Monthly Archives: May 2012

amsterdam

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I’ve been meaning to tell you the story about our trip to Amsterdam and I’m finally getting to it – here it is:

In March, Tim had some mandatory time off from work and the kids were dying to take a trip on one of the fast trains in Europe, so we booked a trip to a city that I’ve been dying to visit – Amsterdam! To top it off, we booked a canal boat for our stay – oh, yes.

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We had a great train ride and when we arrived, we took a short walk from the train station to the boat we rented. The boat owner, a nice guy in his late 50s, met us there and after showing us around, told us that he was going to be taking a canal cruise later that day and asked us if we wanted to join him.

When I hear things like “canal cruise,” I think of things like big sightseeing boats of tourists, and since it was unclear what kind of boat cruise this was, I didn’t immediately jump at the offer. He said he would let us get settled in and swing by to see if we wanted a ride, so I was very pleasantly surprised to see that he pulled up with a small old school canal motor boat, rather than a giant boat teeming with tourists. And along with his girlfriend and her daughter in the boat, he had a very nice spread of wine and cheese. Even better.

When the boys got on the boat, he asked them if they could swim, in a jokey manner which I laughed at, until I realized that there were absolutely no life vests in sight. Oh, those Americans, ever so cautious!

What happened next, may go down as a highlight of our time here – a two (!) hour boat cruise of the Amstel River and canals with a commentary by a true local. It was outstanding and we got to hear lots of local lore like the story of local celebrity Viktor IV, the American artist who lived on the Amstel and accidentally died trying to untangle some ropes under his boat, as well as the story of the Anne Frank House and the addition to the building funded by Steven Spielberg.

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During our boat trip, I had a really nice conversation with our boatlord’s girlfriend and her daughter. They were both really interesting people, but I found the boatlord’s girlfriend particularly interesting. How many people will you meet in life who have been Blackjack dealers in Botswana? Not many, I expect. So far I have met only one.

That night, we ate dinner on our boat and after dinner, Tim decided to take a walk around town at night. After about 20 minutes, he came rushing back on to the boat saying, “You have GOT to get out here!” Remember how I told you that Tim is a world-class trespasser? Well, I am a world-class house snooper. I love to see the insides of peoples’ houses and am particularly interested in what kind of furniture and art they have.

It turned out that Amsterdam is a prime viewing location for house snoopers like me since nobody even has curtains, let alone shutters. When I got out on to the street at night, I saw incredible art, amazing furniture and at least three dinner parties that I nearly invited myself to. Although the people looked fabulous sitting around drinking wine and eating a delicious looking meal, I really thought they could use a funny American to spice it up a bit, since there was absolutely no loud laughing and outrageous behavior. Doesn’t everyone need a loud American at his/her party?

While we were visiting, we rented a car for a day and drove out to Keukenhof which is one of the main locations to see the famous tulips of the Netherlands in spring. It’s only open for 3 months a year and the gardeners there plant over 7 million bulbs by hand annually. We were there at the beginning of tulip season, but it was still incredible to see and a highlight of an outstanding trip.

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The last day we were there, the kids were dying to go to the popular science museum called NEMO and I was dying to look in some galleries and check out some other sites – namely the Red Light District. Who can go to Amsterdam without going there? Definitely not me.

It’s a little mind-boggling to me that a profession like that would be enjoyable, but apparently the sex workers in Amsterdam are unionized, they pay taxes and they get great heath care. From that standpoint, what’s not to like? However, I’m pretty sure that the prostitutes who stand on the forest roads near my house aren’t getting such great benefits for their employment. Like everything else, I guess it depends on where you work.

When I arrived in the Red Light District it was early afternoon on a Saturday and even still, the women in the windows were out in full force. I was mostly surprised by the themed clothing that I saw. I was expecting lots of lingerie, but instead I saw a mix of cheerleader outfits and sporty girl outfits, complete with tall sports socks, very small shorts and sports bras. There must be a market for that look, because the women were working it for sure.

After sauntering through the RLD, I came upon a very nice pottery shop right next to the last sex shop. When I went inside, the potter came out of the back room and said, “Hi there and welcome to my shop! Were you looking for it or did you find it accidentally?”

I said, “Well, I kind of stumbled upon it by accident. I wasn’t really looking for it, but I’m happy to find it. Your stuff is beautiful.”

That’s when he replied, “I figured you weren’t looking for my shop because most people who are looking for my shop come from the other direction. I noticed that you came through the Red Light District.”

What’s wrong with being nosy AND liking pottery?

I can’t really say enough about Amsterdam. I loved everything about it – from the bike culture to the quirky inhabitants. It doesn’t hurt that the city is one of the most beautiful I had ever seen. I fully intend to move to Amsterdam someday and live on the river in a boat like Viktor IV. But if there’s any need to untangle any underwater ropes, I’m calling in the professionals.

Oh, and when Tim and the boys went to NEMO, here was the poster for one of the exhibits at the museum. Gotta love Amsterdam.

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deuxième rando

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Umm……. I’m kind of not sure where the time is going here – it seems like it’s really flying by.

What seemed like a couple of weekends ago, but I now realize was over a month ago, we took our kids on the annual spring Rando.  Rando is short for randonne which means a long hike.  Each spring a giant Rando is organized as a day-long event with different walking routes for different ambition levels between three local chateaus.

Last year we participated in the short version of the Rando which involved walking from one chateau to another, having a picnic lunch, and then walking back.  Last year it was hot – so hot, in fact, that we ran out of water and ended up staggering across the finish line like we had emerged from the dessert.  Somehow after our parched schlepp, we did managed to find a beer table like a mirage in the dessert  – and ice cream for the kids.  These are my favorite kinds of mirages.

This year, we were determined to be more prepared and we were also determined to try a more challenging route, so we decided on the 17k route (that’s nearly 10.5 miles for my American friends).  Our kids are pretty good with long distances, as long as there are snacks involved, and despite the fact that a few of our friend thought we were insane, we decided to try it.  We did also managed to convince a few other friends to join us.  My motto “safety in numbers” works especially well in situations like this, since there is nothing that motivates a kid like another kid running ahead of them.  And, there is nothing that motivates an adult like being beaten by your kid.  It’s like Psych 101 in action.

Things were going pretty well until we came to the top of a large hill and saw a woman passed out laying on the side of the trail.  Luckily she was surrounded by other people and we were not first on the scene.  My ability to be calm in a crisis situation (especially when people are screaming in French) is admittedly not the best.

We were heavily armed with snacks and plenty of water, but unfortunately for us the weather was about 30 degrees cooler than last year, which made walking a long distance more like a slog and less like a frolic in the sunshine.  On our way, we passed the house where Django Reinhardt, the legendary jazz musician, lived in a small town called Samois-sur-Seine.  Although he died in 1953, I would imagine that Samois looked about the same then as it does today, and probably as it did even 100 years before that.

The good news is that we made it to the end of the Rando and we felt a good bit of pride as we took off our shoes and took a pause for a cold beverage.  There was a shocking lack of whining and next year the kids say that they want to do the 28K (17+ mile) route.  I’m not sure about that one.  I might need to put some beer in my backpack to get through it.

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