Thelma and Louise Find Art and Red Lights

Previously, we ate our way through the streets of Amsterdam. Somethings never change.

What else doesn’t change is that we tend to stumble into some of the more interesting parts of a city.

IMG_5348Like the alley in the Red Light District where we witnessed a negotiation between a horny 30-something guy and a dark haired woman with “vast tracks of land” in a black lace corseted teddy standing in a window. She would talk to the guy and then yell down the block for someone to come and translate or handle the money or something. The other ladies, undressed in a variety of colored teddies and equally gifted in the bust area, looked on from their own patio doors with mild interest.

The Red Light District isn’t what I expected. It was a neighborhood with brown cafes, “coffee houses,” and shops punctuated with alleyways that had red lanterns lit along them. The ladies were set up behind patio doors, safely kept behind glass and away from pawing hands. Some would put on a bit of a show while others sat in their lingerie reading books and ignoring the gawking tourists.

The District does have a sense of humor though, as evidenced by the carved stone marker of a man’s hand petting his rooster.  Think about it.

Our food guide, Rudolph, had told us a bit about the Red Light District. How it was formed to control the sex trade and protect the Amsterdam women from whatever “foreign sailors” might do to them.  Amsterdammers first.  There are also a few streets with Blue Lights which he said feature women that “come with a surprise in their skirts.”  We found a street with a blue lantern, but didn’t go down that way as we had our sites set on this Irish pub where we could eat lunch and have a pint. Our loss, I think.

I also think we walked down the street with the most “coffee shops” on it. About every 3rd doorway we were hit by the clouds of marijuana rolling out as patrons entered bright-eyed and ready for adventure and exited with glassy expressions and sloppy smiles. I wasn’t sure if Shaun and I had managed an accidental contact high, but the bakery goods started to look more and more delicious as we walked along.

We finally bought some stroopwafles and smoothies at a health food store. Stroopwafles are not what I would consider “health food” since they consist of sugar wafers with caramel sandwiched between them. They are insanely good, however, even if you don’t happen to be stoned. (And Shaun informs me they can be found at a World Market store near you.)

Loaded with stroopwafles, smoothies, and heaven knows what else we started wandering around the city, taking in the views of architecture and people.

There is nothing like wandering around a beautiful city with your best friend. We talked about our previous adventures, what was happening in our lives right now, and what we were hoping for the future.  When you do this kind of extroverted introspection you enter a frame of mine ripe for appreciating art. Particularly Vincent van Gogh.

I don’t know if there are many people who haven’t heard the name “van Gogh” or who doesn’t know his painting Starry Night. Doctor Who even had an episode featuring him in season 8 that is worth a look if you want an interpretation of his personality, his quest to make his art reflect the movement he saw in the world around him, and his battle with what was probably bipolar disorder.

He didn’t start out painting things like Starry Night with its swirls of colors and light. He started out in the shoes of the Dutch Masters, painting things of extremely realistic quality like The Cottage.

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IMG_5366It wasn’t until he moved to Paris and became friends with Impressionist painters like Gauguin and Toulouse-Lautrec that he changed his painting style dramatically. Shaun said, “It’s like he saw all the colors and whimsy and decided everything he’d done before was wrong. His mind was blown.”  After that he moved to Arles, France and began to paint the works we all know and love.

I managed to snap a shot of The Sunflowers.

It love it because it is ordinary while being extraordinary. There are flower that droop and sag and flowers that stand tall and fresh. It makes me feel like he casually chucked flowers in a crockery vase and started painting as fast as he could; as opposed to other still lifes of flowers where every petal feels conspicuously groomed and placed. Those feel stiff and cold to me while this one feels like I could sit at that table to sip some coffee and eat some muesli while having my feet up and a newspaper open. It’s real life.

Most of Vincent’s work (I feel like I can be on a first name basis with him) is like this. Ordinary life captured with extraordinary grace. His brush strokes are designed to give the painting movement. You can see the wind cutting across the tops of the haystacks and threaten to carry off bits of the straw.

But I am being overly fanciful.

The Van Gogh Museum is a wonder of a place. It has pieces from throughout his life, including the period where he was fascinated by Japanese art. And they have one piece under a microscope so you can see how deeply his brushstrokes go into the canvas.

The Museum is very popular. We bought the Amsterdam City Card which got us into a special queue that was quicker than the ordinary queue, but we still had to wait for about 15 minutes to get tickets.

IMG_5367I highly suggest getting tickets ahead of time, or getting the Amsterdam City Card. You can get it at any Amsterdam tourism info store. We got the 2-day pass and got free admission to most museums, preferential admission to the others, a free canal cruise, and free use of the tram system. We definitely got our moneys worth.

Still in the mood for art we went to Rembrandt’s House (free with the Amsterdam Card). If you are being sneaky you call him van Rijn, because that is his last name, but everyone seems to be on a first name basis with Rembrandt. While van Gogh didn’t ever receive the accolades he craved during his life, Rembrandt received all of them and ample wealth early in his life.

He lost it all though. He made bad choices with his money and his house and everything in it had to be sold. The Dutch, however, love to keep inventories and lists and the inventory of Rembrandt’s house survived so they were able to find exact replicas and replacements for everything that had been in the house.  They even dug through the trash pits to see if they could find clues as to what life was like there.

Well, they found this.

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Which was used as the model for THIS!

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How cool is that?!?!

His house is large and grand. The front foyer is cavernous and was also used as a gallery and sales floor for his and other artists’ work. The kitchen was also very large and kind of homey.

Most of the house, however, was taken up by his studios. He had his own, large, well-lit studio and then a smaller, equally well-lit studio for the students he took in. Teaching is actually how he made a lot of money. Art is sometime slow to sell, so you make other money by teaching and selling their art. He had three students at a time. They did sketching, painting, and etching.

Something that was really fun was the etching class they had. The Rembrandt museum has several free hands-on experiences (i.e. art classes) that you can participate in during various times of the day. I got to sit in on an etching class! They took copies of Rembrandt’s more famous etchings and we could copy it with a needle stylus onto a small squares of transparency film. Then we learned how to ink it and run it through a press! It was so fun and very, very informative. Those things are a bitch to make. There are thousands of lines in just one square inch of a etching. Thousands of cuts with a small stylus to make the texture and give shape to the picture. I was at it for about 30 minutes and then decided that there was no way I could finish the picture as Rembrandt finished it. It was crazy. I will update with a picture in August when our stuff has been shipped to us. This moving is cramping my writing style.

But some poor choices ended it all and he died poor and alone and was buried in a pauper’s grave in Westerkirk. Actually, he’s not even there anymore. After 20 years of mouldering there he and his other poor companions were taken out and disposed of. A sad end for an artistic genius.

Even after another depressing end we were still in the mood for more art. (The beer we had at lunch helped.) So we were off to the Rijksmuseum!

While the Rijksmuseum has been around since 1800 when it was founded in The Hague, it has only been in this striking building since 1885. The building, an architectural wonder, was designed by Pierre Cuypers. It holds Dutch art along with cultural and historical objects produced between the middle ages to now.

I was interested in seeing more Rembrandts and a Vermeer or two.  Shaun was interested in seeing pieces she’d heard about/seen in Monument Men.  The Rijksmuseum did not disappoint.

We got discounted entry into the Rijksmuseum with our Amsterdam City Card, so that was good. It’s also one of those places where you might want to consider buying tickets in advance, but we didn’t need to as we were going during a low-traffic period. It was an easy walk from our hotel and all the public transportation goes right past it should you be too far away to walk.

The architecture is as impressive as art. From the archives room to the stained glass pictures of the artists lined up like saints in a church.

We were greeted by 2 meter tall ships and pictures of conquest; including a picture of the victory at Waterloo that we marveled at for its detail and then marveled at again once we figured out that the doors and other openings were too small to have actually admitted the painting into the room. It took up one entire wall! Did they have to take it off it’s frame and supports and then carefully restretch it once it was in the room?  Shaun decided that it would have been one of the pictures that would have to be left behind if Nazis invaded again.

After that we started looking at the museum in terms of “how fast could we evacuate the art” and “how would we invade it and take it over with minimal damage to the art, of course.”

The boat would have to stay.

And there was so much art you’d pick the choicest pieces to run away with. Like these Rembrandts and Vermeers.

I love the cupid picture above. He looks like a little boy who got caught doing something he shouldn’t have been doing and is now blaming someone else.  The Vermeers are fantastic. I love the maid with the milk. The way he used light and color was brilliant. He, like Rembrandt and then van Gogh, tried to capture everyday life and point out how extraordinary the ordinary can be.

The Dutch really loved to make the ordinary special. That was one of the reasons they loved their Delft pottery. They tried to make everything out of Delft. I wonder if the Delft violin could be played…

They loved their flowers and music, too. There is a whole section in the museum just for musical instruments. Of course all of them are beautifully carved or constructed.

The violin above was made in 1692 by Hendrik Jacobs, one of the best Dutch violin makers. It is typical of the baroque period with a shorter body and smaller fingerboard.  His style is very similar to the Italian makers of the same time and it is thought that he apprenticed in Italy. The harpsichord above is a lovely example of form and function. It would have taken up a great deal of space in the typically smaller homes of the Dutch and so having something that is both beautiful when sitting there and also makes beautiful music would have been ideal.

Shaun got very excited about these two paintings below. Ironically they are situated at almost opposite sides of the museum even though they are often compared to each other by experts.

Rembrandt’s The Syndics of the Drapers’ Guild (on the left) and, well, I’m really sorry, but I didn’t write down the title or artist’s name on the second one. I think it’s the Burgermeisters, but no amount of Googling is confirming that notion. Sorry, folks.

Anyway, these are often compared because the subjects look and are positioned so similarly. The difference is the use of perspective and light. Rembrandt visualized the picture being high on a wall and the viewer looking up from below. The other artist visualized the picture being set much lower on the wall so that the viewer and subject would be looking at each other eye-to-eye.  Rembrandt also positioned the table so that the corner would be the focal point and then the slanting line would pull your eye back into the painting, giving it the impression of three dimensionality. The other painting has the table flat so that your eye slides across the surface of the painting. It’s doesn’t invite or pull you into the piece. I could go on, but I will spare you.

IMG_5416We also learned a little bit of the culture of the Reformation. The people strove to be pure and pious, however, they also liked their little jokes. Many of the paintings in this period have little hidden Easter Eggs in their works. Kind of like kids’ animated movies that have bits of humor just for parents.

For example, The Hunter’s Present by Metsu. In the picture a hunter is offering a bird he has shot to a young lady seated by a window with her sewing. It turns out that “to bird” or “birding” was slang for “having sex.” So any painting that featured a birds, or a hunter, or a young woman with birds had a bit of a double entendre going on. Consequently, these “hunting paintings” were extremely popular during this time.

That should make your next visit to the art museum a little more interesting.

The museum lured us onward with promises of more van Gogh to be had. It turns out these two paintings where pretty much it for the bragged about exhibit.

I was about to be really cross when I turned to find this Piet Mondrian piece behind me. It’s the Oostzijdse Mill along the Gein River in Moonlight.

IMG_5443Most people know Mondrian for his extremely modern paintings of straight black lines on a white background with blocks of primary colors, but he also did traditional landscapes. Beautifully. It was a nice surprise that made being lured in by what I felt were empty promises less annoying.

Piet Mondrian: making museums less annoying.

Another painting that stood out to me was this one. My friend, Marion, grew up in Zambia. She sometimes posts pictures from her childhood and this painting kind of reminded me of the trees in some of her photos. I loved the twilight quality of the light and the silhouetted shapes.

The museum is pretty straightforward to get through. It’s not the winding maze that some museums can be. We barely needed a map, with the exception of that moment we were trying to cross the atrium to go from one side of the museum to the other and accidentally found ourselves outside, to the amusement of the greeters.  We decided this error was due to lack of food so we stopped for a bite at the cafe inside the museum atrium. The food was delicious and overpriced, but came with a great people-watching view where we played “which country are they from.”

The farther you go into the depths of the museum the older the art gets. This art is from the Renaissance and earlier.

We left the Rijksmuseum, on purpose this time, and headed off to meet one of Shaun’s co-workers for dinner. That’s right. Shaun really does know someone everywhere she goes. Right outside the restaurant was this gem of an art piece.

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We never did see who owned it, which is too bad. I wanted to shake their hand. I sent this photo to Mark and reminded him that we do need a new car when we moved back to DC. Perhaps the Wookiemobile would inspire him?IMG_5449

We also found the most awesomely named salon ever.

I mean, talk about truth in advertising.  Wimperlifting Waxen?? They must specialize in bikini waxing.

We giggled as we went on to our next appointment. We were on our way to an evening cruise through the canals. Free! Thanks to our Amsterdam City Card.

And it helps that the boats for this particular company were leaving from right outside our hotel. We’d made reservations ahead of time just to be sure. The canal cruises are popular at any time of day and I was worried that the evening cruise would be highly popular.

It turns out I needn’t have been so concerned. The boat was half empty.

The canals give you an interesting view point of Amsterdam.  The buildings are meant to be seen as much as lived in. The churches and other important buildings line the water to make it easy for people to reach them should they be traveling by boat.

In the old days, everyone had a boat or barge. It was a part of life. You saw your neighbors and participated in festivals while sitting in your boat. One popular festival activity was “eel pulling.”  It sounds horrid, but people would hang and eel from a line going across the canal and they would boat by and try to grab the eel and pull it down. To make the eel extra slippery they would coat it in soap. You know, for the challenge.

Well, in 1886 in Jordaan, the establishment decided that large groups of dissatisfied poor people assembling for any reason was a “bad thing.” Eel pulling really brought the people together so they decided that it should be stopped. As a result 26 people were killed by the army as they bashed their way through the canals trying to make arrests and disperse the crowd.

The canals can be romantic, too. Floating along under bridge after bridge. Sipping wine (which we didn’t have) and eating snacks (which we also didn’t have).

IMG_5402And traveling in the evening gives you an amazing vantage point of the harbor at sunset.

 

It was a fun day! And since we walked about 14km that day we decided to go for dessert in our hotel restaurant.

It was more than delicious. It is worth saving room for a dessert after dinner. The Dutch know their desserts, people, and it would be a shame to miss out.

We were surrounded by Gatsby ambiance, which made it even more fun. And made we want a vodka gimlet.

Amsterdam, you treated us well. I loved the food, the culture, and the people. (Even the tourists.) It is a nice place to visit and I have yet another country checked off my list. Just under the wire before we move back to the States.

 

Thelma and Louise go to Amsterdam!!

As my very last trip in Europe for this Swiss experience my BFF, the Thelma to my Louise, flew out to join me on a trip to Amsterdam. I’d only even been in Amsterdam as an entry point into Europe. I think almost every American has been to the Amsterdam airport.

Shaun hadn’t been to Europe for since October 2014, when we moved here and she and I went castle hopping with the boys.  It was clear she had to come back before we moved and she and I had to go to a place we hadn’t ever been before. There was some debate between Spain and Italy along with Amsterdam, but in the end Holland won out.

IMG_5308I booked us in the most American hotel that Amsterdam had to offer – The Hampshire Hotel American. A hotel that was built in a classic 1920s Art Deco style and brags about having a “Gatsby Style” bar called Cafe Americain.  When we got there at 10pm we just dropped our stuff into the hotel and headed down for a drink. Well, we got a drink and a show.

We sat down in the section of the bar that had a view of the lovely fountain out front and started chatting. Shaun’s eyes kept flicking over my shoulder. I thought she was looking at the bar waitress that was making rounds between us, a very drunk woman at the bar singing Katy Perry songs, and a couple in the far corner.  But, no, she was looking at the couple who was making out in very spectacular ways.

It was so active that when they left the waitress said, “Awe! The porno has stopped!” We giggled about it and I make a joke about drunk tourists and she said, “They were only drinking Diet Coke!”  So they did an entire tongue gymnastics routine for over an hour loaded with nothing but fizzy brown water.  I bet it was caffeine free, too, which makes it sad fizzy brown water.

We smugly finished our fully alcoholic drinks and got a full night of sleep to be ready for our food tour of the Jordaan area of Amsterdam.  Shaun had gotten a suggestion from some friends that we take this tour by the company Eating Amsterdam. They had done it and loved it. And, really, is there anything more perfect that getting a guided tour of an historic neighborhood that you can eat your way through?  Let me tell you – No, there is not.

This particular tour focused on the Jordanns area of Amsterdam. Famous for gorgeous canals.

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We met up at a cafe called Cafe du Prins across the canal from Anne Frank’s house. The proprietor, a sweaty and harried looking man, served us some typical cappuccinos as we waited for Rudolph our guide. Once Rudolph got us assembled and in order we sat down in the cafe and we were served some poffertjers. They are small (about 1.5 inches across) pancakes made from a yeast and buckwheat batter and served with syrup and powdered sugar. I could have eaten them all day long.  Poffertjers are a quintessential dutch snack and are found at small cafes and pop-up stands in the winter.

Then we walked away from the canal and into the old part of Jordaan. Jordaan was a working class neighborhood that has now become trendy. There are lots of independent shops and artist galleries where people are trying to make their starts and show the world something different, like this Michelin starred pastry chef struck out on his own and opened up a pastry shop! And it happened to be our next stop!

We got these profiteroles filled with a brandy cream. The rest of the delicacies look a-mazing. Each one was perfect and work of art. The profiteroles were delicious. And if you haven’t ever made them before you should give it a try. They are easy to do and make you look like you really know your stuff when you serve them.

While we walked through the streets Rudolph told us about the architecture of Amsterdam. How the house front are built at a forward slant. How they all have pulley arms to help haul up things like couches and pianos; things that don’t have a hope of fitting up the narrow stairs inside the row houses.  He also told us that there didn’t used to be house numbers. They used to have animal sculptures or other objects up on top of the buildings instead. You just told them you were in the House of the Deer or just 3 doors down from the Shop of the Pig.

We wandered and learned and then found ourselves on the doorstep of a fish shop. The Dutch love fish and in particular they love herring. In June there is a huge celebration called Flag Day and the new herring catch is brought into the harbor. It’s packed in salt to keep it fresh, but it doesn’t get that fishy-salty flavor until after it’s been stored for quite some time.  It is best right off the boat. We tried some and even though it was May it wasn’t really salty at all and only had a hint of fish to it. Some brave souls went back for seconds. I was not one of those souls.

Before we could leave our fish seller brought out kibbling. Kibbling is basically a fish nugget. It is absolutely delicious and the batter has a somewhat flaky consistency and has hints of spices – clove, paprika, cardamon.  Kibbling can be bought in the Dutch equivalent to the fish and chip shop or it can be found at one of the numerous little kibbling trucks stationed around the really touristy areas of Amsterdam.  I highly recommend you get a plate of them.

IMG_5333Our next stop after some fried fish was, naturally, for beer.

We went into a cafe pub; a converted canal house that serves classic Dutch pub food. In this case we tried Bitterballen. Besides being slightly dirty to say, they are delicious to eat and perfect with a pale ale.

It is a mixture of beef or veal mixed with various other ingredients to make a sort of puree or paste which is then rolled into balls, frozen, then battered and fried. It’s kind of like a croquette. The herbs mixed into the meat are picked to go with the bitters in the beer, hence they are called a bitterbal.

You do have to be careful they aren’t too hot when you eat them. The veal paste turns into lava that will melt the inside of your mouth. Rudolph tells us that is why you have them with beer – to cool the fire.

Plus the beer was really good. Too good in fact.

Now, Shaun and I didn’t have breakfast.  Paying 19 Euro for breakfast at the hotel when we knew we’d be eating all day seemed a little much. We figured we’d get coffee at a coffee shop somewhere around.

Yet, every coffee shop we came across was closed. And, oddly, all of them seemed to have an affiliation with Jamaica. “Don’t commuters need coffee?” we asked each other.

It turns out “coffee shop” in Amsterdam is code for “place to buy and consume marijuana.”  To get actual coffee we needed to go to a cafe that looked like an art gallery and be served by an aspiring photographer named Sven who was surrounded by naked artistic photos of a way too thin girl frolicking in some kind of watery environment.

Therefore, all we’d had to eat so far is what I’ve told you about so far. One of this, one of that. Tasting and sampling. And then you throw in a full pint of beer into the bloodstream … well …

Now, when I have a beer I tend to get chatty and things become very funny to me. And when things strike me as funny I tend to make comments. So, as poor Rudolph is trying to explain to us serious and soulful tones about the Alms Houses and the generosity of the city of Amsterdam and with pride about how The Netherlands is one of the first democracies in the world, Shaun and I are giggling and tossing off our own bon mots in the background.

We were politely shushed more than once.

The Alms Houses and courtyards were lovely. Widows and orphans with no means to support themselves were housed here by the city. It’s a hidden place. Quiet (except for us) and lovely.

And then we were on to more food!!

IMG_5335The butcher shop and cheese house are staples of Amsterdam. There was are respectable queue of people waiting to get their steaks and roasts for their Friday night and weekend meals. The butcher gave us sausages to try.

The first was a cold smoked sausage that vaguely had the taste and feed of steak tartar. I’d never had a sausage like it before. It felt like it was barely being held together by the curing agents and it was actually good! I’m not a huge fan of raw beef, but I would actually have this again.

The next sausage was a classic hot smoked affair with a hint of onion and garlic. This was much more what I’d been used to in America and Switzerland.

We all murmured yums and ooos and made some appreciative grunts in the butcher’s direction before we were waved on our way next door to the cheese shop.

It was cheese heaven. Cases and wheels and slices galore! And then shelves stacked with wines that paired with the cheese. And crisps and crackers and biscuits!

IMG_5309We stood around a tall round deli table and were served three different kinds of cheese. The first was a young Gouda. A year old or under. It was springy to the touch and had a light flavor. The second cheese was an aged Gouda. It was considerably more yellow and had more tooth to it. It was absolutely delicious. I thought the woman next to me – a 50-something from Seattle – was going to have an orgasm right then.

Our last cheese was a farmer’s cheese. It was almost white with a slightly creamy texture. It wasn’t pasteurized so you won’t be finding this on American supermarket shelves, but it is worth a taste. It was much more flavorful than the other cheeses even though it was just a few months old. That, Rudolph informed us, is because pasteurization kills off some of the flavor. It seems we have a choice between flavor and health&safety.  Flavor is winning right now….

Until I get tuberculosis from eating unpasteurized cheese.

Anyway! Our next stop was an Indonesian place “just around the corner.” (read: 1 km away)

It’s easy to forget that the Dutch East India Company was Dutch. It’s totally separate from the East India Company, which is British. And the Dutch East India Company was FIRST. They started this whole sailing boats to get spices adventure. Plus they started the entire concept of buying and selling stockholder shares to help fund company ventures.

They made it all the way to Siam, Jakarta, Persia, Bengal, and Ceylon. They brought back cinnamon, cloves, boemboe, sambal, and ketjap along with Indonesian slaves. Eventually, free people from around East India, Indonesia, and Africa came to The Netherlands and they brought more of their foods and cultures with them.

We stopped at a deli-looking takeaway shop called Swieti Sranang and got sandwiches. The bread was made of a cassava root flour and called a pain de purdee. (I am spelling phonetically. There is no way that is the right spelling.) They topped it with a spicy curried chicken and pickles that lit my mouth on fire. I loved it and I finished Shaun’s, too.  Then he gave us a fried plantain with a peanut satay sauce over the top. It was a classic sweet and salty combination and I can still taste it if I think hard enough. Yummo.

And just when I thought I could not eat another bite we went to a “brown” cafe for dessert.

Yes, we went to a bar specifically to eat pie.

This is Cafe Papeneiland. It is owned by a man named Tiel who looks to be about 80 years old. It was started by his great-grandfather named Tiel, who then passed it to his son named Tiel, to another Tiel, and then a Tiel, and it will go to Tiel’s son named …. Tiel.

There is a whole phenomena of brown cafes in Amsterdam. They are usually old and a well established part of the neighborhood. It’s like Cheers, everyone knows your name, there is local beer on tap, and at some point there will be singing. They are called brown cafes because usually the insides are wood paneled and things have gone even more brown with age and they have a lot of character.

It seems that brown cafes aren’t really happening places at 2 in the afternoon, but there was a goodly crowd outside smoking and having a pint and eating the famous Dutch apple pie.  This cafe in particular is considered to have “the best” Dutch apple pie in the city. Then-President Bill Clinton visited here and took home a whole pie! It was considered quite a scandal. Who needs a whole pie?

And it was delicious. A thick and crumbly bottom crust piled with 4 inches of apples and topped with another thinner layer of crust. We drank it with a wheat beer, which I think complemented the wheaty crust of the pie.

We sat around a huge table that was wedged into a window space and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. I didn’t even finish the entire pie, I was so full! (Don’t worry, I only left an inch-wide margin of the edge crust.)

Rudolph left us to wallow in our gluttony and went off, a spring in his step, to guide his next tour – a group of Germans curious about architecture and food. Shaun and I sauntered out of Tiel’s establishment and made our way along the canals and into the heart of Amsterdam.

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Where I will pick up next time….

I Must Be Out Of My Mind

I am in Kandersteg. Part of the Swiss Alps. And tomorrow I am going skiing. I have not been downhill skiing since the church youth trip to Afton Alps when I was 15.  I was not particularly good at it and I spill down the hill losing both poles, both skies, my hat and a glove.

And now I’m going to attempt this again on a decidedly steeper slope.

I needed moral support so I texted Shaun. Here is our conversation.

Me: OMG I’M GOING TO SKI IN THE ALPS!! PRAY FOR ME!!!

Shaun: Come here. You can ski in the Rockies. Multi-continent.

Me: Fulfilling a life-long dream.

Me: I am going to die.

Me: You can have my record collection and my new computer.

Shaun: Don’t die. Bend your knees, slowly turn making lovely arcs down the mountain.

Me: Lovely arcs. Cartwheeling is still making arcs.

Shaun: If you yard sale it will be funny.

Me: If my blog was paying me for this story this would be worth it.

Shaun: I don’t remember enough technical stuff about skiing to be any help. You strap two sticks to your feet and throw yourself down a mountain.

Me: And I will even be sober.

Me: Well. I guess this is what the kids call a YOLO moment.

Thelma and Louise take on Germany … with kids!

The kids had last week and part of this week off of school. So, what does one do when one has Shaun and the kids?? Go on vacation!!

We left on Wednesday and then got home on Saturday evening. I rented a car and actually drove in two foreign countries – up and down some very, very narrow and winding mountain roads and through crazy German Autobahn traffic. And we all survived and are still speaking to each other.

Let me lay out the itinerary.

  • Day 1 – Drive to Triberg.
The restaurant we ate at on our way to Triberg. It turns out it was Michelin rated!
The restaurant we ate at on our way to Triberg. It turns out it was Michelin rated!

Specifically we drove to Triberg im Schwarzwald. It’s about 3 hours from Basel in the middle of The Black Forest – home of Black Forest Cake, lederhosen and dirndls, and cuckoo clocks.  There is an amazing logging and wood craft industry there. I bought a really cool carved Advent Calendar tree with little tiny ornaments to put on for each day of Advent.  E wanted a sword.  There were many to choose from, but since I hadn’t taken complete leave of my senses he did not get one.  He did, however, get a huge bowl of ice cream.  We all got ice creams.  Shaun and I had intended to get Black Forest Cake. I say “intended” because there are some very important German words I do not know.  One of which translated to “sundae cake” and it meant an ice cream sundae that tasted like Black Forest cake.  It tasted exactly like Black Forest cake. Exactly. However, it was NOT a Black Forest cake.  Not even close.

There are lots of waterfalls and pretty streams in the Black Forest. This one goes right through Triberg.
There are lots of waterfalls and pretty streams in the Black Forest. This one goes right through Triberg.

I did not try on a dirndl.  So there are no pictures of me in a dirndl.  None.

I almost bought a cuckoo clock. We went to The House of 1000 Clocks! And there were at least 1000 clocks.  Available at all prices.  Some cute with quaint carvings and little Bavarian men drinking beer to the chime of the hour. Some with life-like carvings of birds and deer topping the roof line.  There were so many choices!  I had to stop and think about what I wanted. I think Mark and I will make a trip back and find one we really like in a few months.

The House! Of 1000! Clocks!
The House! Of 1000! Clocks!

The hotel that Shaun found for us was a little hidden gem.  Owned by a tiny old woman who was about 90 and her son.  Set away from the main town and up on the side of one of the higher foothills. The main building had a small restaurant in it and was a classic chalet style. There was a low building in the back with guest rooms. We got one that had a smaller room inside with two twin beds for the boys.   Dinner at the hotel was classic German fair and pizza. I had kassespatzel (fresh cheese spatzel) and the boys had pizza.

As an aside – salads in Germany are very much like the salads I grew up with in Iowa. Lettuce, shredded carrots, cucumbers and/or radishes lightly pickled in vinegar, and a warm potato salad.  I’m waiting for Jell-O with carrots or fruit cocktail to show up.

  • Day 2 – Drive to Fussen.

Fussen was about a hour and a half away in the car. Smack in the middle of Bavaria and just north of the Austrian border.  It is famous mostly for Castle Neuschwanstein built by “Mad” King Ludwig II.  Hohenschwangau Castle is there as well.  It was built by Ludwig’s father, Maximilian II. The two are practically spitting distance across the valley from each other.  Hohenschwangau is an actual home of a castle.  They lived there. They (or the nanny) raised their children there.  It is … well….  for a castle it’s cozy. King Luitpold lived there, to0.  He actually had a wheelchair elevator installed in his dotage.

Daddy's Castle
Hohenschwangau Castle

As for Neuschwasanstein, well, it is something else.

The front of Neuschawnstein.  It means New Swan Place.
The front of Neuschawnstein. It means New Swan Place.  For the record, the absolutely gorgeous clouds have not been retouched.

Neuschwanstein is the castle every prince and princess dreams about. No wonder that it was used by Walt Disney as inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s Castle in Disneyland.  (The Nazi’s also used it to store a whole bunch of art they stole in WWII – watch Monument Men for that story.)  King Ludwig was a HUGE fan of Richard Wagner and his operas.  Wagner stayed in Hohenschwangau several times and actually had his own room there.   Ludwig was a lover of art and poetry as well as opera. He was a romantic and being such he designed the castle in the Romantic style. The interior is full of murals depicting the operas Tristan and Isolde, Lohengrin, Parsifal, Das Rheingold, and part of the Ring Cycle operas.  Wagner died before the castle was completed so he never got to see his biggest fan’s homage to his operas. Ludwig himself only stayed their 172 days before his mysterious death.  The castle was open for tours 6 weeks later.

The boys outside H
The boys messing around outside Hohenschwangau Castle

 

Shaun by one of many fountains outside Ho
Shaun by one of many fountains outside Hohenschwangau

Let me digress for a moment to talk about King Ludwig II.  It was reported he was insane.  He was examined by a certain Doctor Bernhard von Gudden who was a leading psychiatrist of the day and declare incompetent and too volatile to rule.  Ludwig, unmarried and childless, was dethroned and just three days later both he and Doctor Gudden were found drowned in Lake Starnberg which is just south of Munich.  However!  Historical documents and letters from Ludwig or from others talking about Ludwig indicate that instead of being insane, he was gay. He was as out as a gay man could be at that point.  He wasn’t about to be married to a queen who could help bring his country out of the debt he had created by building his beautiful castles and he was surely not going to supply an heir to the throne.  He just wanted to rule his country and bring art and beauty into the world. That is an inconvenient goal for a monarch in the 1880s.

Neuschawnstein is a thing of beauty and Ludwig should be proud.

We took a horse-drawn carriage up to the castles.
We took a horse-drawn carriage up to the castles.

Our hotel that night was NOT a thing of beauty.  We thought we were staying in a Gasthaus – a little, independent hotel. It was actually a youth hostel.  We had to call the owner and ask him to come to the house to check us in. By the time he got to the house there were 6 other people waiting to check in.  We told him these accommodations were represented differently to us online and given that we had 2 little kids we could not stay there. “No, no!” he says, “I have another place!”  15 minutes later we were introduced to Gunther the 20 year old pothead in charge of this 3 floor guest house in a part of Fussen I can only describe as “gritty” and “real.”  The room was surprisingly clean and comfortable. Once we had assured ourselves we would not catch anything from the beds we paid our little friend waaaay too much money (i.e. *any* money) and settled in.  After a little dinner at an Italian place called “Chili’s” where Shaun ordered a pasta dish that contained no less than 3 habanero peppers, had a passable night’s sleep; taking turns listening for potential thieves and murderers.

  • Day 3 – Drive to Ulm and LEGOLAND!!!

For weeks I’ve been fielding my children’s questions about Legoland.

“When are we going to Legoland?”

“Is Auntie Shaun here yet for Legoland?”

“Why isn’t Auntie Shaun here yet?”

“Is she coming to visit soon?”

“How soon after she gets here are we going to Legoland?”

“Is today Legoland day?”

And so on…

For weeks.

And so on this day, at the crack of dawn, the children’s eyes popped open and their first words were, “Legoland!”

Our first words were “Coffee.”

After a wild goose chase through Neuschawnstein we managed to find coffee, croissants, and other child-approved pastries on our way to Legoland. The car ride conversation when something like this….

“LEGOLAND! LEGOLAND! LEGOLAND! LEGOLAND! LEGOLAND!

LEGOLAND! LEGOLAND! LEGOLAND! LEGOLAND! LEGOLAND!

LEGOLAND! LEGOLAND! LEGOLAND! LEGOLAND! LEGOLAND!”

And, lo, we arrived at Legoland.

The Land of Legos.
The Land of Legos.

And much fun was had.

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A scale model of Venice built entirely out of Legos.
A scale model of Neuschawnstein!
A scale model of Neuschawnstein!

Mark arrived on Day 2 of Legoland, because one cannot possibly see all of Legoland in just one day. Especially when there are huge play grounds all over the park along with rides and Lego worlds.

The Millennium Falcon as Mos Eisley.
The Millennium Falcon as Mos Eisley.

But it was gloriously fun and Mark was like a little kid again.

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Fine, we were all little kids again.

Don't judge. Lightsabers will always be cool.
Don’t judge. Lightsabers will always be cool.

Another great Adventure with Shaun. And my family!