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Wednesday, August 21, 2002  

Some final thoughts on Holland, two weeks later:

1. Holland is Europe Lite. Everyone speaks English, and they seem to tolerate everyone. If you plan to tour Europe, you should start in Holland just to get used to "the little things" (Pulp Fiction reference). The once you get comfortable with the lack of attention you get by your server in a restaurant and the fact that 9 times out of 10 driving is the slowest way to get anywhere, then you can move on down to the rest of Europe.

2. Holland has terrible ventilation. Don't ask me why. Maybe it has something to do with living in thatched windmills for so long that they prefer to have every stuffy.

3. It's the cheese.

4.Yes, they really do still wear wooden clogs there. It's not just a tourist thing.

Pictures are coming soon - one more roll of film still needs developing.

There was a request from a reader to bring back pictures of our house. Sorry the web page is so ugly. I'm working on a nicer one, I promise. Obviously, that page is somewhat dated.

posted by Marc Pfister | 10:27 PM

Sunday, August 04, 2002  

Gay Pride Parade report:

We got there a little late, and saw a few floats. Nothing amazing, mostly wigs and flags. Did see a great drag queen wearing a heart-shaped wig made of flowers. How Dutch.

One thing you need to consider, should you decide to throw your own gay pride parade, is that you will have lots and lots of men attending and they will most likely be drinking beer and cocktails (no puns intended). So you will need urinals, lots of them. Amsterdam already has urinals on the streets (they look like a cross between a phone booth and those cages scuba divers use to feed sharks from), but they needed a lot more. So they had these very moderm, chic porta-urinals. They were these silver cylindrical pods divided into four sections with a little, um, receptacle, in the corner of each section. If you saw a picture of one and had nothing to clue you in about the size of it, you'd think it was some kind of orange juicer from the Sharper Image. They were very smooth and futuristic - they almost looked straight out of Star Trek. They're probably made by blow-molding (no puns, again) just like they make kayaks. I didn't get a picture, sadly.

Best pick up line:

1: "Hey Gary, you look wonderful!" (Gives Gary a smooch on the cheek)

2: "But I'm not Gary...."

You had to be there, honest.

Didn't see much else exciting with the type of excitement you'd hope to see (or hope to not see). However, on the way back we say some commotion in a canal. There were two police boats tied up against another small boat, and a couple of police officers were holding someone's head out of the water. Evidentally, this guy had fallen off of his boat and somehow gotten his pants stuck on something (water intake? Propeller?) and couldn't get out of the water. Within the next 10 minutes, the following arrived on the scene:


Fire truck

Canal Reponse Team (with scuba diver)

Command Wagon

More fire tucks

Police car


More police cars

Police motorcycle

Pretty impressive what a 70% income tax rate buys you for security, no? The scuba diver cut his pants loose and they pulled him out of the water.

Later,we went out to look for a place to eat dinner. We decided to try this Cantonese restaraunt, since the Chinese food we get in Redding is so terrible that it could only be better, even in Holland. We looked at the menu in the window, and all the dishes were Indonesian - Nasi Goreng and things like that. At that point we were hungry enough that the exact part of Asia that the food was coming from wasn't that important. Inside, the waiter initially gave us menus in Dutch, but when he heard us speaking English he got us some English menus. The English menu was totally different from the one in the window - in this one all the dishes were actually Cantonese. It was all very strange. So we ordered some dishes and within minutes, and I mean less than 5 minutes, not 15 or 20, food starts arriving at our table. When the first dish arrived, it looked like what we ordered, but it came so fast that we thought it might be a mistake and we had someone else's food. But then the rest of our dishes arrived. And while it wasn't they best Chinese food I'd ever had, it was pretty darn good.

Tomorrow, we head back home. It's been fun but I can't wait to get back.

posted by Marc Pfister | 3:42 AM

This update is old - it was stuck on my great-aunt's computer while we were touring on the tandem.

Tandem Trials

The whole point of this honeymoon was to go to Amstelveen, a suburb of Amsterdam, and borrow an ancient tandem bicycle that belongs to my great-aunt. We were then going to ride the tandem around Holland, stopping for cheese and other tasty treats.

In case you didn't know, the reason for all the cheese references is that Caille used to be a cheesemaker, and if she didn't enjoy teaching so much, she would probably still be making cheese today. So cheese is an important theme to a lot of the things we do.

So our plan was to ride this old tandem, one that my great-uncle used to take his family for rides around Holland on. Sounds perfect, doesn't it? What a great honeymoon - Marc gets his bike-riding, Caille gets her cheese.

Now this tandem is pretty ancient. My great-uncle bought it in the 60's, and he bought it used from another couple. I'd guess it to be from the late 50's, based on the contruction and components, though it looks like it had some work done on it about 10-20 years ago, based on some of the parts that are definitely newer than the rest of the bike. I'll get into more details on the tandem later in this report, to spare you non-bike-geeks out there. But think of the kind of bike Mary Poppins would ride. Black frame, black rims, big black tires. Fenders, racks, skirtguards, full chaincases. It's a tandem version of the classic black bike you see everywhere in Holland.

I had anticipated that it would probably need some work to get it running smoothly. I had brought along all of my specialized bike tools and it would be no problem to buy new tires or chains since there's a bike shop on every major street. And anyway, if it turned out that the bike was unfixable, we could always rent bikes and tour that way. Not as romantic and nostalgic as taking the family tandem, but it would work in a pinch.

I'm going to skip ahead here to spare you the gory bike details, but I got the tandem running, and so far we have gone a few short rides on it. The seats are horrendous. They are your average cushy plastic seats. They are sweaty and chafe and just plain uncomfortable. The tandem originally had nice sprung Lepper leather saddles, but the leather had rotted out years ago. Too bad. But anyway, the bike runs, but unfortunately other than one day trip of two hours out to Nes and back along the Amstel Canal, we haven't been able to ride it more than around town.

Problem number one: I spent Saturday fixing the bike up. Sunday we rode the bike, and realized we needed new seats. Most shops are closed Sundays, so we had to wait until Monday. Well. on Mondays shops open late, so we had to wait until Monday afternoon. We ended up doing other things, and made it to the bike shop just before they closed Monday night. We found some saddles and some nifty saddlebags. But when we went to pay, we found out they didn't take credit cards. So we had to go back today (Tuesday) to get the parts. So four tandem-able days down the drain.

Problem 2: Though the bike hasn't been perfect, it's been rideable, but that's not the crux of this problem. The last four days Holland has had a heat wave. A heat wave in Holland means temperatures in the 80s. Which should be cool weather to us Redding-ites. The week before we left it was 118 in Redding, hottest city in the nation. So 85 should be nice. However, if you know your geography, you know that most of Holland was originally under water and has been pumped dry with a system of dikes and windmills. There are canals everywhere, and with that comes humidity, something we're not used to. Basically, we're wilting in this heat and trying to hide out.

Problem 3: Two hours ago, the weather was hot and muggy. Now it is cold, with thunderstorms and heavy rain. So finally it is cool enough to start our trip, but now it's too wet, and we don't want to tour in the rain. No thanks - we decided that as a honeymoon there would be no "roughing it".

So hopefully the weather will stabilize to something cool. If not, we're taking the bus somewhere instead and we'll save the tandem tour for tulip season.

In the meantime, we are being assaulted with dairy products: young gouda, younger gouda, aged gouda, middle-aged gouda, brie, goat cheese of unknown pedigree, vla, yogurt, qwark, dame blanche, chocolate mousse, halfvolle milk, fresh mozarella, etc.

Gory Bike Details

If you're not into bikes, you might not find this too interesting.

The tandem is from Holland, builder unknown. It does say on the frame in two places but the paint is too faded to make out the letters. The frame is a double-mixte. The front half of the frame has one tube going from the top of the head tube to halfway down the seat tube in traditional mixte fashion, and then a second tube going from the top of the seat tube down to halfway on the down tube, piercing the mixte tube. The stoker half of the frame has two sets of mixte tubes spaced one on top of each other, about four inches apart, and then another tube coming down from halfway up that seat tube to the lower mixte tube. The whole thing is lugged which is crazy that someone would go to the trouble of developing all of these lugs. I can't see any obvious seams on the lugs that would give them away as being stamped, but they don't look cast either. I'll have to take a closer look. The tubing is all woefully undersized, with the top tubes looking like 7/8", the down tube 1" or maybe 1 1/8", and the boom tube maybe 1 1/2". The small tubing and the mixte configuration make the bike extremely whippy. The front bottom bracket rides in a steel eccentric fixed by pinch bolts on a split bottom bracket shell. The fork has oversized blades and way too much rake. In typical dutch fashion, it has chain cases on both the drive side chain and the crossover timing chain, fenders, mudflaps, skirtguards, a rear rack, and a dynamo with head and tail lights. The wheels are 28" (700c, 622 bead seat) steel with 12 or 13 gauge spokes and run some massive Vredestien Transport tires that are about 1.5" wide and have a very industrial knobby tire pattern. The hubs are massive drum brakes. The cranks are steel and cottered. In fact, everything on this bike is steel. I don't think it has a single aluminum part. Originally it had sprung Lepper saddles but the leather had rotted in the wet weather. It has a rear wheel stand that attaches to the rear dropouts and flips down to hold the bike upright. The whole thing could be close to 100lbs. It's unbelievably heavy.

Gettin' Greasy

When I first saw it, the tandem was sitting in the shed. Both tires were flat. I pumped up the tires to see if they still held air, and then extracted the tandem from the shed. A quick once-over of the bike revealed the the rear cranks were twisted so that they were no longer 180 degrees apart and the rear bottom bracket was loose. Everything else seemed to work fairly well.

The first thing I looked at was the twisted cranks. I put the bike on the rear wheel stand, stood up on the stoker pedals, and tried to bounce them into phase. They moved back to straight. I guess the cotter pin was loose and the cranks weren't in the right place. So I went to tighten the cotter pin.

Here things started to get ugly. I tightened the cotter pin and the crank slipped back to about 5 degrees out of parallel. So I guess it wasn't the cotter pin after all. The bottom bracket must be twisted. I figured I might as well tighten the bottom bracket, get the bike rideable, and then take Caille on a ride to see if she could notice the twist in the bottom bracket.

In order to get at the adjustable cup, I had to take off the timing chain case, which was an ordeal in itself. The chaincases are actually a vinyl material that is stretched over a frame, and undoing them is a real pain in the ass. After I removed the chain case, I found a fixed-style cup on the side that should have had an adjustable cup and lockring.

So, maybe they put the bottom bracket in backwards? I then had to take off the other chaincase, which is more inaccessible due to all the other stuff around the rear wheel - fenders, racks, etc. And there on the fixed cup side was another fixed cup. Huh?

Taking a closer look, I noticed that the BB shell had pinch bolts. So on this bike, there is no fixed or adjustable cup, just two adjustable cups that are fixed by pinch bolts. The adjujstable cups are the type that have a single 15mm protrusion for your wrench. Unfortunately, both cups had been screwed in enough that the protrusion was below the rim of the bottom bracket shell, so the wrench could only engage the cup at an angle and slipped off easily. And then, the crank was in the way, so I had to hammer it off. But I had to get some slack in the chain, and the rear wheel was help by chain tensioners hidden under fender stays obscured by rack mounts. Luckily, there was just enough slack that I was able to wiggle the crankarm off. But the chaincase struts were also in the way, so that had to come off too. Finally I was able to get at the bottom bracket, but even with the pinch bolt loose I was barely able to tighten the cup without the wrech slipping. I to hammer a screwdriver into the pinch slot in order to loosen its grip on the cup so that I could turn it. Of course, then the screwdriver was in the way. But I finally got it tight, and reassembled all the other bits and pieces. After that, I fine tuned the tension on the timing chain (which due to the low tolerance involved, was loose enough not to bind, but tight enough to keep the slack chain from rubbing on the chaincase in the loose spots.

The bike was ready to go at this point, save for fine tuning seat heights and little things like that. We took it for a test ride, and Caille didn't notice the BB twist, so I was spared from having to change the rear bottom bracket.

So it looks like we're ready to go, once the weather cooperates!

Pictures coming soon...

posted by Marc Pfister | 3:17 AM

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?

Anywhere really.

I'm going to see if I can find a scale here. That bike is heavy!

Tomorrow is the Amsterdam Gay Pride parade. The parade floats are on barges that cruise the canals. Then there are street parties later in different sections of the town. I think we might go check it out. As liberal as Amsterdam is, evidentally they try to keep the parade kind of clean, so it ends up more like a big helping of camp, instead of sweaty men in leather chaps.

posted by Marc Pfister | 12:18 PM

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.

Last night we were able to make it to the Indonesian restaurant, and were able to snag the only availabe table for two. The menu was in Dutch, and described Indonesian dishes, so we had to do double translation. First we had to look up the Indonesian dish in the more descriptive sub-sections of the menu, then try to translate the Dutch. At first we were waffling about what to get, but then we decided, that we were hungry and had spent the day riding in the rain, so we were going to go for the big one: the Rijstafel (rice table). This was rice, served with 17 side dishes varying from fried peanuts, coconut flakes, sauces, meatballs, sates, curries, a full table full of tasty dishes. We ate the whole thing. Before and after pictures coming soon.

OK, so time to get back on the road.

posted by Marc Pfister | 2:53 AM

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.

We're on the road. I was going to give you a full update here; it's written but it's sitting on my great-aunt's computer. So here's a quick update:

Weather: really hot and humid until yesterday.
Bike: needing work until two days ago.

So, we didn't get started riding the bike around until yesterday,which was Wednesday.

Day 1: Amstelveen to Edam. Weather: overcast and cool. 26km plus two ferry trips. Stayed at a swanky hotel in Edam. Caille got to see its cheese museum, I got to see a skeeler (Dutch speedskating) shop, sadly closed. The windowshopping was good though.

Day 2: Edam to Alksmaar. Weather: rainy and windy. 40km? Directions in American books are not on par with overzealous Dutch signposting. Saw a cool windmill museum, got to see and touch almost everything. A lawyer's dream in the USA, very educational for the rest of the world. Now we are in Alkmaar, awaiting the big cheese museum here and the famous cheesemarket.

Tomorrow, down to Haarlem, and back to Amstelveen the next. Now it's time for dinner. Riding a 100 pound tandem in the rain, sitting bolt upright into a headwind, is pretty tiring. Our goal is Indonesian food, though we may settle for Shoarma, if we don't find it soon.

Stay tuned for the tardy in-between update. It will have some good reading, I promise.

posted by Marc Pfister | 11:02 AM

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