“Normal Day” by Mary Jean Irion

farmher woman hay bale Marji Guyler-Alaniz

Normal day, let me be aware
of the treasure that you are.
Let me learn from you, love you,
bless you before we depart.
Let me not pass you by in quest
of some rare and perfect tomorrow.
Let me hold you while I may,
for it may not be always so. One day
I shall dig my nails into the earth,
or bury my face in the pillow,
or stretch myself taut,
or raise my hands
to the sky and want, more
than all the world, your return.

(Farmher photo by Marji Guyler-Alaniz)

Amsterdam: Anne Frank’s Merwedeplein

Anne Frank once roamed these Amsterdam streets. She played and posed, sunned on the roof and leaned out her window. Before she became an icon, this is where she was just a girl.

anne frank friends merwedeplein then now collage

A photo montage of Anne (right) and her friends
Eva Goldberg (left) and Sanne Ledermann (middle) in 1936,
superimposed over what the streets look like today.
Photo: Anne Frank House / Anne Frank Fonds;
photo Montage: Michel Dankaarts, LBi Lost Boys 

This is Merwedeplein, a residential triangle of workaday Rivierenbuurt, in turn a neighborhood in south Amsterdam. This is where the Frank family lived out their relative, if diminishing, freedom before going into hiding on the Princes Canal. I thought it would be poignant to walk the streets where Anne and Margot grew up, so on my way home from bike riding to Ouderkerk aan de Amstel, I detoured to Merwedeplein to see what I could see.

anne frank's amsterdam map app

The app Anne Frank’s Amsterdam, which I’d downloaded at home, registers several places to “check in” on Merwedeplein and unlock facts, photos, and videos about Anne. Since I had to switch off my data roaming once abroad, though, it did me little good. (You need to be connected to the Internet and physically close to an item location in order to “pick it up” and open it on the app.) So instead I used my old Google Maps to chart the way.

rivierenbuurt amsterdam

I knew I was getting close when the buildings started to look like this: all brick with big white-paned windows. (Google Maps’ street view helped a lot in this regard.) After some bumbling, I found my way to Hunzestraat 25, the home of two of the Franks’ helpers, Miep Gies and her husband, Jan, a member of the Dutch Resistance.

hunzestraat 25

I believe that below and to the right of those third-floor red awnings had lived the Gies family. Miep would bike from here to where the Anne Frank House now is on Prinsengracht for work every day. On July 11, 1943, Anne wrote,

Miep is just like a pack mule, she fetches and carries so much. Almost every day she … brings everything in shopping bags on her bicycle. We always long for Saturdays when our books come. Just like little children receiving a present. Source: Pocket Books version, 1952.

I hadn’t realized it when I walked my bike through in search of #25, but the small park across the street was renamed this past June in honor of Miep.

Finally I turned onto the street where the Frank family lived (it’s only half a kilometer away from Hunzestraat).

merwedeplein street sign

And I found the Franks’ old home.

anne frank merwedeplein house

Their apartment comprised the same third-story windows seen in a brief film of Anne leaning out to watch a neighbor’s wedding procession—the only known video footage taken of her.

I didn’t want to feel any more like a stalker than I already did, so I sat on a bench across the street and took in the scene. It was clearly a lived-in neighborhood, not a museum at all but quiet and tree-lined, with one man sitting on a nearby bench reading, a young couple lolling on the grass, and a group of friends gathered at the other end of the park with their bikes.

anne frank statue merwedeplein

In fact, were it not for the small statue of Anne at one end of the greenspace, you’d never know this neighborhood had any particular historical significance.

The curtains in the windows indicated someone was still living in Merwedeplein 37—there, in the same rooms where the family took their meals, Margot must have studied, and Anne scampered up the attic stairs to the roof.

Anne Frank Merwedeplein roof

Photo: Anne Frank House / Anne Frank Fonds

merwedeplein 37 roof

Fortunately, people have already taken care to preserve and show the details of the Franks’ home life, from the antique mahogany writing desk to the circa 1930s light switches and switchplates. The everyday details humanize the icon, adding dimension to the stories behind The Story.

To walk the streets where she laughed and played is to step into the pages of history.

Amsterdam: Biking to Ouderkerk aan de Amstel

This afternoon I regaled a coworker with stories behind my slew of Amsterdam photos, which made me realize I’ve neglected to post one of the best parts of my trip on the blog! So here it is: a bike ride from Amsterdam to Ouderkerk aan de Amstel, a village south of the city.

The weather had been a little erratic, but the last day brought sunshine and clouds with a little haze—just the weather I’d been waiting for. So, starting out from my Airbnb digs near the Jordaan, I gingerly skirted along Nassaukade, sweating at the stoplights, hoping I was in the right lane before pedaling madly after bicyclists who looked like they actually knew what they were doing. Stopped by a MacBike for an Amstel-Windmill Bicycle Tour map (security blanket!) before heading to the Amsteldijk bikeway, which follows the river the entire way. Once on the city outskirts, I began to breathe a little easier. (I’m still a country girl at heart.)

amstel pond near river windmill

This scenery inspired Rembrandt, who would head to this same countryside on weekends to work on his landscapes. Along the river, next to a windmill, there’s a statue of the master down on one knee, his sketchbook propped up on the other.

amstel riverscape horizontal

I’ve come to realize that the older I get, the more of a luxury time becomes. On this particular day I had nowhere to be, so I could ride as slowly as I liked and stop whenever I wanted. Bliss.

amstel river bike path

The river’s bike path is flat as flat, and on this day there was hardly another soul on the road. After reaching and then tooling around Ouderkerk for a bit, I biked up the other side of the river before turning around to go back the way I came—about 13 km./8 mi. each way.

amstel river rower windmill

I paused midpath to snap this shot of river reeds framing a single sculler rowing past the windmill where Rembrandt’s statue is. Makes me wish I could experience the feel of being on that water.

junky amsterdam bike

My trusty, rusty steed. It’s the kind of junky Old Reliable that I understand Amsterdammers keep, to get them around town and not get stolen. Still, who’s taking chances?

bike locks

The Dutch don’t mess around with their locks. There was an industrial-strength chain-link one to secure the bike to any immovable object, plus a second key-operated clamp over the rear tire.

amstel river bench

On my way home, I nearly blew right past these solitary benches, then decided to stop for a breather and just read and write for a bit. The breeze rustled through the grasses and occasionally boats would motor by, their owners sunning on lawn chairs set up on the deck. A few ducky friends paddled over, bobbing in the boats’ wake, expecting to be fed.