Wednesday, July 18, 2007

visitors! (amsterdam)

well, this about does it for camille's "utter chaos tour '07."

her last weekend in holland was spent in amsterdam, which i was more than happy to show her around. now, usually when i speak with americans about amsterdam, they're all, "oooh, have you seen the red light district? and did you go to any of the coffeeshops? hee hee. that must be awesome. duhhhhh...." and it drives me crazy! because amsterdam has SO MUCH to offer! it's WAY more than hookers and hookas. did you know it has more canals than venice? and what about all the incredible museums? did you know that anne frank lived there in hiding, and wrote her diary there? seriously. it's an amazing city, and i was more than pleased to show it to an american who was actually interested in the culture and beauty of this place, more than just the typical american vegas-gone-wild scene.

which we did, right after i showed her the red light district. or rather, my friend, valerie, showed camille and i the red light district. we went on a saturday night and i got a totally different vibe that time around. it was my third time to the red light district -- the first time i was with adam, a few summers back, when we were backpacking through europe. and i felt so uncomfortable and icky and just weirded out by the whole, lonely experience. the next time was just recently, on our way to church, actually, and we got off the tram at a different spot in the city just to see if we could get lost. well, we ended up in the red light district at about 11:00 on a sunday morning, and it was still going. there weren't many customers out, but the girls were all dressed up (or undressed, rather) in their windows, trying to drum up some business. that time wasn't so scary and weird, but it still felt irreverent and sad. well, this last time we went, it was just us three girls, out on a saturday night, and i was more tourist-watching than window-watching. it's fascinating to see what goes on in the minds of these potential customers. men pushing their hesistant buddies towards the open window of a girl, men exchanging cell phone numbers with the sex workers, men meekly leaving a booth, men excitedly entering one... even camille got propositioned on a corner. we weren't sure if he was "for sale" or asking if she was, but it sure got interesting there for a while. afterwards, valerie took us to a pub near the waag (we've blogged about the waag before, in the entry when i talked about giving a talk at my church) and told us about the sex workers she knows and how she posed as one for a night in order to get a different perspective, and then was interviewed by a television news agency. it was really fascinating stuff to hear and learn about.

camille and i stayed in a super fabulous gay hotel, with blood red walls and the nicest, sweetest people you could ask for. we all ate breakfast family style, which was so cozy and we got to know several of the other guests over our toast and tea. they were all just wonderful, and i'd stay there again just to make another friend or two!

we went to the rijksmuseum one day, which was great because the museum is under construction right now, so they only have the cream of the crop on display. why wander through room after room of a bunch of crap you don't care about, just to see the vermeer and the rembrandt that you came to admire? exactly. so it was set up with the downstairs all about the history of the golden age of holland, when the netherlands was a colonial superpower and had more money than they knew what to do with. and then the upstairs was all the beautiful paintings. the best part was that we went on a monday morning, so no one was there. we got to admire the numerous rembrandts virtually alone, and i got a great look at several vermeers, including my favorite "the milk maid."

(check out this super-skinny house! don't you wish you were that skinny?!)

we also spent an afternoon at the van gogh museum, which was great fun, and which i remembered visiting a few years ago when we backpacked through here. the best part about the museum for me was that i had just read a book of van gogh's letters to his brother, theo, and so i got a totally different and deeper perspective on his work this time around. also there were several paintings which i didn't remember seeing last time, which were probably rotated in sometime in the past two years, so i got to see some new stuff too.

we went to church one day, and i can't remember what exactly the talk was about but i'm sure i was inspired. we didn't stay long, but i was happy to see everyone one more time before i took off for the summer. camille got to finally put some faces to names and see my church which has become a rather important part of my community abroad, so that's good.

i think the most fun part was the evening canal tour we took. it was about a two hour tour or so, and we got to see the canals at night, which was such a treat. our tour guide was the typically bitter amsterdammer who kept saying things like "amsterdam has more canals than venice but thankfully ours don't smell so horrible," and, "there used to be this great 14th century neighborhood here but the city decided to tear it down to put up this ugly opera house instead," and, "at the top of this building here is a great nightclub that has the best view in town. it's the best view because it's the only place in the city where you can't see this disgusting building that the nightclub is in," and, "this is the harbor where the dutch sailors all kept trying to discover the new world but they kept failing miserably at it." it was hilarious!

but yes, mostly we walked around and took pictures along canals, stopping at various cafes and restaurants along the way to sample their organic salads or fancy fruit drinks. we never made it to the anne frank house, unfortunately, but we both knew it would take far more energy and focus than either of us had on such an easygoing, beautiful day.

our last night in town we went out to dinner at an indonesian restaurant very near the rijksmuseum. i forget the name of it now but i'd go there again in a heartbeat. dutch food is not ... um... memorable. (have you ever heard of dutch cuisine? there's a reason for that.) but indonesian food is definitely something you have to try if you ever go to holland. indonesia used to be a dutch colony, and so indonesian food is pretty well known around these parts and is considered one of those things that you just have to do if you ever make it to the netherlands (or indonesia for that matter). we had a dinner called "rijst tafel" or "rice table", which as you can see consists of about 20 or so dishes, all of varying tastes and spiciness, some hot, some cooling, some savory, some sweet, some meaty, some fruity, all incredibly delicious. we ate for i think close to two hours and left feeling satieted but not stuffed. seriously. if you ever come out to holland, definitely do a rijsttafel. it's a culinary experience you won't soon forget.
and that's about it. she flew out of schiphol and got home in time for dinner, a shower, and bed, and i took the train home and slept for about three days straight. i can't remember partying that hard for that long since i was 19. good times.

visitors! (brugge)

okay, okay, i'm sorry it's taken so long to post these last couple of things from when we had guests back in MAY. (can it be mid july already? yikes!) i've been on holiday in the usa since mid-june and haven't had much time/interest/access to the internet, so it's taken me a while to get around to this. sorry.

okay. so another one of the many fabulous things i did with camille when she was out in holland was take her to this sweet little flemish village in the western part of belgium. adam and i had passed through brugge a few years ago on that big adventure we took through moscow, berlin, paris, london, etc., and i thought it was worth a second visit. camille really wanted to do something in belgium (mostly drink beer and eat chocolate) and i thought that since her time was limited, we'd go to a small town like brugge instead of a big, bustling city like brussels or ghent. both of those cities are beautiful and have much to offer, but they're just so BIG! if all she wants to do is drink beer, look at pretty buildings, and eat chocolate all day, then i thought we should probably do that in a little town that is easy to get around, rather than in a huge, expensive, busy city. you'd get to do the same things in brugge that you'd get to do in brussels, but in brugge the pace is just much more chill.

it only took about 5 hours on the train, if that, for us to get from hengelo to brugge. it was a quick walk to our adorable, mom-and-pop hostel with a bright orange room and a view of an old gothic cathedral nearby. we checked in and immediately hit the streets, armed with cameras and a map. we ate dinner at a really funky hotel bar and had drinks to compliment our entrees -- camille had a leffe blonde (my favorite belgian beer) and i forget what i had, but it was pretty decent too.

the first night was pretty chill, mostly wandering and admiring. we stopped off for waffles at a little corner establishment and met this really engaging woman who, as she was making us our waffles, told us the whole story of her day, including how she lost her keys and sent her helper worker buddy to ghent to get a spare set from her daughter who is a medical student or something. and then it started to rain. hard. and wouldn't you know it, we forgot our "paraplu's" ("plu" for short) back at the hostel, so we're huddling under the awning of this little ice cream/waffle shop, trying not to get too wet as we're eating nutella-drenched goodness. (and yes, that is nutella stuck in both of our teeth. funny!) we thought the rain would peter out eventually, but it didn't, so we ended up having to run back nearly a mile to our hostel. and i was wearing white pants! eep!

the next day was basically our one full day in brugge. fortunately it was sunny and amazing that day, so i bought myself a really obnoxious pair of posh-spice-meets-olson-twins sunglasses, the kind that i think my mom probably had back in 1982 (see the posting on gouda to get a good look at how ridiculously awesome they are). then we got a couple of tickets for a tour boat which was basically a crowded motorboat, with a cool tour guide who spoke i think 5 different languages (english, dutch, french, spanish, and i think italian or german or something else. i think he was even able to say a few things in japanese too, but it was so long ago now that i forget. anyway, it was impressive.) afterwards we climbed to the top of the belfry, which was, if i can remember back to my first time back to brugge when i learned this, built in i think three different stages about 800 years apart. i could just be making that up, but i think i remember hearing that several years ago when we passed through the first time.

normally i don't climb to the top of bell towers since they're mostly terrifying, but since adam wasn't there, and i knew it was something he'd like to do, i braved the 300-some-odd steps so that i could make it up there to take some pictures for him to see. i'm so nice. brownie points for me.

let's see what else? i think we went back to the hostel for a quick nap after that, and then did more chocolate shop shopping. i believe we made it into at least 4 or 5 different places while we were there, and got treats at every one. my favorite was a salted chocolate which was so good it gave me a tummy ache. or maybe it was all the chocolate that just had a cumulative effect on me. either way it was lekker.

we walked around. lots of walking. and then it started to rain. fortunately this time we had our plu's again, but decided instead of using them that we'd hop into a little cafe for beer and waffles. so we did that. then back to the hostel again to get all dressed up for a fancy dinner at a very hipster local place, and i'm sure we had dessert somewhere but i can't remember now. we ended up at a local pub where we tried a few more glasses of local brew, and saw a "fat tire" sign on the wall. fat tire is a brand of beer from fort collins, colorado, made by the extremely awesome "new belgium brewing company." (please support them. they're incredible. everything they do is socially and ecologically responsible, including powering their factory 100% by wind energy and methane, which is just a by-product of making beer anyway, and all their employees have FREE health care. sweet.) anyway, if you work at new belgium for 5 years, the owners take you on an all-expenses paid biking tour of belgium, to try the brews there. and i saw this fat tire sign on the wall and it broke my heart because it made me so homesick. (the sign was on the wall because the new belgium kids almost always stop in that same pub when they come to belgium, so they left their mark there.) so i stood up and got my picture taken with this sign, which made everyone in the bar stop what they were doing and stare at me (because i was being "inappropriate" or something, which is just an annoying european way of chastising us casual americans who really aren't doing anything harmful), which made me feel a little awkward and weird, so i was all "take the damn picturrrrrre" and then camille did, and that's why my face looks all weird and stupid. oh no wait, that's just how i always look. yes, that's it.

oh before i forget we ended up wandering into this old old church where there was a michaelangelo sculpture on display. it was all free, which was awesome, so we stopped in to get a look at this beautiful work of art which is truly a testament to the incredible wealth that brugge had at one time due to the extremely popular lace industry. this was one of the very very few michaelangelos to leave italy during his lifetime, and it's really because one very wealthy lace-making family bought it for the church there. anyway, while we were there, there was this lovely choir from england who was singing all these beautiful pieces, and an organist who accompanied them, so i took a brief video on my camera which you can see here
i think that's about it. on the way back she had herself a palm beer (another favorite) and we ate a bunch more of the chocolate that we picked up. back to hengelo for a night or two before off to gouda (which you've already read about) and then amsterdam (up next).
there you have it!