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Feb 15, 2002

February 9, 2002

February 9, 2002 - Amsterdam, Netherlands: This was actually my second visit to the dam city--I flew through Amsterdam for a few hours on February 19, 1997, but simply stayed in the airport. Here are more exerpts from my log in 2002:
"It’s been a rough week. Being couped up in a room in my off time with no bicycle has made me crazy, and all those personal doubts and feelings that I’ve been controlling are surfacing. My attempt to travel is hurting me socially because we all have our own plans and I can’t go out with people late at night when I have to blast out of here early in the morning for some far-off destination...I got some mail returned from Ha. I guess she’d moved from Austin, Texas and decided not to forward mail to her new place. I’ve never had mail returned from her before. I don’t know what to do with feelings of affection I have no one to give to...I exploded a few times, sent some emails dumping on a few people, and now I feel better. Maybe this little deal with Ha could be the closure I need. I swapped my tiny gas-guzzling Mercedes rental for a Volkswagen Passat Turbo Diesel station wagon. It’s large, heavy, fast, and very stable at high speeds. I took the autobahn to work on Thursday and Friday and was doing 180+ kph (112 miles an hour) effortlessly".

Saturday morning, 1:30 am, I left for Amsterdam, Netherlands (also known as Holland) with the same USO tour I missed on January 19. I sat next to a middle-aged blonde named Bernice, a divorced lady from Austin, Texas. I tried to be friendly by asking a few simple questions of her, but she laughed at the everything I said, and not in a mentally-ill way, so I enjoyed the conversation. I like to feel funny in a controllable way. We spoke often during the trip. I think she wanted to follow me around Amsterdam, but I managed to slip away every time. We sat behind the toilet entrance on the bus, which was distracting and slightly smelly, but gave us countless opportunities for practical jokes, none of which we took advantage of. Because we had no seats in front of us, we had safety belts, unlike others on the bus. I buckled mine but Bernice said she was okay. I told her if we crashed she’d be catapulted into the toilet. She laughed again.

Two hours outside of Kaiserslautern, our bus hit a large dog and startled everyone except me. The driver didn’t stop, but I assume the dog did. We drove straight north, past Cologne, and stopped for breakfast 14 miles from Amsterdam. In the restaurant parking lot we saw the damage from the dog--the bumper of the large bus was crushed in the middle, and half the bus’s face was bent. It looked bad.

A phrase kept popping into my head,” Are you Hollish? Do you speak Hollish?” It bugged me that I couldn’t remember whom I said it to or why I kept remembering it. It was some joke from the past year. We had a tour guide in-training along with us, and when I saw her it struck me how much she looked like a high school-mate, Cathy Rener. Then suddenly the planets aligned and I remembered, ”Cathy’s mother is from Holland!” When we spoke in May, I asked her if she was ‘Hollish’. Isn’t it strange how these things happen? I’d forgotten to tell her that I was going to Holland. I also knew a wonderful, spunky old Catholic priest in Medical Lake, Washington, John Rompa, who was a Dutch boy. Mimi and I used to affectionately call him Dracula because of his thick accent, but we never did get him to say,"I've come to suck your blood". When he was on holiday, another Dutch priest filled in for him and told embarrassing childhood stories about him, probably ruining his chance of ever becoming Pope. They were delightful old men with abundant gray nose hair, and Mimi and I loved John. John and I corresponded briefly after he retired. He died in November 2008.
Click on pink-border thumbnails for full size photo.

Amsterdam leaning buildings, a sign of status!

Amsterdam, near Central Station

Central Station, Amsterdam

We visited the Herman Ratterman wooden-shoe factory, and were shown how to make wooden shoes by a little man who sounded like a mouse. I wanted to buy shoes, but didn’t because I couldn’t think of anyone I could send shoes without causing marital problems. The rest of the tourists went nuts, running around in a drooling rage of greed, grabbing stuff at every stop, most of which is probably being used to prop up the short leg of their table by now. I mean, who wants to wear a wooden shoe anyway? Nothing could be more comfortable than the concrete Nike's I wear. By the end of the tour I’d picked up a single postcard, and a pair of Amsterdam boxer shorts to match the Paris boxers I’d bought last Saturday. Bernice thought it was funny, but she laughed at everything I said, so I assume she had gas. Most of the ‘souvenirs’ had 'Holland' or 'Holland Windmill' written on them--so tacky. I wanted a piece of Holland, not a billboard, and besides, I already had tulips on my face. My memory and photos are my souvenir. If my memory goes, well then the souvenir won't bring it back.

From there we drove to Central Station in the middle of Amsterdam. Amsterdam (pop roughly 800,000 humans), named from the Amstel River and Dam (they dammed it), has about 160 canals and in many cases, the land sets lower than the canals. It's odd considering in most other areas of the world you have to descend to reach the water. It’s a deer, lovely city with no real landmark or prime tourist attraction from what I could see. I saw one windmill during the entire trip (I’ve seen dozens in Germany). There were few skyscrapers because of the soft, low land. Central Station (above) is built on three man made islands at the entrance to Amsterdam harbor, and is supported by 8000 piles driven into the ground. It has on average 150,000 passengers a day.

The streets are lined with thousands of multi-colored, multi-story townhouses, very narrow (The narrowest is only 1 meter (39 inches) wide but most are 3-4 meters) and very deep, and many lean into the street by design. It used to be a sign of importance to have a house that leaned. In the U.S., it's a sign of incompetence. Below and to the right is St. Nicholas Roman Catholic Church.

Venice comes to mind when you see Amsterdam. It used to be called the Venice of the North, but I'd rather refer to it as "Son of Venice", or Venison. It’s also ruled by the bicycle. There are well-respected, well used bicycle paths around the city, respected as much as the all-mighty automobile (kneel for five seconds). The tour guide said there are about 40,000 bicycles fished out of the canals every year. I assumed the fish ride them.

St. Nicholas Roman Catholic Church, Amsterdam
St. Nicholas Roman Catholic Church, Amsterdam

Dam Square, Amsterdam

We walked past the Royal Palace (above) in Dam Square, where Napoleon’s brother lived when he ruled the Netherlands, and the New Church where the prince of the Netherlands was married the previous week. Then to the house of Anne Frank, the German girl born in Frankfurt, Germany, whose citizenship was revoked because she was Jewish. She hid from the Nazis in Amsterdam with her family and friends for two years. She was discovered in late 1944 and sent to a concentration camp in Bergen-Belsen, Germany where she died of Typhus and deprivation in March

1945 at the age of 15. She kept a diary, which was later discovered and made into a book and a few movies and plays. Only her father, Otto Frank survived Auschwitz. He died in 1980 at the age of 91. This was the most interesting sight, a must-see if you ask me. It's the actual house she hid in from 1942-1944, untouched and left with original papers the family had kept, magazine clippings Anne had taped up, and pencil marks on the walls to record the growth of the children. There were videos of Otto Frank telling his account of events, and how he felt when his friend, Miep, discovered Anne’s Diaries after she’d died. He didn’t know Anne had kept a diary. Like the cemetery in Luxembourg, it was very moving and just a small sample of the millions of beautiful people who were destroyed by Nazis. Anne was only 13 days older than my own mother. No photography was allowed inside (right is her house, the one in the middle with black doors). Outside the Anne's house I jumped onto a ‘Lovers’ boat and took a canal cruise for 90-minutes.

Statue of Anne Frank, Amsterdam

Ann Frank's secret lair
Seven Bridges, Amsterdam
Famous Seven Bridges view above, from lover's boat (count them).
Canals throughout AmsterdamBlue Bridge, AmsterdamNemo museum, Amsterdam
Above, to the left, more photos of beautiful bridges and canals around Amsterdam (click on pink-border thumbnails to see full photo). To the right of that, the Blauwbrug (literally, "blue bridge") an historic bridge that connects the Rembrandtplein area with the Waterlooplein area. It owes its name to a wooden "blue bridge" that was there from around 1600 but no longer exists, and which was painted the blue of the Dutch flag. It kept the name after 1883 when it was replaced by the spans of a new bridge, which is inspired by the architecture of several of the bridges over the Seine in Paris, one of which is the Ponte Alexandre III bridge that I'd seen and photographed and commented on in Paris. To the right of that, the Nemo science Museum, built to look like a giant boat, and to the right of it, an actual old sailing ship.

After about 20 minutes of this, save for a few exceptions, Amsterdam, although lovely, doesn’t change much. I’d see a nice panorama and think,”Oh, I must take this photo!” only to remember I’d taken one, almost identical, just minutes before. So I relaxed and enjoyed the cruise, befriending a British couple from the Bath, England area. I tried to return to Dam Square where our tour-guide said he’d take us to the red-light district. Somehow I missed the group, but when they returned they said not to bother--it was disgusting--just a lot of naked, fat, screaming women. Sorry, I have no joke to go with that remark. Other than wandering around the shops, I went to a Vincent Van Gogh, Bernard Gauguin exhibition at the world-famous Rijk Museum (photo below-right). I was interested at first, but the crowds, and surprisingly the fact that I wasn’t impressed by the paintings made me want to leave after about 20 minutes.

I went off by myself as the rain pelted the canals like tiny drops of applause, and the sun began getting sleepy-eyed. I found a very quiet canal where I messed with the ducks and swans. It was peaceful. I think I have dam moss on my jeans now. We blasted out of Amsterdam at 6pm.

Swan Friend
Herman Ratterman's Shoe Making StoreNew Church, AmsterdamRijk Museum, Amsterdam

Rijk Museum, Amsterdam

Bernice shot this (notice the leaning buildings over my head)
After sitting behind a toilet for hours, Michael's face freezes like that