Travel: Old World Adventure

What to do with your PFD check? Try a trip to the Netherlands

Posted: Thursday, October 14, 2004

By the time you read this, your permanent fund check has been automatically deposited or is in the mail. What are you going to do with your funds?

Car dealers, airlines and travel agencies want you to spend your permanent fund on the bargains they are offering. Last year, my husband and I spent our permanent funds on a great travel bargain. An Anchorage travel agency advertised in the Juneau Empire two-round trip tickets from Juneau to one of 41 European cities for the price of one PFD - $1,100.

These fares seemed too good to be true. I did a little research and found positive reviews of the travel agency in one of the Anchorage newspapers. Our two round-trip tickets - from Juneau to Seattle on Alaska Airlines and from Seattle to Amsterdam on SAS - cost us $550 each. (Pay attention to the ads in the Empire this month. The travel agency is making roughly the same offer this year - same cost but 36 cities. This bargain also applies to Ketchikan and Sitka.)

Our flight on SAS was a revelation. SAS is a fine airline that features individual seat monitors for movies, games, music and maps of the flight. The food is hot and good. The wine and cognac are free. The flight attendants walk up and down the aisles in the middle of the night with cups of water and juice to keep the passengers hydrated. Remember those good old days of air travel?

In the Netherlands, we stayed at the Amadeus Hotel in Haarlem, about 20 minutes west of Amsterdam by fast train. Each morning, we ate a good buffet in the breakfast room overlooking Grote Markt. The buildings surrounding the square are built of brick and stone, stand at least four stories high and have a variety of gable styles.

On our first full day in the Netherlands, we took the fast train to Amsterdam and walked from the station to the Anne Frank house. When we arrived at the house, we were dismayed to see the line snaking around the block. However, the museum that leads visitors to and from the warehouse and annex is so well planned that it took us only 15 minutes to enter.

The museum rooms are large, and videos and placards slow the visitors. The offices and the warehouse for Otto Frank's jam factory are sparsely furnished. It is difficult to describe our emotions when we actually entered the small office where the moveable bookcase stood open to the stairs leading to the "Secret Annex."

None of the rooms in the annex are furnished, but I easily imagined how crowded the annex must have been for eight people to live quietly. The room that Anne shared with the dentist is so small that the two beds almost touched. I was surprised that Anne's pictures of movie stars and artists are still glued to the walls of the bedroom.

From the annex, we moved into the modern museum where we learned what happened to the people who lived in the annex after they were arrested and sent to concentration camps. We also learned more about the friends who helped them after they went into hiding. However, the highlight of the museum was the exhibit room where Anne's original diaries are displayed.

We learned from a placard that the Dutch government in exile urged people living under occupation to save personal documents about the war. After listening to a government radio broadcast in 1944, Anne began to work on "The Secret Annex" and edit and revise her diary. After the war, her father, Otto, edited both diaries into a shorter version. "The Secret Annex" was first published in 1947.

After a light lunch in the café in the Anne Frank Museum, we found our way to Amsterdam's Van Gogh Museum. We were amazed to see crowds of people in an art museum, and at times it was difficult or impossible to get close enough to read the placards or see the actual paintings. Van Gogh's works are arranged chronologically to show how his art changed over time and how the different areas where he lived influenced his art. The Van Gogh Museum also has an extensive collection of works by other 19th century painters and sculptors.

We spent the next two days exploring the small city of Haarlem. We strolled through the Saturday Market and found that the market squares in the Netherlands are actually used for their intended purpose. The flowers, plants and produce were gorgeous.

We also went to the Corrie Ten Boom house museum. She wrote "The Hiding Place," an autobiography about a Dutch Christian who hid Jews from the Nazis. A visit to the well-preserved house and actually seeing the small space between walls that could hide six adults standing side by side testifies to the courage of the Christians and the Jews.

We also visited the large, high-roofed church Grotekerk van St. Bavo which is famous for an organ that both Mozart (he was 10 at the time) and Handel played. From the church, we followed the canals around to Teylers Museum, the oldest museum (1778) in the country. We liked the scientific part of the museum best. The fossils, minerals, natural history and early scientific equipment are still displayed in the original 18th century display cases.

We continued to follow the canals around the perimeter of Haarlem. We admired the white canal draw bridges, the 400-year-old houses (still lived in), house boats with gardens on the banks of the canals, a windmill that once supplied the power to pull cargo up from barges, and the only remaining city water gate.

We ended our first full day in Haarlem with an incredibly delicious meal of warmed goat cheese salad and filets at L'Anders next door to our hotel. Meals are not perfect because smokers, who are the minority, can smoke everywhere except on planes, trains and busses. However, a plus is the fact that the Dutch speak English as their second language.

We spent most of the next day in the Frans Hals Museum. Frans Hals was a 17th century Dutch artist who is famous for his portraits of members of Haarlem's rich merchant class. Hals spent his last years impoverished and lived in the almshouse that is now the Frans Hals Museum.

In addition to art galleries, the Frans Hals Museum provides the visitor with a wonderful history of 17th century Haarlem and the Haarlem School of Art. We especially liked the over-sized dollhouse and the 300-year-old embroidered bed hangings, which were recently discovered looking like new in a trunk in New York City.

Because the bed hangings were made in Haarlem during the 1700s, they were returned to the city. The embroidered bed coverings found in New Amsterdam returned to Old Haarlem just as New World tourists return to the Old World.

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