2011 Europe by Rail – Day 4

AMSTERDAM – family & canals

Sunday – The wake up call comes on time at 6.30am and knocks me out of a wonderful sleep.  The night’s voyage was great and I didn’t even feel any sailing motion at all.  Have we left Harwich?  A look out the window tells me yes.  Our cabins are on Deck 11 right at the front of the ship and I have cabin 11403.

Shower and then meet K&T for breakfast which has already been paid for when we booked our cabin.  Down to Deck 9 for the restaurant and it is packed – with lots of Fakers (see posts on North to Alaska).  What is the matter with these people?  They push and shove you out of the way and then pile their plates with food as if there is not going to be a tomorrow.  Let’s face it – they think because they are old they are entitled to be rude.

Finding somewhere to sit is our first priority and then we rotate in getting our juices / hot foods etc so that we can keep the table for only us.  I start with fruit salad and juice then go back for bacon, sausages, mushrooms, potatoes and toast and coffee.  I notice that they have teabags of Spiced Tea like we had on the Madam V so I get a few of those for the trip.

The food is good and with our full tummies it should get us through the morning.  Back to the cabin to collect our gear and take a couple of photos out the window.  The weather is not being kind to us with rain forecast through the day – but that doesn’t matter.  Can’t do anything about it – so why worry?

Making sure that I have unplugged every charger and double checking that there has been nothing left behind it is soon time to disembark and then it’s another long walk to Customs but it is all downhill this time.

The Customs Officials are lovely and welcome us with a smile and the usual questions ‘how long are you staying’ and ‘what is the purpose of your stay’.

We answer the questions correctly and we thank him and he thanks us and we are on our way into a foreign land where we don’t speak the language.

This is going to be an interesting month that’s for sure.

We have to get the train from Hoek van Holland to Rotterdam and then change for Amsterdam – so we have started with the trains in a big way!  Going past the dock area I spot our ferry and of course take a photo – the cabins we had are the windows right in the centre of the top row.  Not bad eh?

I love train travel – always have.  I think it started when I was a child and we used to travel everywhere by train as we didn’t have a car.  Even our holidays to Queensland were by train as Dad worked for the railways and got passes.  Anyway I digress – – we get into the carriage and discover that we are on an Express train – our tickets are for the all stations train and the first of many supplements are paid.

The train arrives at Rotterdam and then we have to find the platform for Amsterdam.  The station is practically empty but it is only about 8.30am so I suppose that is the normal thing plus it is Sunday.  The train for Amsterdam is at the station so on we get and off we go.

It is very flat countryside and I am not too sure why I didn’t take any photos – maybe we were going too fast?  We get into Amsterdam about 10am and then it is off to find the hotel.

The city is still waking up so we wander down and around and arrive at our hotel the Best Western Dam Square Inn.

The hotel is close to the railway and tram stations so that is good. The receptionist advises that we cannot check in until 2pm but she can store our luggage for us until that time.  She is very nice and gives us maps and instructions where to get the tram for our first destination – the New Amsterdam Cemetery.

The reason we are visiting this cemetery is that my dad’s brother is buried here but more about that later.  When we put this on our schedule I sent an email to one of the companies we deal with in The Netherlands. I received a reply from my friend Erik with directions and instructions both of which were most helpful.  We get on the #9 tram and tell the lady conductor that we are going to Kruislaan and she helps us with our tickets and tells us that she will tell us when it is time to get off in about 20 minutes.  During our little journey a young girl and her boyfriend get on and he is yelling and carrying on like a pork chop abusing her.  She is crying and it is really upsetting to watch, however we don’t dare interfere as we are unsure if the pork chop has a weapon.  As Kylie says ‘getting shot on the 2011 trip is not part of the itinerary’.  They finally reach their stop and he is still abusing her when then get off.

The lady then tells us that it is our stop and we thank her for her help and then it’s up to us to find where we are supposed to be.  We walk down one of the streets that looks promising as we can see tall trees and gardens – looks about right – but we are still unsure.  We pass a cafe where there is a gentleman out the front so we ask him if he knows where the New Amsterdam Cemetery is?  His answer in very broken english is ‘the place for dead people?’  We smile and say yes and he smiles and points down the street.

We thank him while smiling, smiling and think that this is going to be a real hoot.  We don’t speak their language and they most probably only speak limited english.

We arrive at the Cemetery and across the road there is a florist so Kylie buys some flowers and we head to the front office.  The lady is very nice and can speak english and gives us a map showing where the War Graves are situated.  Now is the time to tell you about my Uncle Frank.

“Flight Sergeant John Francis Mell – EX 413631 – embarked Sydney 24th August 1942.  He disembarked United Kingdom 18 Nov 1942 and was posted on 10 May 1943 as an air gunner to 466 Squadron of the Royal Air Force – as part of the No. 4 Group of the RAF Bomber Command, equipped with Wellington and Halifax bombers. During air operations he was reported missing in action and presumed dead 12 June 1943. He was 26 years of age.

His Wellington Mk. X – with serial number HE154 took off from RAF Leconfield at 2314 hours on the night of 11/12th June 1943 to bomb Dusseldorf, Germany. Nothing was heard from the aircraft after take  off and it did not return to base. Sixteen aircraft from the Squadron took part in the raid and two of these including HE154 failed to return.

RAAF 408829 Flt Sgt F W R Green Captain (Pilot)
RAAF 414782 Flt Sgt K E Fletcher, (Navigator)
RAF Sgt A S Jones, (Bomb Aimer)
RAAF 420233 Flt Sgt E D Milliken (Wireless Operator)
RAAF 413631 Flt Sgt J F Mell, (Rear Gunner)

It was later established from German records the aircraft was shot down by German flak and crashed at 0230 hours on the 12th June 1943 in a meadow in the Overdiemerpolder, near by Fort Amsterdam, located in the Northern park of Diemen (a village east of Amsterdam). All the crew were killed and they are buried in the New Eastern Cemetery, which is located in the southeast district of Amsterdam, in Kruislaan, a road in the Watergraafmeer area of the city.”

As far as I know, no one from the family has ever visited his grave so I felt that seeing I was coming to Europe I would take it upon myself to pay not only my respects but those of his family.  I have also brought along some Australian flags and one British flag for the RAF Officer to adorn their graves.

Hoping that the flags will last for quite some time, I like to think it gives them a tie with their homeland so far away.  There are so many War Graves and some of the graves are for people who died more than 70 years ago and the local people still look after them as if they were interred yesterday.

We stay for a while, very silent and sombre and we notice that there is a Memorial and a Cemetery Register where you can leave a message to say who you were visiting and some comments.  We all sign the book and tell them we are very appreciative of the care they show our fallen flyers.

We walk around the cemetery, it is so still – and everything is very well kept.  It is then time to make our way back into the city and the same conductor that we had coming here is on the tram going back.  We decide that we will go back to the hotel for a Nanna Nap before going out again this afternoon to visit the house of Anne Frank.

Getting off the tram this is the view – St Nicholas Cathedral.

HISTORY LESSON : officially the church was called St. Nicholas inside the Walls, i.e. the oldest part of the Amsterdam defence works. The facade is crowned by two towers with a rose window in between. The centre of this window is formed by a bas relief depicting Christ and the four Evangelists, made in the Van den Bossche and Crevels workshop in 1886. A sculpture of the patron saint of both the church and the city of Amsterdam was placed in a niche in the upper section of the gable top. The well-known sculptor Bart van Hove (1850-1914) made the sculpture in 1886. The crossing is articulated by a large octagonal tower with a baroque dome and lantern and crowned by a cross.

Walking back to the hotel we decide to stop for some lunch even though it is a bit late in the day.  We find a Turkish place where we go in and sit down to rest.  I order a beef kebab with garlic & onion sauce on a plate with salad and chips.  The meals come out and they are huge.  Delicious but huge!  I cannot eat all of mine and am not game to ask for a doggy bag.  Waddling down the street we pick up some postcards and the usual fridge magnets etc.  We also pass a hot bread shop that has fabulous looking cheese and olive breads etc.  Was going to get some to take on the train tomorrow but thought they may get stale so will get some in the morning.

A small rest at the hotel and then we are off again.  We have to be at the Anne Frank House at 4.45pm – we have prebooked our tickets – we have a map and we get lost.  We should have turned left instead of right but then we see a lot of people all lined up and we know we have found it.  The queue is v-e-r-y long but as we have our tickets we go through a special door ahead of everyone else.  There is a small 30 minute talk given by a really nice guy by the name of Luke, who is young and seems very nervous.  We try to put him at ease but it doesn’t seem to work.  He tells us about the Frank family and their lives before and during the war.  There are also some photos and it is incredible that these have survived the Nazi regime.

Coming out of our little talk we follow the trail along with many other visitors, too many visitors and we are all cramped in to the small house.  Upstairs was a hiding place where everyone had to be quiet – but with the amount of people today this is lost and you can’t imagine what it was like.  We see displays of Otto Frank’s warehouse – desks, posters, small jars etc and then it is time to go behind the secret staircase.  This house is not disabled friendly – it is exactly as it was during the time that Anne was living here.

The stairs are incredibly steep and narrow and there is no photography allowed.  Walking through I cannot imagine how everyday life carried on in whispers so as not to alert those working below.

For a girl of Anne’s young age this must have been incredibly difficult.  The only avenue for escape was her diary.  We come to a room that has the red check gingham diary on display, but unfortunately, as the sign reads, the original diary is not on display due to restoration, this is a copy of the original article.

I would have thought that the restoration work had been completed long ago and that the diary would be here under special conditions so as not to deteriorate.  Obviously not.

It is really disappointing that we do not get to see Anne’s original writing.  If I wanted to see a copy I could have done this on the web – it is not the same.  Kylie is devastated.  This is one place and one item that she really wanted to see.

We have been to Egypt and seen papyrus manuscripts older than the diary and they seem to be doing OK.  Oh well, we move on back down the staircase and to the exit – through the souvenir shop.  I buy one postcard at a cost of 1.5 euros and then Kylie asks them about the diary and why is it under conservation?  Getting no suitable answer she leaves very much chuffed.

We walk back over some of the canals – nice and quiet but I can tell that Kylie is still not a happy camper.  We spy this sign and it seems to lighten our moods.  What the?  Must be a dutch thing.

Going back to the hotel we walk over the Torensluis Canal.  There are some nice restaurants along here but we are not hungry due to the extremely filling late lunch.

Back through the ‘fragrant’ alleyways and the ‘coffee’ shops and we decide that we will not follow the plan to go out tonight and do some night photography – we are too tired.  Into a hot shower and then into bed – early start tomorrow so we have to get a good nights sleep.

Highlight of the day : Uncle Frank – resting with the Gods

One thought on “2011 Europe by Rail – Day 4

  1. Wiard Krook

    Dear travelers,

    My name is Wiard Krook and I live (retired) with my wife in the village of Diemen (near by Amsterdam) in the Netherlands.
    I was very surprised to read your interesting blog on your website “Have Vino…, Will Travel” about your visit to Amsterdam and the New Eastern Cemetery in 2011, to pay respect to the graves of brave “Uncle Frank Mell” and the other crew members of the crashed Vickers Wellington Mk. X of the 466 Squadron Royal Australian Air Force.

    As you might know, next year it will be 75 years ago our country was occupied by German Nazis. Volunteers of the Diemen Historical Society (Historische Kring Diemen) are planning to write an illustrated memorial book dealing with many aspects and stories of this war as being remembered by the people of Diemen, for example the preparation for the war in 1939, the German invasion on 4th May 1940, the Dutch resistance, underground press, crashed airplanes, the liberation by the Allied Forces in 1945 etc, etc.

    As one of the researchers of the Diemen Historical Society I will join the publication to try to reproduce the story of the crashed HE154. Since I have found some additional information and corrections of details of the crash. Please let me know if you are interested to get an up date.

    With the best regards,

    Wiard Krook

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