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Europe 2019 Day 5

Good morning Children, or Goedemorgen kinderen as they would say here in the Netherlands! As you can tell, I am in much better spirits today. According to my self-diagnosed prognosis, my status has been upgraded from utterly exhausted to somewhat exhausted. They tell might me I just might live; the next 24 hours is critical. We need to ensure I don’t have a relapse…as I sit here and feel my eyelids closing while I stare at the screen.

So I’m just sitting here by myself in the lobby waiting for breakfast. There’s no space in our room for me to work. I wonder what breakie will be like? We have a busy day ahead of us today; a walking tour of the city, Anne Frank House and guided tour in the afternoon. I am really looking forward to it; I love the city of Amsterdam. It is such a beautiful and historic city. I’ll check in later.

Okay, so we’re on the bus heading back to the hotel after a very busy day. I’m not super tired, but my joints hurt. We were dropped off at the downtown train station (Centraal Station) and started our walking tour with Sebastian. It reminded me how beautiful it is and how much I love the city of Amsterdam; it is definitely one of my favourite places to visit. I want to go back at some point where I will have more time to explore.

So where did we go and what did we see? Well, Amsterdam is characterized by its ring-shaped layout and all the canals. It was founded back in the 1200s and has amazing history and architecture. One of the best parts is when your students can see this for themselves, taking the teaching beyond the classroom. When you can touch the history, it really comes alive.

Anyway, we saw places such as the Royal Palace, Westerkerk and the narrow, winding streets of the city core. The only issue we had was, you guessed it, the weather. It was bitterly cold, like +3C but feels like -2 , cold. And damp too, which is probably why my joints hurt. The first part of the morning was okay, but then it started to rain. Ummmm, rain and cold…felt like football practice at the end of October, just we were stuck outside all day!

Amsterdam, March 2019.

Amsterdam, March 2019.

Amsterdam, March 2019.

Amsterdam, March 2019.

Amsterdam, March 2019.

Amsterdam, March 2019.

Amsterdam, March 2019.

Amsterdam, March 2019.

Royal Palace, Amsterdam, March 2019.

Amsterdam, March 2019.

Amsterdam, March 2019.

At 1100, we made our way to Anne Frank House (Anna Frank Huis) for a visit to this very touching memorial to her and the Holocaust. I know that a lot of the kids were looking forward to this place, having heard her story and maybe even read the book. It is always a very sobering location. Afterwards, many of them commented that it was a moving experience.

Anna Frank Huis, Amsterdam, March 2019.

We had a break for lunch (in the pouring rain), which found myself and Mr. Marcon hiking back many blocks to find the least sketchy ATM we could and then meeting Ms. Caza for a bite to eat. I had a brie and some type of prosciutto sandwich which was fantastic. I stopped by a local shop before our meeting time at the Westerkerk to buy a few things for my boys.

Our afternoon was taken up by a bus tour of the city with our guide, Gerwin. We had him as a guide on our 2014 trip and he is very knowledgable. We were able to see some places we were not able to walk to and then made our way to the Rembrandt Hoeve (House), which is a cheese farm. I’ve been there before, and it is quite the place. They make some amazing Gouda cheese and traditional clogs. I think the kids really enjoyed it, and many came away with souvenirs and cheese. I did have a couple near relapses during the tour, where I almost nodded off. I even put my sunglasses on to mask my condition; thankfully I powered through it.

Rembrandt Hoeve, Amsterdam, March 2019.

Rembrandt Hoeve, Amsterdam, March 2019.

Amsterdam, March 2019.

The tour ended around 500, which left us some time to get off the bus and look around before we went to supper. Did I say how much I love Amsterdam? By that time, it was still cool, but the sun had come out and it was a nice evening. It is such a laid-back city, the people are super friendly and the sights are amazing. If I had to live somewhere in Europe, this would be the place. Do you ever wonder if you’d have done that? Like, at some point earlier in your life you decided to transplant yourself to another continent? I have no idea what I would do for a job, but it’s interesting to think about it.

Amsterdam, March 2019.

Amsterdam, March 2019.

Amsterdam, March 2019.

Dinner was at a place called Drovers Dog, which was a nice restaurant. Our meal consisted of chicken (kip in Dutch) skewer with peanut sauce, rice and vegetable garnish. My colleagues gave it a 9 out of 10. Hopefully our dinner in Ypres tomorrow is equally as good.

Anyway, it’s time to move along. We actually have some time tonight in the hotel, so hopefully the kids can unwinded a bit before a very busy day tomorrow. As usual, stay tuned for the latest news coming next evening. Until then…

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Posted by on March 13, 2019 in History, Travel

 

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Vimy 2017 Day 4

Oy vey. It’s a sleepy morning today kids. I did not have a very good sleep last night. I’m not sure how much sleep I actually got, but it wasn’t much. I really feel like I’m running on fumes. In any case, I’m a big boy, so I’ll have to suck it up and get in my rear in gear. Today we’re leaving our hotel and heading first to Anne Frank House for a short visit. I’ll check in again once we’re back on the bus.

Amsterdam selfies, April 2017.

Amsterdam canal, April 2017.

Okay, so we’re back on the bus. A visit to the Anne Frank House is something one does not easily forget. It certainly puts a real human face on the price of conflict and in particular hatred. All of the kids are familiar with the story of Anne Frank and they were all very quiet as they left. No one should ever forget war, but particularly instances of genocide than have left an indelible mark on history. Fittingly, there’s a beautiful church next to Anne Frank House, the Westerkerk. It would have been nice to go inside and say a little prayer; the incongruity wasn’t lost on me. A Catholic, in a Dutch Reform Church praying for those lost in the Holocaust.

Westerkerk, April 2017.

So we’re on the road now, heading toward Belgium and the Tyne Cot Commonwealth Cemetery outside of Passchendaele. I guess it has been and will be an emotional day for the kids. First Anne Frank, and now their first cemetery. Tyne Cot is a very large cemetery, larger than most. Many of the Commonwealth cemeteries from WWI were created were the men were initially buried, so there are many small cemeteries scattered around a wide area. This is what makes Tyne Cot and it’s 11,000 burials so unique.

In addition to the graves, there are many names (over 33,000 in fact) recognized on the Tyne Cot Memorial. The Commonwealth Graves Commission, which oversees all of these cemeteries, originally intended the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres to hold the names of all the missing in the area. Unfortunately, when they began to add the names, they realized it would not be able to contain the vast number of names of the missing. They used an arbitrary cut-off date of August 15, 1917; everyone after that date would be remembered at a memorial at the Tyne Cot Cemetery.

After a stop for lunch, we are back on the road. I feel much better now that I have some food in my belly. You won’t believe where some of the kids ate at. We’re currently passing through the Belgian city of Antwerp. I really wish I could see more of Belgium; it looks like such a beautiful country. I love the countryside, with the rolling hills, farms and gorgeous scenery. It will take us another 1.5 hours to reach Tyne Cot, so I think I’ll just sit back and enjoy the view.

McDoanld’s, Belgian-Dutch border, April 2017.

Whew, back on the bus. What a busy last few hours of the day. The visit to Tyne Cot was solemn and everything we expected. I think it made a big impression on the kids, none whom I imagine have ever been to a military cemetery. After a brief prayer service, the students visited the graves of their assigned soldiers. I did not visit a specific grave, but rather followed some of the students as they walked around the cemetery.

Tyne Cot prayer service, April 2017.

Tyne Cot Cemetery, April 2017.

Grave of Private McMillan, 52nd Battalion, April 2017.

From there, we took a short 10 minute ride into Ypres. With all of the groups visiting the area (there are 250+ EF groups expected to be at Vimy alone), we had to park outside of the city centre and walk in through the Menin Gate. I’ve already mentioned that I love the city of Ypres as it such a beautiful place. Even though much of it was destroyed during WWI, and was rebuilt, it is still breathtaking. I think many of the kids actually gasped when they got to the main square, the Grote Market and saw the Cloth Hall.

Everyone had just over an hour to walk around and explore, which unfortunately is nowhere near enough to see the city. I grabbed some frites, the national food of Belgium, just to say that I did. Afterwards, I joined the hordes of Canadians who descended on the chocolate stores to pick up some genuine Belgian product. The Leonidas Store had a “Canadian” special, which I partook in like all the other sheep. Twenty Euro got me a bag full of chocolate and since I’m an adult, a neat bottle of beer (I’m not much of a drinker, but the bottle was certainly a collectable).

After we reconvened, albeit a bit late, we headed to the Menin Gate for the Last Post Ceremony. There were a lot of people, mainly due to all the tourist groups in the city. Since we needed to be on the other side of the gate, we hiked around to the eastern side. We didn’t have the best spot to see the ceremony, but we were all glad that we did. There was an honour guard from the Queen’s Own Rifles, which added a Canadian flare to this solemn event which takes place everyday at 2000. I’ll post some video once I get back home.

Cloth Hall, April 2017.

    Menin Gate, April 2017.

Alright, it’s now 2300 and we’re preparing for bed. It was a late check in after the Menin Gate Ceremony and dinner at the hotel in Lille, France. Tomorrow is the big day and a long day. We need to leave the hotel by 0745 and arrive by 0900. Today was very warm and tomorrow’s supposed to be hotter, upwards of 22C! I think all might melt..thankfully I have a hat to protect my shiny dome and I believe we have enough sunscreen to go around. On that note, I better turn it as I have to be up very early. There will be lots of news from the ceremony. Until then…

 
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Posted by on April 8, 2017 in History, Travel

 

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Europe 2014 Day 3

Alright, day three. After a pretty decent night of sleep, I am ready to go (I was out like a light at 10). Hopefully the kids are ready too, and that they got some sleep under their belts. It’s bright and sunny this morning, and the high is expected to get up to 14…and there’s no snow!

Wow, what a busy but exciting day. I’m sitting on a bench outside the Anne Frank House freezing my butt on the cold marble as I write this. I’m waiting for everyone to exit the building; we’re supposed to be done by 8:30, but it seems as though they will be a bit longer.

So our day started early, but not too early. Everyone got some rest and were very ready to go in the morning. The hotel had a nice buffet for breakfast with all kinds of meats, bread, cheeses, eggs, yogurt, etc. We were all on the bus by 9:00 so we could start the day’s adventure.

Our first agenda item was going to be a guided bus tour of the city. For this we were joined by local guide Gerwin, who did a fantastic job taking us around the city. He also tried to help us out with our Dutch, which has some interesting pronunciations.

We made our way outside the city and stopped at a local farm that made cheese, particularly gouda cheese. We got to see the process for making cheese, and even got to sample some. This farm also makes clogs, and is one of the few places that still manufactures them in the country. Of course on the way out there was a gift shop, and many of the kids bought clogs, souvenirs and even cheese!

Clogs at the cheese farm, March 2014.

Clogs at the cheese farm, March 2014.

After the bus tour, we took in a beautiful boat tour of the canals. It was an awesome way to see the city, especially all the little places you wouldn’t see when walking. Again it made me appreciate how magnificent this city is…I’d love to come back some day!

Boat tour, March 2014

Boat tour, March 2014

The boat dropped us off right at Waterloo Square (or Waterloo Plein) again, and everyone was given quite a bit of free time to shop and look around a bit. The kids left in their groups, so I got to spend some time with Jo-Anne. We had a bit of a mission, which was to find a Starbucks we had seen on the bus tour earlier that morning. After a bit of walking, we found it near Rembrandt Square (Rembrandt Plein). Jo-Anne got to have her tea fix, while I ate a sandwich and used their free wifi.

Our journey then took us around the square, past the sculptures of Rembrandt’s Night Watch. We grabbed some Hagen-Dazs ice cream, and continued our exploration of the area. We found a little shopping district a short ways away, which was packed with people…quite a claustrophobic experience. After that we slowly made our way back to the Waterloo Plein to rendezvous with the everyone and Felicity.

Amsterdam, March 2014.

Amsterdam, March 2014.

There was another epic march to go to our dinner place, which was an Asian resturant called “Wagamama.” It is very interesting trying to take 48 people through a busy city that is full of traffic and bikes. The bikes are actually an intriguing part of Amsterdam culture. I guess because of the lack of space, the expense of a car and gas, tons of people ride bikes. It’s also an environmental thing. There are set bike lanes everywhere, and you have to really watch out for them (I almost got hit today). Apparently Amsterdam has the highest bike theft rate in the world, which is probably the reason why most people ride those “old school” bikes.

Anyway, so dinner a Wagamama was good. We had four menu items to choose from, so I took the chicken fried rice. The portion was huge, so there was no way I could possibly finish all of it, even after walking for a good part of the day. It really filled me up! I did have room for the ice cream desert though 😉

From Wagamama we had a 1.5k jaunt to our final stop of the day, which was Anne Frank House. This visit was certainly going to make things a bit more sombre and really put a personal touch on the horrors of the Holocaust. I haven’t read her diary, but as a history teacher I am familiar with her story, but it was very eye-opening. It is quite something to see the area where 8 people lived in hiding for two years and how they could not move around during the day. I think I’ll have to get around to reading the book at some point in the future.

We are now back at the hotel, ready to call it a day soon. Tomorrow we leave Amsterdam for Belgium, stopping at Bergen-op-Zoom Canadian War Cemetery on our way to Ypres and then our hotel. I think that this first cemetery visit will be very emotional for many of them. In Ypres we will take in the Menin Gate ceremony at 8:00. It won’t be a lot of walking, but it will be a very long day.

So on that note, I should get rolling. Until then…

 
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Posted by on March 8, 2014 in History, Travel, Writing

 

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