Aug 7, 2009

Lost Diaries 6

Thursday, 6/16/2005

We are now in Belgium, and Damon just spent 3 Euros on water when we had 2 bottles in our bags. The beverage cart came by, and Damon thought it was complimentary, since it always was before. He ordered 1 regular and 1 sparkling and we are drinking the sparkling now, and it is disgusting. Lots of people over here drink this stuff but we have no idea why. It’s nasty. We are also a little concerned, because the train crew made an announcement in 4 languages to be careful of pickpockets on the train. This is the first time we have heard an announcement like this. An interesting thing that we learned was that “pickpockets” sounds the same in 4 different languages. Also, when we arrived in Belgium no one checked our passports. Apparently, they don’t care who comes into their country. We’ll have to wait and see if they care who comes out.

Friday, 6/17/2005

Greetings from the land of tulips, wooden shoes, and legalized prostitution. Amsterdam…where to begin? I’ve been through so much in the last 24 hours. I guess I’ll start at the very beginning, which, after all, is a very good place to start. We somehow managed to escape last night’s train without being pickpocketed, and we set out on foot in search of our Amsterdam home away from Lyon – the Botel. The Botel is something I read about in the Rick Steves book. It is a floating hotel with 175 rooms, 400 yards from the train station in Amsterdam. Rick says it is neat and clean, omitting that it is also shabby, has a cruise ship style bathroom, and a location that skirts the red light district just a little too close for comfort. We wondered why we encountered so many drug dealers in 400 yards last night, but today we discovered the answer to our ponderings. Okay, so we arrived at the Botel around midnight, and Damon of course was starving because we only ate a small dinner on the train. We went to the Botel bar in search of food, but the barmaid told us that they were no longer serving sandwiches, but she would be glad to make Damon a tosti. Turns out a tosti is a toasted ham and cheese sandwich, and Damon knocked down two, and lamented the fact that no one in France had seen fit to share the magic of the tosti with us. We then retired for the evening, but were back up and at ‘em for 7:30. We started the day with a visit to the train station to buy metro tickets. When we entered the train station, we immediately knew something was wrong. It was totally abandoned. Then an announcement came on the loud speaker that due to a rail strike, there would be no trains today. WHAT??!! My first words were, “Kelly warned me this would happen.” After a few frenzied minutes of “what if’s?” we decided there was really nothing that we could do about it right at that moment, so we found out about the metro tickets and took off for the Anne Frank House. We were able to go in with no wait, and the museum truly is one of the best that I’ve been to. It tells the story through several multimedia presentations and gives you access to the hiding place of Anne and her family. It was very moving. Did you know that after 2 years of hiding Anne died in a concentration camp just one month before it was liberated? A particularly touching display was on the wallpaper of Anne’s parents’ room. There were a series of pencil marks and notes made on the wall to track the children’s growth while they were in hiding. It reminded me of Grandma’s closet door on Packwood. A little trivia for you: What famous building in Europe features floors decorated with both the Star of David and the swastika? Answer later in this entry.

After that, we set off for Damon’s Amsterdam must-see – the Van Gogh Museum. We sprung for the audio guide, and really enjoyed the extra information we were able to get from that. Vincente was one crazy dude. A prime example of his lunacy was the un-hetero affection he had for one of his painter friends. An argument with this fellow is what led to the famous “ear cutting off” incident and the subsequent year in the loony bin. A feature of our audio guide was an “In His Own Words” menu, which allowed you to hear Vincente describe his paintings from his point of view. The quotes were taken from letters he had written to his younger brother, who doubled as his personal First National Bank. Some of his better known paintings were actually completed during his year at the asylum. Another interesting thing is that he could not paint from his imagination, but had to have a model. When money was tight he would paint himself, or objects, like sunflowers. He would also reuse old canvases to save money, and x-rays of his paintings often reveal earlier works underneath. He also modeled some of his paintings on earlier works by other artists, including his “Resurrection of Lazarus” which is simply a painting of a small portion of a Rembrandt etching. Van Gogh cut out Jesus and painted Lazarus as a self-portrait. Okay, enough Van Gogh trivia.

Next stop was lunch. We found a neat neighborhood with lots of sidewalk cafes and street performers. Damon asked the waitress if she only had one day in Amsterdam what local food she would eat. She replied, “A club sandwich.” It seems the Dutch take very little pride in their local cuisine, because 2 other Dutch people we met on the train told us that the food in Belgium was much better. Damon opted to skip the club sandwich and instead ordered an authentic Dutch dish that we cannot remember the name of. I’ll describe it for you. You know how a fried cheese stick looks? It looked like that, but a little bigger and the batter was darker. The inside was grey and mushy, but with hints of ground beef. The inside tasted a lot like cornbread dressing. It was served with 2 slices of white bread, so Damon made a sandwich out of it. He liked it, but said he might not have had he known the ingredients. I ordered eggs and bacon and it came out all cooked together and super greasy. The bacon looked like ham, tasted like bacon, and was not crispy. It was not that good. We enjoyed watching some guy do a comedy routine in the street that basically consisted of harassing everyone who passed by. The people were extremely tolerant of him. After lunch we picked up a few souvenirs, including postcards that some of you will soon be enjoying, and dropped them off at the Botel before moving on to the “Red Light District.” As I mentioned earlier, the Botel sits on the outskirts of this famous neighborhood. We popped into a coffee shop first and Damon told the man we wanted to see some weed. He happily opened a wooden box and displayed an assortment of hash, in bags about the size of a bag of pop rocks for 12.50 euros, and double that size for 25 euros. The stench of people smoking pot pervades the entire city, and gave Damon a headache. It just gave me the munchies…just kidding. Our next stop was the PIC, or Prostitution Information Center. We read in the Rick Steves guide that they had a free pamphlet that would answer all your touristy questions about the red light district. The PIC is in the shadow of the old church, which is basically surrounded by brothels. Girls sit in their underwear in windows with red lights and perform sexual favors for a minimum of 35 euros, all the while listening to the church bells chime the hour. The “free” pamphlet actually cost almost 3 Euros, but it does have a lot of neat information and we’re bringing it home to share. We wandered the district and noted that most of the women for sale looked very drugged out, very young, or very fat, but very few were very attractive. Damon was obsessed with seeing someone actually go inside, so we staked out one of the rare good looking girls and waited until a group of Spanish or Italian guys came by and one went in. I timed him. Six minutes later he was back on the street bragging to his buddies about what he had done, and in 8 minutes the girl was 50 euros richer and back in her window reapplying lipstick and waiting for her next customer. We knew her rate was 50 euros because of the kindly cocaine dealer who told us that "she" used to be a "he," and charged 50 euros. Cocaine dealers run rampant in the streets of Amsterdam. We were offered it at least 3 times in broad daylight, and a deal went down about 5 inches from me. We were just walking down the street and a dealer used me as a shield for his handoff. Besides the drugs and window hookers, the district is also crawling with live theaters featuring people having sex. There are also theaters showing porn to people in “private boxes.” I had to explain to Damon why a private box would be preferred for this activity. There are also countless porn stores, I’m assuming similar to the one on Grandpa and Grandma’s exit, and one was advertising Paris Hilton’s One Night in Paris video, as well as Traci Lords videos. I saw on E! that Traci Lords videos are hard to come by in the U.S., but readily available in Europe because she was underage when she made all of her flicks. The whole place was truly disgusting and demeaning. There was a channel in the Botel devoted to porn, and just walking down the streets some businesses had TVs outside playing flicks. Some parents were walking with their children through this area, which infuriated me. If you even think of taking your children to Amsterdam, you are a BAD PARENT. Never, ever let your children go there, no matter how old they are, or you are a BAD PARENT. (No offense, Ray, Clara, and Tonie. You did the best you could.) Anyway, another site suggested by Rick Steves was the Damrak Sex Museum, which supposedly featured the history of pornography from Roman times to the 1960’s. If it is recommended by Rick it can’t be all bad, right? WRONG. All this museum taught us was that people have been depraved since ancient times, and are perhaps so evil now that it is high time for another flood. There were a few noteworthy displays, such as a collection of chastity belts, which Damon and I will be using on all of our children, but overall this place was just an extension of the red light district posing as a museum.

All that sex made us hungry, so we stopped by a street vendor and bought huge slices of pepperoni pizza which we enjoyed in Dam Square – the main square of Amsterdam and the place which helped name the city. Dam Square on the Amstel River – Amsterdam. I had seen people eating ice cream and I had to see if theirs was as good as the Italians, so we stopped for a cone. It was gross. It is basically soft serve vanilla that they swirl a flavor into, like a thin slimy ribbon of chocolate syrup is supposed to make it chocolate. If you want good ice cream, skip the Netherlands. After the ice cream, we bought tickets for a canal cruise, and waited for the last cruise boat, since the cruise is supposed to be better at dark because the bridges are lighted. It did not actually get dark while we were on the boat, so we missed that, but we did see a building that Brad Pitt owns the top floor of and visits twice a year, and we floated down a canal used in the filming of Ocean’s 12. After this Damon went a little more native and used the bathroom in a street stall. All over Amsterdam there are these green metal booths, and sometimes you see men standing in them. They are crude urinals. Men go in and pee into a concrete hole in the ground. You can imagine how delightful they smell. I’ll put it this way – they make you wish for the weed smell to come back. We were back at the Botel in time for Damon to enjoy 2 more tostis and us to collapse into bed.

Saturday, 6/18/2005

This morning we slept in a little (until 9) and checked out of the Botel. We already had our train tickets for Haarlem, the trains were running again, and the ride only took 15 minutes. We rented bikes at the train station, stored our luggage, and rolled out. Our first stop was the post office to send off our postcards. Next we were famished, so we found a restaurant selling poffertjes, a traditional Dutch dish, and placed our order. The restaurant was on the side of a lovely street market, and we enjoyed watching the hustle and bustle and listening to a polka band play cover songs. Poffertjes are like little donuts with no holes, drowning in butter and dusted with powdered sugar. They were wonderful, but not nearly enough, so we hit one of the food stands in the market for 2 large stroopwafels. Those are thin, crispy, wafer-like waffles with some sort of thick syrup spread between them – very tasty. We got back on our bikes and headed for the Corrie Ten Boom House, but it was an hour until the next English tour, so we rode around the city for a while. According to Rick Steves, 40% of traffic in the Netherlands is bicycles. Damon and I think that another 40% must be public transit, because you see very few cars, but tons of bikes. In Amsterdam there was a bike garage with thousands lined up. Both cities have bike roads and stop lights. People ring their bell when they want to pass you. Lots of people have saddlebags on their rear tires to carry things, seats on top of their rear tires to cart their friends, or baby seats in front or behind their regular seat, and sometimes in both places. The tour of the Ten Boom House was very intimate and cozy. The clock shop is still in operation, and the home is decorated with family photos and memorabilia. The hiding place was extremely small but very cleverly designed to avoid detection. We learned how the architect had to cut out wooden floorboards to construct a brick wall beneath the floor level so if the Nazis pulled up the carpet they would not be able to tell that the floor was extended in that place. While the Ten Boom family was arrested, the 6 people in the hiding place escaped. After the family’s arrest, 24 hour Nazi surveillance was set up at the house, since the Nazis suspected people were hiding inside. A Dutch policeman working as a double agent was able to switch the guard assignments and put two sympathetic Dutch policemen on the assignment for the night shift 2 days after the raid so the people could escape. They had been without water the entire time, because the person whose job it was to put water in the hiding place forgot that day. The Ten Boom House, like the Anne Frank House, was very touching and inspirational. It was neat to see the story from a different perspective –that of a non-Jew aiding Jews in hiding.

After the Ten Boom House, we stopped by Pannekoekhuis de Smikkel, recommended by Rick for their pancakes, which Dutch people eat for lunch or dinner rather than breakfast. Damon ordered the “Romantique” and I had the simple powdered sugar pancakes. The Romantique was a huge pancake the size of a serving platter but very thin, and topped with raisins, cherries, peaches, whipped cream, bananas, strawberries, and ice cream. Mine was the same size but with only powdered sugar on top. They were delicious, but Damon could only finish about half of his and then thought he would be sick because of so much sweetness. We waddled out of the restaurant and back to the train station to turn in our bikes and hop a 10 minute train for the beach. Yesterday in Amsterdam it was overcast and about 60 degrees all day. Today was unseasonably warm for Holland, with temperatures in the sun of about 75 degrees and about 60 degrees with a chilly breeze in the shade. From the train station you can be walking on the sand within 5 minutes. Upon our arrival at the beach, one of the first things that we witnessed was a butt naked 6-year-old boy covered in sand rolling down a hill. Turns out the Europeans allow their children, male and female, to prance around the beach in nothing but their birthday suits until at least age 10. We also witnessed many topless women sunbathers. There apparently are no age restrictions on going topless, because we saw several women’s boobs who were approaching 80 at least. It was ghastly. After seeing so much nudity and sex peddled like a fast food sandwich, you just become totally grossed out by the human form. At this point I think I would throw up if I saw myself naked in a mirror, because I am so sick of seeing naked people. The streets and beaches of the Netherlands have made me long for Puritanical, wholesome New Orleans. As Dorothy said, there really is “no place like home.”

We tramped the beach a while and eventually set up shop on a couple of lounge chairs. Soon it was time to begin our commute back to Amsterdam. When we arrived at the Amsterdam train station 20 minutes early for our 19:00 train, we found that once again the people in France had given us erroneous scheduling information. The train we needed to be on did not leave until 19:23, putting us almost 30 minutes later than planned and making us fear that we would miss our connection to Bruges. When we were finally on the train, Damon asked the conductor about the schedule and changing trains. The conductor basically told him that each country runs their rail system independently, so you can never get good info in France about a train in another country. His advice to us was to wait until the Belgian conductor came on board at the border and ask him how to get to Bruges. This is just part of the insanity that is Europe. They have this great rail system to take you all over the continent, but no organization whatsoever. You never know from day to day, country to country, what train will be going where, at what time, if they will be on strike, how much it will cost, etc. Much of the time they don’t even check your ticket. This is our 6th day of travel on our Eurail passes and the first day they were checked. When we make train reservations they ask us if our pass is good for all countries. Shouldn’t they be telling us that? It seems as if they really don’t know what our pass is, so they just look at it and move on. We have enjoyed riding the rails for the gorgeous countryside views, but hated the suspense of not knowing whether you will make it to the correct destination, and perhaps more uncertain, whether you will be on time. We are now on a train we think is bound for Bruges, and tonight we have reservations at a 3 star Expedia hotel, so we are expecting great things. More tomorrow.

Hair update: Crappy. Didn’t wash it yesterday and put it in a wet ponytail today.

Allergy update: Horrible. Snotted and sneezed all over Haarlem. Think it is a combination of ganga smoke and tulips.

Amsterdam Fun Fact: Since all the homes in Amsterdam are multistoried but narrow, they use large hooks on the tops of their houses to haul furniture up and through the windows when they move.

Rome Fun Fact: In Rome there are no high rise buildings because it is illegal to build anything taller than the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Answer to earlier trivia question regarding the Star of David and the swastika: both symbols are featured on the floors of the Vatican Museum.

Sunday, 6/19/2005

Happy Father’s Day! It is Sunday the 19th and we are once again on a train, this time bound for Lyon (eventually…we have to change trains twice.) Last night when we arrived in Bruges, we took a taxi to our hotel. The check in process was delightful, and included complimentary orange juice just the way I like it with no bits. Our taxi driver told us to walk around after we checked into the hotel, since things were lighted and the city was beautiful at night. We were dog tired, but we decided that it was a once in a lifetime chance, so we went. The city truly was beautiful, with many gothic buildings and an impressive modern fountain. The hotel was very cute, clean, and tastefully decorated if you don’t take into account one velvet painting of a topless girl, but lacked one essential that would have made the Belgian heat wave easier to handle – air conditioning. There was a fan in the room, so we slept on top of the covers and sweated a lot. Oh, and this was our first experience with two twin beds that did not even attempt to pose as a double. If Damon had fallen into that crack he would have ended up on the floor. This morning we ate breakfast around 9:15 and walked back to the train station to store our luggage and rent bikes. While storing our luggage, Damon accidentally hit his head on the locker door – hard – I thought there was going to be blood, but he was okay. We set off on the bikes and made a stop at one of the lace shops for a souvenir. Bruges is famous for their lace, and I saw a woman at one shop making lace. Next we visited the Basilica of the Holy Blood, and as Providence would have it, we arrived just as they were beginning a mass that culminated in the showing of the relic. Damon bought a booklet on the basilica, so we can all learn more about it later, but the idea is that they have a vial containing the blood of Christ. The story of how they came by such an object is very sketchy. This turned out to be a long stop, and afterwards we were running out of time, so we hopped the bikes and rode like we were on the Tour de France as fast as we could to Bruges’ three windmills. We then peddled furiously back into town to Dumon’s Chocolate Shop, which is world famous for fine chocolates. As we were riding up, Damon tried to jump a curb on his bike, nearly taking a tumble and providing a nearby family with a hearty laugh at his expense. We bought a box of assorted chocolates (can be ordered online at http://www.chocolatierdumon.be/) and went to retrieve the bikes with only a few moments to spare. Unfortunately, when Damon jumped the curb his chain had come off, so he had to fix that and then his hands were filthy with grease, so he had to go into a restaurant to wash them while I waited in the shade and hoped the chocolates did not melt. We had to ride back to the station hard to make our train, and were huffing and puffing as we turned the bikes in and found the right track. Now we are on the train, and Damon just hit his head for the second time today, this time on the overhead luggage rack. I think he is just so tired he is clumsy. Overall ratings: Amsterdam – two thumbs way down for the red light district which makes New Orleans look like the home of real saints. One thumb up for the two legit museums we visited, Anne Frank and Van Gogh. Haarlem: two thumbs up for relaxed Dutch life at its finest, two thumbs down for the disturbing displays of beach nudity. Bruges: two thumbs way up for the fine chocolates, beautiful scenery, and lovely places to stroll or bike. A great place to relax and bring the family.

3 comments :

Grandma Tonie said...

Aww the Lost Diaries----I love them. I laughed and I cried. I cried over the poor Frank family and the Ten Boom family. I praise God that there were people who cared so much for others that they were willing to risk their life to save them.

The Sharbono Family said...

Have you recovered from Amsterdam yet??????????? How I love these diaries!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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