The last week was July 28-Aug 3: Dublin and Amsterdam
Today we were determined to hit a museum, so we got up early, ignored the pitiful breakfast that was at the hostel, and headed for the Rijksmuseum.
This large museum was nice. They had quite a few big Rembrandt and David oils. They have Rembrandt's most famous painting, The Nightwatch. Some other highlights were the dollhouses and the furniture exhibitions. Flash photography was forbidden, so I don't have many photos.
After a couple of hours, we had seen almost everything. We ate at the museum café, and were joined at our table by two couples from New Jersey who had a thousand questions about computers and the digital camera.
We left the museum and made our way home. We had met three guys from Sacramento at the hostel, and we asked them if they wanted to come to a park with us and hang out. I was itching to both get out of the hostel and to type on the laptop, and the park sounded like a great place to do it. Unfortunately, after the walk to Wertheim Park, I realized that the damn laptop's battery was dead! We sat at the water's edge, watching a heron and discussing their plans for building a biergarten in Sacramento until night fell. The Dutch police kicked us out of the park at 10, and we went back to the hot hostel.
On Thursday I researched the laptop-charging problem and found my transformer was busted. Eric and I set out to find a replacement while Tara researched the nightlife for the upcoming weekend. I found a replacement, but it was much bigger, heavier, and $50. The guy at the electronics counter pointed out on my laptop's transformer how it could handle European voltages. This meant I could plug the laptop in directly! All I needed was a AA battery charger for the camera and I would be in business. I also bought some diskettes, that turned out to be 720K, low-density, something I haven't seen in 8 years.
Eric and I continued south to a supermarket and the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art. Both had some cool exhibits.
By the time we got home from the museum, I was exhausted, going through computer-withdrawal, so I carved a space out of the bunks upstairs and typed for a couple of hours.
When Tara re-appeared, she wowed us with the story we knew was coming sometime on this trip: She had run into someone she knew. Her friend Carmen from Club Q was travelling for work and happened to be in Amsterdam that weekend.
A Canadian guy who used to write for Reuters showed up after a bit and talked to Tara and I. He was going to Turkey for 8 months, and we talked about the Internet journal, and the charms of Europe.
We were running out of days in Amsterdam, so we tried to hit two museums on Friday. First we went to the Museum of Dutch Resistance. It is a modern museum that outlines the Dutch role in World War 2. It also illustrated the methods the Nazis used to identify, separate, deport and kill the Dutch Jews. It was very moving. The only shortcoming was that many impressive documents and artifacts were not translated into English, which was frustrating.
We ate lunch on the front steps of the supermarket, and headed for the Van Gogh Museum. The Van Gogh was nice, but they didn't allow photographs, so I only got six. They had about sixty paintings, which captured his whole body of work pretty well. I was amazed to find a busy bank of computers with the Van Gogh museum website online. People were glued to the screens of these computers, looking at photographs of the same paintings that were hanging behind on the wall behind them. I didn't get it, but I wasn't going to complain.
On Friday night, Eric and I went out with a small group of people from the hostel, led by a woman named Josephine from San Diego. We went to a Coffee Shop first, so the pot-smokers in our party could smoke-out, then made our way to a club. It was cool, but Josephine wanted a rave, so she drew us all out after an hour or so. There was no rave to find, so Josephine hung her head the whole way home.
On Saturday morning, Tara had to fight to keep our beds in the hostel. They had over-booked, and wanted us to leave, but Tara reminded them of our Internet reservation through the weekend, and pretty much saved the day. Tara went out to hang out with Carmen again, and I left while Eric was still in bed.
It was raining. Things looked pretty bleak in the rain in Amsterdam. Although I had bought a raincoat in Glasgow, I had mailed it home already, and had to rely on an emergency raincoat my mom had made me bring. I knew we were leaving the next day, so I wanted to hit the Rembrandthaus and the Dutch Botanical Gardens. The Rembrandthaus was only half-open, the house part was closed, but his etchings were accessible. I was surprised at how small they were. Most were smaller than a postcard.
The city streets were empty because it was raining. I found lunch at a deserted restaurant and sat inside awhile with the laptop, hoping the rain would let up. It didn't stop, but the botanical gardens had greenhouses, so I decided to brave the drizzle. The botanical gardens in Amsterdam have been at the same spot since 1682. The garden had many, many plants from around the world, over 8,000 in fact. The reason the have so many is that the Dutch East India trading company actively retrieved specimens from around the world. A Dutch merchant snuck a coffee plant out of Ethiopia, which wound up in the Amsterdam Botanical Gardens in 1616. It was the first coffee plant in Europe, and this one plant would eventually be the progenitor for the vast coffee cultures of Brazil.
There was far too much to absorb in one visit, but I made my way around the different buildings and gardens. Towards the end of my visit, I felt a wet plop! on my shoulder, it was bird crap! Luckily, the blue emergency raincoat had saved me. Thanks Mom!
When I got back to the hostel that night, I noticed a couple of coins on the ground near my locker. I was happy to find them, because I was running out of Dutch guilders and didn't want to withdraw any more and have to change them in France. Next to the coins was a fl.100 bill, in a flat little ball. Value=$50. I was excited to find it, but I knew some poor slob at the hostel had lost it in a drug-induced stupor. I wrote a little note, "If you lost some money here, talk to Rob in bed 7", and put it on the floor where I found the money. It was the best thing I could think of, because I sure didn't want to start asking around.
That night I went out with Josephine again. She wanted to find a good party, or at least stay high as long as she could. I went with her to buy Ecstasy in Amsterdam: US$12.50. It was an interesting night, and listening to her I could see how someone could get trapped in Amsterdam. It became apparent that nothing was going to develop that evening, so I left her with some friends and went to bed.
Tomorrow we were going to Paris, and no one ever mentioned anything about the money.
At least we thought we were going to Paris. We checked out of the Last Waterhole at 11am, had Dutch pancakes for breakfast and puttered over to the Central Station bound for Paris. When the ticket-woman saw our eurail tickets, she asked if we wanted the night train. She said that backpackers usually sleep on the night train to save on accommodation costs. We saw her logic and booked the night train to Paris. This left us with another day to kill in Amsterdam. We lockered our bags and set out for Anne Frank's house. There was a long line in the rain, so we passed on Anne's house and got Falafel instead. We figured after seeing the Dutch Resistance Museum, Anne Frank's house would be redundant.
As we walked, Tara told us about her adventures the night before. She had caught a pickpocket in the act! She was in a drunken crowd, and spotted a man with his hand on some other guy's wallet. She pushed his arm away and put herself in-between them. She gave him the executioner's stare and his face flushed with sudden fear. She paused a moment and he took off. She had thwarted the crime; Tara was now an international crime fighter.
We discovered city signs pointing towards something called the Homo-monument, which we laughed at and followed, but were amazed to find, were actually pointing to a monument dedicated to persecuted gays and lesbians around the world. It consisted of 3 large pink marble triangles set in the ground near the canal, with a plaque. I wonder who thought up that name.
When I realized that we hadn't seen any Star Wars ads while we were in Amsterdam, I started asking people on the street when it was supposed to open. The first person I asked, a police officer, didn't know. He suggested I ask at the movie house. The second person told me the same thing! I couldn't believe it! Could they ALL be stoners? Finally, I asked at a comic-book shop, and the nerds behind the counter answered in unison: September 20. I guess the marketing bulldozers don't plaster a country until the movie is about to open.
We sat in covered areas when it rained and walked around when it didn't. I spent my 100 guilders somehow, and we ended up in the train-station around 9pm. We shared our "couchette" car with 2 girls from Brazil, sleeping most of the way to Paris.
PARIS!Paris is a really big, really old city. It promises a lot. When we arrived, I knew it would be amazing. If we could only have gone to one city in Europe, Paris would have been my choice. We were going to be there for a week.
When we got off of the train, it was only about 7am, so we had the whole day to find a place to stay. We got a cup of coffee and a croissant in the giant train station called Gare de la Nord. That is French. There was a security announcement that repeated over the intercom every 10 minutes on the intercom. First in French, then in English: "All luggages left unattended will be immediately destroyed". We didn't see this happen to any luggages, but I'll bet it is spectacular!
We were handed fliers to a couple of hostels, which I called, and we decided to try the cheapest one that took Visa cards.
Upon arrival, they told us that they didn't take Visa cards anymore, so we headed over to the other one. On the way we passed a cheap hotel that had a special rate: 290 F for a triple. That was about $1 more than the hostel was going to be. I went in and checked out the room. Tara and Eric waited downstairs and when I came down, they somehow convinced me that we should try the other hostel first.
It sucked. It was called the Peace and Love Hostel, so that should give you some idea of how lame it was. We were in 3 separate rooms, Eric and I simply on mattresses on the floor. My room was so small, there was not enough room for my mattress to NOT have any part of it under the bed. I was kicking myself for letting us leave the hotel. The nice thing about hostels, however, is that you get to meet people, and they have cooking facilities.
Tara showered and Eric and I went to look for Internet access. The first people we asked didn't understand the word "internet". It was like asking about Star Wars in the Netherlands, we knew that we were in trouble.
We ate eggy sandwiches and made our way back to the hostel. Tara asked about Internet at the front desk/bar, and we got a good lead. Forty francs an hour, nearby, one computer only. French keyboards were designed by Picasso: The Q and W are where the 2 is supposed to be, the M is over by the P, and the A and the S are switched around. Furthermore, you have to Shift to type numbers, and do ctrl-alt-9 to get an @. It was extremely frustrating. Imagine STUDYING the keyboard, looking for the letters you want, that you KNOW are there somewhere, spending $7 an hour. We all took turns laughing at each other's frustration, typing and deleting, typing and deleting.
When we were walking back, it started to rain. I went upstairs and took a shower. I leaned out the window, and realized that way over to the right, I could see the top of the Eiffel tower. It was exciting, and I went to tell Tara.
Night came quickly, and we bought tortellini and cheap wine ($3) for dinner. We met people from all over in the sub-terranian kitchen, and ate upstairs in the bar. The wine was great. We drank in Tara's room with a cool couple from New Zealand.
On Tuesday we moved to the hotel. It was great. The front-desk guy only spoke a little English, and I only speak a little French, so we got along great. We killed time in a nearby street-market while they cleaned the room. There were a lot of people roasting and selling ears of corn from shopping carts. We hauled our stuff upstairs and embraced our hotel room. The room had three single beds, a TV, a chair, a table, a closet, a lock, and a bathroom complete with hot water, towels, micro-tub and towel rack. With room taxes it came out to 101 francs, or $16.29 each.
We took the awesome Paris Metro (subway) to the Eiffel tower. It is very big, and more ornate than I expected. There were people selling souvenirs all around, and long lines of people at each foot, waiting to go to the top. A heavy rain exploded out of the sky and people ran everywhere. In a rainstorm, a giant tower made of iron beams is poor cover. People with a serious time-investment stayed in line, getting wet. We left.
We decided to try next for the Georges Pompidou Center for Modern Art, the building with the escalators on the outside. It was closed, and worse yet, the cool escalator-tubes were obscured from view by a giant Swatch billboard. We wandered around downtown and found our way to the red-light district. We re-oriented ourselves and headed toward our hotel. We passed at least 10 wig shops for black women. We must have been in the black-wig district.