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A weekend in Amsterdam

With that kind of title some of you might expect something you are not going to get. If you know me, you know I am probably not the source for "Who has the best weed?" or "How far did the ping pong ball go?" So, if this is boring, so be it.

I was going to Amsterdam to meet with a software company on a Monday, so I figured it was an opportunity to go a couple days early. The weather was not good (normal?) until Monday (of course), but there was still plenty to do, and it's a very walkable/bikable town...

Click on the pictures for a larger version.

Arriving from the airport via train to Central Station you can either start walking, or there are two tram "loops" out front, where the track and destination are clearly shown. A single trip is 1.30 Euro, but a 5.50 Euro day pass would have been better. You buy the ticket on the tram, coins only, ack! The round trip train ticket from Schipol (the airport) was 5.50 Euro leaving about 6 times an hour.
My intention was to head immediately (via the #5 or #2 tram) to the larger museums, but they all were closing 30min after I arrived, so that would have to wait.
Most cities have scooters, Amsterdam has bikes...everywhere. All kind of a crazy uniform style and color. They all had the cute little ringer on them to warn pedestrians of an impending collision (saw a couple), but most of the roads in town had designated bicycle lanes.
St. Francis he ain't. Despite the potential to be otherwise, Amsterdam was much cleaner than I thought.
This is a square known as "Dam" I don't know why this place got the name before any other, but a large part of Holland is reclaimed land and is below sea level. My host on Monday said one of the large problems is pipes basically "floating" underground.

It's a boat, it's a hotel... no, it's a Botel.
A few of the canals were lines with houseboats and barges... I might have to look into renting one for a week.
Back at the central station... this is one of the bike rental operations.
That evening I went to a show called "Boom Chicago". It is a combination of live improv and skits. The cast seemed to be all Americans and they poked fun at both the U.S. and the Dutch. It also contained a very funny, but concise explanation of the local football team "Ajax", which is pronounced "Aye-Axe" and their nickname (I'm not kidding) are "The Jews". They wear star of David shirts etc. The opposing teams occasionally resort to anti-Semitic slogans. I am not sure any of this is a good thing, but you can't make stuff like this up. Anyway, at the show I sat across the table from a couple from... you guessed it, Atlanta, basically Emory, small world.

Oh, and I am convinced America is being ripped off on the beer front. Amstel Gold (in my opinion) is just wonderful, and I don't like beer?! Why full Amstel is not exported I have no idea.

Day 2

I hit the Rijksmuseum first thing. I wanted to see their collection of Vermeers and other "Dutch Masters" but of course most of the museum was closed for renovation. I did manage to catch the last day of an exhibit of engravings and paintings by Hendrick Goltzius (whom I had not heard of). I have really never been moved by engraving except possibly on a technical level, but his work was just amazing. The detail and lighting effects he was able to achieve on a plate were stunning. Later in his career he turned to painting and achieved a similar mastery of the medium. He did this all with a crippled right hand. Unfortunately they didn't allow photography in that exhibit.

The other section that was open (and photograph able) was Asian art. On the right is something I had never seen before...woven ivory...not kidding... fine strips were latticed together for the field of the mat, which probably measured 5 ft wide by 8ft long.
Large, probably 12" diameter handle (from a pair). Speculated to be for a gate at a royal palace as the dragon emblem could only be used on such occasions.
Tsuba from Samurai swords.
The is a box, probably 4 inches in diameter carved out of lacquer (tree resin). I think the picture is a little blurry.
These are small (probably 4 inch tall) multi compartment lockets used for carry medicine.
The Van Gogh museum next door (not this building) had a line down the street... (I highly recommend buying tickets in advance, or a museum pass) so I didn't feel like waiting the estimate hour to get in. So I decided to head towards "The Old Church" c 1250 which was currently host the World Press Photography 2003 exhibit.
On the way I made a detour to Spui Plein where they have a local artist market every Sunday morning. After the Goltzius I was in the mood for some engravings, which there were, but they seemed to be the result of a computer assisted process...nah...
The path also took me through the red light district. Pretty tame on a Sunday morning. Cameras are also very frowned upon... so this is the only picture you will get of a local inhabitant.
The Old Church was an interesting building in it's own right. Wooden ceilings, stained glass with local coat of arms, tombs in the floor. They were not giving tours while the photography exhibition was on.
The exhibit itself was well attended and interesting. As expected it was depressing... wars, disasters, what people are capable of doing to each other. A fitting segue to the Anne Frank house coming up next. I also had that uncomfortable (and frequent) feeling that the U.S. medias attention to what goes on in the rest of the world should never be called "coverage".
The Anne Frank House is just to the left of the church along the canal. The wait was not long (15min) and I found the tour worthwhile. Most of the access to the space is from an adjacent building, and though the rooms are empty the supplementary material and video presentations are very moving. The setting, on a normal, quiet street, within 100yds of a church , makes it even more important that it is not forgotten what happened not that long ago.
Back at Dam Plein they were having a book fair. Almost all the books were in Dutch, though most people speak fluent English. There were also several chains of English only bookstores. I picked up a Green Guide to Italy for 7 Euros (a little out of date, but hey a bargain none the less).
My feet were killing me at this point (I chose to bring the wrong shoes)... so I headed back to the station, and the hotel... but a couple more notes.
"Koffie Haus" is coffee, "Coffee House" is weed.
The airport, Shipol, is really nice. It has an extensive array of stores, even a grocery store, and the train station is basically an extension of the terminal. If there is a reason to stay near the airport I would recommend the Sheraton at Shipol as it is attached to the airport. Cabs are very, very expensive. I returned after midnight the first night and the hotel shuttle had stopped. What was probably a 5 minute trip on the expressway cost me 35 Euro. I was later told that the taxi business is a monopoly. So use the trams, trains, buses and bikes.

When nature calls in Amsterdam....

Most large cities have this problem, but the Free Visitors Guide describes it this way "Urinating in public: Dirty habit, always committed by men. If you are caught, the fine will be 45.38 Euros, to be paid immediately." Very few places are willing to tell you about their facilities without you being a customer. The Central Station has excellent bathrooms (for .50 Euro) at the platform level, and as the rule goes, always avail yourself of a train station bathroom as you just don't know what's out there. The Burger Kings also advertised their bathrooms. Hopefully one of the last options (for men) are the public urinals (right). The older ones are enclosed a bit, the newer ones are... well... an act of self control. If you can't go with another guy in the bathroom I have no idea how you handle this one... I didn't look at these things twice until someone walked up and started to do his business. I guess it solves a problem, but I wonder how this would go over in NYC.