About Me

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Recent retiree--35 year's experience teaching reading, English, adult basic education and volunteer leadership skills. Started this blog to exchange ideas and commentary with friends and others having an interest in joining the discussions. Greatest life accomplishments include: 1.organized my 3rd grade class to check out library books for me to get around librarian's weekly limit--Amazon.com, the Mullins Elementary 3rd Grade Class of 1956 is still waiting for "thank you" notes; 2. volunteered in the Peace Corps, island of St. Kitts, West Indies; 3.taught adults to read, earn their GEDs., and speak English as a second language; 4. bought a border collie puppy for $6, got evicted rather than give him up, and began a life-long love affair with all things "Dog"; 5. joined a physical fitness boot camp in my mid-50s--don't mess with someone who's been doing regulation pushups in wet grass at 5:30 a.m.; 6. walked across Northern England with best friend Sally--over 80 miles from the Irish to North Seas; and 7. travelled to many foreign countries for pleasure and work.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

On to Amsterdam

(Part 2 of my European travelogue includes crossing the English Channel and then driving the coastline through Belgium and the Netherlands with an overnight stop in Amsterdam.)

On September 14 we boarded the sleek Insight tour bus at 5:45 a.m. at the Thistle Marble Arch Hotel, the first of many early morning departures, for the second leg of our European journey. Traffic on the streets of London was barely moving at that hour and the night sky was fading to a rosy amber dawn. We left London, heading southeast toward Canterbury and Dover where we would catch the ferry across the English Channel to Calais, France. At that time of the morning there was not a lot of conversation among the 30 travelers. Most were napping or talking with the "one who brung them." I was happy to have a seat in the peanut gallery, the very back of the bus. From past trips, it always seems to attract the people that I enjoy being around. This theory held true for this trip as well. More about the people on the bus later on.

The ferry port was right at the base of the white cliffs of Dover. I had an overly romanticized idea of what it would be like to make the ferry crossing. Actually, even on Sunday, there was quite a crush of cars, trucks, and buses lined up to make the hour long trip across the channel. A fire in the tunnel that connects Dover and Calais earlier in the week may have accounted for the excess traffic on the ferry. We left our tour bus and walked onto the ferry and went searching for the coffee bar as there was not much to see out in the channel. I began getting acquainted with my seatmate, a young Canadian woman whom I'd met briefly the day before on the London tour. In about an hour we disembarked at Calais. I spotted this ferry boat capped by this wonderful flag. I wish I knew what country it belonged to, but couldn't identify the flag. Any ideas?

From Calais we drove along Belgium's coastline in light Sunday traffic. That was fortunate because we were on major commercial highways for most of the morning. However, in the afternoon the scenery became more interesting as we got into the Netherlands. Such a contrast of old and new, especially on the Dutch farmland. First we saw these slender wind turbines in rows in the fields used to generate clean electricity. Then all of us were aiming cameras out the bus windows trying to capture the old windmills on the neat farms. Before the wind turbines, the windmills were used by farmers to convert wind to energy to drain the low lying land, pump water and grind corn.

Look at this photo of Dutch fields. Because much of the land is below sea level the farmers don't use fences to separate fields or keep livestock contained. Instead, they rely on a gridwork of canals across their land. Apparently cattle don't like getting their feet wet or--more seriously--the canals must be too deep for the livestock to cross from one field to another to graze.

Another hint of what we would see in Amsterdam were the bike paths that ran parallel to highways. We would soon find out that the Dutch are very fit people and bikers own the roads and streets of the Netherlands! Late in the afternoon when we arrived in Amsterdam we were amazed at the numbers of bicycles on the streets. There were even bike garages! All ages got about Amsterdam on bikes and, unlike in the U.S., pedestrians beware of trying to cross the street or walk in a biking lane. Even the Dutch dogs hitched a ride and looked quite at home in their portable baskets.
Amsterdam was a beautiful city. We arrived late in the afternoon and immediately got out on the city's many canals, cruising past mansions and busy street scenes and under low bridges that connect the city. I was interested to get a closer look at the ingenious hook lifts on many of the tall, slender buildings. On last season's Amazing Race competition I had watched my favorite home team, the Louisville goths, Kynt and Vyxen, figure out how to tie ropes around large furniture pieces and hoist them up three and four levels and in an apartment through a window. Apparently there are few elevators and very narrow staircases in these old buildings.

Very proud of Kynt especially since he managed to pull a piano up several levels by this rope hoist without sweating enough to make his mascara run! Here's another canal view: After a forgettable dinner at the floating Sea Palace Restaurant several of our group decided that we must check out the infamous Red Light District. The Dutch are said to be unusually proud of their window dressings. The Red Light District takes window dressing to an entirely different level. We saw young women in various stages of undress standing in red backlit windows waiting for customers. Amazingly some were reading, chatting with other girls, or doing their nails while they waited. Although they are regulated, taxed, and unionized since 1984, it was puzzling to understand how they got involved in such a sad, wasteful lifestyle. Interestingly, I read that there was a group of young, more edgy, clothing designers who were renting the "shops" for boutiques to make and sell their clothing designs as a way to change the culture.

Before leaving Amsterdam the next day for the Rhineland, we toured Gasson Diamonds, a diamond polishing factory that had been in existence since 1879. Although I'm not much for diamonds, it was interesting to hear how the rough stones were graded according to their clarity and capacity for brilliance. All we women had a great time trying on various pieces of jewelry while the men on the tour stood with their wallets and credit cards pressed firmly to the wall! We saw the famous Gasson 121 made extra brilliant and reflective by the additional 60 facets cut on top and bottom.

Coincidentally, during this trip I was reading Dalia Sofer's debut novel, The Septembers of Shiraz, based on her father's imprisonment as a spy after the shah was ousted in the Iranian revolution. Mr. Sofer was a rare gem dealer and a Jew. His wealth and ethnicity contributed to his being targeted by the Iranian Guards. He described doing business with diamond merchants in Amsterdam. I wondered if Gasson's had been a contact for him and whether any diamonds he had secured from them had help finance his family's escape from Iran.

No trip to the Netherlands would be complete without a look at its famous old Royal Delft china. After the diamond factory tour we had a chance to pick up some pieces at a factory shop. In addition to the traditional deep blue they also sold pieces painted in soft browns, green, and gold. I regret not buying a few more pieces for myself as a memento of Amsterdam. I had not expected to enjoy this city as much as I did but I loved the architecture, vibrancy and tolerance that was so evident.

(If you're not suffering tour fatigue, on Monday I'll post Part 3, the Rhineland and Tyrolean region of Austria.)


Lane said...

Such an interesting post Faye. I love your descriptions of Amstserdam and of course, your photos as always.

The flag on the ferry btw, is the emblem of P&O Ferries. It's pretty isn't it.

laurie said...

oh, i love this! you're conflating two trips for me---the trip doug and i took last year to london and paris (we did the ferry crossing to calais, too), and i trip i took years and years and years ago to amsterdam when i was still married to scott baio.


Faye said...

Lane--mystery solved! I was studying all the European and African country flags and couldn't find the match--none so bold. Amsterdam was a surprise. I had heard accounts of the seedy side and didn't expect to find such Old World charm. Especially noticed the ornate street lights along the canals. They were painted almost cranberry red.

Laurie--this is great comparing what two different people saw on the same trip. I've done the same thing with your recent and past accounts of trip to Ireland and Paris. Eventually, I'll make it to Paris on this trip and already have in mind what I want to share because of our location. I want to go back in your archives and read your Paris travelogue--part of it was earlier this year, I believe?

Kaycie said...

Amsterdam is lovely, and your pictures and descriptions of it are glorious. I'm looking forward to more on Monday!

Swampwitch said...

Oh my, what an interesting post. You made such an effort and took so much time to share this with us.
Love the windmills.


Swampwitch said...

Faye...just now posted your tributes for Sherry and Kathy.

I didn't notice that you had posted your comment on the Breast Cancer Awareness post. I thought it was on Fun Monday...that's why I asked permission first to create their tributes.

Please check them and if I need to make any corrections or additions, let me know. Thank You.


Celeste said...

What a fun trip! Although, I could never take such a venture as it would mean being away from my gang for too long... (g). I love the new vs. old wind energy images.

Ari_1965 said...

I wonder if there's a prostitute at just this minute who is complaining that she can't get a shop in the Red Light district because all these boutiques are moving in. It's an interesting take on gentrification.

Gattina said...

That of course is almost my neighborhood, lol ! I know London very well since my son lived there for 7 years ! now he lives in Amsterdam since 5 years. I know this corner of Europe very well !
Apparently it was a very nice trip for you !

Sarah said...

We visited Amsterdam last year on a visit to some friends living in the Netherlands. It is a beautiful and unique city - we liked the leaning buildings!

Thanks for reposting this as a Fun Monday post :)

Sarah x

Debs said...

Your trip sounds fabulous. I'd love to visit Amsterdam, the architecture alone looks amazing.

Hootin' Anni said...

Amazing!!!! What a showplace!

Hootin' Anni said...

I have a halloween treat for you on my Wednesday blog...just scroll down beyond the Wordless photos!!