September 2 1:00pm
(I took a break yesterday, trying to give you a break, too since I write so much!)
Starting back on Friday, August 31 – the family finally woke up and we got out of the apartment by 1:00 pm. We picked up a tram and went to see the Van Gogh (pronounced “van ghock” we learned…) Museum. I was enjoying it but there were lots of people and it was often hard to see the pictures and especially to read about them. Basically it made our progress slow through the museum. The kids were pretty bored, or at least acting like it. Gerry Jr. seemed to have absorbed more than he wanted us to know. Gerry Sr. would quiz the kids each time we changed floors and Chubs seemed to know all the answers, Oscie would just make wild guesses. I invented a game to try to get Oscie interested. First, he had to guess which painting in the room was my favorite. We’d look at all the pictures in the room, then he’d get one try (usually I gave him two…). If he couldn’t guess, he had to close his eyes and I would twirl him around to disorient him and then lead him with his eyes closed to the chosen favorite. In the next room it was his turn to pick a favorite and I would try to guess. And so we went, alternating rooms. It must have been an OK game, as the Gerry’s both played at one time or another.
In the new wing of the museum, there was a really wonderful exhibit of over 40 paintings by the pointillist, Paul Signac.
We finished the museum around 3:30 and went to have “lunch” in the museum cafeteria. (Oscie’s appetite seemed to have returned to normal.) By the time we finished eating, it was pouring rain! So we sat and talked in the cafeteria and then visited the gift shop. Finally the rain stopped and we hopped the tram and headed “home.” The kids did some schoolwork and later (about 8:00 pm) Gerry and I went out for a long evening walk and picked up some Greek food for dinner. (Interestingly, just as in Puerto Rico you get French fries with just about everything, no matter what ethnic specialty you pick… here, too.)
Saturday, we tried to get up early, and it is a good thing we tried! Trying, we got out of the apartment at noon! The housekeepers (all male) were already in the apartment cleaning, and this, after we had had to ask them to come back twice.
It was a beautiful day!!! Crisp and cool, but sunny, so we hopped a tram and headed to Artis, to the zoo. What a great zoo, too! The animals all seemed to be posing for our pictures and we saw a lot of unusual animals that I hadn’t seen before. Both of the kids were really happy with the day, parents too. By 5:00 when the zoo closed, we were tired, but the trams were no longer running back in the direction of our hotel, due to a flower show in the center of town. So we took the metro, over the loud protestations of Gerry Jr. It was a 3 minute Metro ride! We spent the early evening just relaxing – looking at the 120 pictures and videos we took at the zoo. (Halleluiah for digital cameras!) At 8:00 we went to the “brown cafe” in the hotel for dinner. All the restaurant TVs were showing the soccer games of the day. The Netherlands played during the afternoon and we had watched that game at the apartment. By dinner, the Germany/England game was on… The Dutch were rooting for the English since Holland had lost (to Ireland).
The “brown cafés” are probably something close to an English pub – informal dining, family appropriate, short-order fare, and beer. Don’t confuse them with “coffeehouses” which is where you go to buy and smoke marijuana.
We finally got to bed before midnight!! At 10:30 we were all in bed with our books, and some lasted longer than others in the battle to stay awake.
This morning we woke up late anyway (10:00am) and just hung out. It was a “duff day” in RAC parlance. JJ went to work out in the hotel gym, but came back unhappy…Oscie and Dad wrote something for their websites and here I am. I, however, am planning to put on my shoes and go out within the next 1/2 hour!
September 3 8:53am
I am not sure if I did get out within 1/2 hour of when I quit yesterday, but I did get out eventually! It wasn’t the nicest day (in fact it started raining during the time we were out). Gerry Sr. and I left the kids behind – one was glued to the TV and one to a computer game…We had to came all the way to Europe for this???
We headed out, southeastwardly, looking for some of the neighborhoods we had passed on the tram. Along the way we got caught up in a New York City type crowd on a shopping street. As we shuffled along, caught up in the flow, we noticed an interesting archway over a narrow alley, and so escaped from the human river to take a look-see.
It was the entrance to the Amsterdam Historical Museum. We decide to visit it. Good choice! It was an excellent museum, especially considering it was a city historical museum. The exhibits started with the 1300’s and explained how Amsterdam was founded, and progressed through to the present. It covered the physical and sociological changes as well as the history of how the city grew. Unfortunately all the rooms from the 16th -18th century were closed for renovation. The earliest centuries were very interesting – apparently the peat layer under the city remains humid so artifacts that are made of cloth and leather are preserved, right along with pottery and metal. There were lots of shoes in these exhibits, as well as cooking utensils and tools.
In the “modern” rooms, one of the most interesting exhibits I found was one on the soft drugs policy of The Netherlands. I knew it existed. (It would be hard not to be aware of it! Especially at night, you can just take a walk and get high on everyone else’s secondhand smoke!) But I didn’t know the reasons and rules. I won’t go into it here, but the issues involved are pretty thought-provoking…particularly as to where you are willing to draw a line or not, on what are acceptable drugs and what are not. When you get into the reasons for that acceptability, the distinctions between hard drugs, soft drugs, alcohol and tobacco get pretty blurry.
When we came out of the museum, we stepped back into the human shopping river, now flowing along in the rain. We got out of it again to buy an umbrella and then decided to pick an alternative route home, one that passed the grocery store.
We had been buying groceries in a little colmado near the apartment, but this was a stop in the “Pueblo” of Amsterdam. There were a lot of people in the grocery store, too, but it didn’t look like people were shopping for a week. Instead, just like us, they were shopping for a meal or two. Another interesting thing that I learned from the museum, is that Amsterdam’s population is actually decreasing. As a place to live, for students, singles, and foreigners, it ranks high, but it isn’t the kind of city where you settle down, buy a house and raise your family. That could account for the unusually young population we see around us and the abundance of foreigners, and not just tourists. Back to the grocery store – we heard lots of different languages spoken in the store, but saw few older people. Besides checking the demographics, we also bought some food and headed home.
The kids were right where we left them. No! Sorry! They had changed chairs: The computer game player was in front of the TV and the TV watcher was in front of the computer. That’s important, you’ll realize! When we asked them if they had done anything all afternoon, this changing of positions allowed them to answer “yes” without telling a lie…
The evening was mellow. JJ cooked us a spaghetti dinner, we played cards, drew, read, and talked. Everyone was off to bed with a book by 9:30pm. I finally got Oscar to start Ender’s Game (Card wrote this book imagining my child!) ((Ps I highly recommend it!))
I want to digress a minute to say a bit more about this book and Orson Scott Card, the author, because during the course of the trip we read no fewer than 10 books by him. Ender’s Game is a very good book, which I recommend whole-heartedly, to children and adults alike. Remember that Oscar was just 11 when he read this book, and he was not a particularly avid or precocious reader. Liking this book as we did, there were two sequels about Ender, as well as two other books about another character in the original Ender story. We also got hooked on an “historical fantasy.” That’s not a literary genre – it is just a description! The book is fantasy by genre, but the characters and places and events bear a passing resemblance to history…Confusingly so for those who’s American History may be poor. This was the Alvin Maker series.
September 4 9:44pm
Today, the weather was awful! You have never seen such devilish weather. Sitting inside looking out, you’d see the sun shining and a gentle breeze blowing. Put on your coat and go outside…downpour!
Gerry and I went out in the morning leaving the kids to do their (no)thing. We went to the Rijksmuseum – an art museum. Yes, we saw the Rembrandts, the one Vermeer (the other was on loan to the National Gallery in London) and two Van Goghs…but the real surprise and pleasure was the exhibit of decorative arts. There were beds and chests, chairs and tables from the 17th and 18th centuries that were really fine, beautiful examples of craftsmanship and art. There was a large chest of carved ebony that had such a high gleam that it appeared to be silver! The glass was also exceptional. I loved the doll houses! I have always wanted to create a doll house, so it was nice to see that these doll houses of the 18th century were not meant as toys, but as hobbies for grown women (yes!).
Had a picnic lunch in the apartment with the kids, and then forced them to go out to see the Heineken Brewery. It was pouring rain when we got off the tram, and the tour was full of young “adults” looking for free beer (right, the admission ticket was 11 guilders!) The tour was very disappointing. I was hoping to see the process of brewing beer but there was really nothing to see. They had an “experience” going on – interactive stuff and a lot of lights and loud music, with bars to drink beer interspersed. When we finished, it (of course) started to rain again, so we came home and did schoolwork and “chilled.”
Looking for better weather tomorrow!
September 5 11:15pm
Good day, today! Everyone got up at a reasonable hour and we even got out of the house before 11 (am!). First off we got to visit the Conference Center for the Marriott. Think a Conference Center is boring? This one is in a 17th century former protestant church with the organ still in place! Very, very nice!
We took the Circle Tram (the #20) to the Artis (remember the zoo from last Saturday?) Of course, by the time we got there, we needed to have lunch, so we did that first. Priorities! At least we had lunch contemplating the African savannah – with zebras and meercats and gnus in front of us … and to the other side, 18th century canal houses…
A second day at the zoo and the sun is out again…I guess that means we should come to the zoo everyday! (The weather really has been wet.) We actually came to visit the Aquarium (mostly coral reefs, which wasn’t so unusual considering our demographics…) and the Geological Museum (6th grade science class ala home schooling) and the Planetarium (all in Dutch). Unfortunately, Gerry Jr. (14 years old, not 4) wandered off and we could not find him…for more than an hour! We had to tell security and have them help us find him. Off they rode on their bicycles…and 30 minutes later reported finding him. With the chimpanzees!! Appropriate, or what?
We took the tram homeward, but took a canal cruise instead of going inside. It was a very pleasant hour’s trip along the canals of Amsterdam, with a pretty interesting historical commentary as we cruised along. The boat ride is very smooth! The view is great from the water level – amazing how much more you see.
Dropped the kids off at the apartment (bought them sandwiches) and Gerry and I headed out to an Indonesian restaurant for dinner. At first they didn’t have room for us, but fortunately they found a table (?) and we ordered a “rice table.” It was good – sufficient quantity – but at a certain point I thought we were going to call the ambulance to take Gerry to the emergency room…He took a huge bite of the spiciest thing first bite of the evening and practically died! Fortunately, he recovered after the ministrations of the restaurant personnel and we finished a delightful meal. We cabbed it home and I’m ready for bed!
September 7 3:15pm
It hardly seems possible that we have come to the end of this stay in Amsterdam! Already tomorrow we board our cruise ship (the Galaxy) and head out to Scandinavia and the North Sea.
In preparation for leaving, we did our laundry yesterday morning. It was easy enough: We took it to the laundromat and left it there and two hours later picked it up, clean and somewhat folded.
The day was pretty nice so we spent the afternoon trying to follow a “walk” in our guidebook, but we ended up going around in circles mostly! Gerry Jr. was set on buying a basketball so after we ate another of our 3:00 pm lunches, our group split up. The Gerry’s went in search of a basketball and Oscar and I kept on exploring (rather, wandering in circles, ’til we gave up and went home).
Oscar’s and my walk was not as uneventful as I made it seem by not mentioning anything about it! Actually, we had an experience that I have retold many times. You know that Amsterdam has a Red Light District, and if you have been there, you know that there are many shop windows where the women are on display, in their working attire. For an 11 year-old boy, seeing this with your mother is probably not the most comfortable situation. Trying not to notice them in the areas that are not specifically THE Red Light District, we wandered right into the heart of it. I was distracted by what looked like a theater entrance when I heard a gasp to my right. I turned to see Oscar’s face bathed in the pink glow of a very famous landmark in the Red Light District – a 12 foot, pink, penis-shaped fountain. That’s when we decided to go straight home!
The basketball search was not what it might seem. They had to visit 10 stores before they found any basketballs at all, and then had to settle for a rubber one. The clerk explained that thanks to the Nike commercial with the kids dribbling and all, there has been a run on basketballs in Amsterdam! Who’d a thunk it?
Last night we had dinner in the café of the hotel. The food was quite good once again. We tried to go to bed early because today we were going to be up and out early, but like most of our attempts at time control and scheduling, we failed miserably.
We did get up and out by 8:30 this morning to take our bus tour. We caught a bus that took us to the Museumplein, where below ground there is a huge bus terminal just for tour buses, it seems. There we boarded the bus for our tour: Alkmaar and the Windmills. First we went to Alkmaar, a town NNE of Amsterdam. On Friday mornings, they have a cheese market (during the tourist season only…) where you can see huge rounds of Gouda (pronounced how-da) and Edam cheeses, brought to be weighed before they are distributed throughout Holland. The market is quite colorful and cheerful: The men who carry the cheeses around are dressed in white with hats with different colored ribbons. The cheese is loaded on to these cradle-like pallets that are color coded to the hat ribbons. Two men pick up the cradles and carry the cheese to the scale and after it is weighed, back again to the square. There, other men load the rounds onto large wooden carts and take it to be loaded on the trucks. It’s quite a sight to see all the cheese laid out in the market square waiting to be taken to be weighed. As part of the show, the carriers loaded up the cradles with kindergarteners and took them for a ride around the cheese. Most of them laughed…
Afterwards, we explored the market a little and tasted some local cheeses. We then found our bus and headed back toward Amsterdam, via an area near Zaandam. There we stopped to see how wooden shoes are made (both the hand-made way and the machine-made way). JJ and Oscie both bought souvenir wooden shoes. I suggested, after we spent a great deal of time trying them on to find the right size, that if they weren’t going to actually wear them, it didn’t really matter what size they bought…Fortunately, the ones they bought will not prove difficult to carry around. Try imagining a pair of wooden shoes to fit a 14 year-old who wears a size 11 and tell me where we were going to pack those!
The view of the windmills was really very picturesque (“cute” is how our tour guide described it!) The sky was characteristically gray (varying shades from pretty dark to almost white), the ground was a really rich green, dotted with cattle and sheep. The mills were turning and beyond, you could see the historic center of the town – all of the 16th century wooden buildings painted green and white. It looked like perfect material for a painting – hence you can understand why so many painters have chosen to paint similar scenes throughout Dutch art history.
Our guide was pretty informative about the reclamation of the land from the water and we did get to see a lot of areas where the land was 15-20 feet below sea level. It was also interesting to see the various stages of human involvement: In some areas the canals were rough and wild, no real boundaries or walls holding them in. There the ground was very soggy looking. Then, in the man-made areas the canals were well-mannered, flowing neatly between their perfectly parallel and straight banks. In these areas, the land was definitely lower and drier, too.
As always, it was good to get out of the city and see the countryside. Holland is so green! The land is always moist and it rains about 283 days a year…But agriculture is animal-based. (It is easier to save animals from floods than crops!) We didn’t see any tulips, of course, this being the wrong time of year for that. Apparently, the time to see them is in April and May. By the end of June all the bulbs are dug up, and the next year’s planting takes place in November. The guide told me that there are 25,000 bulb farms in the Netherlands.
Well, that’s it for Amsterdam. The rest of today and tomorrow morning we’ll spend getting ready to leave our cute little apartment and get on our ship. I am going to be writing almost daily for this journal while we are on our cruise, but I do not expect to be able to publish it until after the 20th when we return to Amsterdam for two nights before going to London. We are in fact, returning to this very apartment!