No Such Thing as Personal Space in Amsterdam

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Oct 312009
 

stop and goMaybe it’s because everything is packed together and everything is small but it seems there is no such thing as personal space here.   When we had dinner at Tabac the other night.   We sat at the end of the bar as the 5 tables in the restaurant were over packed with other diners.   It was the perfect spot for me, I thought.   Since I was at the end of the bar and there was a table a couple of feet behind me I figured I would be out of the way of the other people as well as the wait staff.   But like I said, there is no such thing as personal space in Amsterdam.   For part of our meal, a man stood nearly leaning against me drinking a beer.   Sure, the restaurant is tiny and it was busy.   There just isn’t a consideration that he shouldn’t have been leaning on me.   When he finished his beer he literally put his glass down next to my dinner plate on the bar.   I said to Ben, “Really!?”   He just smiled and moved the man’s glass to the inside edge of the bar.amsterdam night

The other night we were walking near the Amstel to go to the Italian restaurant.   It was a lovely night.   It was Thursday so it was late night shopping here in Amsterdam.   Most of the stores usually close between 5p and 6p but on Thursday they are open until 9p.   So, the streets were thick with shoppers and tourists and people getting off work.   Rather than say excuse me or step into the street to avoid me a man literally walked into me hard from behind, grabbed me, gave me a bit of a rub and a squeeze as he walked by.   My little purse was up under my coat so it wasn’t like he was a thief.   It was a pretty obvious what he was doing.   The funny thing about it was he was in a very nice suit.   As I have said, I am definitely the largest person I have seen here so maybe I am like steak to a starving person.

smallest buildingYesterday, I spent the day walking around the city while Sima worked.   It was so lovely.   I saw the smallest home in Amsterdam.   I was on a search for a yarn store so I walked through parts of the Jordaan I hadn’t yet seen.   I found myself in a little square.   I sat on a bench and people watched for a little while.   A walking tour came by so I cocked my ear towards them and listened.   That is how I knew about the smallest home.

I sat across the street from Sima’s salon at a little cafe called Festina Lente and had sparkling water and watched the world go by.   When Sima got off work we went back over to Festina Lente and had a beer and bread with dip.   Can you smell the garlic?   dingyWow.   It was this beautiful crusty bread served with garlic aioli, sun dried tomato pesto, and an olive tapenade.   Then we walked over to a friend’s house.   They live in a beautiful restored building that was originally a sweets factory.

Later in the evening we met Ben over at some other friends.   As we were walking and walking and walking I was again very grateful that John and I started walking weeks before I came here.   The practice has made all the difference in the world.

red lightAround 11:30 we walked over to the Red Light District.   What a fascinating place.   All kinds of women in the windows.   For 50 Euro you can have the woman of your choice.   Some of the women were very beautiful.   Some, well, not so much.   Black women, white women, asian women, homely women, blond women, brunettes, red heads, some with glasses, some smoking.   Then there are the windows that have the blue lights.   The blue lights indicate they are transexual.   So, you have these beautiful women in tiny lingerie with outrageous figures busting out of their bras and a penis outline under their g-string.   We walked around for hours.   You aren’t allowed to take pictures of the women so I tried taking some long exposure images with my little camera of some of the streets.

I have much to do to get ready for tonight’s Halloween party.   Will post details and pictures tomorrow.

 Posted by at 3:04 pm
Oct 302009
 

Before I came here to Amsterdam I did a lot of research on the city.   I spoke to people who had been.   I spoke to my sister who has lived here for 2 years.   I read about the city on line.   I did my homework.   In the United States, I am often surprised   many places don’t accommodate people of size.   I am always surprised at my doctor’s office that all the chairs in the waiting room have arms.   I was surprised at jury duty that all the chairs had arms.   Certainly, I am not the largest person to serve on jury duty.   I know I am not my doctor’s largest patient.   Yet, those places are uncomfortable for me so, they must be uncomfortable for other people.   Am I the only one who complains or thinks about this?   I can’t imagine I am.

me trainI was informed that, undoubtedly, I would be the largest person I would see here in Holland.   So, far that has been the case.   I have seen some plump women but no one close to my size.   I was warned that people would stare as well.   In the US, I experience that a lot.   I shop at a Trader Joe’s near my apartment that is in a predominantly Russian neighborhood.   I have found that many of the older Russian women are fascinated by me.   They will stare and nudge whoever they are with to have them stare as well.   I had a very funny experience at Canter’s Deli a while back.   There were three older women sitting in a booth.   They couldn’t stop talking about me.   The part that was funny was I think they thought they were whispering.   They were not.   They were very loud and couldn’t stop talking about me.   When we got up to leave I stood in front of their table and said, “I could hear you and that was not very nice.”   They were definitely shocked.   Maybe I should have left it alone.   I don’t know that at their age they were going to learn some great life lesson from me.   At first, I felt good about speaking up.   Then later I felt bad about it.   Not about what they were saying, that was their problem.   But that the last thing I wanted to do was hurt their feelings.

I had another experience many years ago in a shoe store.   It was one of those self-serve shoe stores with many aisles of shoes and shoe boxes.   I came around a corner and standing before was a young boy around 6 years old.   He stood and looked up at me with his mouth agape.   He smiled and looked up at me and said, “Wow.   You are SOO big!”   I said, “Yes, I am.” Then he said, “My grandpa is big too…why are you so big?!”   So, I told him, “You know how some people are big and some people are small and some people are different colors?   Well, I am big.”   He giggled.   Not in a judgmental way but like he had learned something wonderful…like about dinosaurs or the universe.   Then he started to walk towards me.   I think he wanted to touch me.   Just then his mother came around the corner and found him.   It was a really beautiful moment.

In the US, my size is definitely a consideration.   I have found here it is a much bigger consideration in that everything is so small.   I know my photos aren’t doing the severity of how small everything is justice.   There is no scale comparison. At the party the other night I had to use the restroom.   I asked where it was and literally burst out laughing when I opened the door.   It was smaller than most peoples hall closets.   I opened the door and was greeted by a small toilet attached to the wall with a tiny sink hanging over the lip of the toilet.   How in the world could a man stand at the toilet?   Maybe if he stood in the hallway… I straddled the pocket sized toilet with both of my hips touching each side of the bathroom.   My belly was just shy of touching the sink.   I closed the door and stood there chuckling.   I pulled my pants down and sat.   Luckily, I realized I was sitting on my pants.   Had I not noticed it could have been one of the most embarrassing moments of my life.

Yesterday, I walked over to the little bread shop and then to the Albert Heijn (the grocery store) and picked up some things.   We had a the damlovely lunch of fresh bread and cheese and gorgeous tomatoes and cucumbers.   Then Sima and I set out to find items for their Halloween costumes.   Then Ben met us in the Dam.   It was interesting being in the square in front of the Queen’s palace without the carnival.   It was nice to see the difference but I was sad the poffergie guy wasn’t there.   I still think about them.

When Sima and Ben were talking about us going to dinner last night, to either the Thai place they like or the Italian restaurant they like, they considered that both places were very small and tight.   We opted for the Italian restaurant.   It was ridiculously small by US standards.   In fact, there is no way a US Fire Marshall would have allowed those tables and that many people to be inside.   In the US, maybe 10 people would have been “allowed” to be in the space and there were at least 25 people packed in there.   You sit shoulder to shoulder with people.   The food was unbelievable.   They put down some hot, crusty bread with little pots of garlic butter, a sun dried tomato and pesto tapenade and some of the most amazing green olives I have ever tasted in my life.   I asked the waiter what they were and he said, “Olives.”   Then I asked, “What kind?” To which he responded, “Green.”   Yeah, that wasn’t what I wanted to know.   I wanted to know what kind.   I could see they were green but they were also buttery and tart without too much vinegar flavor.   I ordered penne with pesto and smoked chicken.   Sima ordered truffle ravioli that were insanely rich and delicious.   Ben ordered lamb that came with salad and oven roasted potatoes.   I am sorry I didn’t take pictures of the food as it was visually stunning.

pointe arcariAnother thing I have noticed here is the food is served so hot.   Ben says it isn’t always this way.   My experience so far has been that not only does my food come molten but it stays that way.   The roof of my mouth has been burned beyond recognition by the lava filled bitterballen.   Even Ben’s potatoes last night were ridiculously hot and retained their heat for most of the meal.   At one point, I felt like a little kid.   I popped a piece of potato into my mouth and quickly spit it into my hands.   Of course, at that moment Sima looked up at me.   I apologized.   It was either that or burn a hole in the roof of my mouth.   Interestingly enough, I find my coffee gets cold very quickly.   More interesting than that is the crazy amount of coffee I have been drinking.

Now it is Friday around 1p.   The sun is peaking out through the cold cloudy sky. Sima is at her salon for the day.   Ben is at work.   I am going to walk around today.   I found a yarn shop on line that should be an interesting walk.   There is so much I want to see and do and I have made my peace that I won’t be able to get to everything.   It will just be a good excuse to come back another time.

 Posted by at 1:56 pm

Amsterdam to The Hague and Back Again

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Oct 292009
 

This has been such an extraordinary time for me.   I have found myself doing things I never thought I would do.   I have tasted foods that I never, in a million years, would have tried.   I have forced myself to step outside my comfort zone in almost every way.   Whether it is showering in a fish bowl, climbing insane flights of stairs, walking many miles alone through the city or trying venison it has all been really a fabulous stretch for me.

Tabac Cafe

On Tuesday evening, we went back to Tabac for dinner.   It is a little cafe/bar on the corner by the boat.   The first night we went there and just had beer and snacks.   Tuesday night we had beer, snacks and dinner.   I still can’t get over the cheese snacks.   To me they are the perfect snack.   Fabulous Gouda cheese in a crispy filo like dough.   They are served HOT with a sauce that reminds me of a Thai sweet chili sauce that is served with Thai egg rolls.   I am not usually a fan of curry but thought I should try something different.   I ordered the Xtra Spicy Green Chicken Curry.   Oh man, was it hot!   It came in a little bowl with a little mound of rice, mint yogurt to cut the heat, a green salad and some odd root chips.   It was very tasty; a symphony of loud flavors.

Sima wanted to take me to a cafe she and Ben love.   She warned me that it was very small inside.   I wasn’t concerned because I have been pleasantly surprised regarding how small things are here and yet I haven’t had a problem fitting.   We walked over to the cafe yesterday for lunch.   To say that it is small is a HUGE understatement.   It is like a cafe for Lilliputians.   No tables.   A tiny bar that seats 3 on one side of the door and 4 on the other.   There is a tiny counter that holds a cash register and a little glass display case of salads behind which is a small kitchen where they make the sandwiches and coffees.   Then there are 3 little cubes lining the only available space backed up small worldagainst the wall next to the cash register.   We sat there and held our plates when the food was ready.   We had outrageous sandwiches.   Sima and I shared two different sandwiches.   I have been so pleased with the freshness of all the foods I have eaten here.   The meats have been so fresh.   Nothing tastes old.   I had spicy salami with roasted tomato and zucchini and some kind of strong white cheese.   The sandwich came toasted.   Sima got turkey, bacon and avocado.   It was a great dichotomy of flavors with my sandwich being hot in both flavor and temperature and Sima’s being cool and fresh.   The cafe is called Small World Cafe.   It is definitely small literally but very, very grand.

Later, Sima and I walked to the Central Station to get a train to The Hague.   A friend, central stationwho I have known since I was in Junior High, lives and works in The Hague.   The train took close to 45 minutes.   It was good to see more of Holland.   Being here in Amsterdam it is hard to imagine a big city with the tiny streets and tall narrow buildings.   The Hague is more of a cosmopolitan city with some of the same old charm as Amsterdam but with some sky scrapers thrown in the mix.   Sima and I found a lovely cafe on a shopping street and had a coffee.   Then we poked around some stores.   Kristin met us and walked us through the Parliament grounds.   Then we went to an old fancy hotel for cocktails before dinner.   It was a very civilized hotel…very upper crust.   After cocktails we walked over to an Argentinian restaurant where Kristin goes often.   The service was amazing.   We drank wine and ate great food.   dessertSo often, I find, meals are just a way to get fuel to keep going in life, but this meal was an event.   We were there for hours.   One minute it was 9 and the next it was midnight.   In between, which 3 bottles of Malbec were consumed along with a gorgeous meal.   When the tray of desserts that Kristin had ordered arrived, Sima and I gasped. It was a tray covered in a decadent assortment of delights.   Then came the port wine.   Because it was so late we would have had to take two trains to get home.   So, Kristin ordered us a car to drive us back.   It was a far cry from the Stop/Go.   Nothing short of a miracle, I didn’t fall off or out of anything.

Sima and Ben have a wonderful cat!   It has been so lovely for me to have cat time.   We lived with a wonderful cat named Chuck and lost him nearly a year ago.   There is something completing about having a pet.   I think it makes the day brighter having the love of an animal.   Sima and Ben’s cat, Gnamish, is such a love!   Every night he comes into my bedroom and climbs up onto the bed and snuggles for a little while.   He climbs up on my chest purring like a motor boat, then leans down and rubs his cold wet nose against mine.   In the mornings, he HAS to climb into my arms while I am trying to write my blog.   Everything lisa gnamishmust stop when he needs attention.   He is very demanding when it comes to love and I am more than willing to oblige.

Today we are going to sort out Halloween.   Sima and Ben need costumes for their party on Saturday night.   I think I am going to go as an American tourist.   Yes, I am going to go as me.   I was thinking about carrying a picture frame and going as the Mona Lisa.   But I think I will just carry my camera and take pictures.   I found a yarn store I want to venture to as well.   Other than that I don’t know what today will hold.   Tomorrow, I am toying with the idea of a museum again.   Maybe Escher.   Maybe the Rijks.   I think right now I am going to throw myself together and walk over to get a fresh baguette from the bakery.

 Posted by at 1:15 pm

If It’s Tuesday in Amsterdam It Must Be a 5 Mile Walk

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Oct 282009
 

Another amazing day in Amsterdam today!   Sima had to go her salon.   She was booked all day. canal near rjiks I decided that today was the day I would go to the Van Gogh Museum.   I figured it would be a nice thing to do on my own.   Part of me wanted to just stay on the boat.   After falling off the bus yesterday and then not really knowing my way around I was a bit apprehensive about venturing out on my own.   I got my cameras together and headed out.   I braved getting on another Stop/Go bus.   This time I managed to not fall getting off.   The ride in itself rjikeswas an adventure.   The streets are very narrow.   A car barely fits down them and here we are in this mini bus tearing down the one-way street on one side of the canal. (The Stop/Go goes both ways, so-to-speak, on this narrow one-way street and then back on the other side.) We got to one of the little bridges and they were doing some kind of construction.   So, the driver backed down the street and took a detour.   It was unbelievable.   First, that he backed up half a block but also that he was able to do it without killing any pedestrians or taking out any of the parked cars on the canal was genius.

I got off the bus and rather than catch a tram to go the next 6 blocks I decided to walk it.   The area where the Rijks Museum is located is absolutely beautiful.   They are doing a lot of construction on the museum.   I understand there is a lot not on display during the renovations.   Some people I have spoken to say they like the smaller displays.   It makes it easy to get through and they have the best out. I walked a couple of extra blocks and went to the Van Gogh Museum.   van gogh musThat was an extraordinary experience.   The artwork, his madness and his story are so compelling.   I spent hours reading all there was to read and listening to the descriptions of the artwork on the headset.   He was truly mad.   I wonder how he would have been in these times with the advent of medications to ease that kind of mania.   I wonder if his work would have suffered had he gotten the kind of help available today.

Rather than catch a tram I walked back.   It was definitely a long walk.   It was also fascinating.   I love seeing all the differences and automatsimilarities from home.   I walked by a fast food restaurant that was like an old Automat.   I remember there was a great episode of “That Girl” where Marlo Thomas’ character, Ann Marie,   goes to the Automat and doesn’t have money for food so she gets a bowl of hot water and puts ketchup in it to make soup.   Well, here they are filled with Dutch fast food.   They have sandwiches and little friend croquettes filled with veal ragout and other equally, distasteful for me but not for them, goodies.

I am also amazed that more people don’t get hit by trams here.   Of course, I don’t know the statistics but I haven’t seen anyone get hit by one. The trams just go down the middle of the streets here.   There are no barricades.   There isn’t even a curb or a raised tram comingbump in the road to tell you that there could be danger ahead.   The other night I saw someone standing on the tracks in the middle of the road as the tram pulled right up behind them.   Finally, the person turned and jumped out of the way.   It doesn’t help that they are quiet either.

I love to people watch.   No matter where I go in the world I love to watch people.   It doesn’t have to be anywhere special.   I love to see what people are buying at the grocery store.   I love to watch people and how they interact with people.   I am just completely fascinated and curious about people.   Being here has been and continues to be a delicious study in a completely different way of life.   Certainly, we are all human. However, the lifestyle here is so different.

There are hardly any cars on the roads here.   Of course, I haven’t been on any highways.   So many of the streets where I have been are narrow and the ones I have seen that aren’t that narrow share the road with the trams.   The main form of transportation seems to be walking which is followed closely with biking.   Imagine, if you will, an intersection.   The streets are cobble stones or brick.   On two sides of the intersection is where two small cobble stone bridges over the canals meet.   Then you have two flat one way streets.   I don’t know that my words will do justice to this.   I will see if I can get a picture that will better describe this perspective.   If you are following this, imagine a car coming over one of the bridges, a couple of bicyclists coming the from a different direction and then a handful of pedestrians.   When they all polittemeet at the intersection there is no stop sign posted.   There is no yield sign posted.   Who do you think has the right of way?   You are probably wrong.   The pedestrian had better stop because neither the bike nor the car will slow down.   Quite frankly, in that instance, which I have witnessed numerous times in the couple of days I have been here, the pedestrian stops and the car and the person on the bike slow and some how maneuver around each other without fully stopping and barely skipping a beat.

The other thing I find ingenious are the children seats on bikes.   In the States, I am used to seeing big plastic “safety” seats on the back of bicycles so riders can take their children on afternoon outings.   Here it is a matter of necessity.   The seats for the children on the back and on the front are just little seats with metal arms.   No belt.   No helmet.   I have seen some people riding with two children; one on the back and one on the front by the handle bars.   Earlier this morning, I saw a woman with a toddler on the back of the bike and she was carrying an infant strapped in front of her.   I am sure the Dutch don’t have a greater amount of child fatalities than we do just letting our kids walk places.   It is just appears to be a gentler and freer way of life.

 Posted by at 12:09 pm

Watch the Fat Girl Fall OFF the Bus

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Oct 272009
 

looier canalI thought I was done falling.   I don’t normally fall.   I have managed for quite some time to keep my feet firmly planted on the ground.   Until I got to Amsterdam last week I can’t remember the last time I fell. Then I did that amazing fall to my knees as I tried to step up over the gap from the house boat to the landing.   That was a good one.   Today’s fall takes the prize.   Sima had to go to her salon.   She normally rides her bike.   Since I am here we decided to take the Stop and Go part of the way and then walk the rest.   The Stop and Go is little bus.   More like a van but bigger that makes a big loop in this area.   It is one Euro and will stop whenever you wave it down.   We walked to the corner and one came in moments.   We got on and off we went.   About half way to our destination another woman got on.   Sima told the driver where our stop was and asked for her to stop on the bridge. Instead, she stopped short to leave us on the corner.   I had been looking at a map the whole time.   I was thinking that given how bumpy the ride was reading the map on the bus was a recipe for car sickness.   When I looked up I felt a bit dizzy.   Unlike the tram, there isn’t a huge rush to get off but I jumped up and headed for the door.   As I got to the step I just sort of jumped.   I can’t describe it really.   My head felt foggy and it seemed like a long drop down but I thought I was going to make it.   Then mid flight I realized “this is going to suck!”   My feet went down but the momentum threw me forward onto my hands and knees.   For a brief moment, I wanted everyone in Holland to be somewhere else.   Unfortunately, 3 people were standing in front of me.   There were two men on the corner.   Sima was behind me and then next to me in seconds.   “Are you okay?!” she asked me as she went to help me up.   I stood up and then there was all of the obligatory “are you okay?” “do you need help?” etc. from all the strangers.   I told everyone I was fine and off we went.   But WOW were my knees and palm of my hand burning.   Again, the pain to my ego was extraordinary compared to the rest of me.   I think I will be fine in the morning.   Maybe a little sore.   Maybe a little bruised.   Like Ben said, I will never see those people again.   If they see me they may remember me as the fat girl who took a swan dive out of the Stop and Go but I certainly won’t recognize them.

salonI spent some time with Sima in her shop.   It is in a very quaint neighborhood.   I walked around a little bit.   It was Monday evening so a lot of the stores were closed or closing.   I went into a health food store.   They smell the same as they do in the US.   I window shopped and then went back to Sima’s salon.

I had been thinking about going to the Anne Frank House.   I had actually decided against it.   I knew it would be emotionally difficult for me.   Then today I decided I wanted to go.   I didn’t want to regret not going or to always wonder if I missed something. Sima and I left her shop and I walked over to the Anne Frank House by myself.   The line earlier in the day had been very long so, I wasn’t sure if I would even get in.   When I got there the line was rather short so I waited and paid my way in.   I walked in and as soon as I turned the corner and saw Anne Frank’s pictures on the wall I just stopped and felt overcome with emotion.   I stepped aside as my eyes filled with tears and a lump formed in my throat.   The rest of the way through I kept finding myself having to step aside and compose myself.   They have dated quotes from her on the walls.   They have brief videos of people who knew her and her family discussing her and them.   Again, I had to deal with those crazy Dutch staircases.   I couldn’t take pictures in there but they anne frank housewere remarkably steep and narrow and difficult.   They have a small opening behind the bookcase for you to climb through just like they had to when they were in hiding.   It was an overwhelming and challenging experience.   First, for me physically but also for me emotionally.   What they endured until they could no longer endure is incomprehensible.   Seeing the picture of her father standing in the empty house in 1960 was so moving.   I am so glad I went to the Anne Frank House.   It put so much into perspective for me.   Life is so short and precious.   Not a moment should be wasted!   This last quote is the one that I feel compelled to share,

“April 5th 1944. I can shake off everything if I write, My sorrows disappear, My courage is reborn.” Anne Frank

 Posted by at 11:38 am

Staying in a Fish Bowl in Amsterdam

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Oct 262009
 

street viewStaying on a boat on a canal in Amsterdam is like living in a fish bowl.   Canal tours go by and people look and take pictures. The shower is on the street side of the boat.   There is a big picture window in the shower.   You literally see people walking by as you shower.   I know I could close the blinds but it is kind of a pain in the butt.   Once the window steams up a bit it is more difficult for people to see in.   Really, someone would have to intentionally stand on the edge and look down to see anything.   I suppose if someone wanted to work that hard to see in then who cares.   I would just prefer people don’t take pictures.

In my experience Amsterdam is a   rather voyeuristic city.   People leave their curtains open and live their lives like no one is watching.   Or maybe they are living their lives knowing people are watching.

lisa massageI haven’t been to the Red Light district, yet.   We did go by some red lights near the centre.   Although, the red lights were on their weren’t many women in the windows.   There was one woman sitting on her stool in the window twirling her hair smiling as people walked by.   Like so much of the Amsterdam I have experienced so far, the windows are designed for people to watch and look.   The difference is the woman who lives on the corned isn’t necessarily inviting anyone in.   The women in the windows with the red lights are definitely inviting you in…for a cost.

It was a beautiful Sunday yesterday.   We slept in as we were up until very, very late.   I went for a little walk and took some snaps with the little camera and then pulled the big camera out for some other shots.   It is rainy today so I will probably leave the big camera behind.vince vaughn

Much later in the day we went for a LONG walk.   We went back down to the centre.   I wanted to get those little pancakes again.   I just can’t describe them well enough to do justice for how delicious they are.   As we walked by the Tuschinski movie theatre near the Amstel Canal we noticed a large crowd of people.   There were photographers snapping photos.   Then a car pulled up and the crowd roared and flash bulbs went off.   Another car pulled up and the crowd roared again.   I had no idea who it was.   It was a Dutch actress.   Then moments later another car pulled up and a tall man stepped out of the car.   The cameras flashed again and the crowd went crazy.   It was Vince Vaughn.   He was here for the premiere of Couples Retreat.   Just recently I posted on a friend’s Facebook wall that I always think it is great when I see actors out where I am.   Living in Los Angeles it happens a lot.   It kind of gives me the sense that I am doing the right thing.   That may sound silly but I’ll take any reinforcement I can get that it isn’t time to give up my dreams.   It was perfect that I travelled around the world and found myself just steps away from Vince Vaughn.   Sure I wasn’t here for a premiere of my movie.   But there was something calming and great about it.

clock towerWe walked by some art galleries.   Some of the artwork, to me, was like something that was done in a kindergarten with finger paints.   Some of the artwork was disturbing.   In one window, someone had taken to fawns, cut them in half width wise and then sewed them together.   They were hanging together as one, like a siamese two-headed dear, their faces sweet and innocent.   There was a fabulous pig statue in one gallery window that I coveted.   The good news is all the galleries were closed.   No purchases were made.

We finally ended up at the restaurant that Sima has been wanting to take me to.   The restaurant is called De Zotte.   It is a Belgian pub and restaurant.   Like most of Amsterdam it is small tightly packed inside.   After the long walk we ordered beers.   There were so many to choose from.   They didn’t have the Dutch beer I have grown to love so I ordered something that had a great name.   The beer was called Delirium Tremens.   It had 9% alcohol and tasted lovely.   After half the glass I felt a bit light headed but figured it was just from the long walk.   After the first bottle, I knew I was drunk.   One bottle was enough to make my head swim.   We had dried Belgian beer sausages and bread with pate.   After the second bottle we ordered dinner.   Sima asked if I wanted to split a meal.   I should have.   I left nearly half my steak.   The fries were great!!   I stepped outside my comfort zone with food and tasted Ben’s venison stew.   I was surprised I liked the way it tasted.   I would never order it but it was good for me to try something new.   We also had some pate, again, good for me to try something new that I NEVER would eat at home. The third beer with dinner was probably too much as the first half of the walk back to the boat I felt pretty awful.   The second half of the walk back was delightful.lis sim de zotte

As we got close to the Anne Frank house on the walk back, we saw a big police action of sorts.   Police lined the street on both sides.   They had police vans and police on motorcycles.   It seemed like they had a blockade but they were still allowing cars through slowly and they allowed us to walk.   There were a lot of people standing around watching them too.   Sima asked someone what was going on and they said they were there to keep some squatters out of a building.   It didn’t make a lot of sense that they would need that many police for something like that. Also, they way they were lined up it didn’t seem like they were keeping people out of a building as much as they were blocking a street.   In the US I might have asked one of the police, “hey, what’s going on?” but here they seemed very serious so, my curiosity will never be satisfied.

Sima needs to go spend some time in her salon today.   I was thinking about going to one of the museums but have decided to go to the Anne Frank house.   I wasn’t going to.   I have walked by twice.   I find just being at the building to be incredibly moving.   I honestly don’t know how I will do being in the house.   It may be too much for me.   I suppose that’s the point.   The point is to feel something.   The point is to be moved.   The point is to remember.

 Posted by at 1:44 pm
Oct 252009
 

marketAs many of you who know me know, I am a picky eater.   Don’t get me wrong, if I am eating something I like, I am not shy about eating. However, if I can’t readily identify the food I won’t eat it.   The same goes for if I can identify it too well, then, I have a difficult time eating it.   I was a vegetarian for many, many years.   John and I laugh about my saying that I am “only one bad piece of bacon away from being a vegetarian” again.   John doesn’t think there is such a thing as a bad piece of bacon.   I mostly agree.   But wow, there are some other things that could make me run screaming towards being a fruitarian.   After today, it is a miracle I haven’t become an oxygenarian.

We had a lazy Saturday morning.   It was a cold and rainy day.   We walked over to the Saturday outdoor market a couple of blocks away.   Sima had been telling me I had to have one of the sausages from one of the vendors.   I wasn’t that keen on the idea.   sausage guyThere is a whole lot wrong about that for me.   Besides the sausage which is filled with, thankfully, unidentifable parts, there is also the issue of “street vendor.”   But we got there and I figured I had to at least try.   There were two guys behind the stand.   They had a giant skillet on the fire.   It reminded me a bit of a paella pan but 5 times the size.   On it they had sausages browning…big whitish sausages and sliced meat pork and sauerkraut.   They take a nice hard-on-the-outside-soft-on-the-inside roll that is warm.   They slice it down the middle and put some hot sauerkraut on it.   Then they take a large sausage and put it on top.   They have mayo and mustard to put on them.   Ben ordered and then Sima ordered.   When it was my turn to tell him what I wanted one of the guys looked at me and said, “Mama Cass!” Then they both broke into song, “All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray…California Dreaming…” Yeah, it was a moment.   And, it wasn’t like they were trying to be offensive or rude in anyway.   I could have said, “I played Mama Cass in a movie called My Dinner with Jimi.   But the moment was fast and then it was gone.   Mostly.   sim lis sausageThey kept singing while we sat there eating on a bench. I pointed to the sausage I wanted…the one that seemed the most “well done.”   He said, “that’s a small one.”   I was glad I got a small one.   It was tasty but after I was around 2/3 of the way through I just couldn’t eat any more.   The parts of it that made me not want to eat it are probably the exact reasons why people eat them.   The hard snap of the casing, the smell of the meat, the richness.   I couldn’t take another bite.   I am very glad I had the experience.   I wouldn’t be sad if I didn’t eat one again.

The fruit and vegetable stands were beautiful.  cheese The cheese stands are filled with all kinds of goat cheeses and Goudas.   The smell accosts you as you approach.   The fish stands are also a site to see.   Being on the Atlantic there are a lot of flat fish unlike fish we see on the Pacific.   The meat stands are also fascinating with parts I haven’t seen since I was in phsyiology class.

I was going to make a stew so I bought wonderful things.   All farm fresh ingredients: mushrooms, potatoes, fresh thyme, carrots with the greens and onions.   We bought a big heavy light pumpernickel bread.   I am sure I will dream about that bread for the rest of my life.   It was the end of the day at the market and I hadn’t seen any beef I was interested in purchasing.   Ben and Sima knew of a butcher so walked a couple of blocks.   Unfortunately, the butcher shop had just closed.   I understand that when a store is closed it is inappropriate to approach the doors.   Just walk away and cut your losses. However, the owner, a big, impressive older blond man, saw me look in and opened up the side door and ushered us in.   As soon as we crossed the threshold a woman shoved a plate of big slices of liverwurst at us offering us a sample.   I politely declined. The shop was quite lovely…for a butcher shop.   All glass with marble counter tops for them to cut the meats.   The floors were tiled.   And, it was CLEAN.   Very nice!   He asked what I wanted and I told him beef for stew.   Over the counter where he was cutting meat were logs of different kinds of salami/sausagy things.   He had just cut a small piece of meat he had on the counter for me when he reached up and pulled down a hung of what appeared to be a hard salami.   He cut the thing down the middle and handed a large piece to me and then a large piece to Sima.   winter salamiOn closer inspection it looked like a hard salami that was never cooked.   The outside was firm but the inside was like raw hamburger.   I am sure I had eyes the size of saucers as I looked at him like, “you don’t think I am going to eat this do you?!” He smiled and said, “EAT!   It’s beef.”   So, I took a deep breath and took a bite.   Yup, it was beef.   Raw beef.   It actually tasted a bit like summer sausage that wasn’t cooked.   I looked at Sima, who like me, has some issues with identifiable food.   I said quietly to her, “Don’t make a face…just keep smiling and take a bite.”   The butcher had gone to the back and then returned with a large piece of what I assume was chuck with the bones in and cut stew pieces for me.   Then he reaches up and grabbed another meat log of some kind and sliced off a couple of hunks of something else for us to try.   So, now I have a bag of beef for stew, a huge piece of raw summer sausage and now he is handing me this new piece of something.   It was like a cross between bologna and ham.   It was warm and had the appearance as if it had been browned in a pan.   It was actually okay.   But really I felt like I had had my share of meat products to last a lifetime at that point.   The experience of it was extraordinary.   The kindness and generosity is a great memory.

It rained a lot yesterday so on the way back from the market we decided to stop at a little cafe and sit outside under the awning and watch as they took down the market and cleaned the streets.   Ben walked back to boat to drop off our groceries. Sima and I spent time talking to a lovely woman who was visiting here from England with her niece and sister.   After two coffees I switched to beer.   They had the beer from the Brouwerg IJ which made it especially nice and memorable.

stairsAfter a dinner of stew we decided to go to a party.   Some of Sima and Ben’s friends were going to be there.   We walked and then took a tram.   It was nice to see a different neighborhood.   The flat where the out of town friends were staying was fabulous.   It was a diverse group of people. Again, I got to experience Dutch stairs.   Ohh, and the smallest bathroom outside of an airplane I have ever been in.   I didn’t take a picture of the bathroom.   I should have.   I did catch a picture of the stairs.   I don’t think the pictures do justice to the intensity of the stairs.   You don’t get the full sense of the steepness or the curve or the shallow footing.

Today, Sunday, it is quite cold outside with patches of sun peaking through the clouds.   We had thought about going to the zoo but I think we are going to wander some neighborhoods and go back down to The Dam.

 Posted by at 4:21 pm
Oct 242009
 

My sister and I got a late start yesterday.   We have been staying up late and then getting up relatively early but puttering about and chatting and drinking coffees.   So, yesterday we got out around 3p.   Sima wanted to take me to a brewery that is in a windmill.   Sure, I am in Holland…we could have gone on the Heineken tour but this was a much better idea for me.   We walked many blocks to catch the tram.   It was a lovely walk.   It was brisk yesterday.   The sun was shining but it was definitely cool as we walked these beautiful Amsterdam neighborhoods.neighborhood ij

We got over to the tram and were looking at the map.   Sima was explaining where we were going and how to read the tram schedule when this old man walked up to us pushing his bicycle.   He was grinning at me.   As he stood in front of me he had me blocked by his bike and he was speaking to me in Dutch.   At least, I think it was Dutch and he had this big smile as he spoke to me.   Then he reached out to me.   I thought I would be polite and shake his hand as he was reaching for me.   Plus it was odd.   Honestly, I wasn’t sure why he was reaching out to touch me.   I figured a hand shake would put the kabosh on the ensuing weirdness.   As he took my hand and started shaking it his grip got tighter.   He wouldn’t let go of my hand.   I tired to pull my hand away but couldn’t. He kept looking at me and muttering in Dutch.   Then, EEWWWW, he started to rub the inside of my palm with his fingers while he smiled and muttered at me.   I couldn’t rip my hand away.   I finally took my left hand and pried my right from him.   I kept explaining I only spoke English.   Then Sima told him the same.   Then he reached over and started rubbing my belly and saying, “Kinder.”   Okay, so the guy thought I was pregnant!!   If he thought I was pregnant why was he molesting me?   It was a bizarre moment.   I explained I wasn’t pregnant.   I kept saying, “No!!”   It was a combination of if you speak loud enough in any language “they” will understand you.   Finally, the guy shuffled off after Sima got very stern with him.

breweryThe brewery was a much better experience than Lester the Molester at the tram stop.   The windmill is beautiful.   The guide at the brewery was great!   He was very knowledgeable on the beer making process and knew a lot about this particular brewery.   Up until recently it was owned by one man.   That man, Kasper, sold the business to a larger business.   But it has remained a small brewery making 250,000 liters a year up from the previous 200,000.   They only export 1% of the beer they produce to the US and the UK.   Pretty unfortunate as I found the beer to be delicious!   I am not a big drinker or a big beer drinker but this is beer I could drink a lot and often!

We started the tour on the top floor.   He explained the hops and the barley processes to us.   Fascinating! brewery stairs Then he said, “now, we are going downstairs.”   I felt a moment of panic.   Not only am I not a huge fan of stairs…especially, going down them…I just didn’t want to embarrass myself as I had heard tales about Dutch stairs.   Dutch stairs are known to be windy and tight and very shallow.   They also don’t always have handrails.   I let everyone go down the stairs ahead of me until there was just me and a young couple waiting to go down the stairs.   One of the men had crutches.   I told him I was going to be slow going down.   He laughed and said, “Me too.”   He went first.   I stood at the top and, well, you can imagine the words that were running through my head.   They were steep, and windy, and curved and had no handrail.   The good news is since I am so wide my body hugged every curve and I got down no problem.   When I met the tour in the room everyone turned and looked as they were waiting for me.   I threw my hands in the air, curtseyed and said, “Ta Dah!”   Sima said to the group, “those were her first Dutch stairs.”   Everyone clapped. Then I thought the guide asked, “Am I your first Dutch guy?” To which I responded, “No.” Then Sima said, “guide.”   Then I said, “Your not my first Dutch guy but you are my first Dutch guide.”   Everyone laughed.   It was a very fun moment.   I went up the stairs last, again.   I climbed them like a ladder with my hands on the steps in front of me. biertje

After the tour we sat outside under the windmill and drank beer.   I shared Sima’s since the beer was strong, 8% alcohol.   We talked and people watched and talked to other people.   It was a great time.

Last night we went to dinner at a little neighborhood cafe.   I usually have menu item envy.   Inevitably, when I go out with people I often times wish I ordered what someone else ordered.   Last night, however, I was very pleased with my choice.   Ben ordered venison.   Besides being Bambi it was so rare I kept expecting it to hop off the table and search for Santa.   sima fishSima ordered sole in butter sauce, which I had considered, but was very, very glad I hadn’t when it came with the tail, head and skeleton attached. I ordered the chicken satay.   It came with spicy green beans that were cooked in a hot red coconut sauce.   In the US, satay sauce, at least the sauce that I am used to, is light in color.   This sauce was dark and rich and thick.   It was delicious.

fri dinner

 Posted by at 10:50 pm

Walking, Eating and Fitting In

 Trip to Amsterdam  Comments Off on Walking, Eating and Fitting In
Oct 232009
 

cafeOne of my concerns before my trip was about fitting in Amsterdam.   Not fitting in figuratively but literally.   Being a big woman I have to consider the space I take up in the world.   I remember years ago my parents went on a trip to Paris.   When they returned my mother told me that I would love it there but that I wouldn’t fit.   I remember thinking, “Really!? I wouldn’t fit in the entire city of Paris?!”   The imagery in my mind was that of my picture up a the customs desk with a big red circle around me with a diagonal line…kind of like a “No Fat Chicks” bumper sticker.   The truth of it is that it is an honest concern.   People here aren’t as large.   The chairs at cafes are small and flimsy to our standards.   There is also much less real estate for things.   The buildings here are close together.   The streets and sidewalks (if there sidewalks) are much more narrow.   The cars are tiny. Everyone here rides bicycles or scooters or walks.   The bustling sounds you hear aren’t that of a morning commute with cars and horns but of rickety bikes that are rusty and squeaky from the rain and bike bells and of people talking on their cell phones as they walk the streets to their destination.

Yesterday, my sister and I walked to the center, The Dam.   There was a carnival there.   They had a HUGE Ferris Wheel.   There isn’t a chance I would go on it but it was amazing to see.   They also had food stands.   There was a bratwurst stand, a frie stand, a fried dough stand that I would liken to a donut or fritter.  Mmm, fries

I had been hearing about the fries here since my sister moved here.   I couldn’t wait to try them.   They are served in a big paper cone with mayonnaise.   The mayo here is sweeter than ours and much thicker.   Of course, I had to share some with my sister.   What a great treat to have cold hands and eat piping hot, crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside fries with this tangy seasoning salt lightly dusted on them with this thick, almost gelatinous, squirt of mayo. Oh, and be sure to not call them “French” fries.   Here they are frittes or fries or Belgian fries.

pancakesWalking further we passed a stand where they were making waffles and these tiny pancakes called poffertjes.   I have seen them called fritters but they really aren’t to me since they are not deep fried.   We got a small order with butter and powdered sugar.   WOW!!! is what my taste buds screamed as popped this little tender light brown pancake in my mouth.   I have never tasted anything like it.   We stood there with the crowds of people moving around us as if we were the only two people in the world.   It was a great moment – two sisters, giggling, both of us covered in powdered sugar, eating these yummy treats.   I took a picture of them on the pan.   The cook reached over so I could hand him my camera.   He took a picture of us looking through the glass while they cooked.   It was a kind gesture and now we have this moment memorialized.

We headed over to a large department store here to get some new coffee for the Nespresso machine.   That is another blog in itself.   Here you have to pay to use the restrooms.   Ostensibly, it is paying to keep the bathroom clean after each use.   The stall was small and it seemed to me the toilet was quite a bit smaller than our standard toilets at home.   What has amazed me the most here is how solid the toilets have seemed.   Watch, now I will use a toilet somewhere and it will come crashing off the wall when I sit on it.   But so far they have seemed MUCH more solid than some of the toilets I have used in the states.   I am sure even “averaged” sized people have heard or felt the telltale creak when they sit on a public toilet attached to a wall.   Even if you don’t actually sit on them you can see they aren’t attached as well as one would like.   Is this TMI?

bitterballenA friend told me I had to try Indonesian food while I am here.   We went to a little neighborhood restaurant last night for beer and snacks.   They actually call them snacks which pleases me!   I love snacks.   I love the term snacks.   It is evocative to me of something tasty and fun without the air of prentention that the hor’dourves or even appetizers has.   Snacks are exactly that.   They don’t can stand on their own.   These did!!   We had cheese snacks.   They took chalk sized pieces of gouda cheese then wrapped them in filo and fried them.   Those cheese snacks have now taken their rightful place on the list of my favorite foods of all time.   They had these little croquettes of a beef ragu that are also fried called bitterballen.   Imagine the tastiest stew you can imagine with a hint of Indonesian spice then fried like an arancini (an Italian rice ball).   So, you end up with this crispy on the outside, hot and steamy and soft on the inside.   They are served with this spicy smoothe mustard.   We had other snacks too.   All great but not nearly as memorable to me as the cheese snacks.   And, did I mention beer?   We had many ice cold beers to go with our snacks.   Then it was a quick walk back over the bridge to the boat.

 Posted by at 1:45 pm

Mind the Gap Amsterdam Style

 Trip to Amsterdam  Comments Off on Mind the Gap Amsterdam Style
Oct 222009
 

In London, there is the saying, “Mind the Gap.”   The “gap” is the area between the train and the train platform.   The saying was coined in the 60’s so people wouldn’t trip and fall getting on and off the trains.   Well, here in Amsterdam my sister lives on a fabulous houseboat on one of the canals.   I had been warned there was a big gap between the landing/platform attached to the street and the boat stoop.   Depending on the water level of the canal the gap can be as large as 2 feet.   I had been warned by my cousin who had visited here a couple of months ago.   My father warned me as he had heard from my little brother who visited some time ago as well.   A warning only works if one heeds the warning seriously not as “take it or leave it” advice.   It really could   have been much, much worse for me.

I am not very tall and I am definitely very wide.   I had traveled for days to get here.   When I arrived yesterday morning we took the train and then walked here from the train station with my luggage.   Then we spent the day walking around.   My first attempt to get down onto the boat went well.   I definitely clomped down onto the boat.   When we left later in the day I was able to step up with a bit of effort but without incident.   When we came back in the afternoon I was able to get down fairly well.   Then we had to go to the grocery store.   It was time to step up, again, and mind the gap Amsterdam style.   I suppose, since I didn’t end up in the canal, it was a successful attempt.   However, my knees might beg to differ.

I got my right leg up and my foot flat on the landing.   Then I went to get my left leg up onto the landing and my body just wasn’t having any of it.   It was done.   My body was tired.   I hadn’t lied down in well over 36 hours and my legs were tired.   As I tried to bring my left leg up onto the landing to meet my right I caught my left foot under the landing.   The momentum threw me forward.   I found myself landing on my knees on the platform.   It was a hard fall but not a bad fall in that, miraculously, I didn’t hurt myself.   My knees throbbed for a moment like I had skinned them.   I didn’t.   The only thing bruised in the fall was my ego but that has healed well.   I am cutting myself some slack given it was my first day.

We’ll see what the rest of the day brings.   I feel much more agile on the stairs getting into the belly of the boat as well.   When you first step into the boat you step into a beautiful sun room.   If the boat had an engine it would be the steering room.   Since there is no engine there is no need for a steering wheel.   Instead the room is benched like a restaurant booth.   Then there are stairs down into the boat.   It is rather ingenious that all the stairs are also drawers for storage.   Artistically, they are beautiful.   They are gorgeous dark wood.   The poor design of them is they are shaped like paisleys with the big sections running opposite of each other.   Kind of like ying/yang. Does that make sense?   I will post pictures at some point and attach them this post.   So, in essence you have to step left first then right then left etc.   I am not a left stepper.   I step right first.   It took a little getting used to but this morning I was able to do it with ease.   I am hoping that when we leave later the gap as easy to mind as the stairs have become.

 Posted by at 11:06 am