Friday, November 30, 2001

Harry Potter


Harry Potter

The thought of moving again gave me knots in my stomach. Moving is a chore, especially with the two large suitcases. We are both getting warn out from all of the touring around, seeing museums, and other sites of interest, but when your clothes are put in the wardrobe and your toiletries are set out, and you know you can return for a nap whenever you want, it is not too bad. However, the thought of moving, packing everything again, shifting you space and having to reorient yourself of where obstacles are in the dark for bathroom night calls, can get weary. The thought of staying here three extra days sounded like a much better idea when we had first arrived. Don’t get me wrong, I could stay in Amsterdam for years and be very content, but only if I were able to stay in one place.

Without too much of a hassle, the move was made and it is over. The hotel is similar to an old Best Western, nothing to speak of. Ron likes the view better since there are trees changing colors out the window and there is a church steeple in the distance. He liked it so much he lay on the bed to admire it and did so for about five minutes before falling into a deep sleep for a mid morning nap. The view is better I will admit, but the towels and complimentary toiletries at the other place were luxurious and the day’s stay was cheaper. We were able to get more channels on the television in English and the bed was extra large. This room has one outlet. We have a choice of watching an old movie on the only channel in English or I get to type on the computer. The bath towels are not much larger than dishtowels and they are the same material. The complimentary shampoo is someone’s left over bottle that they forgot. But for the ten minutes a day that Ron is awake in the room and it is light out, the view is better here.

Waking from his nap, we trucked off to see Harry Potter. The cinema is three stories tall with fourteen movie screens. Not only do they check and take your ticket at the front, they also check your ticket at the door of the theater you are entering. There is no way to sneak from one movie to another to get in a double feature and they assign the row that you sit in, but stop short of the seat. It is all auditorium seating and the seats are quite spacious and comfortable.

The movie was wonderful, especially if you have read the book. It is exactly like you picture it in your mind, but better. The music really adds to the pleasure of the whole experience. The acting is superb and the special effects are accomplished with genius. If you have not read the book, you will be equally impressed and should not be under the false impression that this is only a child’s movie. The three hundred in today’s audience were all adults and not one had a child for cover.

When we came out of the theater, it was dark already at 5:00. The movie was two and a half hours long. The air was filled with mist, the Christmas lights were on over the streets and the canals, and people were hustling and bustling in the streets with their packages of newly purchased items. It was a magical moment that put me into the romance of the Christmas season, as we walked aimlessly up and down the canals. It was a perfect ending of the day after seeing such a magical movie.

It may be awhile before you hear from me again. Now don’t sigh with relief! Monday, we will be heading to Germany and will only be there for three days, so I may not have time to find an Internet café while we are there.

My friend Rick sent me this joke and I thought it was funny, so I am sharing it with everyone. Very few of you have voted for the computer name, so you are holding up the works. Even if you did not enter a name, you are entitled to vote. Finalists were in a previous part.

Top Ten Signs that you are "Webbed Out" 10. Your opening line is, "So what's your home page address?" 9. Your best friend is someone you've never met. 8. You see a beautiful sunset, and you half expect to see "Enhanced for Netscape 6" on one of

the clouds. 7. You are overcome with disbelief, anger and finally depressed when you encounter a Web

page with no links. 6. You feel driven to consult the "Cool Page of the Day" on your wedding day. 5. You are diving on a dark and rainy night when you hydroplane on a puddle, sending your car

careening toward the flimsy guardrail that separates you from the precipice of a rocky cliff

and certain death and you're looking for the "Back" button. 4. You visit "The Really Big Button that Doesn't Do Anything" again and again and again. 3. Your dog has his own Web page 2. So does your hamster. And the No. 1 sign that you have overdosed on the WWW 1. When you're in a college library reading a magazine or an assigned reference book, you have

an ungodly urge to click on the underlined passages.

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Thursday, November 29, 2001

Dragging the Bum Out the Door


Dragging the Bum Out the Door

The day’s title doesn’t refer to anyone, but rather the British term for butt. We had a difficult time dragging our bums out the door this morning for breakfast. It is raining heavily and it feels cold out there. What a lovely day to curl up in bed and read, if they would only deliver our coffee, roll, croissant, and cheese. We had debated leaving town today and going to Gouda or some other town, but with the weather being so poor, it seemed like a waste of time.

We have extended our stay in Amsterdam until Monday, December 3rd. From here we will go to Cologne for three days and then head to Budapest. However, it is more difficult finding a budget hotel in Cologne than it was in Amsterdam. Only some of the hotels have responded to our e-mails for rates and availability. The ones that have responded are quoting over $90.00 a night plus 16% tax. Tsk, tsk, I think not! With a calling card in hand, we started calling the budget places I gleaned from the Internet. Whoops! The numbers are not good numbers, so back to the Internet café for more sources.

Checking the online banking is the thing that I hate most. It gives me knots in my stomach to check the balance and guess what it may be. There was a pleasant surprise. Bank of America has upgraded their online software, which will be a great boon for me. Almost all of our bills are now available through an e-statement. I was able to sign up all of our credit cards and most of our other bills to send an electronic statement to the bank with only our balance due and the minimum payment due. Bank of America then e-mails me that this has come in and with one click, I can pay the bill automatically. This saves my friend Daphnee from e-mailing me every time a bill comes in and saves me from checking my payments due from American Express, Diners Club and Visa. This could very well make me sign on without taking a tranquillizer first. Hooray!

With the nasty necessities out of the way, we stalled long enough. Time to play tourist again, or like I have said in the past, back to work. Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum had a discount coupon in our Amsterdam passbook so what the hell? Ron had never been to one of these museums and it had been years for me. As we entered we had a choice of having our picture taken with Tina Turner or Robert Moore as 007, so naturally we chose Tina since it was no obligation photo op.

An elevator takes you up to the beginning of the show, which is another lesson in Dutch history. A giant comes down from the ceiling with windmills, cows, wooden shoes, and other Dutch looking items on his clothes and starts us out with typical daily life in 17th century Holland. Walking from display to display, the characters move and tell their story about their life. The next section is of course Vermeer painting some of his most famous paintings and the models are in pose for him to do so. Many of the figures are so life like it is astonishing. There was one of a guard sitting on a stool with a magazine and I was waiting for her to tell me I could not take pictures.

Jumping to the more current era, there was an astronaut in a space capsule that moved quite a bit. He was the first and only Dutch astronaut to have circumvented the earth in a space shuttle. Part of the display was taped footage of the actual astronaut in space.

The celebrities were remarkable in that some were so life-like, it was difficult to tell that they were not. Others were impressionist of the real thing. Bill Clinton was very real looking and so was the Dali Lama. Being Holland, there were a number of Dutch television, radio, and sports figures that did not mean a lot to us.

Madame Tussaud started her career in 1835 making wax copies of heads of people who lost theirs from the strike of the guillotine. It was a fashion of the time for the well to do to have this glorious artwork. All of the models are still created in using Madame’s specifications which included over two hundred measurements and today over one hundred photos. It takes over six months to complete a figure and each costs close to forty-one thousand dollars. Each city’s museum is unique to that area.

After the Sinter Klaas parade over a week ago, we had stopped into the restaurant of a department store for our free coffee that we had a coupon for and saw an ocean of desserts that could tempt even those without a sweet tooth. We decided we would come back again and after Madame Tussaud’s this seemed like the perfect time. After all the weather was damp and misty, the sky was getting dark. Only the beauty of the canals lit in lights and the fabulous architecture of Amsterdam was keeping us motivated to stay away from the hotel, but a sweet treat and tea would make it all that much nicer.

The restaurant in this department store is part of the Le Marche chain. There is a extraordinary assortment of foods waiting to be eaten and it is all self-service except the coffee and tea. People swarm the warming dishes and fill their plates like it was free and they had not eaten for a week. It is definitely not close to free and is really on the pricey side, but it doesn’t seem to matter. They do a grand business. Ron had chosen a nut pie similar to pecan, but with assorted nuts that included pistachio and macadamia. The layer of nuts went deep down into the gooey, yummy part. I decided to have an apple pie that was visually appealing. I think they use the peels, the cores, and just dump the seeds. Parts that tasted like the slices of the core were still tough enough to use as a flossing material.

Ron decided to spend his first chuck of quality time e-mailing, so I went looking in the stores. We met up again to go to the Holland Experience; yet another item in our Amsterdam passbook, where we were offered a substantial discount. It was billed as a thirty minute movie that will show you all of the glory that Holland has to offer using the latest three dimensional effects, the stage moves, and it is a multi-sensory feast. Upon entering you are given a set of 3D glasses to wear. The seats are airline seats with more legroom than on United so they were very comfortable. The lights go out and it is black in the theater. The seats are mounted on a moving platform, so you go rolling around and the picture is shown on various parts of this round room. At various times, the platform will vibrate, shake, rattle, and roll to be in conjunction with what is on the screen. When the movie had fields of flowers, the auditorium filled with flower perfumes. There were also ocean scents when ‘we’ were sailing on the sea. It was enjoyable and clever. The sights, sounds, and kinesthetic sensations were very interesting and Ron flinched a few times from the 3D action. With my permanent double vision, I cannot see 3D, so I did not experience that part of the exploits.

Tomorrow, we move again. We are staying in Amsterdam until the 3rd of December, but our hotel did not have any vacancies when we inquired on arrival and nothing has changed. We found an inexpensive generic hotel for three nights in one of the well-heeled parts of Amsterdam. It is surprising that this hotel is in this section of town, but it is still convenient for walking or taking the trams to where we want to go.

One last check at the Internet café, we found that our pregnant hostess in Delft on Monday gave birth this morning to a healthy baby boy, seven pounds. After a quick bite to eat, it was time to get home to pack again.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2001

More Museums


More Museums
Thinking that we had more than plenty of time to see all that we wanted in Holland and especially Amsterdam in two weeks, we still feel rushed. The weather is slowing down our momentum also. We seem to be having a more difficult time dragging out of bed in the morning and them making a decision about what to do each day.
Just by chance, there is a small neighborhood bookstore across the street from where we have our breakfast. In the window was a children’s book on Sinter Klaas and his politically incorrect helper Pete. When we looked through it, it was perfect for what we think that Ron’s sister-in-law wants for her collection. It is has beautiful pictures on each right hand side page with the text in Dutch on the left. The pictures are so expressive one could almost tell the story without the words. Almost! Ron flipped through the book and asked the shopkeeper for a synopsis of the story. She was more than willing to oblige, but it was a brief description, not enough to satisfy curious minds.
We pushed ourselves to go to the Museum Amstelkring, or otherwise know as “Our Lord in the Attic”. Although it was raining, we wove our way through the canals enjoying the glorious architecture of this magnificent city. We wandered through the China Town area on our way and passed the University of Amsterdam. Our tram pass has expired and we bought a stripkaart, but it is just as easy to walk and enjoy the city when the distances are not unbearable.
At the museum, we had a discount coupon from our Amsterdam pass booklet. The museum is quite unusual in that it was a private residence at one time, but had a full Catholic church in the three attic floors, hence “Our Lord in the Attic”. During the Reformation in 1578, Catholic churches were all turned to Protestant churches. The Catholics were still allowed to have churches, but the rules were strict. They had to be off of major transportation routes or roads, could not have any signs displaying what they were, were not allowed to advertise, and were virtually pushed underground. This continued for over two hundred years and so the rich people of the time would open their homes for worship services and some created churches in their homes. One of these persons was Jan Hartman, the owner of this house who in 1661, renovated the house to its current stature. It is the only house church left in existence in Amsterdam.
The church is still fully intact. Since Amsterdam houses are narrow, there was little room a congregation, so the two floors above the church were converted into surrounding balconies to add more pews. The second level also has an organ, which is still used today for organ concerts. The church is used for weddings and some masses, like Christmas Eve. Part of the collection includes numerous pieces of precious antique liturgical vessels.
One room had a special exhibit dedicated to memorabilia of Sinter Klaas. It is one person’s private collection on loan for the season. On display were books, toys, games, puzzles, statues, and anything else imaginable that related to Sinter Klaas or Pete. Of course, this just created more curiosity with Ron, not being able to read any of the commentary in the cases and the newly purchased children’s book in hand. Fortunately, there were a couple of Dutch women who were touring the museum with their Australian friend. Ron questioned them about the tradition. Sinter Klaas comes from Spain on a boat to Holland on December 5th and brings the gifts to the children who have set their shoes out under the chimney. Children that are not well behaved get dumped into his sack and are taken back to Spain with Sinter Klaas. It did not sound like an unfortunate situation to us, but for a child, kidnapping would be pretty serious. Ron went on to question the role of Pete. They explained that it is an age old tradition, that Pete assists Sinter. He is thought to be of Moorish extraction and from the south of Spain where there are many Africans living. It seems that in the political climate as it is, Pete is just as controversial in Holland as he would be in the States. There has been talk of using a Caucasian or women in Pete’s role. They did not seem to draw pause at the suggestion of using a woman for the task. Satisfied for the moment, we were able to move on to the rest of the house. These women added that the man that played Sinter Klaas in the parade we attended, does so every year. He feels it is important to him and the children to have consistency and plans on continuing for as long as his health allows. In addition, he travels all over Holland to play the same role, so that children in other parts of the country do not feel rebuffed.
The house was decorated in the latest fashion of the 17th century, Dutch Classicist style, which was high fashion at this time. Dutch Classicist style requires that everything be symmetrical. To this end, in the living room or sael as it was called then, had to have a fake door on the left side of the wall to match the door on the right, from where you enter the room. The fireplace is perfectly centered. Molding on each section of the wall on either side has to be identical and if there is a painting on one side, a matching sized painting has to be on the other. The house remains intact from this period with period furniture decorating the house. It seems that bed closets were common amongst the rich also. This house had two of them. It also had one room that was rather atypical, a priest’s room, which was a tiny little room for the church priest to live and sleep.
In our post-museum mode, we went hunting for a teashop for our break with a warm cuppa between our hands to get the chill out. A few days ago, we had noticed a new age shop and café that overlooked the canal, so we ventured in. Other than a full-time astrologer that sits at a table waiting for the next client, it was a perfectly normal café with a full line new age store in the back. I have often wondered if these storefront psychics know when the next client is going to show up and eliminate sitting around waiting for no reason. Obviously this doesn’t work for astrologers, since this one sat alone for the duration of our tea and energy ball. Just because we are in Amsterdam is no reason to read into an energy ball, though I must admit I had second thoughts myself when I saw it on the counter. It was only grains and honey with sesame seeds decorating the outside.
A young woman at the next table targeted Ron for a cigarette. She apologized and said she did not think you could smoke here, so she left hers outside. Ron decided to take advantage of being owed a favor. He pulled out the children’s book again and asked the woman to read him a page from it. It was the page opposite the picture of the child being stuffed into Sinter’s burlap bag. Graciously, she read the page to him and gave some explanation. She added that she was from Austria and therefore did not grow up with the same tradition.
Onward soldiers of tourism, move forward and conquer museums. By now it was 3:00 and still drizzling. The New Amsterdam Historic Museum was close and became our next agenda item. It seems to me that I had visited a museum without the word New in the title once before about nine years ago, but this building wasn’t even close to seeming the same. According to the brochure, the museum underwent a complete renovation in 1999. I would say so it is now magnificent. We only had two hours before closing time, so we were under the crunch of time, our own doing, being such late starters.
Technology was used to make this an exciting museum. As you enter, the history of Amsterdam is shown geographically. It was interesting to see that the city sits on two layers of sand. All buildings have to have poles sunk thirty meters down into the sand as a support for the foundation of the building. For tall buildings, like hotels, poles are sunk even farther down into the second and lower layer of sand. Some of the older buildings, those over four hundred years show the results as the wood poles are disintegrating. These buildings lean in one way or another.
Using a computer model city plan, one could watch the city grow from its founding to the current plan. With each segment of time, you could see the population increase, the city grow, the canals being dug, the Metro and tram system being put in and of course the airport. It was very impressive and mesmerizing to watch.
Many of the pieces of art or collections of coins, stamps or clothes were willed to the city by early wealthy families that stipulated the city put the collection in a museum. This spurred the beginning of this museum over a hundred years ago, and it has grown since.
One of the most impressive areas for me was the children’s area. Ten children of different races, economic levels, and eras in history were chosen to have their stories told in pictures, toys and books of their time period and when possible what the rest of their life held in store for them. The range went from pathetic where one young girl and her siblings were sent to an orphanage, to celebrated cases of parents becoming part of the school system to create a Montessori type education. One child highlighted that was especially poignant was the little girl who was a friend of Anne Frank’s. She did not survive as long as Anne did, she was taken away early on in the Nazi movement.
Coincidently, the room close to the children’s history was the room that put on display the role that Amsterdam held in the Nazi movement. It was heart wrenching! It seemed like we were only there a few minutes when the closing bell rang and then a ten-minute warning was announced. Conversely, as tired as we are when we start our quest of touring, most of these sites are so enthralling; we forget our dreary feelings and become captivated once again. Well, the exception would be the Museum of Modern Art for me, but that was another story.
Right next to EasyEverything, there is a wonderful deli with a difference. It is actually two delicatessens in one building and they face each other. Both sell different foods that compliment each other’s fare. On one side, we bought barbequed chicken and on the other we decided on a Mediterranean salad. We brought it back to the hotel for our dinner. One thing that I am looking forward to in the near future is to be able to prepare meals, however simple at ‘home’ and not having to eat out all of the time. It gets wearing.
With a full evening ahead of us and not knowing what to do, we just walked. We walked in neighborhoods we were familiar with and some that we had never been through before. Sometimes, the evenings are warmer than the daytime, so it is very pleasant to stroll the canals. We walked for over an hour, looking at the lights, looking in people’s homes and watching the people that passed us by. The Dutch are very open people. It is rare that you will find windows with curtains that are not sheer. Most homes leave their windows open and revealing to the passersby. As Audrey had explained to us on Monday, when we were in Delft, the Dutch do not believe in trying to outdo each other. They have this attitude of ‘this is our life and you can view it if you want’ and they prove this by their visibility. Bedrooms are usually in the back of the building, so privacy is not totally negated.
We finally settled at this little out of the way bar. We had noticed it once before on a walk, but they did not open until ten at night on that day. The bar was small and had only two other patrons when we entered. Art nouveau lamps were hung from the walls and ceiling. The primary wall over the tables had old posters of American movies, yet another wall had photos of previous and I suppose current regular clients. As we were leaving a group of three strolled in and one of the men started talking to us. When we told him we were from California, he lit up and told us with pride that he was going to visit San Francisco for three months next August. Sure hope he is saving his guilders, since it will take 2.49 guilders to equal one dollar, but by the time he goes, he will need his Euros.
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Tuesday, November 27, 2001

Rembrandt's and Anne Franks's House


Rembrandt’s and Anne Frank’s House

Today was supposed to include chores that needed to be done, but we felt the pinch of time getting the historical places fit into the schedule. We arrived for breakfast shortly after the restaurant opened and we were dining alone. It did not take long for the dining room to fill with hungry people.

The restaurant has windows on two sides, both overlooking the canals. The drapes are artistically wrapped and tied to the rods in a casual fashion and left open for a wonderful view. The tables and chairs are dark wood and they match the half wall wood covering on the walls. The dark wood bar with a portion of a glass showcase for pastries, is L shaped. The work area is tiny, but all of the waitresses that work there are skinny, but shapely and attractive. All around the room are large pillar candles in hurricane glass holders. The holders are filled with birdseed, sugar, and rice presumably so that when the candle drips over it is an easy clean up and the wax doesn’t need to be scraped from the glass. Function assists creating atmosphere. All of the candles were lit from the time we walked in this morning.

One daily visitor is loud and boisterous. He seems to arrive shortly after we do and he creates quite a ruckus every time he enters the restaurant. Surprisingly no one pays a bit of attention to his outbursts, except for Ron and I. He grabs our attention immediately with his bass baritone voice. This little guy is only about a foot high at the shoulder, but about three feet long with a furry coat that defies defining his breed. For such a small dog, he sounds like a St. Bernard when he enters the restaurant and does not stop speaking until his mistress yanks his chain out the door. It is not uncommon in the mainland Europe to see people with their dogs in restaurants, bakeries, bars, department stores, or just about anywhere their master goes. Rarely do you see a sign that shows dogs unwelcome, but the ones that I have seen are usually Internet cafés.

Feeling a little lazy and definitely not caffeinated enough, we hopped the tram for the one stop to the post office, where I mailed back home some of the books that we bought as souvenirs along the way. There were a few other little packages that we had to mail, but I was not surprised that is cost over one hundred guilders for all of it. I was not thrilled, but not surprised. With this expense, it cleaned out the wallet and the search for the bank machine was mandatory. It is such a buzz when the machine spits out that cash.

Right around the corner from the post office is the Rembrandt House, the home where the great artist lived and worked. Our Amsterdam pass gave us a discount of three guilders each. Once again, I had been here eight years ago, but wanted to see it again with more art appreciation behind me. It was a good decision since it had been refurbished completely since I had been here eight years ago. We started by watching a video of the renovations. They used the same materials that were authentic to the period and the way Rembrandt had the house decorated. Dear Rembrandt was a collector of art, which he did sell for a profit, but he also collected shells, coral, parts of armor, weapons, and other props that he used in various paintings. However, his purchases put him into bankruptcy and he lost it all including his home. He and his son, had to move into a small rented apartment after his wife died.

The curators were able to gather the original pieces of furniture that filled the rooms amazingly enough and were able to recreate his life as he had lived it. The document that was the prized possession for assisting in this task was the log that the Ministry of the Exchequer of Insolvency had compiled. Every little possession was listed, sold, and the purchaser noted. Let this be a lesson to us.

Of all of the furniture, I found the beds the most fascinating. Rembrandt’s beds as well as the beds of the maid and the one reserved for company were built in closets or bed chests. They had to have been short people, because neither of us would have been able to stretch out in any of them. With the doors closed, they looked like beautiful pieces of furniture or closet doors and you would not have to make your bed in the morning if company was coming. The very typical Dutch steps were narrow and circular to the fourth floor. Rembrandt lived, worked, taught, entertained, and acted as an art dealer here.

In addition to being a painter, Rembrandt worked with etchings that were done on copper plates and put through a press. This is the first time I had seen any of his etchings and all were magnificent. He only did one still life in his career and that was of a seashell.

Aside from Rembrandt’s work, in the modern addition attached to the original house, is a room filled with a current sculpture’s pieces of people that were inspired by Rembrandt’s paintings and sketches. In the next two rooms were the etchings done by another contemporary artist who spent a year in residence of the Rembrandt House and created dozens of etchings that although much more contemporary, were equally as impressive.

Today, the film that I had left for developing onto CD-Roms was due to be picked up. On the way, we rediscovered the oldest neighborhood in Amsterdam. It is an enclosed area and is protected by a gate from which you enter. Homes surrounding a park almost complete a circle, but where the closure of the circle would be, there is a Catholic Church and a Presbyterian church across from each other. On the other side of the Presbyterian Church is another small park with more houses. The park has a lovely statue of a bountiful woman with a cape on. Discovering that the Catholic Church was open, we went in to investigate. It was small, but very unusual. One wall had a huge painting that went the length of the wall. We think it was a procession behind St. Michael the Archangel as he was riding into a town with a demonic dragon on a stiff leash walking ahead of him. The church was dedicated to St. Ursula, but there was a large statue of St. Andrew, the patron saint of Amsterdam with his distinctive cross of the three black x’s on a red background, below him on a crest.

Picking up the pictures, I was not able to have it put on cd-rom only, they insisted on giving me one set of prints also. We took them to the little restaurant to preview them. I have to say that I am impressed with the photography, but the developing looks like the best I have seen. The pictures include Manchester, Liverpool, and Bath, England, plus Amsterdam’s Sint Nicholas parade, Volkendam, the clog maker, and the town of Marken. It will be awhile before I can find a fast enough Internet café to upload them to the album, but they are really fine shots.

From here, I sent Ron off to see the Anne Frank House, the place we probably all have read about in the “Anne Frank’s Diary”, where we was kept hidden with her family and others in a small space being protected from the Nazis. Years of hiding and deprivation did not help them in the end. The only survivor of the concentration camps was her father who later published her diary. Having been there four times, I did not have the emotional energy to feel the pain one more time. After having toured concentration camps in Poland, it would be all that much more real. Ron shared later that he controlled his crying to three episodes while touring the house.

While Ron was there, I was at the ‘good’ Internet café uploading the previous part of this tome. I was able to touch bases with a couple of friends who work in Budapest part of the time and another friend who is on a Fulbright in Slovakia and only two hours away. We will all get together once we get there and settle in. Also, my friend Maia, who was a classmate, is going to defend her research proposal tomorrow. She had conveyed all of the mixed emotions that everyone feels, but survives during this process. Knowing Maia, it will all be for naught, she is creative, intelligent, and fluid in her processing, so she will do superb.

Ron and I met up again for tea after his tour and my Interneting and roaming. Ron’s sister-in-law, Mary Ellen has given us a quest. She collects children’s books with a Christmas theme and asked that if we came across one to get it for her. We did see a couple in our wandering earlier today, but they were not early elementary level, but higher. Therefore they were more text and few pictures. We went back to a toy store that sells children’s books to check there, but they said they did not have anything like the book we were after. They suggested a different store, but the directions were so convoluted, we decided we would look for this store in the daylight.

After taking a siesta, not knowing the Dutch name for it, we took off again for dinner and nighttime entertainment. There is a falafel restaurant that provides six meatball size falafel in a pita bread and there is a large selection of toppings to flavor it with. Some of the toppings are quite substantial on their own like small eggplants, marinated carrots, coleslaw, plus the usual yogurt and sauces. For those of you not familiar with falafel, they are ground chickpeas with spices, grain and they are baked in oil.

We thought about taking in the Harry Potter movie, but the evening show came to $10.00 each, so we will wait and see if we can make a matinee which will be $7.00 each. Four times a week, it is in dubbed Dutch and the rest of the time it is English with Dutch sub-titles. We went to a different movie theater after some wandering, but missed the last show. So much for nighttime entertainment, we went for a beer and went home to watch CNN. Since we turned the clocks back an hour, the same time as the States, it has been getting progressively darker later, but now it is dark out by 4:30 pm. It has been raining a lot too, so it is not conducive for our exploring mood.

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Monday, November 26, 2001

Delft and Audrey At Last


Delft and Audrey At Last

It was with great determination that we were not going to miss our station today to meet Audrey, the daughter of Ron’s friend. Although, I did nod off on the train, I woke up at each stop and knew that our stop was the one after The Hague. The day tickets were sixty-nine guilders and we weren’t spending more for overrunning our mark and having Audrey waiting for us. We arrived an hour early and walked around the town hunting down caffeine like a hound sniffs out a fox. Who would have expected all of the stores, restaurants, and other establishments to be closed until noon or later? Block after block the hunt was on and it did not seem like success was imminent, but at last I noticed an open sign in Dutch. Signaling Ron to move faster before I go into a decaffeinated coma, in we went. In we went into a pot smoking, pot selling coffee shop. There sitting at the bar, were four men already lit and lit up smoking away. The woman behind the bar looked like someone just told her that she won the lottery, but working in those conditions who wouldn’t look happy? Times were tough and the coffee was cheap, so we stayed. One man had his dog with him. The poor pooch looked stoned and obviously had the munchies as he begged for the cookie we each received with our coffee. He needed the cookie more than we did; the fumes had not kicked in for us yet, so we fed our cookies to Fido.

Back at the station, we waited for Audrey who was coming from The Hague on the tram. She and her husband are living in The Hague after her husband Mike earned a post-doctoral fellowship in Biophysics. They will be here for thirty months with a possibility for longer. Audrey is pregnant with their first child and is due on December 5th, but was gracious enough to come meet us to show us around Delft.

Audrey was right on time. We hit if off immediately as I had never met her before and Ron had not seen her since she was a child. Our talking was so continual at times it was difficult to talk and walk, so we stood on a corner, finished our topic of conversation, looked at the buildings and then moved on with the conversation starting immediately again. Audrey is a very bright and charming young woman and since she has a Masters degree in English as a Second Language with Linguistics, we had common interests to start with. Then we quizzed her about living in Holland, my life dream plus her Dutch lessons and a dozen other topics. We were more interested in our conversation than we were in seeing museums, but Delft was the home and workplace of the painter Vermeer. Since reading “The Girl With the Pearl Earring”, Delft being the setting, we were interested in the Vermeer connection. Delft is a small city and the University of Delft is the only reason the population swells as much as it does. As a small city, it is tourist friendly by having wonderful signs throughout the city with information panels of history on them.

After an hour of walking, Audrey told us about a bagel restaurant she especially liked and we suggested having coffee there. It was closed. We did find another quaint restaurant with dark wood walls, an old fashioned potbelly stove, and heavy, dark wood chairs and tables. We each had a piece of apple or cherry cake with whipped cream and the portions were so generous, only Ron could finish his portion. There was never a lull in the conversation as we found dozens of topics to cover and share ideas and opinions, plus asking questions. Feeling that Audrey had rested and she herself was ready to move again we ventured over to look through the New Church, a name, which is a misnomer since the church, dates back to the early 1500’s. It was once Catholic, but changed to Dutch Reformed during the Reformation. The church was colder by about ten degrees than it was outside, so we retreated to the outdoors just to warm up.

We continued to walk the city. We kept questioning Audrey’s stamina, but she assured us she was fine for continued exercise and would let us know when we had her limits. We had wanted to go to the famous Delft china and pottery factory and Mr. Map had it located on the map he purchased at the Tourist Bureau. We walked along to the outskirts of the town, but took a wrong term and we were at the end of a canal. The only outlet was to climb a flight of stairs to get back to the street. We walked a few blocks, but missed our turn off and had overshot where we needed to make our next turn. Almost without realizing it, we found the factory in a small unassuming building. The factory and shop closes at 4:30, but we made it there by 4:05 and they gave us a tour. Our private guide told us how the clay is imported from England and Germany since Dutch clay has too much yellow in it. We were shown the molds, the firing process and were able to watch the painters paint the work by hand. There are six artists in the factory and fifteen work from home. All true Delftwares have one of four marks on the bottom that show their authenticity to the process that was started in the 17th century. Two of the marks have been retired, so if you have an older piece, it may have the earlier marks. Although the word Delft cannot be copyrighted, there are many pieces of blue and white china and porcelain pieces that say Delft, Delftware, or hand painted in Delft on the bottom and some with confusing symbols, but they are really cheap imitations of the original. To see some Delftware products, you can surf over to or for the other company for a preview. Not all of the Delftware products are blue and white. They produce multicolor and one factory did a series in black and gold.

Mothers-to-be can wear out two no chance of ever becoming pregnant tourists, so after five hours, we hopped a tram to the train station and waited together for the train. We said our good-byes when the train pulled into the station and thanks for a delightful day filled with lively and intelligent conversation and returned to Amsterdam.

It would seem remiss if I did not give you some information on Delft, before leaving the topic behind. Delft is believed to date back to 1070 when a community sprung up around a castle built by Duke Godfrey of Lorraine, after he conquered the county of Holland. There was some historical event just about every year to the present from that time, but given that this is not a history text, I will jump to the present. The city boasts more than six hundred official national monuments constructed in an assortment of styles. Over sixty bridges are also protected monuments. The population is 95,000 of which 13,000 are students. Audrey shared with us that they wanted to live in Delft since this is where her husband is working, but the rent for a simple apartment was over $2,000. a month. That is in dollars, not guilders. According to the tourist bureau, Delft is an internationally renowned center for technology and science. It has a high concentration of high tech businesses and modern research institutes.

Some of the famous former residents of Delft included Carel Fabritius, Pieter de Hoogh, Willem van Aelst, Jan Steen, and Michiel van Mierevelt. All are artists that emerged from the Delft school of painting. The most famous has to be Johannes Vermeer, who was born in Delft in 1632 and buried in the Old Church in 1675. Once again, if you have not read “Girl With a Pearl Earring”, I highly recommend it. Although the story is fictional, it is a great story with a depth of research done on this painter and it made Delft come alive for me prior to returning and certainly while here.

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Sunday, November 25, 2001

On the Seventh Day, We Rested


On the Seventh Day, We Rested

Last night, I had to stay up to finish reading the book, “The Night Listener” by Armistaud Maupin. Ron had picked it up in Bath since we thought that it may be our last chance for finding books in English and it was on sale. We are dumping the novels as we read them so that we are not carting them with us. Well not really dumping them, rather trying to pass them on to people we think would enjoy reading them. However, it doesn’t help when we renew the supply elsewhere. Anyway, I have never read any of Maupin’s books before and was thoroughly impressed with his style of writing, the story line, and the ending that leaves the reader to interpret the outcome in various ways leaving you with a puzzle to be discussed with other readers of the book. Ron and I were able to dissect the ending discussing the possible realities and what the author had intended. So, therefore, I did not start off to sleep until around 2:30 am, but then the one man orchestra started with the wind instrument section and I was still staring at the clock at 4:00 am.

At 8:30 am it was a rerun of Mr. Map meets Mr. Grouch. The plan had been for us to go to breakfast, I was going to return to the room and write and Ron was going off to a Dutch mass. With four hours of sleep, that was not my plan when the time came. I stayed in bed and waved joyfully waved good-bye in my dreams, but in reality just rolled over and fell asleep once again. After almost nine years, he has almost perfected his radar that gives him a warning signal when it is not good timing to speak to me in the morning. He was on target this morning. However, I did initiate meeting to tea at 5:00, since he was going to a concert that I had no interest in. Eleven o’clock rolled around and I rolled out of bed and showered, wrote some and then went to purchase a Dutch children’s ABC book.

Nothing happened the rest of the day that was newsworthy. When we met at our agreed upon time, it had started to mist. It was clear when each of us left the hotel, so neither of us had thought to bring an umbrella. The mist turned to rain, but we walked streets that we had not explored before, went into different department stores to get warm, and to see how they decorated for Christmas. They don’t! It seems that Christmas is not as commercial here as it is in the States. The streets are decorated with lights and bows of greenery strung from one side of the street to the other, but the stores are void of festive holiday fare. What we have seen and still not in excess are pictures of Sinter Klaas and Black Pete. The name still makes my skin crawl even if there is some historic significance. Pete is getting more coverage than St. Nick. My guess it because Pete is the United Parcel Service delivery guy of the duo where St. Nick is only the driver. It is not clear which one is the map-reader and navigator. There is no sign of Christmas wrapping paper such as we in the States know it. The paper we have seen has large colorful flowers, just solid colored paper, or paper with Pete on it. There are no snowmen, no fun Santas, nothing truly festive. We have not been able to find a Christmas ornament other than in the souvenir shops and they have Delft look-alike Santas and Snowmen that are tackier looking rather than adorable. From what we are able to ferret out of people in conversations, Sinter Klaas or St. Nicholas Day, which is December 5th, is the primary focus of the holiday season. Children receive presents for three weeks, but presents consist on tiny cookies, candies, and other small treats that are placed in the shoes they leave out for Pete to fill. Why Pete would want to continue to do this every night for three weeks is beyond me. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are family times celebrated with food and less focus on presents than we have in the States. Adults who exchange gifts do so on December 5th also. In contrast, it does seem that they exchange cards. We have seen lots of Christmas cards for sale in the stores with traditional themes. I would be hard pressed to say that I have seen any religious subject matter on the cards; they are all secular.

By the time we decided to check the e-mail, I was soaked to the bone. My leather jacket was so wet, it felt brittle. No wonder the cow did not survive with it. Dinner was at our famous Febo food joint, where you plunk in your coins and choose some mystery food from behind the glass window. For $3.00 for two, you don’t get a gourmet delight, but it is surprisingly tasty and filling. How can you lose on that? I was able to get Ron to go to one bar I had wanted to see and have a beer, a short one. They don’t have half pints and pints here like in the United Kingdom. It is either small or a mug that Hercules would have trouble lifting to his mouth. Needless to say, I always order small ones, since drinking beer through a straw is too embarrassing. The only thing more embarrassing would be the attempted to lift the damn thing to my mouth.

Since this was a slow day, let me take this opportunity to tell you more about Amsterdam. All of the streets here and in most other cities in Holland have cobblestone or brick streets. The streets are separated in three areas. There is a pedestrian sidewalk on either side of the streets, which is usually brick, then there is a lane specifically for bicycles also on each side of the street and in the center are two lanes for cars. Most streets are brick also, but some streets are cement. Bicycle riders have to follow the same rules as a driver in a car including turn signals. If you are jaywalking, you can get hit by a bike rider as easily as by a car. Amsterdam is the city of 500,000 bikes. There is bike parking all over the city as well as a guarded bike-parking garage next to the Central train station. Thousands of bikes are permanently parked outside the train station where commuters come off of the train, grab their bike and ride off to work. There are cone poles with rounded tops that are permanently planted along the sidewalks to protect pedestrians from the cars on narrow one-way streets and it also prevents parking on one side of the street. Canals run along one side of most streets. These poles have three x’s in a vertical position. They are from the coat of arms of Amsterdam and come from St. Andrew’s cross, the patron saint of the city. The x’s go back to 1275 and stand for the three enemies of the city: water (flooding), fire, and the plague. Due to the acute housing shortage, Amsterdam also has over 2,500 houseboats permanently docked on the canals. Two thousand, five hundred are licensed by the city and have sewer, water, gas, and electric, but others are squatters and have no city services.

Trams circumvent the city and outer regions. Almost anywhere you want to go can be accessed by tram. Multiple day tickets are available at the tourist bureau, but you can also buy trip strips that are valid for eight rides if you stay within one zone. Buses go where the trams don’t and they take over all routes after midnight. There is also a subway that makes a straight run through the city from North to South, so it is limiting.

Amsterdam was started as a defense moat in the 16th century and from 1612 it expanded outward. The city is built around three concentric canals: the Herrengracht or Gentleman’s canal, the Keizersgracht, Emperor’s canal, and the Prinsengracht, the Prince’s canal. There are hundreds of miles of canals that transverse the city and continue out to the sea. There are dams, locks, and 220 bridges around the city to create a charm that is not comparable to any other city.

The favored form of transportation of the Dutch is the bicycle. The country has over fifteen million bicycles and it seems that most are in Amsterdam. Bike theft is a major problem and the thieves seem to be getting better chain cutters, so the locks are getting progressively thick.

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Saturday, November 24, 2001

Antwerp and Brussels, We Think!


Antwerp and Brussels, We Think!

Our tour for Antwerp and Brussels was scheduled for 10:00 am this morning, so we needed to get to the restaurant for our breakfast when they opened at 8:00. As I went to push the door open, I almost sprained my wrist as the door was still locked at 8:10. Employees were working away inside, so surely they must have forgotten to unlock the door. We waited patiently, but when they spotted us, one young, blonde beauty came to the door with a smile and said that they don’t open until 9:00 on Saturday. We would have to pass over breakfast here and pay for it elsewhere in order to be timely for our bus tour.

When the bus arrived, we boarded with seventy-eight others who were anxious to see the joys of Belgium. This is getting repetitive, but I have been to Brussels before, but Ron has not. I spent three days there in 1984 and it was the longest three days I had ever spent in one place, almost. Thinking that seventeen years was plenty of time to gain some excitement, Ron should experience it at least. Neither of us had been to Antwerp.

The tour guide was an older woman. She looked stylishly mode for the 70’s in her brown vinyl over the calf boots, plum and cream plaid skirt, plum jacket with gold buttons, and bright purple chenille scarf with her short reddish hair. I would never think about wearing brown boots with purple of any shade, but I could forgive her this fashion faux pas as she was of another generation. She had a voice that was a combination of a hypnotist and a sex goddess. The bus was a double decker and she sat on the lower level with the driver. Her voice floated through the speakers like a long lost lover who needed to convince us that she still cared. Her soothing, loving voice and expressions, which were only in English with a delightful Dutch accent, started with descriptions from the moment we left the curb in front of the Holland International office. Corrine, our guide had us under her spell immediately and we were all putty in her hands. Unfortunately, her voice was so soothing and caressing, almost all of the people on the top level of the bus were asleep within a half hour. As we approached Antwerp, four hours later, we heard the magical voice say, “I don’t know whether all of you are awake or not, but we are coming into Antwerp momentarily.” As if the spell were released, everyone came back to the land of the living once again to prepare to disembark.

She did not hide the fact that the Belgium people are not her favorites in spite of the fact that she does these tours. Corrine, explained that the Belgium people are quite slow, so to make sure they know we are short of time if we order something in a restaurant. According to our golden voiced hostess, the country is a combination of the Flemish who speak a Dutch dialect, plus the French and German speakers, though only French and Flemish are considered national languages and all signs are in both tongues. We were told that there is a great deal of animosity among the provinces within Belgium, which consists of nine provinces and each has their own type of local government. She said that they are notoriously poor drivers and that is because one did not need to have a driver’s license in Belgium until 1965. Therefore, there are many people on the road who have received their license without any qualification. Belgium is smaller than Holland. The population of the country is ten million people. On a positive note, she did include that some of the most beautiful lace comes from Antwerp and Brussels chocolate is difficult to compete with.

The weather produced a heavy mist and none of us except Corrine, the tour guide had an umbrella. We were marched into the large square in Antwerp, where the past and present function of the buildings was explained to us. Then we were giving time to look around and get something to eat with multiple warnings. We were warned that pickpockets are everywhere and that they come in assorted forms. Though, we did not need Belgium francs to stop in certain restaurants, if we pay with guilders, make sure that we received the correct change. We learned this lesson the hard way, but there was not way to refute it. We paid for our tea and Brussels waffles with a fifty guilder note and received change in Belgium francs worth about twenty-two guilders when it should have been twenty-six. There are seventeen Belgium francs to the Dutch guilder and forty-two to the U.S. dollar. By the time you do all of the math with the large Belgium amounts on the menu, divide by seventeen and then do the same with your change, it is time for the group to reorganize for the bus.

Many of the sites were from the bus, since there was no consideration for bus parking at NATO and other internationally important places. We stopped in Antwerp for a visit to a lace shop. Belgium is famous for it’s lacework. We had a demonstration and many of the women came on the tour for the opportunity to purchase lace. It is a cottage industry and the women work from home creating extraordinary pieces of art with thread.

In Brussels, we were led to the ‘famous’ statue of the little boy peeing. People come from all over the world to see this statue, talk about needing to get a life. From there we were shown the best chocolatier in Brussels. The place was mobbed to say the least, but Ron managed to get in and buy a small package of seashell chocolates that are sold in the States. Probably, the handmade choices would be worth the wait, but that would necessitate acquiring more Belgium francs that have no worth in Holland. Come January 1st, this problem will be solved with the Euro. Then the last commentary on land was of the Grand Place in Brussels. This is one of the most beautiful squares I have ever seen only because the architecture is different and appealing from one building to the one next to it. However, it was now getting dark, the mist was heavy and visibility was poor with eyes, so a camera could not improve the view at all. This is why they sell so many postcards.

The weather was really dismal for a day tour such as this, but it isn’t sunny skies guaranteed. As we continued on, nothing was visible through the rain coated windows on the outside and fogging up from the inside. The ride was long and we were all grateful that the next stop at 7:00 pm was our dinner break at a self-serve restaurant. We had happened to start speaking to a woman from Hungary. She had gone to the States as a nanny and at the time, did not know a word of English. We went to New Jersey. When I asked where, she said I had probably never heard of it, but it was a town called Red Bank. Coincidentally, Red Bank is about ten miles from where I was born and raised and is now our current mailing address. At dinner, we quizzed her about places to see in Hungary besides Budapest where we will be living short term. She was gracious enough to write down five different suggestions of what would be interesting to see during the season that we are going to be there. Of course, she said that if we were going to be there in the Spring or Summer, the list would be quite long. We asked for her e-mail address so that we can quiz her further and buy her dinner in Budapest when we all arrive there. She is still doing some traveling before returning. After her time as a nanny in New Jersey, she traveled Europe and then flew to Peru to hike the Inca trail in Machu Pichu. Ron was as disappointed with the day as I was, but for him it was related to the poor weather which did not show the buildings at their best and the fact that it was so dark when we reached the important sites. I had at least tasted Belgium in the past and could assure him that he really did not miss a great deal other than sunshine.

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