Beethoven, Bikes, & Behinds


Cabin fever can lead to overzealous planning which later leads to physical pain.

With rain nearly every single day last week, I was like a prisoner at my parole hearing and ready to get out.  The forecast for the weekend held partly sunny skies, mild temperatures, and NO RAIN!  Finally—a rain-free weekend.  To G’s “excitement”, I was set on spending as much time outdoors as possible.  I lined up an outdoor movie, a bike ride to a nearby town, and an outdoor music concert…not once giving a second thought to the cumulative effect this would have on my behind.

August sunsets are still as late as 9pm and the perfect time for a post-dinner movie.  The Oscar nominated movie Easy Rider (1969) was scheduled for  Friday’s Vondelpark’s Sunset Film Festival so we packed a few adult beverages and biked to the EYE Museum…as did many other Amsterdamers.  Tickets (read: seats) were sold out; however, you were welcome to cop a squat on the pavement in front of the screen at no charge.  And we did.  And after 10 minutes, the lower half of my body was quite uncomfortable.  Having just run 5k in the park didn’t help either.  Fortunately we live close by and a quick trip home procured two, albeit thin, cushions making the next 95 minutes possible to bear.

With partly sunny skies on Saturday afternoon, I was not going to miss the opportunity for a long bike ride.  Oh, and photos.  I suggested Naarden for our bike ride, but with an ulterior motive.  The World Press Photo Exhibit is currently on display at the Grote Kerk and with World Photography day the day before, I thought a perfect opportunity to indulge…regardless of the fact I had already seen the exhibit in Amsterdam (shhh, don’t tell G!).

The ride to Naarden was typical of the Dutch countryside complete with our own bike lane 90% of the time…I LOVE biking in this country.  A lot of cows, sheep, goats, and farmland for our viewing smelling pleasure.   Getting to Naarden required passing through the town of Muiden.  Our ride was slowed to a walk due to their Spiering Festival in full swing on the main street coupled with draw bridge traffic from large ships entering the canal.  Another 9km stretch of farmland and we made it to Naarden.  Click here to see the route.

Naarden is small town southeast of Amsterdam with well-preserved fortified walls, an encircling moat, and a distinctive star shape best viewed from above.  Dead center in the town is the Grote Kerk (large church) rising tall above the surrounding buildings.

Aerial view of Naarden, NL © http://www.naardel.nl; photo editing by Connie Ricca

We refueled with traditional Dutch broodjes (sandwiches) and Belgium beir.  The larger Uitsmijter  for G and a smaller tosti for me.  With full tummies, we entered the Grote Kerk and enjoyed the photo exhibit.

I continue to be inspired by the amazing photographs captured by photojournalists and documentary photographers.  Each photo at the exhibit is like reading a short story.  Each photo captures so much information, detail, and history that I could spend hours at the exhibit.  And at least one photo, even if you only glance at it for few seconds, will resonate with you after you leave.  A new exhibition begins each April so try to catch one in a town near you.

After satisfying my sweet tooth with some ice cream, we were back on the bikes ready to conquer another 25km to head home. But no time for a leisure ride home.  The Prinsengrachtconcert was starting at 8p and we hoped to arrive early enough for a nice spot canal side to enjoy the live classical music.  With a quick change of clothes and a stash of adult beverages, we arrived 45 minutes early…nearly half the town of Amsterdam was already there.  Once again, we plopped our behinds on the pavement (sans cushions!) and enjoyed the people watching until the concert began.

Despite a physically worn out body come Sunday, I was mentally rejuvenated and prepared to take on another rainy Amsterdam week ahead.

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Vertically challenged in the tallest country in the World

In college, one of my friend’s boyfriends nicknamed me “squirt”.  At my last job in NYC, two of my colleagues I worked with daily were over 6 feet tall.  When I take group photos with friends, I am again reminded I am still the shortest one…despite the height of the heels I may be wearing.  On the other hand, it does come in handy as airplane seats seem to get smaller and smaller.

But when you are only 5’2” (1.57 m) and move to the country which has the tallest people on average, it’s time to digest some extra patience.   However, I’m not taking my own advice very well.

The Dutch, on average—yes AVERAGE, are 6 feet tall (1.83 m).  Recently the Dutch government adjusted building codes to increase the height of doorways. I’ve read that doors must now be 7′ 6.5″ inches (2.30 m) high.

Last summer we went to Museumplein to watch the Dutch play in the semi-finals of the World Cup.  A jumbo screen TV was set up and we arrived early to stake out a “good spot”.  We were there early enough to plop down right in front of the screen, but it didn’t seem necessary as I noticed everyone was camped out on their blankets sitting on the ground.

As soon as the game was underway, it was like a whistle blew and everyone suddenly stood up.  I thought it was just to get things going, cheer on the Dutch team, and then everyone would sit back down.  Nope.  I was dumbfounded when I realized that everyone was going to stand for the entire game.  Foolish me to think the protocol and manners would be anything similar to the Philharmonic Concerts in Central Park or Film Festivals in Bryant Park.  My unsuccessful attempt at standing on a crate only brought more frustration which led to anger which prompted pouting which called for more beer.  Luckily by half time, my (normal and tall sized) friends were annoyed as well so we walked to one of their apartments to watch the rest of the game.

My view...while standing on a crate

On a daily basis, I am cursing the top shelf in our kitchen or the top shelf at the grocery.  Our kitchen is typical European with open shelves.  No cabinets or pantry.  Just open shelves for the dishes, cups, food, etc.  Sometimes my cereal (and a multitude of other things) gets shoved to the back and I can’t reach it while standing on my tip toes.  I’m left with the option to forego the cereal or climb up on the counter like a 5 year old trying to steal from the cookie jar.  Either way, the words coming out of my mouth at this hour of the morning are not pleasant.  The grocery renders the same fuss.  I usually step up on the bottom grate so I can reach what I need…all the while some 2m tall Dutch person is giggling away.

But after nearly 2 years here, I’ve come to terms with it all and have adjusted.  Until tonight…when it crossed roads with ballet.

The Grachtenfestival  has been going on this week and I had been looking forward to tonight’s performance.  While the festival is mainly a classical music event, a few of the performances this year include dance and tonight’s performance had excerpts from Swan Lake performed by The Dutch National Ballet. It began with an ensemble playing Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony.  The live music was lovely and I had a decent view.

Then they prepared the floating stage for the ballerinas and I was eagerly waiting.  The dancers placed themselves on stage, the music began…

…and suddenly everyone stood up.  Why?!?  You are sitting on the edge of the canal with an completely unobstructed view of the stage…why must you now stand up?  After bobbing around in an attempt to reposition myself, I felt like I was participating in a sparring session rather than enjoying a classical performance.

Foiled and frustrated, I left.  Fortunately, the same friends who offered their apartment to watch the World Cup semi’s last summer were the same friends waiting to meet me for dinner…and a beer.

PRIDE on the Amsterdam Canals

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In NYC, the Pride parade marches along 5th Avenue. In New Orleans, its the streets of the obvious French Quarter. Always on the street, always in June.

Hop on over to Amsterdam in August and experience the parade on the water. Come on, its Amsterdam…you had to figure it was a bike or a boat, right? The parade of barges and boats begins at the top of the Prinsengracht and then cuts up the Amstel River before ending around the Oosterdok. And this is when living on the canal (or knowing someone who knows someone!) has advantages. We were fortunate to be a +2 add-on with our friends and enjoy the parade from their colleague’s canal house.  This meant the luxury of a clean bathroom and not having to improvise our own vantage point like these two.

We missed the parade last year as we were stateside, but I heard it was a washout with rain. This year, the day began with sunny skies—quite a rarity this summer—and the Prinsengracht was packed with spectators along the canal walls on foot and boat.

Some had choreographed dances…

Some a color theme…

And several with confetti…

And if you were a large barge, you required a boat on the front to steer:

And one on the back to push:


A good time was being had by all, and then Amsterdam had to be AmsterDAM[n].

However, the celebration on the boats continued!


After about 15 minutes of hard rain and high winds, the clouds moved on and the umbrellas were folded.

The week was filled with various events around the city, but the Saturday parade was certainly the highlight.  The night before, we also attended the Drag Queen Olympics.  Quite interesting!  I did’t have my camera on hand (shocker, I know), but you can catch some great photos and video posted on my friend’s blog by clicking here.

All fun times come to an end, but I’ll leave you with some other parade fotos…and a promise to have updates from Italy posted soon.  CLICK HERE for foto slideshow.

Autumn is here

Brooklyn

I usually called it fall. I have since learned that is very “North American”. Whatever you may call it; it’s still my favorite season.  Growing up in Louisiana, I didn’t usually experience the brisk autumn weather and changing of the leaves in September as the temperatures and humidity were still peaking.  Moving to NYC brought a renewed perspective on autumn.  Hook, line, and sinker…I was sold on this area of the country!  Each year with the passing of Labor Day, I was filled with the anxiety of a 5-year-old at Christmas time waiting to open gifts.  The autumn season is truly a gift to me.  I love the cooler days and invigorating crisp air.  The wind rustling through the trees in Central Park and warm shades of leaves sprinkled on the ground.  Football season is underway.  Sweaters are soon standard daily attire.  My friend H used to always call me when she had her first Pumpkin Latte sighting at Starbucks during her morning coffee run.  With that, I knew autumn was in full swing.

2005 - Apple picking in Warwick Valley, NY

2008 - A's portraits in Central Park

2009 - Williamsburg, VA

2009 - Bear Mountain, NY

H's Lil man says Who Dat?

Autumn, take 3.  Now I’m even further north and autumn in Amsterdam is an amalgamation of past years.  Rain/humidity in Louisiana + cooler temperatures in NYC = autumn in Amsterdam.  Leaving the house the other day required a tote bag full of the following:

  • Sunglass:  because it was actually shining at the moment;
  • Hat:  as the radar indicated rain clouds were coming;
  • Light jacket:  since I was wearing a tshirt and the temps were on a roller coaster ride;
  • Cotton scarf:  at times the jacket was too much and the tshirt was too little;
  • Rain poncho:  bike riding in the rain while getting soaked is miserable in cooler weather;
  • Bike seat cover:  would you want to get off your bike and look like you just wet your pants?;
  • Dry bag to carry SLR:  unemployment = no new camera if the current one is ruined;
  • Kitchen sink:  because I’m already hauling everything else, so why not.

When the sun is shining, it’s a beautiful time to sit canal side and enjoy a coffee or beer.  But when it’s raining, stay inside or gear up!

2010 - Vondelpark

2010 - Sunset in Vondelpark

On Saturday, the day/night was split into exactly 12 hours with sunrise at 7:32a and sunset at 7:32p.  The months of May, June, and July were ones with little rain and 15 -16 hours of daylight.  It’s the trade off for the rainy season that is now underway.  So I will adjust to this “new autumn” and hope for a few dry, sunny days in the mix ahead.

ps, A semi-annual reminder to check your smoke detectors.

R & G’s B&B

A month ago we returned to Amsterdam after a great time with family and friends in the States.  The next day, we started visitor season.  It’s my only plausible excuse for the lack of blog posts lately.

It is a rather tricky time of year here with the weather.  One day is beautiful, sunny t-shirt type weather; the next day is chilly and won’t stop raining.  And then there is the teaser day that starts out sunny, and later becomes rainy—or vice versa—and you find yourself outfitted in the wrong gear.  So, either pack the kitchen sink or roll the dice when you head out for the day.  Sadly, our first set of visitors had to trek to Bruges to see that the sun does exist this far north.  G’s mom and her friend came to visit and they spent their week in Amsterdam under the refuge of a raincoat.

Rainy day on the Prinsengraft

However, after heavily bribing the sun gods and trekking a bit south to Bruges, we found sunshine!  Along with an abundance of Belgium beer, frites, chocolate, and waffles.  Loves for the tummy, but sworn enemies to my derrière.  Regardless, I indulged! Click here for a full photoshow.

Canals along Dijver

Bruges Canals

Minnewater Park

Driving back to Amsterdam, we couldn’t help but laugh as we crossed the Belgium/Dutch border and were greeted by, what else…rain! At this point, our guests were used to it and we toughed it out on their last day at Zaanse Schans to see the windmills.  Click here for a full photoshow.

Not a good open-air museum day

Still windy, but at least no rain for the photo op

A few days later, G’s pseudo-sister and her cousin arrived.  The weather made a complete 180 and showered them with mild temperatures and sunshine all week.  I think Mother Nature knew they would spend a lot of time on the bike, so she was kind to them.  C & K also made an overnight trip to Bruges and discovered my four deadly favorites.  With all its charm, Bruges again tops the favorites list with our guests.

Proost!

G & C at the Brouwerij

C & K waiting for dinner at Balti House

We bid adieu to C & K and prepare for G’s cousin and wife arriving the next day.  The weather is gloomy when they first arrive, but with lunch in our bellies and two rental bikes in the pack, we are ready to show them around.  When the weather cooperates, we love to bring our guests to the Brouwerij ‘t IJ .  Turns out this was a day that started ugly, but peaked during the late afternoon.  After a ride along the picturesque canals and the obligatory gawking in the red light district, we were off to the brewery to replenish our energy with some local beer and cheese.  Lekker!

Mid week they were off to, big surprise here……Bruges (and Boullion)!  With all the guests we have brought or sent to Bruges, I think we have earned a sizeable referral fee from the Belgium tourism department.  Or at least a waffle?!?

New to me was the nearby town of Utrecht.  When S & E returned from Belgium, we spent an afternoon/evening there enjoying the scenery, beer, and pancakes. Dutch pannenkoeken’s are best described as a cross between an American pancake and a French crepe—on the thinner side like a crepe, but served open face with the added items visible.  They are available all day and a typical pannekkoeken house has at least 50 varieties.  Sweet, savory, veggie, meaty, fruity, cheesy…hard not to find one that will suit your craving.  My choice for the night was sprek en kaas (bacon and cheese, super lekker!).

Utrecht canals

Canal reflections

E & S enjoying the scenery

Cousins toast with one last beer

As I brought our guests to the airport this morning, I couldn’t believe how fast a month went by and had to accept the fact summer is clearly over.  The days are getting shorter, fall weather is upon us, and the rainy season is around the corner.  The debauchery of my summer time fun has caught up with me so it’s time to hang up my hostess hat and put in some long hours at the gym!

Say Kaas…

Yea, I say Kaas every time I am at the market, ordering a sandwich, or just having a snack with crackers.  Cheese, please!  Growing up my dad loved cheese and we always had some in the house.  I loved edam and gouda, but had no idea they were actually names of towns in The Netherlands where the cheese originated.

Are you a cheese-head as well?  Not like a Green Bay Packer cheese head, but a Dutch cheese head!  In Dutch, “cheese-head” is also another word for the mold in which the cheese is made. Rumor has it that in the Middle Ages farmers in North Holland used these wooden molds as helmets and this is how the enemy could identify an army of `cheese-heads’ approaching.

Every Friday morning in Alkmaar (April through September) you can watch a demonstration of the traditional cheese market at Waagplein.  With a sunny day upon us, I took a drive with a few girlfriends and went to say kaas!  Click here to read more about Alkmaar’s kaas market and history.

Say KAAS!

Buyers selecting kaas

Cheese lady in wooden clogs

Hauling the cheese off to be weighed…

Then it is ready to be delivered…

One Hundred Eighty Three…

Days.  With the start of a new month, I realized I only have 6 months until my Dutch residence permit expires.  Time is flying faster than I can keep up.  I’ve been here just a tad over 6 months and now only have 6 months left.  Wow.  At least the days are getting longer and the temperatures milder…so I need to get out and soak up as much of The Netherlands (and the rest of EU) since the clock is ticking.

If anyone has figured out the magic formula for slowing time down, I will pay a pretty penny for it.

Nov - My new bike

December

Jan - It never stopped snowing

Feb - Carnaval in Maastricht

March - Tulips are in bloom

April - Boat rides through the canals

May - Windmills at Zaanse Schans