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Saturday, July 25, 2015

Observing Amstedam - Part 5

Canal Trip

(Click Photos To Enlarge)
I wait for Terry at the Torenzicht Hotel bar on this sun-bright afternoon. I’m not sure what we’ll do, but no more bike rides, though I’m glad we took the one we did together.

He arrives on time and is a friend with Anna’s, who is tending bar today.

T & A Photo  A 
She’s got the best tattoos I’ve ever seen.

Amst 2015 Anna 1

We spend some time on the front porch where she describes a short vacation trip to Malta. “Everyone was over eighty,” she laments. “Paradise Bay is the place to go when your dreams have crashed.”

Hmm. Three more years and I’ll be eighty, but my dreams are more or less fulfilled . . . I think.

“Where will you go today?” she asks me.

“I don’t know.”

“The zoo?” she offers.

“I don’t think so.”

“Zoos are great at night,” says Terry. “Used to go with friends when I was young . . . was easy to get through the fence. One night a girl got lost. Cops found her trapped in with the penguins that next morning. Didn’t do it much more after that.”

“I’d love to do the zoo at night,” I tell him.

“We can visit my friend Lance,” he says. “Lives on a boat. Might take us for a ride on the canal if we get lucky.”
We get lucky.

“That’s Lance’s boat,” he nods. “That bit of blue you see behind the white one on the left.”

Some people’s lives . . . I love the boat, must be some hundred feet and change from stem to stern. The green part in the photo here below is Lance’s boat. A smaller, motorboat (the bit of blue behind the green) is tied beside it.

Amst 15 Boat -1 

Wow. We clamber on. Lance starts the engine and we’re on our way, a dream I didn’t know I had, come true. We head out. Lance is at tiller. Terry rolls a blunt. This perfect day.

Lance & Terry 

I didn’t get much in the way of photos, too damn much to see, and smoke, and trying to figure out my cell phone photo maker, plus a Canon EOS that I feared might go overboard as we merge into an endless parade of happy people doing the canals.


 Boat Trip 1 Fix

We spend an hour or so on this aquatic labyrinth, the outboard engine chugging happily in its own rhythm, echoes off canal walls, Amsterdam delight . . . pure pleasure.

Two days left, then home again.

Stitched FinalEntrance to the North Sea

Friday, July 24, 2015

Observing Sweden – Driver’s License Progress

Driver Fixed A
Had my first driving lesson last week. $100
Attended Drug Alcohol class today. $120

Am now allowed to drive if a licensed driver is in the car with me and I have the sign you see in the back window of our car, as shown in photo. "Practicing Driver"

Next comes another driving practice on some kind of slippery track that simulates icy roads.

Then the driving qualification test (another fee).

And then another – theory – test on computer (another fee).

The theory questions are still driving me nuts.
Question: What is true about this sign?

Nuts B
Nuts C

If I survive all this I will get a probationary license that lasts for 2 years
The mind boggles.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Observing Amsterdam - Part 4

Fate of the Red Light District 2015

Double Click On Photos To Enlarge

I’ve been spending a few summer days in Amsterdam for five years now, and notice changes in the Red Light District. City council here’s decided that the Red Light gives a bad impression to the tourists visiting the city as this neighborhoods about the first impression one gets after leaving Central Station. Coffee houses disappear when rental leases end, relocated to other sections of the city. Messages are left behind with hope that customers will find their ways to new locations – outside of the Red Light District.

Coffee Shop Move

          My favorite, Hunter’s Coffee Shop, is now a bar, no weed. I’ve stopped to have a cup of coffee. there’s an constant flow of happy tourists coming in. They hurry past me to what used to be the drug counter at the back of the room. A Hunter’s employee is waiting there to give them the bad news, and a map to where the new Hunter’s is, on Rembrandtplein – about a fifteen minute walk from where we are. The odds are would-be customers won’t take that walk as there are still some coffee houses left inside the Red Light District. Baba’s one of them. It’s been around a long time, and has turned into a gold mine this year with so little competition.

Baba C

          The Baba’s packed from morning until closing time – full house. You cannot see the dealer’s counter in this photo, off to the left side, and down a hallway that’s too short and narrow to contain the line of customers. Always at least a dozen waiting, takes 15 minutes, or less, to make your way to the front.

          Twelve buyers every fifteen minutes, pay between twelve and twenty Euros for one gram, five grams the max that one can buy. Assuming a minor purchases, one gram, twelve Euros (thirteen bucks U.S.) 48 deals an hour, would be five hundred bucks, and change –  modest estimate. Nobody buys a single gram, except to sample something new. There’s also coffee, soft drinks, T-shirts, lighters. I suspect the Baba will remain where it is now, but only time will tell.
*        *        *
          Sex also sells, and prostitutes are also being moved. When the hooker window leases end the city buys them up, and no new hookers with be given license to practice. A lot of windows are now vacant.

Rent Signs (2) 
Rooms for rent

Amst 15 Girl 1 Cropped 

But hundreds are still working.

Hooker Protest 

Photo above is from the PIP window – Prostitute Information Program. They look out for hookers, even help set up retirement plans.

          The future may look less than bright for prostitutes, but voyeur sex is easily available and shows no sign of disappearing. Casa Rosso is the largest and the most prestigious. For 40 Euros you can watch couples doing it in all kinds of creative and sometime humorous ways. I must confess I’ve never seen the show, but you can hear the audience’s cheers and laughter on the street outside the place. There’s always a long line of people waiting to get in. Show lasts less than an hour – another money maker. Rosso owns a dozen other sexy places, walks the streets beside his bodyguard, in a white coat with gold elephant emblazoned upon it.


           I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t more to this than just to modify the tourist’s first impressions. Red Light is the oldest part of town, canal laced –charming. Beautiful would be an understatement - paradise for backpacked youth. Hostels abound, and fast food places, inexpensive. I suspect that’s going to change, replaced by three and four star, posh hotels, and costly restaurants. More mature tourists will happily play the price, and go on tours to hear about the way things used to be. I wonder if the end result will be some kind of Red Light Disneyland, with synthetic highs and robot hookers in the windows, like a chapter out of Stephan King’s Dark Towers fantasy.

Sex Doll

Does a sexy Disneyland await us in some distant future?

Beauty Changes.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Observing Amsterdam - Part 3

The Dunes

I’m starting to get worried. We’ve been peddling for over an hour now. I’m wasted. How far have we gone? I’ve seen a lot of milestones, all in Dutch of course: 3km . . . 5km . . . 8km. Scary numbers. We’re still cycling toward the dunes and ocean, and I’m thinking, wow, how many miles ahead? I’m also thinking, I am going to have to peddle all this distance going back. A rest on the beach will help, if I can make it to the ocean.

Terry’s peddling happily ahead, in his late 30’s and indefatigable. He seems a very source of energy, always in motion . . . seeing things, and doing things that require energy. He paraglides, goes to Columbia every year to train. Becomes almost poetic when he talks about it. Catching thermals, soaring with birds. It has become a fine art, finding thermals, watching birds for clues, which way the weeds are blowing. He’s been saving up to buy an outfit. Wing and harness cost a couple thousand, minimum – more if you can afford it.

I can see a dune. A small one. Minutes later we’re surrounded by a sea of them, most partly covered with a blanket of with tall grass, and brush. This was a battleground in world war two. The Germans were here, and a heroic woman, Hannie Schaaf. ‘De vroun met die rode haar.’ The woman with the red hair. She led some kind of Dutch resistance and they fought here in these dunes. It must have been a fascinating battle – hide and seek, and if I find you I will kill you. Germans found more than 400 of the Dutch . . . and Hannie.
Dune Merge good Fix

Miles of this stuff, small, gently rolling hills and dips and weeds and brush and sand. Some battlefield.

It’s all uphill now. We have come to a long, upward slope. A very long slope.

Ocean A

“Hey!” I signal terry. “Got to walk up this one,” I dismount, and he gets off his bike. We make our way up to the top, and there’s the ocean. Very cool. And all downhill now.
Terry pulls a bedspread from his pack. We spread it out. He strips down to his bathing suit. “I’m going in.” His housemate challenged him to do this dip. “It’s bloody cold. Want to go with me?”

“I don’t think so.” It feels wonderful to lie here, on this blanket, in the sun.
“Kids do it.” Terry points to one that has been having a great time in the ocean since we spread out here. “Well . . . I’m on my way.” He gets up, and I watch him walking to the ocean, and into the ocean. He does pretty good. Full submersion for an adequate amount of time, eight or ten minutes. He comes back to find me basking peacefully, and happy – painless. Trying not to think of the ride back.

“Why don’t you take your shoes off?” Terry asks. “You’re like an old Chinese man.”

This is kind of funny. I like the idea of an old Chinese man. I don’t want to take my shoes off because I don’t want to get sand in my socks. Sand filled socks inside my ankle high, leather shoes on the ride back –not good. A few minutes later I take ‘em off.

Ocean B

We lay there, nodding off now and again. It’s warm, but not hot, perfect weather. Terry eats some fruit we brought with us, and I consume a couple croissants. Two hours later, we head back. It’s nice to coast down that long slope we walked up coming in, but I’m dreading this ride back. My ass is killing me. I try to shift my left thigh to the seat and then the right, cycling in a skewed, sideways position. I try peddling standing up. No way.

Terry has stopped some fifty yards ahead of me, points to a tulip farm. It’s more or less obligatory for tourists to take at least one photo of tulips, and one of windmills. I did windmills last year.

Tulip Merge Fixed Working

I’m not into tulips, but it’s nice to stop . . . get off my bike.
Eight minutes later it’s all over. What a wonderful surprise. Some kind of short cut. We are back , the railroad station. I’ve survived. Another hour will find me back in Amsterdam.

Part 4 Next Saturday – The Red Light District

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Observing Amsterdam - Part 2

Bike Tripping

Sometimes you get lucky. Perfect weather here in Amsterdam. Turns out tomorrow is a day off for my good friend Terry, an expat from England who has lived here for some twenty years. He’s going to take me on a tour.

           “What would you like to see?” he asks.

           “It’s up to you. But no museums.”
           “Is it okay if we start early?”

           “Sure, whatever.”

           “Great. I’ll pick you up 11:30.

          Ha! My kind of people. Ten’s my favorite time to rise, and two or three a.m. for me is bedtime.

Day Two

           “Let’s take a bike ride,” he suggests. “Go see the ocean and the dunes. We’ll catch a train to my place and pick up the bikes.” We hope a train at Central Station and get off at the first stop. He’s got a house in Zaandam.

          “Tore my old place down,” he says. “They’re getting rid of all the older places and rebuilding. You can see.” He gestures with his arm.
Zaandam Hotel A 
Hotel Inntel - 160 Rooms

          “Wow really.” Let me take a picture of you here.

Terry Zam A

          I take the shot and we move on, unsure of how I feel about the architecture. We walk several crooked blocks and then, “That place has been abandoned for 8 years.” He nods toward a darkened home five houses down from his. “The city gave a choice – one of three places in return for my house. One of these, or you are on your own. So I took this one.” He unlocks the door. Not bad. It’s nice, and simple, nothing superfluous. “Take your pack off, then we’ll go outside.” He leads me to a corkscrew stairway leading downward to a patio in back. His roommate’s watering their garden.
“Very nice.” I envy them. Nice little garden – homey. Locals are allowed to raise a few plants – personal use only.

            Roommate helps him haul two fold-up bikes out of a shed. I’ve never seen the like before, but then I don’t ride bikes. Everyone in Amsterdam rides bikes. One doesn’t see that many cars . . . or traffic problems.

          “You know how to ride?”

           “I used to. Been a few years, but I’m sure that I can manage.”

T  B Bikes A

           They unfold the bikes. Pump up the tires while I sit idle, watching, listening to music they’ve recorded on a little speaker. Very nice. When everything’s set up we load our backpacks with bananas, apples, bread. “I’m always hungry,” Terry says as he unlocks a gate.

           We’re on the street now, and I’m on the bike. A bit unsteady, maybe more than that. The handle bars are very short, smooth turns are difficult, but I stay upright and begin to follow him, a little wobbly as we venture down the street. Another cyclist’s coming my way, woman in her forties. Terry glides past easily, but I have trouble – not sure how to get around, afraid to brake. I finally stop and she shoots past with words in Dutch. “You idiot! How could somebody not know how to ride a bike?!”

           Embarrassing, but I don’t mind. This is an interesting change, from victim into perpetrator. As pedestrian on sidewalks here, I’m never sure if someone’s going to run straight into me, or from behind. You hear the little jingly warning bells that tell you it’s too late already. Best defense just hold still, let bikers find their way around you. So far this has been successful.

           We fold up the bikes and get onto another train. “No charge for fold ups.” Terry stacks the bikes between two others someone’s left inside the doorway to the entrance of the car. An easy fifteen minutes takes us to our destination. We get out, unfold the bikes, and start off. Terry takes the lead into a forest that turns out to be a labyrinth of brick paved paths that pass through endless tunnels of amazing trees. It’s beautiful, serene, as though were lost inside this vast green space.

Bike Ride A  

          An hour later Terry slows, looks back to see if I’m okay.

          My legs are tired. My ass is sore. I do not exercise. I sit. I write. That’s what I do. But that is not enough today, and still no sight of ocean, or the dunes. “Is it much father?”

          “Almost there,” he says.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Observing Amsterdam 2015 - Part One

The Flight – Observing People

Minutes to go. The airport. Infinite variety of dress and ways await departure in a line as long as Florida. Some have been standing 50 minutes now, as lobby seats, save for the one I’m resting in, are vacant. Why? Seats on the plane are all assigned. To what advantage do they seek? To get on first, then wait some more, get up and down again, forced into space crammed full of others getting on? Somebody needs the window seat and you are on the aisle. All this is far beyond my understanding. I will be among the last to board – observing. There’s a woman in the line with four inch high heels. Looks like torture, but she seems at ease with it.

300 of us take our places, belted in like sardines in a can. The flight attendants have begun the ritual explaining seat belts. There are life preservers under seats, were told. All easily available. “Do not inflate while still inside the cabin.” Right. We will remember that when all 300 of us try escaping from this tin can as it sinks.

We take off 30 minutes late, head up into the clouds at a surprising angle, and then level off into the clouds. Attendants now come down the aisle with lunch carts that block any chance of someone getting to the restrooms. Sandwiches they now distribute aren’t that bad. When they are done another cart comes down to clear the trash, and then another selling jewelry, perfumes, and expensive watches. Isn’t it enough we paid for seats?

The flight is less than two hours long. When we have docked the desperate passengers jump up to cram the aisles again, removing luggage from the overheads. Now they wait standing once again, another fifteen minutes spent in line to disembark so that they can be first to get to carousels and wait for luggage to appear some twenty minutes later.

We’ve arrived, and now a train to Central Station, Amsterdam. I pray it will not rain as forecasters predict.