In this city of canals and labyrinthian streets, we had a terrible time trying to get Uber or a taxi on a Sunday afternoon. After crossing a couple of canals, we walked into the five-star Grand Hotel where staff generously offered to order a taxi for us. We arrived at the Van Gogh Museum within minutes of our reservation. Susie had secured our museum reservations online before leaving home.
For lovers of Van Gogh, The Van Gogh Museum is a visual and, with earphones, auditory treat. I learned that troubled Van Gogh was prolific for just ten years (1880-1890) before he shot himself in the chest and died. In the Rijksmuseum, we hung out on the second floor, enjoying works by Rembrandt and a couple of Vermeers. Regrettably, the big Vermeer exhibition, which brought together 28 works, the largest-ever assemblage of luminous masterpieces by this 17th century Dutch painter, closed a few weeks before our arrival despite Frank’s email pleading for an extension of the show.
After The Hendrick’s Hotel introduced us to The Hendrick’s gin and tonic, we ordered this drink with every dinner in Amsterdam. We enjoyed a superb dinner at the Fish Bar and another at Hemelse Modder near our hotel. I especially enjoyed the parsley or other veggie mousse with fig preserve and crema, quail stuffed with butternut squash and a chocolate mousse dessert. Our only disappointing meal was rijsttafel (rice table): dozens of shareable dishes ranging from mild to spicy served with rice. Our table was covered with dishes of indistinguishable condiments surrounding larger dishes of curried lamb, beef and chicken. My taste buds longed for what, at home, I call rijsttafel: curried rice served with assorted condiments that include coconut, chopped peanuts, golden raisins and chutney.
Alongside the canal across from the Anne Frank House is where we stopped for lunch our last day in Amsterdam. Frank had the most delicious ham and melted Swiss cheese sandwich (panini style) and I ordered deep-fried goat cheese (looked like chicken nuggets) with honey.
At the Anne Frank House, where we met Susie, we were invited in 45 minutes ahead of our scheduled 5 p.m. reservation. Frank’s daughter Maggie, who has a special connection with the Anne Frank House, secured the reservation. On the tour we wore audio phones, triggered by numbers posted in each room. Quotations from Anne’s diary, which I purchased (I read it long ago but can’t find it in my library), and her father Otto, were very moving. During the tour of the house, we proceeded up two flights of stairs but not into the attic. The museum was filled with historical context – before, during and after WWII with emphasis on Jews and the persecution they endured beginning in 1932. Anne was born in Frankfurt, which her family left for Amsterdam when she was about 5 years old. To be so very close to where they hid for two years took my breath away – no flushing of the single toilet in daytime because it would have been heard in the warehouse below. No talking, only whispering. Somebody ratted them out mere weeks before allied troops arrived. Of the family taken to prison, only Otto survived. He died in 1979! After reading Anne’s diary, he commented: “I’m convinced that no parent really knows his child.”
We returned home on November 9 th from our big (nearly a month) and, largely,
wonderful trip to Spain, Italy and France to celebrate Frank’s 90 th . We spent two weeks in Spain,
first in Madrid with my goddaughter Gitty Daneshvari and her family where we visited the Prado
and a wonderful modern art gallery, Reina Sofia, for a long look at Picasso’s Guernica.
From Madrid we took a train to Cordoba then rented a car and Frank drove us to
Granada, Ronda (an enchanting white city straddling a huge gash in a mountain carved out by a
river and home to the oldest “active” bull ring in Spain), and Seville. BTW, Ernest Hemmingway
visited Ronda and actor/director Orson Wells is buried there. I’m in love with Spain – the
friendly people, the stunning Moorish architecture in southern Spain and the pace of life. To top
it off, more than 90% of Spaniards eligible to be vaccinated against Covid are! And they wear
My nephew Sean in Houston asked about castles. We saw plenty of them. Most were, at
one time, fortresses in prime locations. We were reminded, more than once, of a time when
Muslims, Christians and Jews lived together peacefully, enriching each other’s culture.
From Seville, we flew to Rome to meet Frank’s family (there were 14 of us) and
celebrate his birthday before boarding a small-ish ship for a coastal cruise that took us to Livoro
(Lucca & Florence), Nice, Marseille and Barcelona. Covid made the trip difficult from start to
finish – lots of tests and documents for each country that couldn’t be completed until 48 hours
prior to arrival. Because my suitcase didn’t make the flight to Rome, I ended up, after weari!!ng
Frank’s underwear for two days, with a new wardrobe : ) After everyone had deemed my
suitcase GONE, it appeared at our Air BnB just before we boarded the ship. I was delighted!
I'm Shirley Melis. You may know me as Shirley M. Nagelschmidt, Shirley M. Bessey and now, Shirley M. Hirsch. Each reflects a particular phase of my life. Banged-Up Heart is a slice of my life's journey and in telling my story, I'm giving voice to my long silent "M" by reclaiming my maiden name, Shirley Melis.