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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Amsterdam Diary - Day 2

          I need to call my wife and tell her I've arrived okay, but it seems like all the computers have disappeared. Last year there were computers everywhere, now I can’t find one anywhere. I head down Warmoesstraat, asking questions at bars and shops. Does anyone know of an Internet cafe or bar that has computers. I get some bad directions. Two of the places recommended have gotten rid of their computers.

          There’s one at the restaurant below Hotel Victoria, I’m told. It’s very nice, and free. Sounds good, about five blocks from where I am. I order a coffee there and learn the computer is downstairs. There is only one, but it’s unoccupied and I am welcome to use it.

          Nothing is easy. The computer is in a dark corner, and for some reason the cord to the keyboard and mouse are each about four inches long - or short. It’s so dark I have to hold the keyboard tilted up in order to see the keys. After a few minutes probing I discover the machine is talking Dutch. I go upstairs and tell the barmaid who says she will be happy to change it to English. I drink my coffee and wait while she serves another customer. When finished she goes downstairs and makes the change. 

          “It’s okay now,” she says.

          I go back down and struggle with the keyboard and mouse. The computer is incredibly slow, and I am unable to anything with it. I go back upstairs and tell the barmaid what’s going on. She’s very nice and goes back down to fix it but cannot. “It’s in pretty bad shape,” she tells me, and then goes to the bar’s computer to look for an internet cafe. She finds one fifteen blocks away . . . not good. My left leg’s giving me some trouble - motorcycle accident when I was thirty.
          I end up walking 30 blocks, going past the place twice before I found it. They are selling pot, and computer time . . . six computers. I rent one for an hour, eight Euros, or about ten U.S. dollars. I’m still having trouble, but a black girl, younger than myself is very nice, and helpful. Part of the problem is that the computer is so well protected. I am finally able to look at my e-mail, but cannot respond. Finally, with the woman’s help I am able to get onto Facebook by changing my password. I leave a note for my wife.
“Arrived okay. Coin operated computers have been removed. Everyone is using cell phones - except me. I’m an analog man in a digital world.”

My Hotel
          The walk back to my 2.5 star hotel is painful, and think maybe beer will help. I find Sebastiaan at his table by the window, watching passersby. I always stay here, at this same hotel, and he is almost always here, drinking beer, watching TV, or sometimes reading the paper . . . four or five hours a day, an afternoon and evening shift. He’s a nice old guy, around my age I guess. I’ve never seen him drunk, or without a beer in his hand.


         Below is a blurry view of the bar. It always seems to turn blurry late at night. I don’t know why that is.

        I drink a beer with Sebastiaan, then begin the trek upstairs. It’s like climbing Everest. I registered too late this year. The had an almost full house already, and have put me on the top floor, three stories up with a view of the wall of a building across an alleyway next door. The steps are merciless.

           This photo shows the first, and easiest part of the climb. It takes two fights like this to each floor, six to get to my room. After this first flight the steps are more narrow and triangular, and dark. These old buildings are like living inside a smokestack. They are so damn narrow. Stairways corkscrew around, and around. I have to take a break after the second floor. I could stay at a better place, but I like it here, located exactly where I want to be, on a canal they’ve been rebuilding for the last three years, almost done now . . . almost.

           Renovation in the Red Light District never ends. Thousands of these old buildings are registered as historic monuments. No changes are allowed to their appearance. Many were built in the 1700s, and are starting to lean towards the canals. They rest on wooden pilings made from trees 20 to 30 meters long, driven into the ground until they hit rock, or packed clay. The pilings are placed a little less than a yard away from each other, with foundation beams placed across the top. They need to stay damp to keep from rotting, but the weather in Amsterdam has become dryer in recent  years. The tops of the pilings are starting to crumble, causing the buildings to list.

          The total cost to level off one of the buildings runs about $100,000. Most of the older buildings along the canal are privately owned, so there are financial problems as well.

            You can see one of the buildings leaning in this photo. Note the date at its top - 1725. I was wondering how men got underneath the buildings to work on the pilings. Sebastiaan told me they get there by breaking through the ground floor. Then some kind of collar is bolted around the top of existing pilings, and the tops are extended using with some kind of screw device. Cost is around $10,000 per piling. It’s estimated that there are five-million piles supporting the old parts of the city.
The sides of the buildings are butted up against each other, so they can’t lean sideways. If one of them was removed I suspect it’s neighbors would tumble like a string of dominoes.

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