Despite this trip being my third to Amsterdam and only 3 nights long, I ended up with enough new photos and notes for a travelogue. I guess it makes sense because the first two visits were at the tail end of other trips and I was too worn out to sightsee. But this travelogue is less substantial than usual and you don't get a map this time. By now you should have a general sense of which way airplanes fly when they go from LA to Europe.
I intended to take more photos than this, especially of canals and Dutch broads, but it was cold and rainy every day and taking photos was awkward. Plus all the broads were bundled up, so clandestine ass-shots were out of the question.
Before I went through the metal detector at LAX I noticed I had a voice message. It was from Oliver Steinberg, with his traditional Thanksgiving wish: "I hope you get the bird." I wasn't prepared for it this year, and it caused me to chuckle right there in the queue.
It was a direct flight to Amsterdam, I had a window seat, the seat next to me was empty, and yet I barely slept. When I briefly nodded off I had the first of many crazy dreams. This one seemed to involve video highlights of Mean Gene Okerlund's career. The voice-over said Mean Gene was about to interview Boy George, which excited me because I just got the Live Aid DVD and "Do They Know It's Christmas?" has been stuck in my head for a week. But the limo window went down and Mean Gene looked in and shouted in recognition: "George 'The Animal' Steele!" Of course I'm a fan of the Animal (I occasionally colored my tongue green in high school) but this was a disappointment. Then they cut to the "Easy Rider" scene where Peter Fonda and "Mean Gene" were riding motorcycles. Mean Gene's face was pasted on. Then I woke up.
The flight path took us over Ireland and Britain, and specifically over the Isle of Man, which was seen by me. That has to be the manliest name of any island.
As soon as I arrived at the train station I inquired about where I could find young boys to have intercourse with. I was quickly informed that the Netherlands allows traditional male-on-female prostitution, but not man-on-boy action. The latter can be found at the Neverland Ranch, not the Netherlands. They said it's a common mistake that tourists make every day.
Centraal Station. I smelled WEED as I took this photo. In front is the departure area for some of the trams that serve as Amsterdam's primary public transportation system. The #2 and #5 took me to the Hotel Smit, which is literally one block from the Rijksmuseum. There's a photo of the hotel here.
After checking into the hotel I took the tram back to the Westerkerk area, where I soon saw one of those iPod silhouette ads covering the front of a building--the very same ad I see out my window at work every day on that building at Santa Monica & Highland. I tells ya, I can never completely get away from work on these trips.
It's hard to make out the sign, but it says "Homomonument". In LA, this would have an asinine name like "Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered Monument". The Dutch aren't into euphemisms. I'd say more about euphemisms but they're covered extensively in George Carlin's "When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?", which I read on this trip, and I've had enough of the subject. The monument consists of three pink granite triangles, one of which is set in the canal as you see above.
Another triangle is raised in the foreground, and the other is level with the ground behind the light pole. The Homomonument sign is visible beyond the raised triangle, to help with your orientation. Not that there's anything wrong with your orientation. This square is adjacent to the Westerkerk, by the way.
Westerkerk (West Church), opened 1631. The tower gives the best views of Amsterdam but it's closed on weekends. Down the cross-street to the left of the church is Anne Frank House, and there's a statue of her in front of the church (see my 2001 Contiki section for a photo).
Anne Frank House doesn't allow photography, but it can't stop me from painting a picture with words. Or can it? You get to walk through the actual secret entrance (behind the bookcase, which remains ajar) to the annex behind her father's shop where the family hid for 2 years, unable to go outside, living in near-silence lest they be detected by the shop employees in the warehouse below. The magazine photos of '40s movie stars that Anne pasted to her bedroom wall are still there. Not all of them are Jewish. Shelley Winters' Oscar is on display near the exit. She received it for her performance in "The Diary of Anne Frank" (1959). It's the second Oscar I've seen; the first is in a private room at the Jules Stein Eye Institute at UCLA that I was allowed to visit once (recipient Jules Stein co-founded MCA, which evolved into Universal Studios).
I noticed this in the past but never felt strongly enough to write it down until now: girls are hot when they're speaking Dutch. It's like they're speaking German but some of the vowels sound American, which makes them hip.
My biggest complaint about Amsterdam on this visit: I'm so hot for her, I'm so hot for her, I'm so hot for her and she's so cold.
For dinner I went to an Indian restaurant in Leidseplein, because it had chicken Madras, which I enjoy at work when we order from Gate of India. Amsterdam is known for Indian and Indonesian food, which makes sense since they used to own those countries. When I left I told both the waiter and the doorman that--except for the time I went to India--this the best Indian meal I'd ever had. The naan was the best ever--buttery garlic naan with embedded stuff.
East corner of Leidseplein. I only took this so Manny can reminisce about the sports bar where he watched a Laker game earlier this year (in the Pancake Square building).
North corner. Just past the Manchurian sign is the Indian restaurant. The Lediseplein Theater houses Boom Chicago, an American improv show. I thought of going Saturday or Sunday night but I was too worn out.
The next four photos were meant to be a nighttime version of the panoramic shot on my 2002 London & Amsterdam page, but the stitching effect looked bad. So here they are separately, right to left:
Bundled-up hotties. The one on the left looks to be about 60% leg by length.
The Irish pub where I played catch with a dog two years ago is in the west corner (the one distant building on the left that's not obscured by the tree).
Walking around the Red Light District (photos are a no-no) I had to pee so I used one of the four-person outdoor urinals. This was tough to do while holding an umbrella. I also got possibly the worst charley horse of my life in my left calf, from jumping around dodging puddles. I couldn't walk for 5 minutes and it was still tight a few days later.
P.C. Hooftstraat at night. This is reputedly the classiest shopping street in Amsterdam. My hotel is on the right corner behind me, and the rear entrance of the Rijksmuseum is a block to the left.
Just like every other overseas trip I've taken, I couldn't fall asleep Friday night, even though I barely slept on the plane. My alarm was set for 8am but I "woke up" at 6:30am fully rested.
One of my guide books recommends getting to the Heineken Experience by 9am. This was an outdated tip because it doesn't even open till 10am. The Rijksmuseum did open at 9am and it was nearby, so I went there first instead. I unexpectedly had to check my bag and afterward realized I should have taken my camera out, but no one else was taking photos so maybe they were prohibited. Most of the Rijksmuseum is closed for renovations until 2008, but the good stuff has been moved to the wing that's still open. Rembrandt's "Night Watch" is huge and not as dark as some have noted. A lot of the early works (paintings, porcelain and the difficult medium of tin) depict areas colonized by the Dutch back when they were the #1 superpower--India, Indonesia, the Caribbean and Brazil. Dutch artists seemed to have a fascination with monkeys, and I don't blame them. Monkeys are cooler than most people and even some dogs. If you're wondering whether it's worth visiting the Rijksmuseum during the renovations, I vote yes. It's only €9.
The Rijksmuseum took me about an hour and a half go through, and after that I went back to the Heineken Experience, the tour of the old Heineken Brouwerij which opened in 1867. Actual brewing of Heineken was moved to another facility in 1988 and the place was converted to an Experience detailing the brewing process, company history, advertising through the years, etc.
These tanks were once filled with goodness and freedom. I didn't use a flash for the first photo and it ended up looking more realistic, especially with the buildings and trees outside, but it may be too dark for some computers. I used a flash for this one:
The Heineken Experience is much better than the Carlsberg tour in Copenhagen, and accordingly it costs €10 (I think Carlsberg was free). But Heineken gives you 3 free beers instead of 2, and you get a free Heineken glass at the end.
They have two bars here. This is the first bar midway through the tour where you get your first beer, and then you get beers 2 and 3 at a second bar at the end after the gift shop. Again, I took the above photo with no flash and the one below with flash:
Near the end of the tour they have a room where you can record a 15-second video and e-mail it to 1 or 2 recipients, for free! I wasn't in improv/creative/rested mode so this is all I came up with. Later on I realized I should have said "yeah, I got a big 55-gallon drum of Heineken here, and I'm gonna drink all of it" and sent it to LG.
For lunch I went back to Museumplein (the open area adjacent to the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum). My Rijksmuseum ticket gave me 15% off at the Cobra Cafe. (Cobra was some art movement and the name stood for COpenhagen-BRussels-Amsterdam; I have to figure out where this ranks now among Benelux, Delmarva and Tribeca.) Even though I tried to stick to Dutch food as much as possible (I never did find a herring stand) I got a hamburger and fries at the cafe. The burger wasn't properly flattened and had spices mixed into it, like a big spicy meatball on a bun. Mama mia! "They got the same shit over there that they got here, but it's just - it's just there it's a little different." They gave me mayo and catsup for my fries, in case I needed the catsup for something.
Rijksmuseum. The Cobra Cafe occupies most of the structure to the right of the reflecting pool.
Same spot as the Rijksmuseum photo but facing the other way. The building with the trams in front of it is the Concertgebouw (concert hall) and the curved building is the new extension to the Van Gogh Museum. In that area down there are the hostel from my first Contiki tour and the hotel from my 2002 visit.
I then took the tram to a part of the city I'd never been to, looking for the spot where Theo van Gogh was murdered on November 2. I knew it was on Linnaeusstraat near the Oosterpark, and a photo showed it as being in front of the "Eetcafe Hollander" (the "De" wasn't visible in the photo.) After quite a bit a walking from the tram stop I found it.
I think the attack took place toward the right at the corner, but Theo continued on his bike and finally collapsed and died in front of the cafe. I didn't see any traces of the makeshift memorial that mourners set up after the incident.
Closeup. Don't worry, the signs on the cafe don't refer to the incident.
A few blocks to the west I saw two Black Petes getting out of a car. Whereas Santa Claus hails from the North Pole and is assisted by elves, Sinter Klaas comes from Spain and has Black Pete as a sidekick. Black Pete is the keeper of the naughty-or-nice book, and carries a whip to use on naughty children. Nowadays when people dress up as Black Pete they do so in blackface--which, like the term "homo", is more acceptable in the tolerant Netherlands than in LA. I was too afraid to photograph the Black Petes.
That reminds me. At the Rijksmuseum there was a painting of a scene where children were opening their gifts from St. Nicholas, and one boy was crying because he got nothing but twigs in his shoe. The naughty little punk. Again, same shit, but a little different.
In the same general area was the Magere Brug (Skinny Bridge), Amsterdam's' most famous bridge, spanning the Amstel River. I wonder how many Augustus Gloop types have fallen in, thinking the river was really full of Amstel. I guess some of it is Amstel.
At this point I was completely finished with sightseeing, my legs were sore, my calf still tight and my knee starting to hurt from walking. So I went back to the hotel and napped for a few hours. I went back to the Red Light district later for a brief while.
Saturday night I went to bed at 1am and stayed there till 1:30pm. My body and mind needed some catching up. I finally got some quality sleep in the latter hours. Soon after I got into bed I heard a woman screaming at someone outside, and I wondered whether it was nothing significant or if it was a real argument that might lead to gunplay. Then I heard a pop and the screaming escalated! Over the next minute or two it subsided, but then there were two more pops and more screaming! No idea what happened. Then at 3:45am I was awakened by someone baying like a wolf, for a long time.
For lunch I went out for a hot dog and Coke at a stand next to the Rijksmuseum and brought them back to the room, where I read for a few hours before taking another nap. Three days of walking and insufficient sleep will do that to you. Around 7:30pm I got up and went to the Hard Rock Cafe. I've lately become a fan of the HRC. The late-'80s videos they show (from MTV's heyday) should be available in homes as a cable channel. If they added Remote Control and Just Say Julie, even better. I had chicken fajitas and many Heinekens, one of which I spilled all over my notebooks full of comedy material, which doesn't exist according to LG, so the ink didn't run. And I wasn't charged for the spilt beer.
Guy seated next to me at the HRC was from Monterey, California. Him: "You here for business or pleasure?" Me: "Pleasure. All pleasure." Later on some English guys came in, just having come from the Ajax game and clad in Ajax colors. Someone in the bar shouted "English football hooligans!" but they were allowed to remain.
Observation: Considering it was Thanksgiving weekend, I heard a lot of Americans in Amsterdam. So many that sometimes after an hour I'd hear Dutch and be surprised.
My waitress was Julie, whose father is Puerto Rican but she hails from St. Maarten, which technically makes her Dutch. Julie: "My boyfriend, he's the greatest guy in the world." Me: "You mean (confident chuckle and sweeping gesture of self-presentation) the second-greatest guy."
I intended to take this photo without Julie and regardless of what was on the screen, because a B-52's guitar behind a bunch of wine bottles and a cash register is itself an unusual sight. But then Aerosmith came on, and I figured why not throw her in too.
I took another photo because I was buzzed. Julie is only 25 and didn't really know about Aerosmith until "I Don't Want To Miss a Thing", and never heard of Live Aid until the new Band Aid 20 version of "Do They Know It's Christmas" was about to come out this week. Young people. Even though she's Caribbean, she's evidently not cool. I spit in the face of people who don't want to be cool. Like Carlito.
HRC. The fog is real, not in my head.
Leaving Max Euweplein (where the HRC and Holland Casino are) you see the famous Heineken sign, on top of one of the buildings that gird Leidseplein. The glasses fill up with neon beer and head and then tip toward each other. I took a video of the filling action but it wasn't worth keeping.
Holland Casino reflected in the Singelgracht on a cold foggy night. This is my spookiest photo ever.
I had another crazy dream Sunday night. Part of it only family members will get, but it included High Pitch Erik singing on the radio or a CD. The lyrics were "you are my one and only shining star" but it wasn't the Manhattans song. I thought maybe it was from a video at the HRC, possibly a Peter Frampton song. I still can't identify it. It's probably not a real song. This dream so disturbed me at 3:45am that I couldn't get back to sleep before my alarm went off at 8am.
When I first got into Schiphol on Friday I bought a return (roundtrip) ticket to Centraal Station. When I got to the hotel I made a big thing of putting the second ticket (for Monday, back to the airport) on the nightstand. So when I left the hotel on Monday I looked at the ticket and saw it was the Friday ticket. So I must have thrown away the Monday ticket like a moron, and had to pay for a new one. It was €3.20 each way originally but for some reason Monday morning they charged me €3.70. After I got back to LA I went to get food at KFC and found the Monday ticket, safe and sound, in my wallet behind my American currency, which of course I wasn't accessing in Amsterdam. Classic "d'oh". I gave my ticket to the KFC guy, who didn't pick it up, as if he thought I was giving him a live ticket to somewhere. He didn't look like a world traveller.
I started coughing on the flight back. The Contiki cough? By Thursday my voice was gravelly and Friday (today) I had to take a sick day from work. They say something like this was going around the office before I left, but once again I prefer to blame it on those jealous corrupt disease-ridden French. I was near a French couple at the Rijksmuseum so it must have been them. I should have asked them why the French wanted to keep the Baaths in power but are so averse to baths.
Thanks a lot, you guys have been great!
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