Haarlem and Amsterdam, Netherlands

06-03-1999

Got up early and rushed down to the hotel comp breakfast. Best yet with nice fruit offerings. On the way back up to our room we ask about a taxi and find out that another guest is going to the airport and he will pay since he is flying on business. Since it is raining hard today it was an easy choice. We hussle upstairs and finish packing then get down in time to catch the taxi.

On the way to the airport we find out that our taxi benefactor is a deputy chief constable for the major city in Greenland (name?). He tells us that the eskimos have a BIG problem with drinking in general and that their homicide rate is very high. Kinda sad to hear. He is an interesting fellow and Jo tries to pump him for domestic violence info in Greenland. The taxi driver drops us off at terminal 2 and we say our goodbyes. Of course that is the wrong terminal for us (and 3 is the wrong terminal for the constable) so we see each other again as we cross over to the right terminals. Special idiot points to the taxi driver.

Our flight to Amsterdam is on time. We are doing great. At Schipol in Amsterdam we change our return flight to the day before (6/11). Will have to contact Dad and see if he can pick us up. Changing tickets took quite some time. Then we also buy our tickets from Amsterdam to Paris by train. This also takes some time. We spend our first two hours at Amsterdam in the stupid airport. But hey, you do what you gotta do.

We hop on a bus that goes to Haarlem. That is the town we are staying in. We pick it instead of Amsterdam based on what RS suggests. He burned us all the way through Scandinavia, so I have no idea why we trust him now. But his advise seems sound. Another factor is that it is the only place we could get two nights in a row. Haarlem is about a 15 minute train ride from Amsterdam, so we set on tackling Amsterdam tomorrow. Haarlem is a quint small town with cannals and cobblestone streets. Our hotel is wacky. The reception desk is in the middle of an antique furniture store. The room we are staying in is around the corner a good half block. The room is huge and sort of like an office with bedroom furniture. Still, so far are scoring with RS again. If he is this good in France we will be cruisin'. We drop our stuff off and set out to discover downtown Haarlem. We have lunch at another RS suggestion, it is a lunch cafeteria at the top of the big department store in town. The food is fresh and the view looks out over all the old city. We had this apple tart for dessert and they used this massive whip cream dispensing machine. Like a giant fat dispenser. Very Good! We were set on the Keukenhof for the afternoon, but it is closed. It is the giant flower warehouse between Haarlem and Amsterdam. We asked 3 different locals and got the same answer. All looked incredulous that we thought it might be open. Sorry. The flower auction is still going, but it starts early. So we hope to try tomorrow morning.

It starts raining so we linger in the TI a little longer. The we walk to the Chinese Indonesian place RS says we have to go to. We are determined to eat indonesiam but we is the royal we. Jo wants chinese so this seems perfect. It is way to early to eat so we wander through as many different parts of town as we can. We look for an ATM too. We find one and wait in line. The lady in from of us grabs her card and walks off. I walk up to the ATM and it starts spitting out money. The ATMs in europe have a nasty habit of giving up your card before giving you any money. The lady seemed to have forgotten. I had Jo chase the lady down because she was bookin' (do I look threatening?). Jo caught her and we gave her the money. She was right thankful. Felt good for my good deed of the day.

Finally time to eat. We go to the restaurant and I order the Indo. Veggie Rice Table, a whole TABLE! Wahoo! It turns out to be a nice platter of all sorts of Indo taster dishes. Very tasty. Jo orders shrimp something (think she would have learned after the Cinque Terre) which she liked. RS is regaining some of his lost ground every hour. The only drawback to Holland is that you have to pay for regular tap water. We were heavily spoiled by the number of english speakers in Scandinavia. Holland is making us struggle a little more.

It stopped raining while we were eating so we strolled the city some more. Then the rain came back, Holland is a little wet we would later find out. We hiked back to the hotel where I tried to soak up some news about the outside world. CNN is on instead of Sky, alright. They are going off about some Peace Document that Slobie and the Serbs just agreed to. I guess you can bomb people into submission. The Russians seem to be bored and are causing enough trouble to get lots of time in the report. No US news in the hour I watched. Oh well, I guess we are not exciting enough tonight. I'll take what I got.

06-04-2000

We wanted to go to the flower auction this morning but got up too late. The preganator needs lots of sleep and I just go with the flow. No flowers while in Holland. Funny. There is a flower shop on every corner so we can simulate. The weather is looking bad today. It looks like it is going to rain. We eat our breakfast of fruit and rolls we had purchased the night before. We had a fridge in our room so it kept well. It tastes really good for some reason.

Amsterdam all day today. Uneventful train ride. We get out of the train station and it looks bleak. To brighten our day our first stop is Anne Frank's house. The line outside is really ling so we consider coming back later. But we decided to bear down pleasantly find out that it moves really quick. 35 minutes later we are in. They were doing construction on the street next to us, which gave us something to watch. These guys were repairing a cobblestone street. Not paving it. Yep, Europe is way different then LA. It would have been pure asphalt in LA. Inside the museum it is stark. The house is actually the spice warehouse owned by Anne's father before they were captured. The whole front has been retrofitted to handle the processing of people. THere is no sign saying it is the place so the line is the only indication you are at the right place. The hideaway where they lived is on the 3rd floor. It's entrance is behind a bookcase that is on hinges. It would be very hard to find. I never read the whole diary, only pieces of it in junior high. What I remember was strangely accurate but missed lots of other facts from the whole picture. I had remembered that they lived there for about 18 months (it was closer to two years) and that only Anne's father survived out of the 2 families and a dentist that stepped into the hideout. What I lacked was that almost none of them were gassed, or assasinated. Most of them died of either starvation, exhaustion or disease. They were captured in August of '44 and were all dead by March of '45. All the camps were liberated in either March or April of '45. Only a month longer in hiding and they may have survived.

The Gestapo had cleared out all of the furniture of the hiding place and Otto Frank did not want the furniture replaced. So every room is barren. This makes them look larger then they are but they feel dead. In Anne's room some of the pictures and post cards she had remained and are greying, flaking off. In one of the rooms there is a video of Otto's secretary who was not jewish and had survived. She was at her desk working when the Gestapo arrived. Her interview of the event and of the returning of Ann'es diaries to Otto were powerful records. It is perhaps the best use of video footage I have ver seen in a museum.

You see the entire hideaway in your tour. At the end you see another video of an interview with one of Anne's former classmates. She had met with Anne in the camps shortly before Anne died of typhus. Anne had pretty much given up on life once her sister had died because she knew her mother was dead and assumed her father was dead as well.

Otto is the one who decided to publish the diaries on the urging of friends. He remarried and spent the rest of his life working against prejudice and spreading Anne's diaries to as many languages and people as he could.

At the end of the museum there is this absolutely obnoxious multimedia display which I think completely takes away from the museum. Good vide, bad computers. It is bad and sort of prettied up. Otherwise this museum is like talking to a person who was there and was killed in the camps. You are talking to the ghosts themselves. Very eery and out of time. I can't understand how horrible the caps were but I can feel a deep horror by walking through this house. You see how the families were so careful and hopeful. Then ripped suddnely from their homes and bleed to death emotional and literly by a certain evil.

After we are done we are ready to shift gears. Serious depression can set in if you dwell too long there. It is early afternoon by the time we are done so we decide to have pancakes dutch style. RS mentions a place just a block or so from the museum. We go there and are slammed by smoke. Everyone is american and all of them are smoking. No dutch in Amsterdam, unless they are working. Just tourist and they are smoking whatever they can get their hands on. Here in the pancake house it is tobacco. Seriously, Scandinavia spoils us again, they all speak english and relatively few smoke. With a real adherence to no-smoking laws. In Holland all bets are off. We deal, sit down and order the biggest suger bombs you have ever laid eyes on. Jo's has apples, syrup and whip cream. I have mandarin oranges, honey and whip cream. A dutch pancake is a lot like a crepe and nothing like an American flapjack. Both of ours are good but it is so sweet even Jo is bowing out. Hardly a nutritious lunch.

Next stop is the Rijk museum. Van Gogh's museum is still closed for rennovation. So this is the only game in town. We set down the road in search of a few good paintins. IN short order the rain starts. Then it starts pouring, buckets, cats and dogs, the kitchen sink. A real downpour. All the wimps head into the hashish dens. Real tourist whip out their kmart branded ponchos that Mom and Dad gave us before we left. It is the only rain gear we have. It turns out to be the best thing. An umbrella would have been nice but unwieldy in the winds. We look like the two biggest dorks in a pretty cool town. But do we care, NO. We start singing songs, just to be geekier. We become the American singing group, the poncho people. We only know one verse of one song, "We're the poncho people" and we sing it all the way there. In a town with so many stoners they won't notice. They don't notice but that is because they all have enought sense to come in out of the rain.

Holland is a place for bikes, the streets are too narrow for a car and gas is hella expensive. So people ride their bikes in nay weather. They keep on riding in this rain with their umbrellas and a basket up front full of some item, food, breifcase whatever. So watch out. They have the right of way, not you the pedestrian, not the cars. And the bicyclists all know it. They all ride the same bike. Black, coaster brake one gear. In fact I don't even think they bother with ownership. They just take the nearest one. Don't be the last one out of the bar at closing time or I gaurantee you are walking home.

At the museum we are reminded it is the only place open. It is packed full of people. It is huge and we only have a litte time before they close so we concentrate on what we know, Rembrandt and Van Gogh. We hit the 'paintings' floor. The paintings are all impressive. Starting from the late 1400s through Van Gogh. Rembrandt's "Night Watch" is the show case and it is incredible. Way too many similar paintings though.

We take a break in the cafeteria, it wasn't very relaxing because it was a mad house. After having at least a couple tables sharked from us we get awnry. So Jo gets a little pushy with someone, playing the pregnancy card and the people we push happen to be Americans. Oops. I should say in Jo's defense, Amsterdam has the rudest and pushiest tourist we have encountered. The dutch could do us all a favor and start to corral some of the more wiley ones. Needless to say we were trying to survive in a hostile environment and it came at the expense of a couple of nice americans. The two people we had harassed just wanted a place to sit so we got some chairs and had them sit down. We started talking to the two teenaged people and found out one is a film student heading to LA and the other had just graduated from high school. They were in Amsterdam as missionaries with "Youth with a mission". They were really nice and the girl is going to be interning in LA this summer. They acted like teenagers, being very involved with themselves but they were quite civil. Of course you are reading this as I talk about myself. Catch-22. Their mission consists of going to the town square with a megaphone. They tried this technique last night and almost got arrested because they didn't have a permit. I thought this was funny since the christians were headed to the jail while the whoring and drugging keeps on going. What a town! They were done restng and headed out, we went to check out the Doll House of royalty. These houses were of course incredible and totally insanely ornate with all sorts of real work in them like electricity and plumbing. That capped the Rijk museum for us.

Just outside the museum we bought some tickets for the next canal tour. It was scenic and touristy. We got off at the central station. Once there we went looking for the red light district just for curiousity's sake. We found it, it wasn' that hard. It was full of "coffe" bars that were really hashish dens. And all sorts of prostitutes. Not one of them was caucasian. Most were african, some latin. All a little pathetic. We did witness some men going in to buy some services. Freaky. Supposedly 60% of the prostitutes are HIV positive. Which is worse then flipping a coin. Not a sanitary venture. Overall not that different then bad parts of hollywood, except legal. From there we headed home. We had an early train to Paris and wanted to get more sleep. We were not overly impressed with Amsterdam. I am sure the weather had a lot to do with it.

When we got back to Haarlen we noticed that the whole square was marked off for some sort of parade. Well it wasn't a parade really. It was a walkathon of sorts where just about the whole town is either walking around town or handing the walkers flowers and cheering. There are at least four amatuer marching bands I can count marching aling with the walkers. Everyone is in the parade. One of the locals says that every town in Holland does this and Haarlen does this for four whole days. Sounds like a little much to me, but they love it. We watched the festivites from the window of a great Italian restaurant in the town center. It was a trip watching. Yet another wacky parade in Europe.

After dinner we looked for the supermarket to buy breakfast but they had already closed. American convenience is just not catching . Back at the Hotel and off to sleep. Big travel day tomorrow.