Not two minutes after I stepped off the bus from the airport, my girlfriend yanked me back up onto a curb. Before I had time to be startled, a bike whizzed past in a blur, missing me by less than an inch. “You have to be careful of the bicycles in Amsterdam. We cycle everywhere.” She pointed out dedicated lanes paved with red brick in the streets and on the sidewalks, cautioning me to look both ways for bikes, even before considering motor vehicle traffic.
Indeed, everywhere I went for the next ten days I was surrounded by two-wheeled demons. Men in suits, strangled by wind-driven skinny ties, pedaled furiously to offices with messenger bags strapped across their chests. Businesswomen cycled in skirts and spiked heels. Workmen carried supplies in wheelbarrow-shaped bins mounted to the front of the bicycles and, sometimes, benches added inside these same bins were used by mothers to deliver children to school. Lovers cycled to parks, grandmas and grandpas cycled to the market, brave tourists wobbled around on tandem bikes, and everyone cycled to the bars for a beer at the end of the day. Read More
The moment I stepped inside the Anne Frank House, a shiver shot up my spine and my hair stood on end. As I climbed into the rafters where eight Jews were secreted during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands in World War II, a lump rose in my throat and I fought back emotions that threatened to bring on tears. By the time I left the place where Anne Frank hid – the place where her family was betrayed by an unknown collaborator – I was devastated. Questions swirled in my head. How can human beings be so evil, so hateful? How they can so easily decide that a life is not valid because of a chosen religion or an ethnicity? Outside once more, I sat on a curb, unable to move for the longest time.
Later, despair became sadness. I turned down a narrow side street in Amsterdam’s city center. Buildings of nondescript red brick were punctuated by windows, like an endless row of phone booth cubicles. A rat-tat-tat on a window pane made me stop. I peered into the dark interior from where the knock came. As my eyes adjusted, I saw a man, wearing a wig, black bra, and nylon stockings held up by a black garter belt. His thick body hair curled over the top of his stockings and his cherry lipstick was askew. Our eyes met and before I could avert mine, his huge hands beckoned me inside. I have wandered into Amsterdam’s infamous Red Light District. Read More