10: THE NETHERLANDS
11: BACK TO GERMANY
18: CYPRUS WIND DOWN
22: MEXICO Y ESPANA
After my pleasant evening with the German family in the small town of Kieve I stayed at a hotel in Nijmegen. I had a few brew in the hotel bar and I became acquainted with a Dutch custom. When you ask for a beer in Canada they pour it down the side of a tilted glass to prevent it from over flowing. In Holland the way they do it is to run about 1/3 a glass , let it foam up then settle, then add more beer , let it settle then finally come up with a full glass. Dutch friends later told me that this method makes the flavour more apparent and a good beer must have at least two fingers width of foam at the top. It was different and interesting, and the fine Dutch beer is worth the wait. I later came to enjoy this part of Dutch pub life.
The next day I set out for Amsterdam with some anticipation. In the late 60’s Amsterdam was the center of young people’s destinations in Europe. It is hard to say why, maybe the liberal attitude towards life was an attraction. Gays were accepted , pot was common. All innocuous things that in many venues were criminal in some cases. As a straight male I felt that I would feel pretty depressed were straight people ostracized for a proclivity of DNA.
When I got to Amsterdam I set out to find a hostel. I had written my friend Rick via the American Express office , our equivalent of e-mail in those days. As I wandered about the downtown core a cute gal gave me the eye. I ventured over to say hello and guess what...”Hi, for 10 guilders you can come to my room” . Man I was in town less than 10 minutes and figured I had hit gold and here it was a hooker. Among the many “liberal” aspects of Amsterdam was a thriving red light industry. I was not into sex for pay but it was a bit of an eye opener. Literally and I guess figuratively J
As I wandered about I came across a line up at the Heineken brewery . Now Heineken is world known as a fine beer so I figured this might be a good place to start. As I was about to get into the line up for the free tour I heard a voice. “Mike!!!” . Lo and behold it was my friend Rick. Small world J The tour was fun and I actually listened to the explanations of how they made beer. At the end of the tour there was the customary sampling session. I also discovered that for some reasons Canadians seem to gravitate towards each other. Not in a parochial way but more a noisy way. About a quarter of the people on the tour were from Canada and we formed a big table of noisy Canucks.
I discovered that Canadians are noisy as hell. Not loud, loud by my definition is when a group laud it over all others in a “Hey back home we have many more like this and better” and variations on this theme. Noisy is a group of Canadians into the “brew “ and making a lot of unfettered noise. More of the , “Hey Bob is from Regina, bet he never saw hills like they have in Holland” Much to the accompaniment of raucous laughter. This is something I ran across in subsequent trips, which I will discuss later.
Rick and I left the tour and our new “Best friends” and headed to the hostel where he was staying. That evening we hit a few bars which was , again, more fun. One, the “Three flies” ,is a popular bar near the tram line. I should point out that it was a warm evening in Amsterdam and the Dutch gals eschewed bras due to the warm weather. Of course Rick and I were mesmerized J After a few brew I started to talk to one of the tall lovely blondes. I said “In the Canadian Artic nights we dream of lovely Dutch women like you “. Kind of reminiscent of my Kilkenny flirt . J But I did chedck and there was no boyfriend lurking :)
The Dutch are quite reserved and are not wont to fall for such a crazy line. In a contemplative discussion Rick and I agreed that the Dutch women are serious and if we are to make headway we too, had to be serious. We both put on our best “serious” faces and just gazed about. All went well till we caught each other’s eyes. Being of a rather loud nature we both burst into very raucous laughter thus ruining our pretense of seriousness and our chances to meet the gals of Amsterdam that particular evening. We hit a lot of bars in our Amsterdam stay. Tom Jones was at his peak and it seemed most bars were playing one of his songs, Mind you it’s not unusual….gad did I really write that J
Holland also had a liberal attitude towards prostitution. As I have said I am not a keen pay for play person but I must admit to a streak of “voyeurism “ J A couple of us from the hostel ventured down to what some called “Canal Street”, basically the red light district. And they were not too subtle about it . Along the district ,gals of the night sat in windows luring lads to the “Promised land” . Some were quite attractive and despite the hormonal rush, I did feel a sense of almost pity or at least empathy for these young women. I had to wonder if legalization protected them from abuse or did the usual types manage to take advantage of them.
The next night Rick and I met a gal from Minnesota. We had a few beer and talked about our travel experiences. Rick, straight as the horizon I must add, was all keen and curious to visit a gay bar. We talked our new friend into joining us and we set off for the nearby “MacDonald Club”, no relation to the hamburger chain that was not quite on the scene yet. We got to the door and the doorman told us , “This is a gay bar” . He looked at the woman with us and Rick said, “It’s okay she’s a lesbian”. I could hear the gasp from her breath ; but, we proceeded in. Rick had told me that a gay fellow had explained some of the atmosphere of a gay bar. For one the music is always loud, this apparently reduced those awkward moments when conversation lagged. One could sing or hum along to the music. Not a bad idea actually. The other feature that apparently as common it was red lighting that reduced the appearance of wrinkles, for the benefit of the older gays on the prowl. We had a drink and I must admit I tried not to look the “gawker” but I did take in the scene. And to be honest watching a couple of pretty lesbians necking did kind of get my attention. But, it was an interesting visit as we all gained a respect for a lifestyle that was not our own but which seemed active for those in the bar that night. Another experience ,that broadened and educated me a bit.
We wandered back to the hostel, which didn’t have a closing time till midnight. Sounds great till you realize they still get you up at 6:30 AM. Most hostels ask you to be back by 10 PM, then they lock the doors. In hostels it is de rigueur to eat breakfast, do some chores to help clean up then sign out for the day or pay if you are leaving. If you are leaving you get your hostel membership card back. This particular day Rick and I found nearby park benches and slept away for a few hours. Ah responsibility, a word we were not yet used to J .
Amsterdam is an artist’s dream or for that matter ,those who appreciate art can dream along. We visited the Rijksmuseum . Now Rick was the arts guy between us, I tended more toward the sciences, so this was an eye opener for me. Rembrandt, Vermeer and many artists whose names I was familiar with; but, whose works I had not seen. All there for little old me to discover ,appreciate and take in. “Take in” sounds a bit superficial but it really is the only way I can describe my sense of awe. It was a multi sensory experience. I of course could not smell or hear the works but just the total atmosphere seemed to engulf me with a plethora of sensory waves. I had been visiting museums since I was in grade one in Montreal and every visit was a learning experience which I appreciated.
The most famous painting in the Rijksmueum is the Night Watch by Rembrandt. It was completed in 1642.
From Wikipedia: It depicts the eponymous company moving out, led by Captain Frans Banning Cocq (dressed in black, with a red sash) and his lieutenant, Willem van Ruytenburch (dressed in yellow, with a white sash). With effective use of sunlight and shade, Rembrandt leads the eye to the three most important characters among the crowd, the two gentlemen in the centre (from whom the painting gets its original title), and the small girl in the centre left background. Behind them the company's colours are carried by the ensign, Jan Visscher Cornelissen
When I was on the tour the guide pointed out that the people in the painting paid to have their faces included. The size, facial details and placement of the individuals dictated the fee. Rembrandt earned about 3400 guilders for this piece of art. I also recall it was said that he had painted himself in the background. But I cannot verify this.
The next day Rick and I went to the Van Gogh gallery. The fact that it is the work of one artist made it quite a learning experience. The museum is laid out in such a way that one follows the progression and changes of Vincent’s ( Note the familiar tone I use J ) progression.. Many of his works are of course, well known so it seems a bit unsettling that he only sold one painting in his entire life. His brother, Theo ,sponsored him and promoted him after his death. He lead a tormented life which is many ways was reflected by the dark early paintings. In Paris he met with Pissarro, Monet, and Gauguin. His use of colour progressed and developed. His style also reflected the severe inner conflicts and depression he suffered. He sadly ended his own life; but, left behind a legacy that years later we still marvel at. When I left the Von Gogh museum I had mixed feelings of excitement at seeing well known works such as Starry Night but also a sense of sorrow seeing the grandeur of an artist that was so tormented . in 1976 my wife Mila and I would visit this museum. It inspired her to get back into painting, she is a wonderful portrait and landscape artist. A major part of my visit to Amsterdam was in fact visiting the museums and appreciating , in person , works of art I had seen and heard about most of my life. In a way it was surreal; but it again brought to the fore how fortunate I was to experience this. it was a mixed feeling to see something I was familiar with but seeing for the first time in person. This is an emotion I still enjoy
We had arranged to meet with our Dutch friend from our Irish tour, earlier in the summer. Jim brought along a couple of his buddies and we set off to enjoy the night life. We stopped for a quick snack and Rick and I both set out for an evening with nothing very socially redeeming, as most “boys nights out “ are. But I enjoyed talking about politics, different views on life and so on, with our Dutch hosts. As the evening wore on it became apparent that the “Noisy Canadian” take on things was emerging. No harm or insults meant or taken. But, as I have said, Canadians are noisy. I just figured we were quaffing away more than the others; but, the next day one of the Dutch lads said ,”Oh was I ever hung over today, we drank a lot last night”. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating heavy drinking..hey, but now and then J
The next day was Saturday and Jim suggested a visit to Hilversum where the other fellow lived. As a short wave listener I was familiar with Hilversum, in name at least, as it was the home of Radio Netherlands International. It was interesting to visit a Dutch home. There was really not much different from my home; but, the open door attitude to a foreign visitor was particularly nice. Their hospitality was warm and as is usual, with young people, we chatted about nothing in particular; but, being reasonably educated the topics varied from the War in Viet Nam to stories about Dutch involvement in Indonesia. As a result we were told about the Reis Taffel, or rice table, which was typical of Indonesian cooking. When we returned to Amsterdam Jim took us to a great place and once again I expanded my world view ;). There were a variety of foods that were new to me; but, all of which excited my willing to have an educated palate J
The next few days were spent in the usual pub crawls where Tom Jones seemed to be playing on every “jukebox” . One could say it was “Not Unusual” to hear a Tom Jones song every few minutes from open doorways ( Gad did I really make that up and say it again ? ) J
In one bar a Dutch fellow was drinking alone with a sullen look on his face. He kind of peered at me and said “You are American ?” , To which I replied , “No Canadian” . He retorted , “The same thing !”. There is something deep in the Canadian psyche that makes such a mistaken identity error seem to touch a nerve, it would take another book to go into it , and even at that there would not be a sensible answer. J So rather than get into a silly retort I asked , “Are you German” . He of course said , “No I am Dutch”. ...wait for it...I replied “Oh, same thing”. It was interesting to see an almost twinkle in his eye as I couldn’t help but speculate that he was thinking , “Hmm this guy isn’t as stupid as he looks” J
Jim and Rick were planning a trip to the North of the Netherlands to Friesland. Apparently in August there is a low tide and one can walk between several of the islands. From Wikipedia , “In the warmer months, many Frisians practice wadlopen
, the traditional art of wading across designated sections of the Wadden Sea at low tide. I didn’t make it as I had other plans; but, Rick told me later that they were among the last to set out; but, the first to cross the particular path they had chosen. Jim apparently made quite a fuss about Rick’s physical fitness. Quite a nice change from the original venture up Mount Carrantuohill in Ireland . We were both impressed that Jim was a fair judge and that we had passed the “test” J
I had opted to head back to Germany. We bade each other farewell, some 4 years later Jim and I were to meet again. I headed towards out with a goal of getting to Hamburg. I had heard through the hostel grapevine that one takes a bus to the outskirts of Amsterdam and at a certain stop was a major hitching place. I got off the bus and there were in fact 20 people milling about. One fellow said he was last and I was after him. It was almost a social event, people talked of their travels and experiences. And the line quickly came to a point where I was the designated hitch hiker. I passed through Arnhem, of a Bridge Too Far fame. I was never one for all the minor details of history ;but, instead I tend to take in the whole , as it were. In this case I had a feeling of what that largest Airborne Assault must have been like. Some 5 years later I would earn my Canadian Airborne Wings and the valour of the men involved in this battle were an inspiration for me to over come my fear of jumping out of what we euphemistically called “A perfectly safe aircraft”. Moments like this were a corner stone of my travels. The human element behind the history. I made my way into germany and set out for Hamburg When I was a child of 4 or 5 I was looking through my father’s many photos which he took overseas during and after World War Two. One that caught my young attention was of two men picking though garbage cans. The photo was taken in Hamburg. As a child we were told never to touch garbage cans, let alone dig through them. I asked my mother about what the men were doing , she said . “There was a war and those men were looking for food.” That photo certainly affected me and left with a feeling that war is not glorious. I don’t include those defending themselves and their homeland from a madman like Hitler and his inner circle. But the idea that war for war’s sake is a concept I cannot ever tolerate.
I had opted to head back to Germany. We bade each other farewell, some 4 years later Jim and I were to meet again. I headed towards out with a goal of getting to Hamburg. I had heard through the hostel grapevine that one takes a bus to the outskirts of Amsterdam and at a certain stop was a major hitching place. I got off the bus and there were in fact 20 people milling about. One fellow said he was last and I was after him. It was almost a social event, people talked of their travels and experiences. And the line quickly came to a point where I was the designated hitch hiker.
I passed through Arnhem, of a Bridge Too Far fame. I was never one for all the minor details of history ;but, instead I tend to take in the whole , as it were. In this case I had a feeling of what that largest Airborne Assault must have been like. Some 5 years later I would earn my Canadian Airborne Wings and the valour of the men involved in this battle were an inspiration for me to over come my fear of jumping out of what we euphemistically called “A perfectly safe aircraft”. Moments like this were a corner stone of my travels. The human element behind the history. I made my way into germany and set out for Hamburg
When I was a child of 4 or 5 I was looking through my father’s many photos which he took overseas during and after World War Two. One that caught my young attention was of two men picking though garbage cans. The photo was taken in Hamburg. As a child we were told never to touch garbage cans, let alone dig through them. I asked my mother about what the men were doing , she said . “There was a war and those men were looking for food.” That photo certainly affected me and left with a feeling that war is not glorious. I don’t include those defending themselves and their homeland from a madman like Hitler and his inner circle. But the idea that war for war’s sake is a concept I cannot ever tolerate.