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Monday, April 16, 2012

What happens in Amsterdam stays in Amsterdam

  We own a book called "1001 Places to See Before You Die" or something like that.  On the subject of The Netherlands, it suggested the seeing the tulips, visiting a coffeeshop and checking out the red light district.  And so last weekend, that's what we did.

   We drove to Amsterdam from Brussels.  It look about 3 hours but much of that was getting out of the Brussels gridlock on a Friday evening.  It was a very pretty drive with little farms with cows and sheep grazing near the highway.  We saw a lot of new windmills and several old windmills on the way.   The Netherlands is called Pays-Bas in French and it is truly flat as a pancake.  (More about pancakes later.)

   On Saturday morning, we drove to Keukenhof Gardens near the city of Lisse.  The gardens are only open from mid-March to mid-May and we arrived early in the morning.   The flowers were amazing.  Acres and acres of tulips, hyacinths (which smell wonderful), daffodils, daisies, and then there were swans, canal boats, windmills, wooden shoes and the whole Dutch scene.  Brett and I spent hours and took hundreds of pictures of these flowers.  By the afternoon, the parking lot was jammed.  It was such a peaceful and beautiful place...and then we went to Amsterdam.

   We got off the train and were immediately greeted by the strong aroma of marijuana and a bazillion people on bikes.  We had a lot to learn about the bikes.  Evidently, in Amsterdam, bikes have priority.  I'm not sure if I mentioned it before but "priority" is a big deal over here.  In Belgium, traffic coming from the right has priority.  This means that people entering the road from the right can pop right in front of you.  Frightening.  Also, pedestrians here have priority.  But the cars don't always seem to care and I don't want my dying words to be "Damn it.  I had priority!"

  Bikes in Amsterdam have their own section of the sidewalk (in red brick) and you do NOT get in their way.  They warn you with a little bicycle bell, ding ding, which is not easy to hear.  Our "Welcome to Amsterdam" scene was a burly male bike rider elbowing a pedestrian who got in his way in her face.   After that, I was very careful to stay off the red brick.

   We saw the tulips so the next things were the coffeeshops and the red light district.  We were warned to visit that district in the day time so Brett and I strolled through in the early afternoon.  It occurred to me that the prostitute seniority system may be similar to that of nurses in the US.  The young cute ones work night shift and the middle-aged ones with more seniority get day shift.  I guess that explains what we saw which were women far past their prime sitting in windows in their underwear.  It was really just sad.

    So in the evening, we visited a real Amsterdam coffeeshop.  They have a menu of different kinds of joints and hashish with bizarre names.  Brett and I chose only coffee in the coffee shop (random drug testing at his job) but we were in a smallish room with about a half-dozen other patrons who were enthusiastically imbibing in the herb.  The place was densely smoky and before we finished our coffee, we were both not quite right. I don't know what this stuff is but it seems very potent.

   The next day, we visited the Heineken Experience which was similar (but better) than the Coca Cola Museum in Atlanta.  We tried to go to the VanGogh Museum but it was so crowded that we only made the gift shop.  We reassured ourselves that we live so close by that we could come back at any time, but I believe the residual effects of the coffee shop just made us lazy. 

     We had some good meals, too, but the cuisine wasn't up to Belgian standards. (Who's a food snob?  I am.)  The best thing was a pancake (like a fat crepe) with melted Gouda and ham inside.  They have great seafood, too, of course.  And there were cats in the restaurants which I thought was very cool.

  So our next trip is back to the USA.  And I can't wait to see all my friends and family.  Two more weeks. Yay.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Wanted: Ruby Slippers

  This week, I had my first serious bout of homesickness.   Sara, Tessa and I all celebrate birthdays this week.   So this time is always like a little Christmas with multiple family celebrations.  Plus it's Easter and, although we are overwhelmed here in Brussels with chocolate bunnies, I miss the real spring weather.  (Actually, I was glad to skip the major pollen season but it's still cool and rainy here.)

  This is how miserable I was:  I wasn't in the mood to go to Paris.  That, I believe, is a sign of depression worthy of a little electroconvulsive therapy.  We had planned on a weekend in Paris and I chose to pull the covers over my head and stay in bed.  

   And instead of seeing the beauty in Europe, I'm zoning in on the graffiti, the trash on the streets, the piles of dog poop, omnipresent cigarette smoke, the difficult traffic and homicidal drivers. 

    So yesterday, I decided to be my own Cognitive Behavioral Therapist and forced myself to take some positive steps.   I went shopping on Avenue Louise and strolled through the fancy stores.  Do you know a Chanel purse costs about 3000 Euros?  Didn't buy one. (Sorry, Tess.)   We went to a more reasonable  shop where I found some shoes.  I thought my feet were big at a size 9, but here I'm a 40.  European dress sizes add 30 to a normal American size so if I were a size 8 (which I haven't been for 25 years), I'd be a 38.  Many items are so much more expensive here.  Levis cost 99 Euros, plain old regular jeans.  I'll save the shopping for the Mall of Georgia.

   We walked down the street and found an Irish pub.  I drank two pints of beer and met some nice people.  The bar maid had a beautiful British accent (she was actually a French-speaking Belgian) but explained she had an English boyfriend.  One regular came in with his cute little Jack Russell who was served a beer in a dog bowl.  I assumed the guy was Irish because he spoke flawless English, but he was actually Dutch.   He explained that his dog drank beer frequently but always knew when to stop.  I should learn from that dog.

   We went to a very nice dinner within walking distance from our house for a wonderful dinner at Le Passage.  Salmon appetizer, lobster for the second course and amazing lamb for the third, plus two desserts and matched wines.  Ahh, feeling better already.

    Happily, we are scheduled to come back in 3 weeks for a too brief trip to the U.S.   I want to see my friends and family so much.  I want Mexican food and to shop at Target.  I want to wear sandals, get a real pedicure and see the sun.   I want to click my Ruby Slippers together because there's no place like home.