The squeaking sound of snow under foot. Canal bridges laced with hundreds of sparkling lights. The warmth of spicy glüwein on your lips. The air of history with every upward glance and hidden in every stone wall. Europe holds much mystery, but the little that it reveals of itself thus far is enough to leave my heart craving more.
Tonight is our last night in Amsterdam, and while we’ve packed every moment with adventure, I’m not sure that I want to leave yet. Berlin was an intriguing city – it certainly had a lot to offer. Our visit to the Berlin Wall both horrified and interested me. The many names and faces that are printed around the wall in remembrance of those who didn’t survive their attempts at crossing made my heart ache – and the loss and emotional hardship of the soldiers who guarded the gate confused my emotions further. Surely they didn’t know what they were doing? Surely they too were affected? We visited Checkpoint Charlie, The Jewish Museum, The Berlin Zoo, The Brandenburg Gate and many other places that would take far too long to name. We met with two friends who have been in Europe on exchange with uni, and I felt emotional saying goodbye to both of them, along with the city of Berlin.
Going into Berlin, I thought I had an open mind and freedom of expectation – but having been there, I know that I was wrong. It’s almost impossible to enter into a foreign city without expectation and hope, especially after over a year of waiting, planning and thinking. Berlin wasn’t disappointing, but it was certainly different. In retrospect, I expected older. The Australian in me longed for old buildings, chiming church bells and cobbled streets, older than my country as we know it. Berlin, interesting as it was, did not offer that. It was thoroughly stamped by war – and much of the ‘old’ is not as ‘old’ as it used to be.
Holland, The Netherlands, met and exceeded the expectations that I had subconsciously formed. Upon arriving in a small town called Sellingen with Richard’s Dutch relatives, I immediately fell in love – with everything. Peter seemed amused by my amusement with every single thing I saw out of the window. Windmills, potato farms, village after country village of steeple-donned chapels and houses with pointy roofs that came almost to the ground, some tiled and some thatched. Never in my life have I seen a thatched roof. We visited churches and monasteries from the year 1200 (and even attended a Dutch service on Sunday), as well as a farm house and barn that a clog-wearing stranger kindly let us explore.
Richard’s relatives were the kind of story books. They welcomed us into their homes and house boats in Sellingen and Zwolle, fed us with warm hearts and warm traditional Dutch meals and drove us to interesting places where the trains and buses don’t go. We visited a fort from the 1700’s called Bourtange Fort with high earthy walls covered with soft grass in the shape of a five point star, surrounded by moats that joined the canals, and decked with canons and watch towers on every corner. The thing that most excited me was the fact that the village inside the fort walls has never ceased to operate, and the cobbled streets wind through manicured vegetable gardens, white steeple chapels, large stone houses with smoking chimneys and small village stores, pubs and squares. We drove on to the city of Gröningen where bikes outnumbered people, and the cobble streets continued to wind between streets whose christmas decorations remained twinkling, and canals glistened in the four o’clock twilight glow. I’m sure the burgers we sat down to for dinner topped off the entire experience for my burger-obsessed fiancé.
Amsterdam has been an entirely new experience, but one I’ve been grateful to have. I thought that the distinct smell of ‘legal’ smoke seeping out of ‘coffee shops’ and hanging in the still air, and the ever-prominent red light district would define this city – and while it confronts me, it doesn’t define the ‘vibe’ that this city gives off. For me, it’s the canals, the bridges, the history and the very obvious old-ness of this place. I felt completely humbled as we climbed the stairs of the Anne Frank House, and slipped behind the hidden bookshelf into the tiny rooms they called home for two years without sight of daylight – the fact that a 13 year old girl could teach us so much about our own freedom astounds me. In a speech at the house, Emma Thompson (British actress) stated, ‘her would haves are our opportunities’. I can’t help thinking that I am so blessed with opportunity. This experience is beautifully opportunistic, and I hope to make the most of every moment because I have the freedom to do so.