The world outside
Friday, August 02, 2002
So, we're back in Amstelveen. We decided to go from Alkmaar all the way back to Amsterdam in one day, giving us more time to do things tomorrow before everything closes on Sunday and half of Monday. Now we're pretty beat. "All the way back to Amsterdam" is actually not a very long distance. We thought we were actually covering some distance because we were looking at the regional 1:100000 scale bike touring maps. Then we looked at the big map of the country and it turns out we barely explored the country at all. But we go to do what we wanted - to take the old tandem out on a tour and see at least one cheese market. And we got to see a lot of other good stuff too. Caille got to see the back of my shirt for three days, and where else can you do that?
posted by Marc Pfister |
A break in the weather today. It's sunny, thank god, and though there's supposed to be a chance of showers today it looks like we're in the clear. Today we're going to Head to Haarlem, and if we really haul ass maybe we'll go all the way back to Amstelveen. We're going to head along the western coast, in the dunes. Maybe we'll stop at the beach and take a break for a swim.
posted by Marc Pfister |
Thursday, August 01, 2002
Ok, super quickie post here, I've only got 3 minutes left of internet access here at the library in Alksmeer.
posted by Marc Pfister |
Sunday, July 28, 2002
Today's Amsterdam update is brought to you by the letter S.
Small Size: For a major European city, Amsterdam is pretty small. Walking around Amsterdam we kept overshooting destinations. By foot you can cover most of the city in a day and with a bicycle you could not only see all of the city but even have time to go out of town into the country to see some windmills and cheese factories. The center of the city is composed of lots of small streets that go in a more or less north-south pattern. The center is then surrounded by a series of rings of roads and canals. We often go confused in this part of town. We knew we had to head a certain direction on the ring roads, but instead of walking south, we would overshoot and start to loop around to the east. Luckily the city is well marked with signs to tourist attractions and the canals give you an extra reference to look for on your maps.
Sex: You've probably heard about Amsterdam's Red Light District. Yes, prostitution is legal here. Not without some limitations, though. Streetwalking isn't legal. But in the Red Light District prostitutes stand in the windows of their, err, offices (?), illuminated by red light bulbs. If you see one that suits your fancy, you knock on her door, she opens, you negotiate your price and services to be rendered, and then transact your business. All legal. The prostitutes rent their offices, pay taxes, and are even loosely unionized. This system keeps it all well contained and cuts out pimps, organized crime, and other middlemen and leeches.
Skunk: If you know about the Red Light District, then you probably also know that marijuana is legal in Holland too. Technically, it isn't exactly legal - it's "tolerated". Having less than 5 grams on one's person is ignored by the police. If they catch you with more than that, the assumption is that you are dealing or trafficking drugs, and then you could be in trouble. Much like the prostitution situation, marijuana can be sold in licensed "coffeeshops", cutting out levels of street dealers and drug runners. With no need to be subversive about growing or selling, the Dutch cannabis growers have been cross-breeding and engineering super strains of cannabis. First their high-powered stuff was called "skunk". Now they've surpassed the potency of skunk and the new leaders have names like "White Ice". Anyway, with it not only being legal but also providing quite the selection for the smoking enthusiast, you can guess that there are coffeeshops all over the place in Amsterdam. There are probably more "coffeeshops" than "cafes" (where you go to get a cup of coffee). It seems like in the central area there is at least one on every street. They come in all flavors: rasta themes, gothic, cyber-ravey, Old-English library with polished wood, neo-Italian cafe', you name it.
Shrooms: Yes, since they are a natural product and non-addicitive, hallucinogenic mushrooms are legal too. You buy mushrooms at Smart Shops, which are like coffeeshops, only, umm, smarter?.
Stoned Tourists: With legal drugs and prostitutes to gawk at, it's pretty obvious that Amsterdam is a popular place for the 18-24 year old tourist crowd. It seems like most people in the city are tourists. You hear more English, Spanish, and German than Dutch in the city. English seems to be the common language that everyone defaults to if they don't natively speak the same language. This brings us to:
Shoarma: Almost as common as coffeshops are shoarma and falafel stands. These cheap and tasty snacks must be the staple of the aforementioned stoned tourists. With this sort of clientel, the shoarma stand is usually manned by impatient Lebanese men, able to sell shoarma in 15 languages. A typical transaction starts with a hungry, stoned German tourist standing in front of the stand, fixated on the 8x10 pictures of a heaping pita filled with shoarma (aka shwarma, marinated lamb carved off of a big cylinder, very similar to gyros). The shoarma man has to make the first move."You want shoarma?" he barks at the stoned German. Which, is like, dude, so trippy, because that's what Gunter was thinking about right at that moment. Gunter, baked on White Smurf or some other super skunk spliff, can only nod "Ja". Mr. shoarma man then efficiently, almost rudely facilitates the German through the order. "You want big? Big? Gross or klein?". He only needs to nod yes or no, and in a few minutes and 6 Euros later, he has a nice hot pita filled with roast lamb, chili sauce, onions, and other tasty toppings.
Staatfiets: Fiets are bicycles. They rule Holland. Bicycles have the right of way over cars. That doesn't mean you can just freestyle it, cutting through intersections and cutting off trams. But ridden in a legal manner, you generally have the right of way. You also generally have your own seperated bike lane, with its own signals. Bikes are everywhere. The train station even has a multi-story parking garage, just for bicycles. It's almost like Beijing. Typically you see everyone, from businessmen in suits to pretty young girls in designer clothes talking on cell phones riding around town. Trailers and baskets tote groceries and pets. If you visit Holland, you need to get your hands on a bike to really explore the country. You can rent them in town and at most train stations.
Strippenkaarts: are not trading cards for strippers. They are passes for public transportation and they work on trams and busses. As expected, the public transportation here is so convenient and efficient that you wonder exactly what Caltrain, BART, and MUNI are smoking. Everything is so beautifully integrated it's almost sickening.
So, sounds like a fun city, yes? (I am lapsing into Euro-English, no?)
And what did we do in Amsterdam?
Call it entertainment for the Straightlaced.
First, we went to the Van Gogh museum. It had lots of Van Gogh art. It was kind of neat to see some of his painting in real life that you see in books, etc. But all in all, there's not much else to say about it other than there's a lot of Van Gogh paintings there. At the museum we ran into Regina, a lady Caille used to teach with in San Jose. Small world.
Near to the Van Gogh museum is an underground super market. Going to supermarkets in foreign countries is one of our favorite things to do. The Dutch, though one would think them to be environmentally minded, love packaging. You can buy just about everything ready to go in a little plastic box. It's almost Japanese. You also have to weigh your own vegetables on a scale with a big row of buttons with pictures of the the different produces on them. Then there's the cheese. They had a counter for fresh cheese plus a whole rack of packaged cheeses. Then a thousand other dairy products. Milk, cream, creme fraiche, qwark, vla, crema catalana, puddings, rice puddings, butters, and on and on and on. They also seem to have a hundred different variations of licorice. Our favorite product was some sort of snack like a cross between mega-Chex and Cheetos called "Airbags". They also have Lion bars here, which is the undisputed champion of the candy bar world and sadly not available in the states. IT's like a Milky Way with rice crispy bars built in. Yum. We're definitely going to have to bring back a bag of those.
We also went to the Stedelijk Museum, which features more modern art. In their permanent collection we got to see some De Kooning (too abstract), some Warhol (much more impressive in person), more Van Gogh, and some other artists we knew of. There was also a lot of modern art, some of it way to far out there for my tastes. But there were also some pieces that were a lot of fun. There was also an exhibit of portrait photography (including the Dianne Arbus picture of the kid holding a toy hand grenade - a picture I alway liked but never knew anything about), some stuff about typography, and a special exhibition about children's furniture and playgrounds. There was also an exhibit of Grayson Perry's works. This was the craziest stuff. Grayson Perry, "transvestite and family man", makes the most bizarre pottery and quilts, full of insane levels of detail, much of it twisted or sexual, or sexually twisted. Crazy stuff.
We will probably go to Rijksmuseum next week, to see all the other great works of art that are kept there. I'd also like to go to the maritime museum.
To complete out the "must-see" list of museums in Amsterdam, we went to the Anne Frank House. There you get to walk through the warehouse and secret annex where Anne Frank and her family hid for three years from the Nazis. On one level, it's interesting to see the actual place depicted in the book. But there's two things that really hit me hard about it. One was the fact that they had been so close to pulling it off and staying in hiding until the Netherlands was liberated. The second was just how lucid and aware Anne Frank was about what was going on in the world around her and how wrong it all was, and how well she was able to express it.
Across the street from the Anne Frank House was "Amsterdam's Smallest Art Gallery". A little annex of brick on the side of church, the gallery was maybe 6 feet deep and 20 feet wide. It was a one-woman show of funky Amsterdam-themed art for sale. We bought a couple of paintings (mostly bicycle themed) for our house and for gifts.
We ate a lot cheese. You order a sandwich with say, parma ham and brie, and you get big thick slabs of brie. No two-dimensional slices of chees, but big, thick, pinky-width slabs of brie. Caille is in cheese heaven.
What else? Lots of funky shoes. We haven't bought any yet but its inevitable. Very few bums and panhandlers. The Tour de France live on TV on the French, German, Italian, and Eurosport TV channels simultaneously. Lots of bikes everywhere, can't walk 20 feet without stopping to look at something old and neato. Saw an old Raliegh with the lock in the fork crown that lets you lock your steering crooked so no one can ride off with your bike.
So that's our Amsterdam adventure. Sorry, no exciting or humorous stories to share. My next report will be from Amstelveen, where I am right now, and reports of the continuing dairy assault and the trials and tribulations of the the tandem.posted by Marc Pfister | 1:46 PM