Sunday, July 27, 2014

Day 17, Amsterdam to E-ville and Observations

Day 17:  Amsterdam to E-ville and Observations
Reykjavik on an unusual day

Low Tide

QOTD:  Bathroom lights, elevator door, front door to building, refrigerator door, printing, when the internet went down, dryer,  the bed, and dishwasher,  plus  others THB has sure to have missed

Which one does THB push?

Reasons why you have to have a sense of adventure on house exchanges: all of the above gave THB problems at one time or another during the 8 days we were at H70. The Iceland apartment was much more set up for

Weather:  Even though we leave at 6:45am to walk to Centraal Station, THB is starting to sweat like a pig; it is going to be hot and humid again today; gorgeous in Bay Area (clear, bit of breeze, high 60s)

At the train station, in order to get the unused chipkaart euros refunded, THB has to fill out two identical forms (one for each kaart) to get what’s left on the card minus 2.50E per card. The refund is just short of the fee to the airport: 5E pp.  And, since we are now experienced travelers, we know not to go up or down the train stairs, we stay in the little cubbie at the car door.

KLM/Delta has one innovation: one boarding pass for both flights! The same bar code works on both (at least, it gets us on the first flight, to Minneapolis). Follow-up: it does not work in your town! W get new boarding passes in the twin cities airport.
We’re at airport 3 hours early (not much point in staying at H70 if we’re ready to go). Breakfast in the Club lounge, which is conveniently located a longggggggg way from the check-in desk (chicken disk in Kiwi): coffee, rolls, yogurt, free. Security is at the gate (shorter lines!) and THB ends up being pre-empted by an airline employee putting through someone else’s belongings (including a gigantic foam mat). The guy using the mat is right behind me in business class, and he is indeed lying on the mat.

Book Review 1: Man With a Blue Scarf, or Sitting for a Portrait by Lucian Freud, Martin Gayford: Chronological diary of 2-3 years from 2003-05 of periodic sittings
and many dinners and a few lunches with one of the 20th century’s greats. Recommended

Book Review 2: Little Failure, a Memoir, Gary Shteygart: A Russian immigrant (age 7 or 8) to US, a single child (of a single child, his father), asthmatic, parents who didn’t get along until he moved on to college, Jewish, druggie and drunk, and a non-stop writer from age 5. A father figure and psychoanalysis and his own determination to be a writer move him to succeed as a writer, and maybe as a person. Recommended

Notes and observations (in no particular order):
1.     Phones: The Vodafone picked up in Reykjavik does indeed work in The Netherlands. THB made approximately 15 calls, some right outside the building where we were meeting someone (the entry system foiled us at least twice). The house exchangers did not have a home phone (same as in Copenhagen), so having a local phone is a requirement. Total cost: $50 (we didn’t need to top up). Since we own the phone, hopefully it will last until our next overseas trip, in S. Africa, and work there! In any case, relatively straightforward way to travel.

2.     Service Staff: In Amsterdam, THB was surprised that we were not instantly greeted. Often, the staff would be chatting with each other, and not breaking off when you walked up. And, it was not unusual for a staff person (e.g., train station attendant, lounge greeter) to have a coffee sitting there awaiting attention (we even saw one delivered while we were in line).

3.     Smokin’ and Tokin’: Not so obvious in Iceland. In The Netherlands, a whole ‘nother thing. Many people smoking regular cigarettes in Amsterdam (THB thought locals since they were often outside business buildings), plus all the “coffee” shops selling dope, where the aroma was pretty overwhelming. In Eindhoven, three out of four artists were smoking, heavily, and often rolling their own. Lung cancer rates higher here?

4.     Panhandlers: none in Reykjavik, none in Amsterdam, two in the train station in Apeldoorn. A few people sleeping outside in Amsterdam, a few looked like they had. Nothing like any major city in US,
Outdoor dining: set up your own table and eat on the sidewalk in Amsterdam

5.     Weather: cry THB a river! Too cold and, even more an issue, no sun in Iceland. Very depressing, though some of that had to do with scarcity of activities as well. Too hot  and humid in Amsterdam on some days, some days spectacular. You take your chances in summer, it could have been a lot worse in Amsterdam.

6.     Transportation: Well, the car was a must in Iceland and worked very well (THB can still drive a stick shift, and it was good practice for S. Africa where THB will get to do it with his left hand while driving on the wrong side of the road). The trams and trains out of Amsterdam worked extremely well and THB and DB never forgot a matching tap out to the tap in. It was pricy, the trams were discounted by buying the Chipkaart, the trains not because we did not do enough research ahead of time to find a better solution. However, since we kept our schedule flexible, pre=-paying a large amount of euros would’ve probably not happened either. One other option we did not explore: renting bikes for the week. Given the intermittent rain, that was fine. And, neither of us are coming home with a broken risk. However, THB enjoyed biking his errands in Copenhagen, a much smaller city. The Amsterdam’ers are committed: when we were outside the city centrum and all of the tourists, huge numbers of bikers were still in evidence. THB also resented the train company’s policies: no AMEX, no VISA without a chip, extra fees for a single train ticket, long lines to buy tickets, very inefficient processes.

7.     What helps make a city more enjoyable: no buildings (except for church steeples) over five stories tall. Highly recommended!

8.     Russia, or what we used to call and should still call it, the USSR. THB has read quite a few books related to Russia/USSR (if you want to cull the book lists of the last three years, they are out there on the blog, nice plug by THB for himself!). Putin is a thug. A powerful thug. A greedy thug. A thug with no interest in (new or old) national borders. A thug who will sacrifice a lot to get what he wants. A thug that will get territory back at any cost (well, not his life). The Crimea is not going back to Ukraine. THB expects that the east portion of Ukraine will be folded back into Russia, and there’s a pretty decent chance all of it will swallowed up. This time (unlike Chechnya or Georgia or any of the others), the West will be watching more closely. THB doubts (nor recommends) doing much about it, other than economic sanctions (THB does not thing Putin is worried about “his” people suffering: a good Soviet will take one for the team). Strong man, strong country, power is all. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Day 16: Amsterdam

Day 16:  Amsterdam

QOTD:  It feels a bit like Iceland

Weather: Overcast all day and light rain at times, clearing a bit around 8pm

Breakfast today: pancakes! They are thin, crepe-like, with fruit/curd layered inside: apples and raisins for THB and lemon curd and fresh lemons to squeeze on top for DB, with coffee and water: $32

From there we go to visit a friend of a friend who lives on the outskirts of town. She’s a former stage manager and costume designer from Croatia, has lived in Amsterdam for 20+ years, and now makes bags and unique wraps. THB has an elderberry quaff, very refreshing.



And, back to the museum district for a walk through the Rijksmuesum; like Van Abbemuseum yesterday, it is free on our H70 hosts’ cards, and like many of the museums we have visited, been renovated while retaining the old building. We see the Night Watch, which some say should be title more accurately the Day Watch. It is HUGE! If you get paid by the square meter, Rembrandt asked quite a pretty guilder.
rotate left

rotate right, tulip holder

It’s is not that crowded, you can get quite close to the paintings, which is nice. Most of the work doesn’t do much for THB, at least during renovation it seems like the paintings have been restored to gleam rather than look old and yellowed or darkish.

Lunch in the café is shared meat and cheese platter, a huge amount of very good food (extra dry cheddar, blue of some sort, chorizo, prosciutto) and two lousy breads from a well-respected bakery, a bitter lemon, $30.

Next door: a giant cappuccino, mini espresso

Well, nobody was there...

Stroll about town in a very slight sprinkling (so slight that THB doesn’t put on a jacket), meandering until THB conks out and we head to H70 for a long rest before dinner.

THB believe there is somewhere else where couples leave locks...Paris?

And on a chain to the right, same-same

One of many grills and steakhouse, all over town, not just in tourist areas

Dinnner is at Blauw, at the end of Vondelpark, another 20+ minute tram ride. We have the rijsstafel, at another Mark Bittman recommendation. It is a lot of little dishes, many of them good to pretty good. While it is a good meal, THB and DB agree: it’s a once-every-40-years thing. With two glasses of wine and two draft brewskies, $100. 


 And, one last short video: