Posted by: facetothewind | September 26, 2015

25,000 Miles and I’m Home

Amsterdam-bubbles

The last stop in my circumnavigation of this once great planet is Amsterdam. John and I took the train from Bruges through Antwerp and then on up into the Netherlands. Did you know that Netherlands means “lowlands?” It’s a muddy place that would be underwater were they not stemming the tide with dikes and pumps. The mushiness of the soil is evidenced by the leaning buildings which over the centuries have had their ups and downs.

Sinking-Amsterdam

Nothing in Amsterdam is plumb, square, or level. Sofas probably have seat belts.

You might think you’re stoned, which in Amsterdam is a very easy possibility, but no, the buildings are literally melting into the mud. I can’t imagine having a rolling desk chair in one of those 17th century beauties. Anyway, John had his maps at the ready and we hit the streets to discover this town we’d both been to many years ago.

Cafes, Canals, Cheese, Canabis, Cycling, Crowds

Arizona has its 5 C’s: copper, climate, citrus, cattle, cotton. But Amsterdam has its own set of C-perlatives coined by me (and it sure doesn’t include “Climate” as it rained almost every day) but you have to add a B in there for Beer! So here’s my Amsterdam superlatives in photos:

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We found this extraordinary cafe that had amazing homemade pastries — all wonderfully luscious and moist. It seemed to be some sort of women’s collective as it was entirely staffed by women. We especially loved the rhubarb pie. It’s called Die Laatste Kruimel — The Last Crumb — but I can’t say where it is for sure. One clue: it is by a canal.

Cafes

The canals give the city a wonderful romantic quality with reflections of 500 year old buildings shimmering in the water while electric tour boats silently glide by, passengers sipping champagne.

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In a way, with all its waterways, museums, and historic architecture, Amsterdam is a combination of Paris and Venice rolled into one big fat joint. And nearly as crowded…

Crowds

But what Amsterdam DOESN’T have is car traffic. It’s all bicycle traffic.

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It is estimated that there are more bicycles than people. And so the air is clean and the streets are remarkably quiet except for the grinding street trams and the sound of bicycle bells. They have their own half of the sidewalk and don’t you dare step into it or face a chorus of angry bells (see the video at the end of this posting).

Now the cheese. Here’s my lunch in Edam, a small town 45 minutes from Amsterdam, known for its cheese by the same name. This heavenly lunch of all things not found in Asia cost me 3.75 euros ($4.20 — an auspicious number in Amsterdam!). The guy behind the counter made a sample of cheese slices for me, the bread was fresh out of the oven, and the olive medley he threw in for free. The beer was a “tripel” which meant it had a high alcohol content of 8.4%. So I wandered around in a daze that afternoon and fell asleep on the bus back to Amsterdam. I had a sore neck upon arrival but it was worth it.

beer and cheese

The Canabis. Yeah you’ve all heard about it. The “coffeeshops” serve a variety of marijuana if you ask for it. If only I were in my 20s again, I might have enjoyed it. But I’m more of the museum-going, beer-swilling, pastry pusher at this point in my life.

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But I do appreciate a town liberal enough to allow such things even if I’ve personally outgrown them. And hey, who knew Amsterdam was a college town…

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Where else but Amsterdam (and perhaps Portland, OR) are you going to find Cheech & Chong’s Coffeshop? If you’re too young or sophisticated to know who C&C are, do look them up.

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And you gotta love a city that allows prostitution, and in fact taxes and regulates it. (I guess, so does Nevada, USA.) Here in the Red Light District of Amsterdam, it seems to draw the same titillated and sleazy crowds Las Vegas does. It’s not really my scene either, but John and I walked through it and resisted the temptation to go into the Museum of Prostitution. FYI – there’s a museum for everything in Amsterdam, from ceramic cows to tuilps to day glo art to marijuana.

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Here’s a window in the famous Red Light District. No pix from my camera of the girls, sorry, I respect their privacy. And for the record I did not see any boys for sale. For that you’ll have to go to Bangkok or online…oh oops, not anymore since Rentboy.com was busted. *Interesting side note: I spent my 43rd birthday hanging out with the CEO of Rentboy.com in Bangkok…not quite realizing who he was at the time. He did buy my birthday dinner. Thanks, “Jamon.” What can I say, America is still a prudish nation poisoned by its pilgrim beginnings.

Speaking of museums, Amsterdam has the most famous Rembrandt painting The Night Watch in the Rijksmuseum, truly a sight to behold with the drama of its size and use of light. Like the Mona Lisa in Paris, It draws the big crowds, sigh. I was thrilled, though, to see groups of Dutch school kids there. Interestingly, there are information placards circulating around the painting. One of the questions people ask the most is, “How much is The Night Watch worth?” What a dumb question, huh? The museum’s response is the essence of Dutch practicality: “We have no idea, it’s not for sale, anyway.”

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Amsterdam is also home of the fabulous Van Gogh Museum. If you can brave the lines and crowds, you are treated to a progressive, multi-floor trip through the life of the tortured (yet disciplined) artist via his work, his friends’ works, and his letters. Here’s the painting I liked the most: a portrait of his beloved brother Theo, but it was formerly believed to be one of his many self-portraits.

Theo

A couple other extraordinary things about Amsterdam…much of its wealth has its roots quite literally in flowers. Tulip bulbs were once worth more than houses and were traded like stocks in the market. And to this day, the Netherlands remains a major global flower market. This manifests in Amsterdam with the wonderful fresh-cut floral displays seen in so many restaurants and shops…

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In Amsterdam, you don’t have to pinch the flowers, they’re real and so are the candles. None of the flickering LED variety here.

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One last thing. The Dutch are the tallest people in the world. No kidding — at 5’10” I came up to about shoulder height of most men there.

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This woman, who was a bit shorter than me, is seen out walking her pet gorilla, err, a normal-sized Dutch man. The average height of a Dutch man is 6’4″. Now how did that happen? I’d say it’s the cheese.

Overall, I’d say Amsterdam is a pretty groovy city with a lot of European history and charm that has yet to be invaded by mainland Chinese tour groups unloading busloads of selfie-makers. I think there’s a stigma about drugs and prostitution that are off-putting to the mainstream mainlanders and maybe the more adventurous mainlanders would come on their own and be totally welcome. There are too many tourists as is, evidenced by the masses at Dam Square and the line around the block at the Anne Frank House and the Van Gogh Museum. Most of them it seems are from Italy, Spain, France, and England. I heard a few American accents (yes, dear Americans, you do have an accent that is quite discernible), but mostly what I heard was Spanish and Italian.

Here’s the video of the trip…

And here’s the remainder of my photos in a photo collage. You can enjoy some more floral displays, a pictorial visit to the Hortus Botanicus, and a small collection of sagging buildings. Click on the first one and use your arrow to advance through…

Finally, this is what I returned to in Malaysia. Sadly, the place is a hot mess…

Look at the view from my window. The smog or as they call it, the

Look at the view from my window. The smoke or as they call it, the “haze,” comes to us courtesy Indonesia illegally burning its forests.

The Malaysian currency is collapsing. When I first moved here, the Ringgit was 1 USD = 3.25 Ringgit. Now look at it. It's good for me, but bad news for Malaysians.

The Malaysian currency is collapsing. When I first moved here, the Ringgit was 1 USD = 3.25 Ringgit. Now look at it. It’s good for me, but bad news for Malaysians.

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My first day back. Wehoo. ISIS rolls out the welcome mat. But they won’t bother me, I’m Canadian, remember.

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The corruption scandal reaching new lows. The PM is accused of embezzling nearly 700 million USD from a public fund, which is contributing to the lack of investor confidence in the country and the sagging currency.

But the highlight of the return would be my sweet boyfriend who waited patiently for me to come home, tracking the ship across the ocean every day. Nothing like a month apart to rekindle passion!

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It is good to be home. But home is where the heart is and fortunately for me, the heart is a moveable feast.

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Responses

  1. This entry makes me want to visit Amsterdam, which nothing I’ve ever read or seen previously about the city has done. I love the leaning buildings — they look like certain town in Suffolk, England, such as Lavenham, where there are no right angles. But I could never live in Amsterdam because I’d be the size of one of those houses, what with all the cakes and cheese on hand. Nice post!

  2. Thanks, as always, David, for letting me travel through your lens…as always the paradox of human potentials for greed and gauche right next to tender care of art and creation. Glad you are “home” safe! And I am excited for when you might make your way back to the US. Sending love ❤

  3. Ah, Amsterdam — one of my favorite cities (then again, there are so many!). Was there once in the dead of winter, but it was beautiful even then. So easy to get lost, what with all the gently winding canals — one loses all sense of direction. Luckily, the Dutch are a friendly lot. Had no idea they were that tall, though. I guess I never noticed!


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