amsterdam // day 3

This morning, the charming Christian volunteers at the hostel café are busy preparing pancake stacks for each of the guests. Laurel and I cannot miss this opportunity to test the non-Nutella hazelnut spread and the dark chocolate flakes as toppings, and boy are they perfect for the pancakes. The hostel cat (I’m dying to call him Jesus, but I highly doubt such blasphemy would be approved of at Shelter City) once again joins us. This time I manage to snap a nice photo of him.

It is nearly 9am, which means it is time for us to quickly head toward the Anne Frank Heus, so as to avoid the endless line from yesterday. On our way there, we pass by the Homomonument, which, as its name suggests, commemorates those who have died or suffered due to their non-hetero sexuality. Just as the house we are about to visit, the monument is a powerful reminder of what Men are capable of – both atrocity and bravery.

As hoped, we are able to enter the Anne Frank House without any wait. There is not audio guide, but we are given a leaflet with brief descriptions of each room, and short videos scattered around the building provide complementary information. I had not expected the house to be unfurnished. It turns out Otto Frank desired it to be left this way, so as to symbolize the countless gone victims of the Holocaust. Throughout the visit, ‘helpers’ – individuals such as Miep Gies and Victor Kugler, whose help allowed the Franks and van Pels to survive in hiding as long as they did – are commended for their bravery. I appreciate this, as it shows the importance of their courage and small but meaningful acts of resistance.

Before heading back to the Museumplein, where we were yesterday, we stumble upon two concept stores: The Frozen Fountain (Prinsengracht 645) and Home Is…Concept Store (van Baerlestraat 89). I highly recommend both, the former for its great selection of design furniture, objects, gadgets and books, and the latter for its clothing and jewelry.

The next site on our itinerary is the Stedelijk Museum, whose smooth white exterior structure screams contemporary. Aside from its well-curated selection of modern design objects, furnishings and art pieces, the museum also has two exhibits on view. The first, ‘The Stedelijk Museum in the Second World War’, is exactly what its title presents it to be. I learned, for instance, that each of the museum’s art pieces was a classified into one of three categories according to its importance. Those pieces deemed to be the most important were taking into safekeeping in priority during the war. I’m curious as to what exact criteria were used for the classification – if it were up to me, I would save the pretty ones first (Picassos may or may not have made it through the war).

Our visit ends with an exhibit by the British artist Ed Atkins, ‘Recent Ouija’. According to our pamphlets, “Atkins’ art reflects on the unprecedented potential of today’s digital culture and its consequences for our embodied lives”. His installation, consisting of a series of video projections, is both utterly strange and mesmerizing. At this point, Laurel and I make little effort to understand Atkins’ work – in our defense, we are getting rather hungry and our focus is not at its highest level.

So hungry, in fact, that as soon as we exit the Stedelijk, we stop by a food kiosk on the Museumplein, where Laurel orders a Stroopwafel (2.20€). This Dutch delicacy is made before our very eyes: first, a chewy ball of dough is pressed into a special type of press, giving it its distinctly round shape and checkered surface. Next, warm caramel is spread evenly on one of the wafers, and two wafers are then pressed together in a heavenly sandwich.

This stroopwafel is merely the appetizer to our main course. For the latter, we walk over to FEBO, an Amsterdam fast food joint known for selling freshly made burgers and croquettes from vending machines. Laurel and I try these machines for ourselves: we pop some coins into our desired slot (exact change only!), press on a magic button and open a cubby containing a warm chicken burger (2.20€)! Of course, if you’d prefer to order from the counter, that option is also available. But trust me, you’ll be missing out on an amusing experience!

The neighboring Ice Bakery is our chosen spot for dessert. Owned by Nutella, this franchise offers waffles, ice cream, croissants, doughnuts, muffins, and more, all somehow involving Nutella. You can’t go wrong with that. My Nutella-topped chocolate and nuts brownie (3.50€) is a very nice treat, albeit slightly over-priced.

On our way to back to the Dam square we enter Depot 304 (Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 304), yet another concept store. (It’s an addiction – we can’t help it, I swear!) After this, on to the Royal Palace of Amsterdam (Koninklijk Paleis Amsterdam). Now that I’m living in England, I’m all about that royalty. An audio guide takes us all around the first floor, through a dozen of rooms which include the grandiose Citizen’s Hall and the Orphan’s Chamber, where affairs concerning Amsterdam’s orphans were once conducted.

We take a pleasant walk to the Willet-Holthuysen Museum, an 18th century home that contains recreations of an upper class family’s furnishings. The gardens, ballroom, clubroom and other parts of the building take us back to previous times. My favorite room would have to be the clubroom, with its deep blue velvet wallpapers and dark wooden consoles. I wouldn’t ever wish to live in such a somber place myself, but it is quite a sumptuous site.

We then make an impromptu visit to the Portuguese Synagogue, which happens to be both nearby and part of our Museumcard list. I learn about an unfortunate ceremony that takes place in the Mikvah, adjacent to the synagogue itself. This bath (still in use, by the way), is where women customarily bathe in seven days after their menstruation period, supposedly to clean them for their husband. The audio tour also provides a ‘rational’ reason for which women and men are separated in the synagogue: women are hidden from men to avoid distracting the latter. Laurel and I find this absolutely hilarious. (On a side note, this is actually the same justification I was given when I asked members of the Muslim community why women would never sit in front of men during prayer. And then people argue religion and feminism are compatible…)

On our way back, we step inside Betty Blue – you guessed it – another concept store, Titus, a cozy bookstore and print shop, and A.Boeken, a fabric store offering a much better selection of prints than most of its equivalents back in Manhattan’s Garment District.

Before dinner, we also curiously pop into the luxurious De Bijenkorf building. This department store sells a combination of European and American brands, from the intimidating Louis Vuitton and the more mainstream TopShop. It’s definitely not an interesting stop, unless you’ve never been to a department store in your life (in which case, you’re honestly not missing much).

Since my arrival I have been keeping one place on my mind: Amsterdam Cheese Deli (Oudezijds voorburgwal 31), which I spotted my first day while making my way from the train station to our hostel. Inside, the small shop features a variety of beautiful cheeses. Yes, cheese can be aesthetically pleasing. At least, in this shop it is. Blue, green and pink cheese wedges are stacked in baskets, their exotic flavors varying from pesto to chile.. Even more appetizing are Amsterdam Cheese Deli’s savory breads. We each purchase a Gorgonzola, pesto, sundried tomato and pine nut bread (5€) and savor it back at the hostel, as it has just started to drizzle.

For dessert, we return to Yscuypje for the third time – jamais deux sans trois – and order more ice cream. Laurel gets a scoop of speculoos, and I can’t help but think of my mom and how much she would love to try this flavor herself.

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