Autumn, Antwerp, Amsterdam, Anne Frank

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Autumn in the Foret de Soignes

1) The Forêt de Soignes is a continuation of the woods around the Abbey close to Flagey and it goes on for miles. It is really beautiful at the moment and when we got to the middle we couldn’t hear any cars.

2) We took a trip to Antwerp last week. Being students we were instantly drawn towards the market with free food samples and this became the theme for the day. A friend of a friend thought you could climb to the top of a museum for free for a panoramic view. This was indeed the case and on the 7th of 10 floors (we still have no idea what was in the museum) we stumbled across , well we are still not really sure what it was, but the important thing was we found lots of free food and drinks. When we had polished off the snacks on our table we went to the top and by complete chance saw the most beautiful sunset, before heading back down via the 7th floor, polishing off some more free food and heading back down again. Apart from the free food, Antwerp offers a nice square, as all Belgian cities seem to. I couldn’t help but think of Perth’s plan to knock the city hall down and create an open square. When you see the beautiful old buildings and cobbled pavements in the squares in Belgium I am doubtful this effect will be recreated in Perth.

3) The other thing Antwerp seemed to have was lots of hands. There were statues of them everywhere. Again, I cannot tell you why.

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View from the top of mystery museum

4) This weekend we took a trip to Amsterdam. This was slightly more planned that the Antwerp trip, although I’m beginning to realise that visiting new cities with more than 10 people, in different countries so no one’s Belgian SIM card works anymore, can result in a rather stressful experience. Despite losing half the group early on, then miraculously finding them again outside a random supermarket 4 hours later, it was a really fun day!

5) The cyclists in Amsterdam are scary. Maybe because there are so many of them (far more than car drivers) they become like car drivers with road rage when there are too many cars. They ring their bells, shout at you and if another cyclist dares crosses their path… all hell breaks loose.

6) And if Amsterdam sounds like ringing bicycle bells, it smells like drugs.

7) The walking tour guide pointed out that the location of Amsterdam is one of the worst locations to build a city as “it’s basically a swamp round here.” This results in sinking houses, leaning houses, houses completely dependent on the house next to them to stay upright and then the sensible houses (i.e. boats).

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Canals and bicycles – has to be Amsterdam
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The narrowest (one window wide) house in Amsterdam (look carefully!)

8) I was really moved by the Anne Frank Museum. Anne Frank was a Jewish victim of the holocaust, a diarist, an aspiring writer but above all just an ordinary girl. The Frank family moved to Amsterdam when the Nazis gained control over Germany, but became trapped in Amsterdam when the Nazis gained control of the Netherlands. Their only option to stay safe became going into hiding, in a concealed annexe in the same building where her father, Otto Frank, worked. Here Anne, her sister, her parents and 4 others remained for 2 years, before someone betrayed the group and they were taken to concentration camps, where Anne met her death just weeks before the camp was liberated.

Today the building where they were in hiding has been turned into a museum, which is visited by around a million visitors every year. On an average day, you queue for 2-3 hours, we were lucky and only queued for 1. A model downstairs gives the impression that the secret annexe is much bigger than in reality. In fact, the first thing that hits you is how tiny it is. It is very claustrophobic and the thought of 8 people living there – without being able to go outside and with blacked out windows – for 2 years is, well, unimaginable. During the day they could make no noise at the risk of people in the warehouse hearing them. Only a select few “helpers” knew they were concealed there and put their own lives at risk bringing food to the family and news from the outside. Anne’s father, the only member of the Frank family to survive the war, did not want the annexe to be restored to the way it was when they were in hiding. As a result, today the secret annexe is 3 empty rooms and a hallway.

This made me wonder, why do millions of people queue and pay to see 3 empty rooms and a hallway? I think it is because it is so much more than that. Anne’s story and writing touch everyone, no matter where they are from or what their beliefs are. While stereotypes hold some truth and where you are raised probably contributes to shaping who you are, humans are far too complicated to be put into such defined categories. Take everything away and underneath it all people are just people, and feel the same emotions and are moved by the same things. Everyone, no matter where they are from, can relate to Anne Frank.

Her honesty in her diary about her feelings, dreams and ambitions make the end of her story even more poignant. She remained extremely optimistic during extreme hardship. While her wish to live an ordinary life was denied to her, she succeeded beyond her wildest dreams in becoming a successful writer and making an impact on the world.

 

 

 

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