Amsterdam: To make your dreams come true, wake up.

An overdue post, I know. Which is odd, because our weekend in Amsterdam marks my favorite trip, thus far. So really, no excuse not to have written sooner.

As for it being my favorite vacation—it’s a combination of factors:
  • Partly because I was traveling with friends. After a week of solo travel (in addition to a few days stuck in bed as a result of the flu), I welcomed any opportunity to spend time away with friends. We all live in separate homestays and, as a result, miss out on the college- esque, late night bonding.
  • Partly because we stayed on a house- boat, giving the vacation less of a touristy feel and more of a weekend getaway. We had all returned from two weeks of spring break travel and were happy to avoid days revolved around the never-ending tourist itinerary.
  • And partly because of the city: the stunning scenery, the calm atmosphere, the friendliness of the people. The fact that the city seemed to have more locals than tourists, a contrast to my time spent in Prague and Florence. That Amsterdam has a cafĂ© culture-- the open cafes (not to be confused with coffee shops) with outdoor seating facing the pavements. Similar to Paris, although without the uptightness Parisian culture often exudes. Weed is a part of the scene, naturally. But for those not interested, it's easy to steer clear. 
Oddly, my four days in the city left me with a sense that I could spend time living there to write. Something about the quaintness of their cafes, the gentle movement of the city’s canals and the charm of the ting as bicyclists ride past.  

Easily, renting bikes for the day marks my favorite memory. I loved the feel of the breeze as we winded through the city, loosing ourselves (but actually) among the neighboring suburb and making our way back to Vondelpark before returning home. I had paid the extra 2.50 euros for a bike with hand breaks; it took me hours to learn to ride a bike my first time… at age ten. And while I own a bike at home and do take it out once in a while in attempt to save gas money, my grace while seated on the small frame of the bike’s seat has yet to improve. 

Lanes in Amsterdam divide into three, with bike riders making up the majority of traffic. The riders have a game they play: hit the tourist. Five points to knock one over taking a picture. 10 points for the tour guide. 20 points for the tourist renting a bike. Which really, was no peace of mind seeing as we rode the bikes through the city. Along the streets. The traffic. The people. I don’t at all like being on a two- wheeled vehicle while attempting to veer clear of cars, pedestrians and the swarms of other bike riders.

The FOAM museum ranks as my favorite museum— a photojournalism showcase exhibiting pieces from The New York Times Magazine.

And of course, the Anne Frank house. Heavy, yet powerful.

I came across a variety of quotes during the weekend. And so rather than a play by play of my weekend, I’ve pasted the quotes below—my reflections attached. Sort of a journey through my mind, rather than my days, during my four days away in Amsterdam.

Tulip in Vondelpark

"We cannot change what happened anymore. The only thing we can do is to learn from the past and to realize what discrimination and persecution of innocent people means. I believe that it's everyone's responsibility to fight prejudice." 
- Otto Frank, Father to Anne Frank; Anne Frank House
I was nervous to enter the Anne Frank home—how many times we’ve heard Anne’s story, how detached we've become from who she was as a result of what she has come to represent.

But the museum changes that.

Rid of furniture, the bare rooms evoke a sense of the transience of people—a symbol for all that Jews gave up and the nothingness that remained for the few that did return. Out of the harshness and cruelty in life, the empty rooms serve as a reminder of the little value the material holds, and the importance and sacredness of relationships that enrich life. 

Otto, in a video played as you enter the last room of the home, comments that he never realized Anne had the thoughts she wrote about in her journal. In a way, Otto says, you never really know your children. It’s a powerful comment, but a hard one to process.

The journal provides insight into the vulnerability and naivety of a child, of a situation that forced the maturity of a young girl to understand a concept so past something anyone at any age can really make sense of.

Anne’s dream to become a writer came true, though she'll never know it. But we, as the living beings that carry her voice, make her dream a reality. She had a purpose in the world, a great one as such. May her voice live on as a memory of the 12 million killed, the millions more affected and as a symbol of a past that dear G-d will never happen again.

"Before you leave on a journey, take a moment to think about where you come from, where you are going and why." 
- Bertien van Manen, photographer; FOAM Museum
(Quote refers to an old Russian custom.)
Where I come from:
A Jewish family, an American environment with a British upbringing. A small sense of displacement given the difficulty of discovering my connection to an identity. It’s a reason I identify so greatly with being Jewish—no matter where I’ve grown up, no matter where I am in the world, it’s a part of me that never changes, nor one I feel the need to prove. 

Where am I going:
I don't know. Striving towards a happy life. A writing career that brings me satisfaction. A future happy, healthy, marriage with a partner who complements me as I do him. A close family. To live in an environment I feel comfortable. To love and be loved—life, goals, friends, family. 

Why leave on a journey? To make sense of life. I don’t think a journey refers to travels. I believe a journey refers to a path, a maze through your mind through an experience that challenges your perspective, strengthens or alters your viewpoint and leaves you stronger in your understanding of yourself. Life naturally brings with it a level of confusion. A journey provides the opportunity to make sense of the confusion—to learn to grasp the good and know where to find it, how to understand it—how to make sense of it.

A journey allows us to get in touch with ourselves, to understand our place in the greater world.

Do I understand myself? Not completely, no.
Do we ever? Perhaps. But then again, maybe not. Life would be too simple if we had all the answers.

"The woman who owned the house and raised a family there had died four years earlier, leaving not only a house but, in a sense, a home" 
- The New York Times Magazine
Our body is the house; the heart is the home. How empty we’d be without the heart, how lonely we’d be alone. Life is the gift, but living is the blessing. And it’s the people we're around that make life that much better to live.

The house boat we stayed on.

"To make your dreams come true, wake up.” 
-Quote printed on a plaque sold in a street market.
Back in the wind of AU life, three months from now (not counting), this business of back and forth travel will seem like a dream.

A dream.

But in loosing yourself within the swirl of a dream- like life, it’s vital to stop every once in a while. To remind yourself of the person you are, check into with the person you may have become. Pinch yourself. Life is not a dream, no matter the experiences that may seem as if they are. And your real dreams, they too don't have to stay as such. Never place a limit on your goals, never place a barrier to block the opportunities. 

Wake up. Life's waiting for your next move.
View from inside the house boat.

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