I wept at Prinsengracht 263, the canalside house where Anne Frank, her sister Margot, their parents and four other Jews hid for two years during World War II. I wept because her story is a testimony to what families are all about: sticking together and jumping over obstacles as a unit. Because they were sustained by friends who risked everything to help them and their loyalty made me appreciate even more my friends back in the USA and Colombia. I wept because the bookcase disguising the entrance to their hiding place has left marks on the floor and wall like a freshly scraped knee. I wept because all of them were arrested and transported to concentration camps, where Anne died with Margot and their mother. And I wept because Anne Frank was a writer. Because bearing witness to that tragic journey thanks to the diary of a young girl encapsulates, to me, the power of words; it validates what I do as a nonfiction writer, only and mercifully, we are not at war and I merely document my own mundane life.
I marveled at these whimsical street urinals.
So fabulously SEXIST.
Maybe their construction was based on the known fact that women never need to pee once they leave their house.
I giggled delighted at the sight of the pot cafes. I walked around, wondering, double-daring myself to walk into one, trying to envision what a younger version of me would do, then I pondered some more. Anyway. I learned that the pot cafes are not allowed to sell alcohol. Hallucinogenic mushrooms? Of course. Cannabis, marihuana lollipops, ecstasy-looking little candy thingies? Hell yeah. Happy brownies, hashish, and a three-page long weed menu? Absolutely! But don’t you dare ask for a Heniken, an Amstel or a Grolsch…you’ll be slapped on the hand by a busty bartender for being an irresponsible ignoramous. Geez! What kind of idiotic tourist am I?
I witnessed a feathery gang war outside the Red Light District. The swans and the ducks were out to get each other. These two gangs are nothing like the swans and ducks cohabiting in harmony in my home lakes in Florida. These Amsterdammer birds launched mean beak attacks on each other, they had full-on standoffs, during which, both gangs fluttered and flapped their wings around in such an aggressive yet beautiful way, that each attack looked like a courtship dance. Who knows. Maybe people dumped some happy mushrooms into the canal that day.
No, not that kind of dungeon. No vinyl cat-suits, whips, studded dog collars, or handcuffs were involved. Not this time around, anyway.
The dungeon I’m talking about is the one in the Dalhouise Castle, an exquisite 13th century Scottish structure just 20 minutes away from Edinburg (Edinburruh, for you). The castle offers 17 historically themed bedrooms; naturally, we stayed in the William Wallace’s room, the only character from the Scottish history I'm familiar with thanks to BraveHeart. I look around for posters showcasing Mel Gibson’s face (when he was handsome…before he went crazy), all painted blue and puffed up with Hollywood-scripted nationalism, chanting, Freedom! Much to my relief, there are none. Of course. This is Scotland, the real deal.
Back at home in Florida, I sleep on a bed dressed with Bed, Bath and Beyond bargains, Martha Stewart stuff from Wal-Mart and beech sheets bought at Amazon.com. But in the Sir William Wallace’s room at the Dalhouise Castle, I get the royal treatment. I sleep in a Gothic-style canopy bed made of sturdy oak, in a medley of tweed, tartan and twill, surrounded by period furniture and history. Outside the room, from the castle battlements, there is nothing but open fields and a very cold wind that blows furiously from the River South Esk.
And what about the dungeon? Oh, that’s the private restaurant (confirmed reservation only dining). A medieval ancient barrel-vaulted dungeon where dinner by candlelight is served in gothic splendor. Not your TGI Friday’s.
Knowing that I’m wearing nylons and high heels in this very chamber of terror where more than 800 years ago people suffered and died, doesn’t leave a sour taste in my mouth. Quite the opposite. It makes the exuberantly overpriced meal taste better and the wine tingle the back of my throat in a very Scottish kind of way.