Monday. Morning. Amsterdam. Very early, 7.15 am, which feels like 6.15 am to us, probably because it is. I have advance tickets for the Anne Frank House's Museum, for 8.45 this morning.
I'd been looking for weeks back home with nothing doing, until suddenly, exactly one week before the trip, at 8.30 am on another Sunday morning, three lone tickets popped up on the website. I snaffled them immediately before realising they were for the crack of dawn. Oh well, I really want the boys to see it and at least we won't have to queue.
It takes ten full minutes to wake them. Husband bangs his knuckles raw on their door. I ring their phone from our adjacent hotel room. Finally they respond. Okay, so, to say they are grumpy at being woken so early on holiday is to understate the matter.
Three of us descend for breakfast while Middle One showers. Three of us help ourselves to the generous buffet: fruit, cereal, juice, toast, pastries, scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, mushrooms… everything you could possibly want, and more. Three of us eat and then three of us wait. One of us takes the lift back upstairs to shout at Middle One to hurry the hell up. Me.
Then this. Descending hotel steps. Setting off across the old town. No one else around. Bright. Sunny. A warm breeze. Quiet. Still water. The tap of family footfall on cobble. The stretch and motion of tired limbs. The pleasure of unencumbered propulsion. Crossing a pretty bridge. Turning onto a canal-side path. Seeing a row of gabled houses. Long windows. Black railings. A tangle of wheels and spoke. More cobbles, more canals, more bridges. After ten minutes, an elegant open square, a medieval clock tower, a whining tram. It's the best thing in the world: this walk, this city, this summer morning. This is it.
Up ahead, people for the first time, just a few, then a few more. A line, more of a line, a line that winds, that curls, that has no end. But we don't have to join it, we can go straight in. Except for Husband, who hasn't a ticket and so waits outside. To think, we hoped to buy him one too, because it's so early. Some hope.
I've been before, years ago, and now I see it again through children's eyes, my children's. They're the age she was. One, the age when she began the diary, the other, the age when she died alone in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, a month before liberation. Sixteen.
Feel the size of those rooms. Notice the covered windows. Think of the hour upon hour, the day after day, the year after year. Read:
"As of tomorrow, we won't have a scrap of fat, butter or margarine."
"I long to ride a bike, dance, whistle, look at the world, feel young and know that I am free."
Remember the walk through the city, the morning outside, the generous breakfast…
We leave, fold back into the city, stroll again beside a canal. Tourists emerge and we notice, for the first time, the rubbish everywhere, overflowing from bins, from bars, from doorways. Plastic bottles, food wrappers, broken glass, scum on water.
Up ahead, a group of drunken yobs, singing in German, incredibly loud, not yet gone to bed. Unsmiling, shaved heads, shorts and vests, white flesh, biceps, a blur of tattoos, coming our way.
"Shall we turn here?" says Husband.
"Yes, let's," I say, even though we both know our route back is straight ahead.
Love E x
Anne Frank, 1929 - 1944
P.S. We're in Venice now, via Munich. This posh interrailing lark is exhausting.