The week after my trip to Stonehenge, I got the most wonderful gift of seeing my family! Papa K, Sloan, Paige and her friend Lindsey came all the way to Grantham just to see me...yeah right. Actually, I was just a good excuse for them to travel to London, Paris, Amsterdam and Rome ;). But I was excited for them to travel around Europe and so thrilled to spend time with them. We checked out Grantham and did some shopping there and went to Nottingham with my meet-a-family to Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, which is the oldest inn in England. We got to see Nottingham Castle and the pub was so neat in that it was built into a rock so you were basically in a cave inside! Bits of rock kept falling on everyone, so it was pretty legit. We stayed for the Storytellers of Nottingham and listened to all sorts of scary stories about murder. My favorite was definitely the tale of Mr. Fox. We had quite an adventure driving all over Nottingham trying to locate my parents' car which had gotten left behind at a stoplight. It was a seriously hilarious experience and I felt like a real family with my English mum and dad! We finally found them and made our way back to Harlaxton, where I packed and showered by 2 am in order to catch our cab to London.
Our good friend Grease Tail of Street Cars took Sarah, Clay, Kyle, Alex and I to Heathrow Airport where we easily made it through customs to wait in what was thankfully a heated airport for our flight to take off around 7 o'clock. We landed in the Netherlands and grabbed a cab to our hotel--not hostel!--called the Swisshotel right in the center of town. We sneakily checked five people into a two person room, and it was so nice to not have to lock up our luggage or take cold showers. The bit of extra money was definitely worth the stay, although we had to strategically plan our leaving and arrival so security wouldn't get suspicious.
We met for the free tour of Amsterdam at the town center, where the tours were split into Spanish-speaking and English-speaking. We were placed in a huge group with a tour guide we could hardly hear, so we joined Martijn's group (which we later found to not even be his real name) which had much fewer people. It was a cold, rainy day and Martijn/Clkejoewif (in Dutch) let me borrow his awesomely warm hat during the three hour tour. We learned about the architecture of the buildings (they were built at a tilt with hook at the top so cargo ships could deliver goods into the buildings via the second floor), saw Chinatown, the famous "I Amsterdam" sign, Napoleon's headquarters during the war which is now a library, the Marijuana Museum, the old Post Office which is now a shopping center, the bell tower which Anne Frank listened to everyday while in hiding, a squatter's home, the Amsterdam Historic Museum, the Protestant Church where the Pilgrims worshiped before they left on the Mayflower (which was ironically directly across from a Catholic Church), what was surely the happiest cat in Amsterdam, and heard a great story about revolt near the canals. The tours are always so awesome and informative! We caught a "free" tram ride ("because they never check your tickets") back to our hotel and got ready for the night. We went to the Jolly Joker where we saw and experienced some interesting Amsterdam-ish things. We made a glorious visit to Rene's Bakery where I got a delicious donut.
Saturday morning we did a bit of shopping and made our way to the Anne Frank museum. This was the office building where she and her family hid during World War II after fleeing Germany. It was absolutely indescribable to see the actual building, much less walk where she walked, looked at the walls (which she covered in magazine cut-outs) she looked at, and see the secret bookcase which kept them safe until they were betrayed and taken to concentration camps. The only survivor of their family was Anne's father, Otto, who took it upon himself to publish Anne's diary after he found it and achieve her dreams of becoming a journalist. It was a very sad, humbling place to visit, but as Otto Frank said in 1967, "To build a future, you have to know the past."
Once back at the Swisshotel we changed clothes and went out to check out the Red Light District (cue Luda!). It was sooo weird to see all those women selling themselves like that, but an interesting experience nonetheless. Let's just say I will never look at the trick where a magician pulls a handkerchief out of his mouth the same again.
Sunday morning we packed up and cleaned the room, then grabbed some delicious pizza and a drink for a mere 4 euros. We went to the world's largest floating flower market where I was sad to discover I couldn't bring any real tulip bulbs back because they weren't radiated properly to fly back to America. We got a few souvenirs and did even more shopping, which led to some hilariously entertaining events. A cab picked us up outside our hotel in the early afternoon and we cabbed (in a ridiculously awesome van), flew, and cabbed again (after an hour of searching for our driver in the rain) back to Harlaxton. Amsterdam was seriously a blast and I had so much fun hanging out with the group I went with. It was wonderful to be able to come home, shower, and relax and continue to enjoy my time here :)