|Date:||Monday, August 31, 1998|
|Location:||Amsterdam, The Netherlands|
Same old breakfast at the Hotel Amadeus.
We bus down to Amsterdam (meeting our driver, Johny Vos, for the first time), to see the Anne Frank House. Gene introduces us to the concept of a "precision dump" from the bus (later in the tour, the name is refined to "precision download," to avoid nasty connotations of what tour members might be considered). The idea is for the group to prepare for a very quick offloading while Johny stops the bus on a busy street.
We troop behind Gene as he leads us past the Wester Kerk (West Church) to the canal house/pectin shop in which the Franks and friends lived during much of World War II. The house is now a museum. All furnishings were confiscated upon their discovery. A few artifacts are left: Anne's magazine cuttings of the glamorous, pencil marks of Anne's and Margot's growth. The current controversy (in the last few weeks) is about yet more unpublished pages where Anne criticizes Otto for his treatment of her mother. We hear the Wester Kerk bells while in the hideaway apartment. These are the same bells that Anne (pronounced "ahnna") wrote about.
Afterward, Brig and I take a walk, crossing the canal from the Frank House. We stumble on a produce/deli store. They're selling mangoes, apples, currants, concord grapes, kiwi, bananas, etc. Behind the counter are lots of goodies, including an enticing berry salad, and a (to us) exotic mix of mushrooms. I buy a bag of 5 small grapefruit (from Argentina) for f5 and an apple for f0.50. Brig buys a coke.
Then, the bus takes us to the Amsterdam Historical Museum to see some of the paintings of the Amsterdam Civic Guard, from the "Golden Era" in the 17th century, when the Netherlands was the most powerful nation on the planet. These guys were apparently more of a fraternal order of bigwig merchants than a military unit. They commissioned artists to paint group portraits. One such painting by Rembrandt van Rijn ended up on a cigar box... and in the Rijksmuseum.
We visit another charity housing courtyard near the AHM. Then back to the museum's restaurant for a sandwich of head cheese, pate slice, and a slice of the same excellent cheese as we get at breakfast (emmenthaler again?). Fixings include slices of egg, sweet pickle, carrot shoestrings, lettuce, and tomato. After scraping off a pat of butter, the roll tastes wonderful.
Canal cruise next. We see leaning houses (Amsterdam, and indeed most of the Netherlands, is basically marshland) (also note the gables, most of which seem to be of the "bell" variety -- other kinds are "step", "frame", and "neck"); the Central Train Station (which we erroneously visited on our arrival in town); houseboats ; and ferries . We see a new science exhibition hall ala the Exploratorium in San Francisco. It has a nifty (and free) view of the harbor from the outdoor theater on the roof. There's a building that looks like a mutation of the Capitol Records building in Hollywood, but with a prominent outdoor stairway. According to the cruise guide, Amsterdamers call it "the Iron Toilet." Gee, it doesn't look that ugly to us!
The canal cruise is relaxing, but a trifle too touristy, and it ends just in time. Gene and Rick await us at dockside, as does the photographer with her wares. Yes, Brigid decides to buy the obligatory souvenir photo that they snapped on our way onto the boat.
Time to continue the museum regimen: Johny & the bus pick us up (a precision "upload" on a busy Amsterdam street) and takes us to the Rijksmuseum, to see Rembrandts, and three of the 30 Vermeers know to exist. Dark, dark stuff. In tone, not in subject matter. We head off to the Van Gogh museum, a quarter mile away. The museum is equipped with an excellent portable audio guide (which, incidentally, provides yet another pronunciation of Van Gogh: it sounds to me like "van hoch", with the ch sounding like a slightly softened "k". Apparently, different areas in the Netherlands pronounce things slightly differently). (Don't expect much of a description of the artwork. I like Van Gogh well enough, but I know as little about art as I do about wine. Ask me about programming languages or electronic gadgets. Or food!) We see several of the most famous works, including the Potato Eaters, and many of the self-portraits I recognize from my art appreciation class of long, long ago. Alas, Starry Night is not in this collection -- it's in New York. And the Sunflowers are out on loan. In fact, we are visiting the museum on the afternoon of the last day it will be open for quite some time. This evening, they close for renovation, and the paintings either go to the Rijksmuseum, or on tour, to pay for the renovation.
In the Van Gogh museum, on the top floor, we visit an exhibit of early photographs of the Amsterdam area. I'm struck by one set of photographs, in particular: It's of a prison called Binden, I think, dating from the turn of the century (i.e., around 1900). It consists of a huge domed cylinder, perhaps 300 feet in diameter, with skylights in the dome. Cells are around the cylindrical brick cylinder walls. It looks eerie, inside and out. On the bus ride back to Haarlem, we spot it! It's unclear whether the prison is still in operation.
Oh, did I mention the brief, afternoon walking tour of Amsterdam's Red Light district? VERY tacky. Sex shops show off exotic toys. I'm tempted to buy a wind-up hopping penis, but lack the, um, let's say "chutzpah." Video peep shows; live shows with sex acts (50 - 75 guilders -- I wonder how the price difference is reflected in the experience); and, of course, young ladies in the windows, wearing very little, offering their regulated, health-checked, taxed services. Some are attractive. Some aren't very. While doing business (or on a break), the drapes are closed. You wanted photos? Sorry, Gene indicated that cameras tend to bring out the worst in the ladies and their customers. I wonder why...
Oh, and I also neglected to mention our visit to the Dam Square in Amsterdam. This is the site of the original dam on the Amstel River. Workmen are dismantling some stands and speaker towers. There had been a music concert going on here, yesterday (Mike and Denise had gotten caught in that crowd, causing them to be late for the orientation). Anyway Brig and I have a few minutes to wander around near the square. We encounter a crowded and fragrant bakery, and enter to check the place out. Loads of delicious-looking goodies are in the display counter, including a chocolate-filled "broodje" (bread). We decide, instead, to share a "broodje hood." It looks like a pastry, but it's not, really. It turns out to be a small, flattish bun or bread with a thin, crisp crust, and a soft interior (which is not particularly sweet). It is sliced through the middle, and filled with a barely sweet pastry cream, and garnished with three tiny strawberries. It's VERY messy to eat, but well worth the embarrassment and sticky fingers (even with three napkins!). Oh, it cost f2.50, or around $1.25.
Back to Haarlem for a satisfactory, but uninspired rijstaffel. Bali, Cuisine of Indonesia, in La Jolla, is much better. I'm sated, but slightly disappointed.
Just before dinner, I try surfing out from the hotel's computer (on
the bar). Can't get to my employer's email, but I can check my Netcenter
email via the web. No exciting news. I email Stevi and Bruce,
and sign off. f7.50.