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.

Amsterdam: Everyday life

I love spotting the little details that make life in other countries just a little different from what it is back home in Northern California. What stands out to me when I’m visiting someplace new to me must be old hat to the people who live there. But I’m sure it’s that way too for people from around the world who come to California looking to be dazzled.

I’m no shutterbug, yet having a smartphone makes it so easy to take photographs when traveling. It can be done quickly and discreetly, which is key for me since my style is to hang back and observe unobtrusively wherever I am.

Here are some snaps from my walks around Amsterdam’s historic center.

vintage fiat 500 cinquecento prinsengracht amsterdam

There’s my dream car, a vintage Fiat Cinquecento (500) parked canalside along Prinsengracht. I wish you could see the sedan next to it but out of the frame, just for scale. It’s such a wee car.

amsterdam houseboat

Next time I visit Amsterdam, I want to stay on a houseboat. Like this one (it’s where Joanna Goddard stayed during her long weekend in the city)! It’d be so cool to sleep on the water, or curl up on a living-room window seat or out on the deck with a book and a cup of tea as boats motor past.

bruin brown cafe canalside pannenkoeken

Few things can be more idyllic than pulling up a chair at a brown cafe and settling in for pannenkoeken, favorite book in hand. This outdoor terrace sits at the junction of Prinsengracht and Leliegracht, where I watched canal boats lumber by on the water and bikes roll over the bridge, Lucy Knisley’s graphic memoir Relish: My Life in Food for company and a koffie verkeerd (essentially a caffè latte) within reach. It’s so liberating to have nowhere particular to be on a particular day.

bicycle rush hour amsterdam

Meanwhile, for Amsterdammers it’s business as usual on a weekday workday. Above is a vestige of bicycle rush hour; the bicycle stoplight had just turned green. Since I’m not used to urban cycling even in the States, I didn’t dare take a bike through the bustling center for most of my stay, striated as it is with tram lines and roadways and bikes whizzing past, ridden by folks who actually know what they’re doing. Still, I do admire how in A’dam there’s the sidewalk, and the road, and between them a wide, specially demarcated lane for bikes. Is that flat, well-paved shield from both motorist and pedestrian (and potential collisions) the reason why bike helmets haven’t caught on among the general/nonracing biking public there? I wonder if the 2013 release In the City of Bikes by Pete Jordan has some insight on that.


Bike rush hour in Utrecht, the Netherlands. It only looks
like it’s on fast-forward.

Back from the Low Countries

Amsterdam is such a photogenic city. There are no bad angles, really. Around every corner a new perspective presents itself, and just walking the main arteries as well as the back lanes is endlessly engaging.


A classic A’dam photo op: where Keizersgracht meets Leidsegracht.
Ominous clouds optional.

I finally downloaded all my photos off my iPhone (my only camera for the trip), so after some straightening out and doctoring with Insta-filters, I’ll post them here in more coherent fashion. Highlights: peering at Van Gogh’s brushstrokes in his namesake museum; the actual studio, north facing for optimal light, in Rembrandt’s house, where he created his masterworks; the interactive art at the Stedelijk that turned your very movements to a shower of sparkles and hearts; a lazy bike ride along the Amstel River through the countryside to the village of Ouderkerk aan de Amstel; stepping behind the swinging bookcase of the Secret Annex into the rooms where Anne Frank and her family hid during WWII, as well as tracking down their former domicile on Merwedeplein; unforgettable meals at Blauw (they say the rijstaffel is for two people, but did I let that stop me?) and De Kas (where I ended up getting a private tour of the greenhouse, herb garden, and the restaurant with the chef!). Pictures and stories for all these and more (from Brugge/Bruges and Brussels, Belgium) TK.

Amsterdam bound!

I am finally making good on a long-held promise to myself and taking a solo trip to Amsterdam, Bruges, and Brussels! I’m looking forward to checking out the art museums, sitting in canalside bruin cafes to read and journal and people-watch, and riding a bike through through the Dutch countryside and along the backstreets of Bruges. First stop is Amsterdam for six days, which I hope will be long enough to settle into my comfy Airbnb abode near the Jordaan and pretend I live there. That way I can see and experience what I want without having to rush around too much.

Amsterdam by Frank Frambach - My Shot - 2010-03-11Photo by Frank Frambach/My Shot, National Geographic

To get myself in mind for the journey, I’ve been studying Fodor’s Amsterdam and Rick Steves’ Amsterdam Bruges & Brussels, and incessantly watching Rick Steves’ videos in the Netherlands and Belgium. The following posts have gotten me giddy too—I can’t wait to check out these places for myself.

National Geographic Traveler’s “I Heart My City: Keith’s Amsterdam” by Keith Jenkins of Velvet Escape

My favorite jogging/walking route is along the entire length of the Keizersgracht—my favorite canal. It’s an excellent walking route through the heart of the city center, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Start at the canal’s intersection with the Brouwersgracht. You’ll pass the wonderfully atmospheric Jordaan neighborhood, the shopping haven in the Nine Streets neighborhood and many stately houses before reaching the Amstel River. I can also recommend the route along the Amstel River to Ouderkerk. As you leave the city behind you, you’ll pass beautiful windmills, grazing cows and sheep, and historic mansions. [Note: Keith’s “Cycling Route North of Amsterdam” has me equally convinced that I need to hop on a bike and pedal out of the city too; the weather’s supposed to be in the gorgeous low 70s F/low 20s C.]

When I’m feeling cash-strapped I go to my favorite neighborhood restaurant: Eten aan de Rijn. I love to cook but I enjoy eating out just as much. Eten aan de Rijn has a daily three-course menu for 25 euros. Excellent food and the owners Jaap and Nadja are great company!

The FEBO, a Dutch institution, is the spot for late-night eats. It’s a quirky experience as you eat ‘out of a wall’ but you have to try it!

• Fathom – Way to Go’s “Just Back from: Amsterdam” by Scott Rosen and Laura Siciliano-Rosen of Eat Your World

eat your world canal at twilight

What did you do?
Scott: For five days we covered the city on foot and bicycle, eating, drinking local beer, and photographing the beautiful architecture and scenery. It was great to get lost and wander, marveling at the houseboats along the canals, wondering who the hell lives in there. We also took a day trip by bike to a nearby village.
Laura: We rented a sweet, two-level apartment in the gorgeous Jordaan neighborhood. We made a food map based on loads of pre-trip research, so we truly did a lot of eating. Between meals we wandered the city strolling canals, taking lots of pictures, drinking beer, visiting the occasional coffee shop. We went to the big museums (Anne Frank, Van Gogh, Rijksmuseum) and shopped and snacked at the best markets (Albert Cuypmarkt, Saturday/Monday Noordemarkt). On our last day, we finally made like locals and rented bikes, which we took past the windmills and farms to Ouderkerk aan de Amstel, about 12 km south of A’dam.

What was the best tip you got before you left? And where did you find it?
Scott: We heavily researched the city for food, accommodations, and nightlife options, so were very prepared. But our best tip came from a friend-of-a-friend (and former Amsterdam resident) who told us to go to a very special restaurant we would not have found on our own.
Laura: Restaurant Utrechtsedwarstafel! Seasonal food from a daily changing menu, wine pairings with every new dish, and a table-side visit from the chef and sommelier to describe each course. The host was surprised we foreigners had found it, as most of their business is by word of mouth.

eat your world amsterdam bike ride

Speed round of favorites.
3. Site/place/thing you did:
Scott: Bike riding through the city at night.
Laura: A bike ride out of the city is a must.

4. Cafe/casual hangout:
Laura: Café Winkel in the Jordaan was our morning hangout, with great coffee and the best appeltaart in town. At night, it was Café ’t Arendsnest, where we spent a lot of time exploring the amazing selection of Dutch craft beers.

• A Cup of Jo’s “Crazy News: We’re Going to Amsterdam!” (for the locals’ tips in the comments section) and “Vacation Photos: Amsterdam” (for the fun narrative) by Joanna Goddard

de kas amsterdam bikesde kas champagne flutes amsterdam

“One night, as a special treat, we went to dinner at De Kas, an award-winning restaurant in a greenhouse, where we had one of the best meals of our lives. I loved that people still rode their bikes, even though it was a super fancy place.” [Note: Suffice to say, given all the positive press I’ve read about this place, I booked my reservation three months ago.]

For A’dam eats I also referred to Mark Bittman’s two—I hope not too dated—articles for The New York Times: “Eating Out in Amsterdam: Way Beyond Herring” (January 20, 2012) and “Choice Tables: In Amsterdam, Mediterranean-Style Holds Sway” (September 15, 2002).

I can hardly wait. Every year I travel both in the U.S. and internationally with family or close friends, but I haven’t taken a vacation abroad by myself in 10+ years and I miss it! It’s exhilarating and empowering to be able to do what you want, went you want, and step outside your day-to-day bubble for a bit.

(Photos: Canal at dusk and bike riding along the Amstel via Fathom via Eat Your World: Amsterdam; De Kas bike parking and Champagne flutes via A Cup of Jo)

Piano by the sea

There’s a guy—an artist, a pianist—by the fitting name of Mauro Ffortissimo who, with the help of some friends, recently rolled out an aging baby grand piano onto the bluffs of Half Moon Bay, California, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, so that during the day passersby might plink away at the keys. But during the past few successive sundowns, he’s sat down to play a half-hour recital of Chopin, Debussy, and Schumann—partly for pure pleasure, but also to demo how exposure to sun, wind, and fog is rapidly changing the way the piano plays the same pieces.

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He has no permit, so city officials have told him the piano has to clear out by Thursday (Valentine’s Day). But what a cool moment, right? Imagine bundling up, mug of hot toddy in hand, and listening to this unexpected and yet wonderful bit of whimsy as the sun sets and waves roll ashore.

Read more at SFGate and UPI.

(photos by Jessica Olthof for the San Francisco Chronicle)

Minnesota poetry walk

One brisk, golden day, my friend Shona and I set out to realize one of my longtime dreams: tracking down my favorite Everyday Poems for City Sidewalk in St. Paul, Minnesota. Ever since I first read about the public-arts project years ago in the Christian Science Monitor, I’ve wanted to stroll those sidewalks myself.

Judging from the project map, we could park just about anywhere in St. Paul and find a pocket of poetry within a five-block radius, though I knew I probably wouldn’t find all of my favorites in one place.

In my head I pictured taking my time to wander and then stumbling serendipitously across the poems I wanted to see—but it was pretty chilly that day (at least for my Bay Area self), so we were on a mission! I ended up either having my eyes glued to the sidewalk immediately in front of me, shunting fallen leaves with my foot, or looking around the quiet streets with their stately trees and century-old houses while Shona stopped to point out poems I’d breezed right by.

Still, we did pretty well.

Untitled by Kevin Walker

Second Love” by Carlee Tressel

Untitled by Esmé Evans

Bad Day” by Caley Conney (this example is a bit clearer)

Let’s Talk” by Sean Fleming

If I had to choose a favorite, though, this one would be it: “Meadowlark Mending Song” by Margaret Hasse. We did spot one example of it, but I like Andrea’s shot better.

And I did mark #7 off my 2012 bucket list after all! But next time I’ll aim for spring and the cache of poems on Selby and Laurel at Western Ave.

• It’s sort of like Twitter for sidewalks, only more concrete: Each poem has to be 150 characters or less. (via Minnesota Public Radio)
• On sharing the magic of poetry. (via Twin Cities Daily Planet)
• This video brings Everyday Poems for City Sidewalk to life. (via City of St. Paul)
• A slideshow featuring some of the stamps and a few of the poets. (via Weekend America)
• A St. Paul poet’s commentary. (via Minnesota Public Radio)