh museum which is the most visited museum in the Netherlands and contains the largest collection of paintings by Vincent van Gogh in the World. Together with those of Pablo Picasso, Van Gogh’s works are among the world’s most expensive paintings ever sold and some of the most valuable ever.
Actually, I found the museum rather disappointing because there were lots of gaps where paintings were on loan to other galleries around the World and some of his best known works that I would like to have seen are tucked away in private collections and vaults.
I like Van Gogh paintings and the museum shop was full of prints and reproductions but I am not an art critic and have to confess that alongside those I find brilliant I find some that quite frankly are not so good (shock, horror). The sort of things that my children used to bring home from school, I’d say well done and give them words of patronising encouragement and then after they had gone to bed I’d sellotape it up inside a kitchen cupboard!
While I reminisced about this previous visit I also became drowsy and overcome by the heat fell into a shallow, dream filled sleep and only woke again when Jonathan shook my shoulder to announce that we were back at Europoort where the snow was now falling thick and fast and settling.
There was a force eight gale in the North Sea tonight but the crossing was completely uneventful in the nautical sense and we passed the time away in the bar and the buffet restaurant before going to bed around midnight and waking up the next morning back in Hull.
Two visits, two canals, one pose…