A 14 HOUR LAYOVER = TIME TO EXPLORE!
OUR FINAL DESTINATION IS ISRAEL, BUT FIRST:
AFTER A 10-HOUR FLIGHT FULL OF CRYING BABIES AND MINIMAL REST, WE LANDED AT SCHIPHOL AIRPORT IN AMSTERDAM AT 6:20AM! SCHIPHOL IS THE MAIN INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT OF THE NETHERLANDS. IT'S THE 5TH BUSIEST AIRPORT IN ALL OF EUROPE, AND WAS NOTED AS THE 14TH BUSIEST AIRPORT IN THE WORLD IN 2015. THERE WAS CERTAINLY PLENTY TO SEE AND EAT THERE!
WE DROPPED OUR BACKPACKS OFF IN A STORAGE LOCKER, THEN MY HUSAND J AND I BOUGHT A TRAIN TICKET TO AMSTERDAM CENTRAAL FOR THE DAY AND HEADED OUT TO SEE THE FAMOUS CITY FOR THE FIRST TIME.
the train ride took about 20 minutes. As we kept our eyes on the passing scenery and talked about everything we wanted to see in the city, fresh snow began to fall over the cars and buildings outside our window! it was absolutely beautiful! unfortunately it stopped before our train arrived at the station. speaking of snow...it stayed in the 30s (degrees fahrenheit) all day! i attentively made sure that j had thermals in his carry-on bag so he could "layer up" when we got there, but all i included for myself was a light sweater. i froze!! (leggings were perfect for the plane but not a good choice for the freezing weather!! oops!)
it was immediately obvious as soon as we exited the train station that bicycles are the transportation of choice for almost everyone in amsterdam!
bikes, bikes and more bikes! everywhere we looked there were hundreds (literally!) of bikes parked and being ridden around the city. i'd read in several travel reviews about all of the bikes but was still stunned by the immense number of them at every turn!
our adventures brought us to both famous and everyday sites. the architecture of the buildings that dated back hundreds of years was so striking and kept drawing our eyes upward. meanwhile, the streets and waterways equally captivated our attention. we enjoyed watching the sky transform from dull greys to vibrant blues as the day went on too (as you'll see in the pictures!)
AMSTERDAM WAS CERTAINLY A FEAST FOR THE EYES!
[WARNING: THIS NEXT SECTION CONTAINS PG-13 SUBJECT MATTER]
But it wasn't always a feast in good ways. our wanderings inevitably dumped us into the popular "red light district," which is known world-wide for its legal open prostitution. we assumed that in the mid-morning hours, everything of an inappropriate nature would be contained behind closed curtains and closed doors. this, however, was not the case. barely (and i do mean barely) clothed women behind tall windowed booths tried to provocatively attract passersby to come in and pay for sexual acts. we must have seen at least 40 of them in their individual windows on the strip we briefly walked along, which was a small portion of the total district. live-sex theaters with neon signs graphically describing what would take place inside were prominently displayed in entryways and display windows. we debated over what grieved our hearts more: the people who were in these professions, or the children who were being led through these streets by their parents to get to a store on a neighboring street. my grandmother's words from childhood echoed through my ears as i watched the children's unshielded eyes wandering from window to store front to window...
"be careful, little eyes, what you see...."
james and i walked with burdened hearts and talked about how every single person in the prostitution 'profession' are loved and seen by our god who uniquely fashioned them. we noticed a pattern in all of the ladies who beckoned from their windows. the alluring expressions they wore in the presence of anyone within view would vanish into a vacant downcast stare after their passing. there are chasms of emotion in each of them that only the individual and god can truly know. what they're thinking and feeling each day, we can't fully understand. how did they get into this profession? what led them to choose it? how many of them are there as a result of human trafficking/sex slavery? while our hearts were grieved, they were also beautifully challenged by the truth that no matter the mess we get ourselves into, the sin that we allow to take root in our lives, the depth of our heartbreak or how far we've run from god...his word is still true for us and for these prostitutes in amsterdam too:
"for thus says the high and exalted one who lives forever, whose name is holy: 'i dwell in a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly of spirit in order to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite..." isaiah 57:15
"let the wicked forsake his ways and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the lord, and he will have compassion on him, for he will abundantly pardon." isaiah 55:7
despite our most detestable sins, the lord still desires fellowship with us in the purest sense. he desires to "revive" our spirit and draw us back to himself, and back into a place of purity. he says that if any of us repent and turn from our wicked ways, he will have compassion and forgive! he will show us what it means to be healed, whole, redeemed, restored and better than new.
we are continuing to keep the prostitutes of amsterdam in our prayers, and the christians in that area who may have opportunity to be the hands and feet of jesus to them too. to learn more about the reality of these people's situation, how you can help them from where you are, and how you can pray for them check out: www.a21.org. A21 RESCUES VICTIMS OF HUMAN TRAFFICKING IN SEVERAL COUNTRIES AROUND THE WORLD. In houston, texas, where my husband and i live, there are several organizations who are highly active in these rescuing and recovery processes as well. SOME OF THESE INCLUDE:
ELIJAH RISING WWW.ELIJAHRISING.COM
FREE THE CAPTIVES WWW.FREETHECAPTIVESHOUSTON.COM
once we were out of that area, we had a chance to duck into tons of cool little shops and bakeries. of course we had to eat as the locals do...so among other things, we ate patatje oorlog = french fries with mayonnaise!
at about that time, we were ready for our first potty break and asked the fry shop owner where we could find the nearest public restroom. much to our surprise, we found out that while there were many public restrooms, none of them were free! you have to pay to use the restroom everywhere you go (with the exception of the restrooms at the train station)! talk about a culture shock!! james decided to use the restroom at a mcdonalds down the street. i decided to try and "hold it" a bit longer :)
when i couldn't hold it any more, we walked into a restaurant and asked to use their restroom. she told me the cost and pointed down a flight of stairs. "pass through the smoke room and look to your right" she said. by that point the shock of seeing (and smelling) people openly smoking marijuana had faded, but the amount of smoke in that room was overwhelming. this smoke hung in the air. the room was completely enclosed. needless to say, after i used the very sketchy restroom we moved on.
nearby, dam square was on our "things to see" list. on one end of the square we spent time at the neoclassical royal palace. interesting fact: it actually served as the city hall from 1655 till 1808 when it officially became a royal residence.
directly across from it stands the national monument, which was erected in 1956 to memorialize the victims of world war II.
though we could have enjoyed amsterdam longer, we headed back to the train station around 3:30p because we were exhausted and really cold! on the way back in, a homeless man was sitting on one of the benches with a large white rat on his lap. i asked if i could take a picture of it. "sure, but not for free! my rat's pregnant! she's about to have a family to feed." at that point i knew i had to carry on a conversation with this guy. he was hilarious! his rat's name was sabrina, by the way!
our day as a whole was both enjoyable and thought-provoking!
tons to see; tons to do....
thanks for a great day, amsterdam!
[[PS: my next few blogs will be documenting our 6 days in israel!]]
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