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What this is all about

In late July and into August, I was one of a foursome of travellers on a cruise vacation around the Baltic region, originating in Amsterdam. The group consisted of my partner and myself (a long-term gay couple), plus friends of ours from back home (a straight married couple). I wouldn't necessarily mention the sexual orientations of the travellers in a diary like this, but there is a controversial side issue that I will get to momentarily.

The countries of the Baltic are rich in history and culture. There have been wars, genocide, lands changing "ownership" over and over, beautiful music and art, and pure hatred of a kind not seen anywhere else on the planet. So much to see, learn, and absorb.

The cruise itself lasted 12 nights. Our friends flew from home to Amsterdam four days prior to the cruise start. By the time we joined them there a day later, they had already figured out how to navigate the city, making things easier for us. Post-cruise, our friends flew back home the same day as the ship returned to Amsterdam. Partner and I took the opportunity to have a brief layover, one night, in Vienna before flying home.

This diary is the first in a mini-series of perhaps three diaries, representing a photo recollection of some of the highlights of the trip. The focus of this initial diary is our time spent in Amsterdam, itself a wonderful city to explore. It is photo-heavy, by intent. Although all four of us carried DSLR cameras, and the ever-present cell phone cameras, the photos presented here were all shot by me, unless otherwise noted.

Preparation

Planning for this trip began more than a year ago. Partner and I have cruised several times already, this being our sixth. Last year, we started looking at cruise itineraries for this summer, and settled on a Baltic tour. Our travelling friends had cruised once before, and in joint discussions we agreed on the embarkation date, port, ship, and land excursions into the ports of call.

The cruise itinerary, beginning and ending in Amsterdam, included these ports of call:

- Warnemunde, Germany
- Stockholm, Sweden
- Helsinki, Finland
- St. Petersburg, Russia
- Tallinn, Estonia
- Copenhagen, Denmark

Don't go there!

Yes, I said St. Petersburg, Russia. At this point I feel obligated to say something specifically about that. As those of you reading this surely will know, Russia has been in the news lately for its extreme anti-gay policies. A new law passed in June has brought more world-wide attention to the issue. The winter olympics in Solchi, and the G-20 meeting coming up soon in St. Petersburg, are now wrapped up in controversy. I don't need to reiterate the details for this audience.

When we chose this particular cruise itinerary last year, we were aware that Russia was not an entirely friendly place for LGBT people. Of course, the situation has gotten much worse since then. What many readers may not know is that cruise lines typically require payment in full 70 or 75 days prior to embarkation, and that date is a line in the sand: the payment is not refundable after that point in time. In our case, final and full payment was made to the cruise line in May. Things started to turn ugly (or more ugly than previously known, if you prefer) in June. We were, by that point, locked into the cruise with no refund possible. To not go would mean forfeiture of the entire amount. Although we did purchase travel insurance, canceling because you don't like the politics of the destination is not one of the conditions under which you can get a refund.

If we were looking to the Baltic as a destination now, obviously we would stay away from Russia. Call it a boycott, call it avoidance, whatever you want, we wouldn't go there. But we were caught between a very expensive rock, and a hard place on this one. Our travelling friends were in the same pre-paid situation.

I'm sure there are some absolutists reading this who will say "you shouldn't have set foot in St. Petersburg, period". I can't say that's completely wrong; as one half of a gay couple, I certainly abhor what the government of Russia has been doing, and I don't want to be seen as endorsing or contributing to that in any way. But the money was already spent.

So, we went ahead. I will have more to say about St. Petersburg, and Russia in general, in an upcoming diary in this series.

The upshot is, now I've been to Russia, and I can talk about what I learned. Stay tuned.

Moving forward

The photos below are hosted on flickr. You can click on the photos to see higher resolution versions, if desired.

The adventure begins below the orange kroissant.

Getting there is half the fun, isn't it?

Our journey begins on a Saturday evening, leaving home en route to Amsterdam. Our friends had gone the day before, giving them extra time over there. Partner travels a lot on business, and his company allows employees to keep the accumulated travel points for personal use. So we had the good fortune to fly for free, on points. Unfortunately, the airlines often put restrictions in place when using those points. Our friends, who paid for their flight personally, were able to fly directly from Calgary to Amsterdam. We had to take the long way around, Calgary to Frankfurt, then Frankfurt to Amsterdam. That may seem nonsensical, but that's the airline business for you.

Flying time on our Air Canada A330 was 9.5 hours, arriving in Frankfurt around noon CEST on Sunday. There's about 5 hours of "lights out" time on this flight, during which time you presumably sleep. Fat chance. I am never able to sleep on airplanes, except for maybe a few precious moments. Partner does a little better.

The Frankfurt airport is a major European hub. It seems to be operating at over-capacity, as quite a few planes park remote from the terminal itself. I was surprised to see out the window, a long row of planes, side by side, away from the terminal, each surrounded by portable staircases and utility vehicles. And then I realized we were headed for a spot in that row. As we rolled to a stop, a couple of transport buses rolled up alongside. The buses loaded up, and drove us across the airport field to the terminal. It was hot and humid, but at least not raining.

Here is my first official vacation shot, from my cell phone, standing on the tarmac at Frankfurt airport, next to our plane. The buses are off-screen, to the immediate right, very close to the plane.

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Going through Immigration at Frankfurt was easy. As I approached the counter and slid my passport across to the female agent, she smiled and said "Good morning, how are you?" in English.

Gasp!

I think I managed to hide my shock. Polite, friendly, speaking English to a traveller arriving in Germany (I guess they have clues about that). A government official in an airport setting not being impatient, snarly, and rude, or at the very least aloof, to a traveller? I must do this travel outside of North America thing more often. It is refreshing. Anyway, she opened my passport, scanned it into her computer terminal, stamped it, and passed it back, still smiling.

About 4.5 hours later, we departed Frankfurt for Amsterdam, this time on a Lufthansa A319. It's a short haul flight of about 1 hour. This A319 seemed to have been built a hundred years ago. I guess it just seemed that way, with the total lack of video screens, plugins of any kind, or entertainment other than hard-copy magazines. Business class, where we sat, has the identical seats as economy; the only difference being that the airline does not sell the middle seat in a business class group of three seats. This, presumably, is what counts as "extra space". I suppose it gives them extra flexibility if they have to reconfigure the aircraft for all economy seating on some routes.

Now, when you travel among the countries of the EU, immigration is by design very easy. Security checks are enormously less annoying than in North America, and Immigration check points are pretty much like going through any other doorway. This was the case on arrival in Amsterdam; we picked up our luggage at the carousel, and walked through the door labeled "Nothing to Declare". A few agents were having a conversation nearby, but otherwise paid little attention to passengers walking right through the door.

We stayed in a different hotel from our friends; we made contact that evening, but didn't see them until the following morning. For our dinner that first night, we found a little restaurant a short walk from the hotel, sitting at one of their sidewalk tables, drinking wine, eating a little, and people watching. That's definately one of the things to do (repeatedly) in Amsterdam.

Our hotel (Hotel Pulitzer) served a very nice buffet breakfast every morning. I enjoyed some of the sweetest strawberries I've had in a while there, along with pastries, strong coffee, fresh cooked eggs, yogurt, and more fruit. As hotel buffets go, many of them are crappy; this one was excellent.

Rijksmuseum

The first sight-seeing expedition we made within Amsterdam was to the Rijksmuseum. This is a well-known, and well-visited institution, with a vast collection of art, artifacts, ship models, weapons, and on and on. A serious patron of the arts could spend days in there. We limited our time to about 3 hours. Among the four of us, we have two who want to walk through any museum quickly, one who could spend the above-mentioned days, and myself, somewhere in the middle. We had limited time with lots to see, and we compromised.

This image in one of the museum hallways, gives a hint at the stunning architecture and colors to be found inside.

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I had no idea the size and scale of some of the famous artworks, by Rembrandt and others. When you see reproductions of a painting online or in a book, you don't see how big some of them are. Here are a couple of examples:

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and

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There are so many artifacts to see, such as this canon sporting fine detail. No plain steel tube here, this is a piece of art:

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There's plenty of stained glass about. This sample is about 3 stories high:

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Scattered throughout the museum, you might come across students and other art appreciators drawing sketches. In this shot, the fellow on the right is sketching one of the tall ceramic pieces inside the glass case at the center of this room. I tried to get a better shot of his notepad and the piece, but it was difficult to be unobtrusive and get just the shot I wanted. I didn't want to be too obvious what I was up to.

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I love ship models, and this museum has plenty. The detail that has gone into the construction of these models is incredible.

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The Rijksmuseum isn't all about historical art. They cater to the modern era also. At first glance, when you pass by this clock, it seems that there is someone in behind the frosted glass face, repeatedly erasing the hands and redrawing with a marker as each minute goes by. But there's nobody in there. It's a small box, set away from the wall, so that there is obviously no room for a live person to be doing a performance art piece. It is, in fact, a computer animation or video of a shadowy figure redrawing the hands of the clock for each minute. Very, very clever. My camera is capable of recording video, but of course I didn't think of that until we were well past this exhibit. Neither did the others. D'oh.

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A few moments later...

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Outside the museum, there is this shallow pool, that on and off had some kids and dogs playing in it. The Rijksmuseum is behind the camera, and in the distance beyond the pool and green space is the Van Gogh museum.

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Walking further along past the pool and looking back, you can see the Rijksmuseum from the outside. It is a magnificent old building, that has undergone significant modernization inside. You can also barely make out in this shot, the "I amsterdamn" logo that is seen in a number of public spaces around Amsterdam. It's here, as well as at the airport, and the cruise ship terminal. The "am" letters are red, the others white.

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This beautiful green space is just past the museum property, and heading in the general direction of the Van Gogh museum.

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This particular building happens to be near the Van Gogh museum, but it is an example of architecture you will find all over old Amsterdam. Near the roof line on buildings like this, you will see a beam and hook protruding. They are everywhere. We asked, and confirmed our guess: these were/are used for hauling up furniture and other items into upper floors of a building. In many cases, stairways and hallways are too narrow and with twists and turns, to carry furniture upward, from the inside.

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The building on the right hand side in this photo is the Van Gogh museum. I tried to get a sense of the long line of people waiting to get in; lines stretch not only to the left, but also to the right of the building, and around the block. This was a bit past noon; we decided to bypass this, and come back for opening time the next morning.

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This shot is just a random old door we passed by in our walk. I like the colors and texture.

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The Diary of Anne Frank

Now we are about to enter the Anne Frank house, which is only one block from our hotel. The lines here wrap around the building and to the left, and would likely take hours to navigate just to get in. Fortunately, one of our friends had the forethought to book an appointment and buy advance tickets online, which turned out to be a timesaver. If you have advance tickets, you can enter by a door on the side. If you try to get in on the spot, you are going to have a long wait.

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You can read about Anne Frank from many online articles, or start from the house official website here. Many of you are of course already well aware of what Anne, her family, and four other people went through, hiding from the Nazis until they were discovered and sent off to the concentration camps. Anne herself died presumably of typhus, at Auschwitz.

It is humbling to walk through the building, and climb the steep narrow staircases to the upper levels where they hid. The building is kept dark, and quiet, much as it must have been in those days. Most furniture has been removed, perhaps for the practicality of moving visitors through the house and among the rooms in an orderly fashion.

One thing that I found distasteful is the barrage of Samsung logos now scattered throughout the house. There are video monitors here and there showing short clips, interviews, brief documentary segments, and so on. Each of these monitors has attached to it a blazing Samsung logo. Not the kind of logo you might have on a monitor or TV at home, but an illuminated, glaring, IN-YOUR-FACE Samsung logo. Tacky and distracting. Shame on whoever is responsible for that hideousness.

Here is a view of the facade of the building, looking up from sidewalk level.

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The Anne Frank house is adjacent to one of Amsterdam's canals, and this view is looking from the front of the building, directly across the canal. Moored nearby is one of many many houseboats that are seemingly everywhere.

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Van Gogh

On our next full day in Amsterdam, we started out the morning at the Van Gogh museum. The exhibits are mostly tough to photograph as the rooms are fairly dark; you cross into that area where shutter speed is going to be too slow for hand-held, and flash is not permitted and would look crappy anyway. But here's a view of a staircase inside the museum. I'm a sucker for crisp, clean lines like this:

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If you look closely at many Van Gogh works, you will see strokes reminiscent of the patterns on the glass doors and windows:

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As you wander about and read the various descriptions of Van Gogh works, you put together a profile of a man who didn't set out to be an artist, really wasn't a natural, had to be taught basic techniques on up, and spent lots of time using geometrical rigs to replicate the works of others on different scales. When you put it all together, it's tempting to wonder what all the fuss was about. But, some of the works are truly amazing. So there's that.

Sights of the city

As you walk around old Amsterdam, you are surrounded by so many fascinating things to look at. Here we see a juxtaposition of small boats, cars, bikes, water, and sidewalks all sharing the same cramped space.

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Another view, at another location. Do you wonder if people parking their cars ever go just a liiiiiiiitle bit too close to the edge of the canal?

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And of course, buildings that abut the canals directly. This is not far from the famous red light district:

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By the way, we were told that photographs are not "appreciated" in the red light district, and that some of the "business workers" in the area can be aggressive toward photographers. We wandered through the area, looked around, verified that yes indeed there are women standing in the windows available for customers. We did not partake.

Here, a tour boat navigates a narrow section of canal, near a lock.

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We were in Amsterdam during the local Pride week. Banners were visible in many places. The main Pride events were scheduled to take place after we were to be well on our way on the cruise. Sometimes our timing sucks. Oh well.

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This street is dotted with Asian restaurants, and rainbow flags. Who could ask for anything more?

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We stopped for coffee and a pastry at a little cafe along the way. Their storefront was on a street much like the photo above; the seating area is downstairs, where you will find an open window that looks directly (and somewhat precariously) onto the canal, with this view:

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Many of the buildings are very very old indeed, and wood pilings driven deep into the ground have crumbled or tilted in various ways. Especially close to the canals, it is not unusual to see buildings leaning against one another, as in this photo. One wonders, inside some of these, what it is like to walk across the floor.

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And another view, elsewhere:

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This is a terrible composition, with the tree sitting in the direct path of the camera's view of this little pub/restaurant. But it's the only angle I could get that clearly shows the lean of this building. I don't think the "Closed" sign means the building is permanently closed by any means; it's just not open for business at that particular time of day.

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Various items for sale on a sidewalk. There are lots of places around selling vinyl record albums (remember those?)

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Oh Matt, you're following me around, aren't you?

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I. Love. Cheese.

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We laughed and made politically incorrect comments among ourselves about what exactly might be on those sticks:

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Canal boat tour

There are many sightseeing boats plying the canal ways; one of them was pictured above. Our hotel happens to own its own boat, which has a capacity of only 10 passengers, and their own full time captain. According to the captain, this very same boat famously took Winston Churchill on a canal tour, back in the day.

Moments before we boarded, there was a downpour of rain. It poured buckets, for about five minutes, then stopped. It then sprinkled on an off for our tour of just over an hour. Still, very pleasant all in all.

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On our boat tour, we passed by the cruise ship terminal, which we would be coming to the next day, to begin our cruise.

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We also passed by the Sea Palace floating Chinese restaurant.

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There are a number of lift bridges over the canals of this not-so-modern design.

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A view from the boat, approaching one of many, many bridges over the canals.

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Saturnino restaurant

Before we began this journey, fellow Kossack Steveningen recommended to me, his favorite restaurant in Amsterdam, Saturnino. We booked a reservation for 4 on Tuesday night, coinciding with Partner's birthday. As we arrived, we were first offered a table under the front awning, outside. Had it not been sprinkling rain, we would have taken that. Then they offered us either a table upstairs, or one tucked into the corner by the bar. We chose the latter, and what a good choice that turned out to be.

The restaurant is a family-owned Italian place, with close together tables and a terrific atmosphere. Reviews I read stated that the restaurant is very gay-friendly, and at times has a clientele of mostly men. That was not the case that night, as it was a very mixed, and also very happy, crowd. We consumed 2 bottles of the house red wine, which was not only cheap (a full litre for 20 euros) but quite good for a house wine. For dinner, I had a 4-cheese pizza, Partner had spaghetti with mixed seafood. I can't recall what our friends had offhand.

Here is one of the appetizer rounds, featuring nicely done calimari:

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At the table next to us, this fellow was celebrating a birthday with his girlfriend. Even without the sparkler, he had a smile that could light up the room.

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We didn't get similar treatment for Partner. That's because we didn't ask for it. We are just not the type to make a birthday announcement in a restaurant, not really wanting the attention.

We all agreed, after that dinner, it was the most memorable meal so far on the trip. And just yesterday, Partner and I were talking about food and agreed, once again, that was the best dinner of the entire trip, spanning nearly 3 weeks. Steveningen has done himself proud with this recommendation.

Farewell to Amsterdam

The morning after that lovely dinner, we boarded the cruise ship to begin the main event. We were passengers on the Celebrity Constellation. It is neither the biggest, nor the smallest, cruise ship we have been on. Many sailings, whether in Europe or North America, begin with a very similar time table: The ship arrives at port from its previous cruise early in the morning, 5:00AM to 6:00AM. Passengers start disembarking about an hour later, and all should be off by about 8:30AM. Boarding for the new cruise begins at 11:00AM, and all must be aboard at least an hour before sailaway, in this case 4:30PM. During that day, the ship undergoes a massive cleaning and restocking operation. All the guest rooms have to be cleaned, bedding changed, and so on.

We always aim to be among the first on board. After all, that day is included in the purchase price for the cruise, so we might as well make use of the ship. The buffet is open for lunch immediately at 11:00AM, though staterooms are typically blocked off and unavailable for entry until 1:00PM, while cleaning is still ongoing. Shopping and casino services are always closed while in port, and wait until the ship reaches international waters to open.

Partner and I have a standing tradition of boarding early, and heading up to the buffet for lunch, grabbing a table at the far aft section of the buffet, with a view out the back end. We introduced our travelling friends to this tradition. That corner became our rendezvous point with them. We could be off doing our own thing, and meet back there for lunch or whatever, depending on what was going on for any given day.

So here's the view from shipside, just before sailaway. The passenger loading gangway is much like the jetway at an airport, but with more glass. This terminal features a band playing us off, and you can also see the familiar "I amsterdam" logo.

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From the other side, we can see one of the riverboats docked. These boats are built very low and long, and designed for river rather than ocean cruises. We plan to try that some time.

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This looks like a kiddie-size container ship that we passed, as we sailed out of Amsterdam harbour. Probably some sort of shuttle for small amounts of container cargo.

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Here, one of many windmill farms in the area. As you get out into the Baltic Sea, and even the North Sea, you will find windmill farms out in open water.

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And finally: a shot of the TV screen in our stateroom. This particular channel is dedicated to the live bow camera, and a summary of the next port of call. First up, Warnemunde Germany. It's going to be hot!

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The next diary in this mini-series will pick up at this point. We take a more serious tone as we visit the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, on the way to Berlin via train.

Until then, I hope you have at least been entertained by this journey so far. If any of you have been to this region, I'd love to hear your comments.

Originally posted to lotac on Mon Aug 19, 2013 at 01:01 PM PDT.

Also republished by DKos Travel Board and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful! (10+ / 0-)

    I have to stop taking all my vacations in the Bay Area, don't I? You have just given me the impetus to start planning a trip to Amsterdam, because I have a feeling I'd like it even more than I liked Melbourne (which I loved).

    Entertained, lotac? More like transformed. I'm so glad I have more of these to look forward to!

    Seneca Falls, Selma, Stonewall

    by Dave in Northridge on Mon Aug 19, 2013 at 01:10:20 PM PDT

  •  Mooi Amsterdam (14+ / 0-)

    Here I am sitting behind my desk, drooling at your shots and account of you time there. I am so jealous I could just spit. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of your diaries, particularly your trip to Russia.

    •  But then again (7+ / 0-)

      You've been there, and you will be there again. So technically you have nothing to be jealous of :)

      I haven't even started on Part 2 yet. It's slow going, and I'm still recovering from that damn cold and cough. And lack of sleep.

      Marry the one you love, not the one a bigot says you're allowed to love.

      by lotac on Mon Aug 19, 2013 at 01:38:49 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  And Tallinn! (7+ / 0-)

        I have to say I never tired of the Netherlands and some days feel like just moving there (my former sister in law lives in Rotterdam).  But I am particularly jealous of the trip to Tallinn. My father was born just outside of Tallinn and I still have many cousins there I've never met.  Make my heart ache that in all this time I haven't managed it.  

        •  Tallinn was an unexpected surprise (8+ / 0-)

          Our group agreed among ourselves that it was a jewel waiting to be seen. I also overheard other people saying much the same thing. We enjoyed it a lot.

          Marry the one you love, not the one a bigot says you're allowed to love.

          by lotac on Mon Aug 19, 2013 at 07:42:56 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Tell me more - is there basic wheelchair access? (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            lotac

            I have roots somewhere in Eastern Europe (distant - my only info is incomplete records of the holocaust, as once they came over to North America, probably via Canada, they made the church mice look like Donald Trump).  I often travel alone but would never travel to "old world" Europe alone, so occasional steps would be a given, but I think that getting help down each curb merely to cross a street would be the end of me.  We looked at going to Prague because, like you, a family work situation means we have tons of airline miles and, in our case, Starwood hotel points to spend - we travel way, way above what our "station" in life would suggest.

            "The first drawback of anger is that it destroys your inner peace; the second is that it distorts your view of reality. If you come to understand that anger is really unhelpful, you can begin to distance yourself from anger." - The Dalai Lama

            by auron renouille on Tue Aug 20, 2013 at 07:22:24 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  Tallinn is truly a gem. (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            lotac, shortgirl, barkingcat

            The old town is one of the prettiest in all of Europe, with much of its medieval wall still intact.  Beautifully cobbled, the streets are a delight to walk along.  Quite a bit is pedestrian-only, too, as I recall.  We were there only a couple years after the fall of the Soviet Union and their near-complete economic collapse that took place afterward. Things were very, very tough, but it was clear that they were climbing out of the pit, which pleases me greatly.  

            To give you some idea of just how badly off they had been, this little anecdote should put it in context.  We were staying in a room in an apartment of a young Estonian woman -- can't quite characterize it as a b&b -- who was incredibly helpful and kind to us.  Since we had been there for several days, we thought we would take her out to dinner as a thank you.  We went to a lovely restaurant in the middle of the old town, which had a bit of style, but was still quite reasonably priced to us (The highest priced item might have been $6.50).  She seemed clearly impressed...  Anyway, I don't remember what she ordered, but when it came, it had a thin slice of orange as a garnish.  All very hum-drum, right?  Well, it was until we saw her eat the whole thing, peeling and all!  Maybe I shouldn't have, but I had to ask why.  She told us that after the economic crash no one had any money to speak of at all.  She went on to say that if it hadn't been for her mother, who lived on a small farm and who had a large vegetable garden, she would have been scarcely able to survive.  All she ate for the first two winters were eggs, potatoes and carrots from that garden -- more in the summer, of course.  She went on to say that she could no longer imagine not eating everything that was set before her because who knew what migh happen later...  

            -7.13 / -6.97 "The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion." -- Edmund Burke

            by GulfExpat on Tue Aug 20, 2013 at 11:40:19 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

    •  why (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      lotac

      I understood you live there?

      be advised, Amsterdam elects ca. 75% PvdA and GL (maybe D66 in it). it is a freak(ing) anomaly even here. three quarters of the whole towns population (of 700K or so) are on the left side of the US Dem´s left wing! But then Zaandam I believe was the one place where they elected majority communists back when communists were still a viable party.
      A´dam is nice as big citys go, (apart from that I intrinsically hate big cities).

      diarist has come through my very little hometown too (I live at the sealocks of the Ij canal) but decided to not take a photo there. Ha, thats sad since my place is full of proletarian romantics that is simply unavailabe in A´dam (which he somewhere in the diary misspells as A´damn, ha!)  

  •  Fantastic diary, thanks for sharing. (9+ / 0-)

    I look forward to the rest of them.

    "Truth catches up with you in here. It's the truth that's gonna make you hurt." - Piper Chapman

    by blueoregon on Mon Aug 19, 2013 at 02:02:13 PM PDT

  •  Thanks, next part probably on Wednesday. (6+ / 0-)

    Marry the one you love, not the one a bigot says you're allowed to love.

    by lotac on Mon Aug 19, 2013 at 02:04:17 PM PDT

  •  Thanks! (7+ / 0-)

    Your gorgeous shots managed to sneak through the firewall here at work!

    No one knows what it's like, To be the bad man, To be the sad man, behind blue eyes....

    by blueyedace2 on Mon Aug 19, 2013 at 02:23:10 PM PDT

  •  Thanks for sharing your trip! (6+ / 0-)

    The pics are awesome and I enjoyed your descriptions.

  •  Thanks for the opportunity to reminisce. (10+ / 0-)

    The first two years of my exile were spent in A'dam. As I was unemployed, I had lots of time to explore. When my partner was transferred to London, I was able to work again, but the result is that I don't know London nearly as well.

    To tell the truth, I'd give a great deal to return to The Netherlands, and stay there for a good many years, but my hubby doesn't feel the same - his greatest life goal has always been to live his life in the US, so thanks to the SCOTUS' Windsor decision, we've begun the process to obtain his green card. I keep telling him that he doesn't really understand how much better off we are in Europe, but he's single-minded on the topic.

    A homo in a bi-national relationship - at 49, I had to give up my career, leave behind my dying father, my family & friends and move to Europe. And I'm one of the *lucky* ones: Immigration Equality

    by aggieric on Mon Aug 19, 2013 at 04:08:39 PM PDT

    •  I wish we'd had more time to explore (6+ / 0-)

      But not sure when we will get the opportunity to return to Amsterdam, simply given that there are so many other places we want to visit as well.

      On our last night in town, at the dinner, we looked at the area around the Saturnino restaurant in the drizzling rain, and we were all like "how come we didn't explore this area before?". Well the answer is really that there wasn't time. All these cities have so much to offer, if you just know where to look...and have the time.

      Marry the one you love, not the one a bigot says you're allowed to love.

      by lotac on Mon Aug 19, 2013 at 04:17:47 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Nice diary, and I'm jealous too! (5+ / 0-)

    I spent about 3 days in Amsterdam in 1982, and hit some of the same museums that you did. All this does is make me want to go back and see it all again. The Rijksmuseum has been refurbished in the interim, and I think it just reopened earlier this year. It was closed for a number of years to accomplish all that they wanted to do.

    The "Night Watch" is one incredible painting, no question. I'd never seen such a large painting before, and there are few to rival it anywhere.

    Thanks again for the vicarious European tour!

    And yeah, I know tarantulas don't really act like that at all, so no snarking, this is the internet damnit!

    by itzadryheat on Mon Aug 19, 2013 at 07:28:04 PM PDT

  •  In 2005 we took the Constellation out of New (7+ / 0-)

    Jersey to Dover and then on to the Baltic. Three weeks on board with so many good friends.

    Didn't make Amsterdam though, probably because it was the first ship of the season to sail the Baltic route. We did have a stop in Gdansk and it was surprisingly beautiful. Loved Stockholm and Tallin. And the two days in St Petersburg which, in 2005, didn't present the same problems you face today.

    It was one of our favorite cruises and your photographs are bringing back all of the wonderful memories.

    I miss cruising. We loved the Celebrity Suite on the Constellation class ships and the martini bars on all of them.

    Meanwhile, my great-grandson, now 15, wants to go to Amsterdam with me when he graduates from high school. Only he is not interested in the Van Gogh museum, that I have wanted to visit since I was younger than he is today, or to the Anne Frank House. No, he is only interested in the coffee houses. Because I drink lattes, you see. He knows I would love some Dutch coffee. ;-)

    •  Can you get coffee in an Amsterdam coffee house? (7+ / 0-)

      [cough], [cough].

      Actually we had intended to try one, but never really got around to it.

      Our previous cruises have all been on Royal Caribbean. We chose Celebrity this time around because of the itinerary. RC's itineraries lately seem to be lacking for us.

      We might be looking at going back to the Med next year. There are several cruises in the Rome/Venice/Greek Islands vacinity that may be promising.

      Marry the one you love, not the one a bigot says you're allowed to love.

      by lotac on Mon Aug 19, 2013 at 07:51:51 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  you can! (0+ / 0-)

        My brother-in-law and sister-in-law visited us when we lived in the Netherlands a few years back. They were right off the plane and searching for caffeine, so they went to a coffee shop and even asked to see the menu. Once they figured things out, they asked if they could still get coffee. The waiter said, "Yeah, I think we have a few cups around here somewhere." Yet the coffee was still pretty good (but maybe not by Dutch standards).

        We had a good laugh at their expense after that.

  •  Great Diary! (5+ / 0-)

    The narrative and accompanying photos are wonderful. Amsterdam truly is a beautiful city. I'm looking forward to the next installment.

  •  My god, those Rembrandts!!! Gorgeous! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lotac

    And your pics are crystal clear.  

    I had a similar experience at the London Museum when I first saw "Belshazzar's Feast."  It was enormous!

    Ayn sucks. Please know I am not rude. I cannot rec anything from this browser. When I rec or post diaries I am a guest at some exotic locale's computer.

    by Floyd Blue on Tue Aug 20, 2013 at 06:01:21 AM PDT

  •  Just beautiful! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lotac

    Makes me want to travel, even more than I already wanted.

  •  Thanks for sharing. Great photography. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lotac

    Feel like I've visited Amsterdam.

    Looking forward to Part 2.

    Fighting Liberal at
    “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” --Gandhi:

    by smokey545 on Tue Aug 20, 2013 at 07:32:03 AM PDT

  •  Wonderful pictures.... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lotac

    Now I want to go to "Everything on a Stick" just to see what is on a stick.

  •  I went in 2009 (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lotac

    I went with a friend to Europe 4 times. We would fly from Houston to Amsterdam, then to another city. We always saved Amsterdam for the last.
    In 2009 we flew from Amsterdam to Stockholm. We had reserved a hotel room in the Old City. Our main adventure was a boat tour. This was my 3rd visit to Stockholm, my friend's first.
    The we flew to Helsinki, saw Sibelius Park and the monument. Sibelius died on my 16th birthday: Sept. 20, 1957.
    We took a boat trip across the Gulf of Finland to Tallinn, Estonia. I kidded my friend that "we are not in the Soviet Union anymore." No, we did not go to Russia. The Old Town is delightful. We ate at a gay-oriented restaurant, the Angel Café. The waiter said he was born after independence. They have a sauna, but it was closed on Monday.
    We took a bus to Riga, Latvia. The main item of interest for me was the Occupation Museum, about Soviet occupation. We had a Russian-speaking taxi-driver who predicted that the Latvian government would go bankrupt. He may have expressed some nostalgia for Soviet days.
    Next we flew to Vilnius, Lithuania. A tour guide said we Americans had promised to help Lithuania but did not deliver. I thought of Richard Milhous Nixon in the 1952 campaign. She also warned us of a lot of crime in Vilnius. I had wanted to go to a gay spot called the Man Factory but my friend vetoed the idea of going out in the evening.
    Next we flew to Krakow, Poland. We changed planes in the Warsaw airport and the attendant said he liked Johnny Cash. I said I liked Chopin and Penderecki.
    We took a tour of Auschwitz, near Krakow.

    Censorship is rogue government.

    by scott5js on Tue Aug 20, 2013 at 08:00:50 AM PDT

  •  You missed the Amsterdam Gay Pride parade? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lotac, marsanges

    Here's a shot of mine from 2013 you can borrow -- the church tower in the distance is next to Anne Frank House. I've been working here the last few summers -- Monday is considered part of the weekend rather the work-week.

    Millions of us – the majority – must come together to insist that President Obama and the Democrats stand up and fight for the things we sent them there to do ... Michael Moore

    by MT Spaces on Tue Aug 20, 2013 at 08:41:13 AM PDT

    •  Yeah we missed it by just that much (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      MT Spaces

      The cruise officially began Wednesday July 31. Although the week was ramping up, most of the official Pride events were scheduled for the following weekend, just a few days away.

      Marry the one you love, not the one a bigot says you're allowed to love.

      by lotac on Tue Aug 20, 2013 at 09:07:30 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I love Amsterdam (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lotac

    It's easy to get around in. It's easy to get from the airport to Amsterdam. And it's easy to make short day trips to other cities in the Netherlands from Amsterdam.

    We sometimes fly to Amsterdam, spend a day there and then fly on to another city. We have stayed at one of the airport hotels which makes it really easy to drop your bags, hop on the train, go sightseeing, and then be close to the airport in the morning to catch your flight.

    It is easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled. Mark Twain

    by lynneinfla on Tue Aug 20, 2013 at 08:45:37 AM PDT

  •  Couple of observations (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lotac

       In 2000 the Frankfurt airport was exactly as you describe it. Shuttle buses out to the planes on the tarmac; climb the stairs.
        There was no line at all at the Anne Frank house in 2000. Is the tree outside the house gone? Seems I heard it died.

    •  The tree fell in 2010 (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      lorell

      Estimated at over 150 years old, the tree mentioned by Anne Frank had succumbed to disease. Though it stood for several years after essentially dying, it was knocked over by heavy winds during a storm.

      Here's another view of the line. In this photo, the house is to the left, and the line works its way leftward to the front entrance. At the right of the photo, the line takes a 90 degree turn heading away from the sidewalk, and continues for some distance past.

      Actually getting into the building is at a trickle pace. There is, after all, limited space inside, and many many people who want to see.

      P1010939

      Marry the one you love, not the one a bigot says you're allowed to love.

      by lotac on Tue Aug 20, 2013 at 11:19:14 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I've been there twice (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lotac

    The first time was right after spending a week in Paris, never do that to any city.  Amsterdam was cold and rainy and seemed bleak and tawdry.  We decided that we'd had enough and cut it short and took the fast train to the south of France and found sunshine and a wonderful small town near Bordeaux.

    Some years later we went back to Amsterdam and had a much better time, particularly enjoyed the Rijksmuseum and took a long canal ride which was fun.  We had good food and went into a coffee shop to sample the wares which was fun, though the other patrons seemed a bit amused at our grey hair.

    We spent a couple of days in nearby Haarlem in a rather dilapidated hotel right on the square.  

    We clearly shortchanged Amsterdam the first time.

    75534 4-ever or until dk5

    by NearlyNormal on Tue Aug 20, 2013 at 02:14:31 PM PDT

  •   Enjoyed this post. Am currently reading a book (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lotac

    about Amsterdam, "In the City of Bikes" and it was a treat to see current street scenes. Looking forward to the next installment.

    “The genius of our ruling class is that it has kept a majority of the people from ever questioning the inequity of a system where most people drudge along paying heavy taxes for which they get nothing in return.” - Gore Vidal

    by Hanging Up My Tusks on Tue Aug 20, 2013 at 03:17:17 PM PDT

  •  Beautiful shots (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lotac

    Always wanted to go there. Looking forward to your diary on Russia.

    Thank you!

    "the Devil made me buy this dress!" Flip Wilson as Geraldine Jones

    by BlueJessamine on Tue Aug 20, 2013 at 05:09:34 PM PDT

  •  So tell me - how about wheelchair access there, if (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lotac

    you noticed anything?  I know, most people aren't even looking for it to start with.  I know that old buildings are one thing, but did you happen to see things like curb cuts or barrier-free entrance to restaurants?  Wheelchair access across Europe is surprisingly not uniform, despite the EU's various exhortation's on individual rights; London, I am told, would be doable but the Tube difficult - lots of local bus riding - whereas I've been warned by endless people to never darken France's doorstep due to a total lack of wheelchair access.

    Interestingly, the only city in the US and Canada that is also totally inaccessible is Montréal, which even today is continuing to refuse to make more than the most token of efforts to make its Metro system accessible - even Philadelphia, the worst US city in the country for access, is trying, even if they're not trying very hard, although a recent visit to the SEPTA site shows huge improvements since '10, when I was last there.

    The reason why I ask is that we are tentatively planning a trip to Central/Eastern Europe - I want to do Berlin and Prague with a stop in Dresden, but my mother would prefer a city of my choice (probably Berlin, because I learned German in college) plus Amsterdam; I am leery of Amsterdam because any city with canals is dangerous for a wheelchair.  Suffice it to say that I'll never, ever, ever see Venice.

    "The first drawback of anger is that it destroys your inner peace; the second is that it distorts your view of reality. If you come to understand that anger is really unhelpful, you can begin to distance yourself from anger." - The Dalai Lama

    by auron renouille on Tue Aug 20, 2013 at 07:31:24 PM PDT

    •  I didn't take specific notice (0+ / 0-)

      I'm sorry to say.

      Museums we visited pretty much all have elevator service, though in some cases the elevators themselves are on the small side. Nearly everywhere we went, there are loads of stairs, uneven pavements, and so on. I wish now that I had paid more attention to that issue.

      We were on and off tour buses constantly, after leaving Amsterdam. They did not seem to be wheelchair friendly. From a cruising perspective, many of the land excursions say explicitly in the preview materials that there are requirements for certain amounts of waling, stairs, etc. They are definately not wheelchair friendly. Touring on your own would be different of course.

      Amsterdam is friendly for people walking or cycling. Persons in a wheelchair would have a tougher time for sure, but I'm not really qualified to say how tough.

      Marry the one you love, not the one a bigot says you're allowed to love.

      by lotac on Tue Aug 20, 2013 at 07:46:44 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  No worries, thanks for the info :). (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        lotac

        In a pinch, I benefit from upgrades for cyclists since they also need a level path of travel without stairs.  So, that's something.

        I don't think I'd ever go on a cruise - I mean no offense, but it's not my thing to start with (I'd rather "go native") and the wheelchair aspects of it look pretty challenging.

        "The first drawback of anger is that it destroys your inner peace; the second is that it distorts your view of reality. If you come to understand that anger is really unhelpful, you can begin to distance yourself from anger." - The Dalai Lama

        by auron renouille on Tue Aug 20, 2013 at 08:07:05 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  wheelchair access depends on when and where (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        lotac

        The city centre is a UN international heritage site so it's very, very hard for any substantial changes to be made to existing buildings or streets. There are cobblestones, and a lot of narrow doorways and doorways with steps up.
        However, what you see in the front is often misleading. Many of the old fronts have totally modernised backs. I don't think it's very nice to expect someone in a wheelchair to use the service entrance, but for quite a few places there is one and it is available.
        You CAN use your wheelchair on bike paths, but in the centre I would not recommend it, as not only are they jammed with cyclists--many of them tourists who do stupid things on two wheels--but they are also used by "brommers" i.e. small motorcycles, often driven by loutish teenagers.
        What a lot of people with mobility difficulties do here is use a brommobile, which is a sort of mini-car that can also use bike lanes, a wheelchair can be folded up and carried in it, some are 'roll-on' models. I would imagine that one could be rented...and that would really open up mobility options.
        We do have good public transport (buses, trams and the Metro), and the major "sights" (Rijksmuseum, Anne Frank House, Van Gogh Museum) are accessible. Dam Square is cobblestoned but it's so huge that it's negotiable.
        Once you get away from the city centre, Amsterdam is actually pretty accessible generally, the sidewalks tend to be wide, there are curb cuts, all modern buildings have lifts, etc. It's not as picturebook pretty outside of the grachtengirdle but there's still plenty to see.
        If I were you, I'd do it, with a list of what you feel are "must sees" and some advance planning you'll have a good time!

        Political Compass says: -8.88, -8.67
        "We never sold out cos no one would buy."--J Neo Marvin

        by expatyank on Wed Aug 21, 2013 at 03:45:48 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  And, awesome diary; tipped, rec'd, following :) nt (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lotac, Bugsby

    "The first drawback of anger is that it destroys your inner peace; the second is that it distorts your view of reality. If you come to understand that anger is really unhelpful, you can begin to distance yourself from anger." - The Dalai Lama

    by auron renouille on Tue Aug 20, 2013 at 07:41:30 PM PDT

  •  Just got back last night (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lotac

    from this same trip, Copenhagen to Copenhagen.  Loved it! Princess Emerald Princess.  Trying to digest all that we saw and did!

  •  Thanks for showcasing my new new home! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lotac

    I especially enjoyed seeing "our" windmill array (it looms up near where we live) and the Bimhuis. Moved here earlier this year and really, REALLY loving it!

    Absolutely gorgeous pictures. Sorry you missed Pride, it's a bit of a madhouse in the day and an insane party at night, but fun...

    A few A'dam tips and answers for questions below...

    If you'd like the "cruise experience" on a budget, take the ferry over from Harwich in the UK. It comes in at Hoek of Holland, and you can be in A'dam in about 2 hours -- train runs right through the tulip field area and via other major cities. Or, bring your bike, there are cycle paths between cities as well as in them. You can continue on to Norway etc. as well via the Hoek. If I had to make a short list of 5 companies that I think provide great service and a great product, Stena Line Ferries would definitely be on it. Their rail/ferry/bike package is perfect :-)

    Can you buy COFFEE in an Amsterdam coffeeshop? Yes, of course, we like our coffee! I recommend De Republiek on the west side. De Dampkring or De Tweede Kamer in the city centre are also good. For coffee (and weed). Just be aware that some coffeeshops are takeaways, some cater to obnoxious tourists and are priced accordingly, and some are more like a neighbourhood bar.

    The Artis Zoo is a great place to go if you come out of season for tulips, fantastic floral displays and landscaping as well as fascinating animals. In the summer there are often concerts there in the evening. I'm generally not a big fan of zoos, especially when it comes to big cats (who often look miserable) but they are clearly trying hard.

    For something free and fun to do, check out the parks on the west side. Westerpark (where the old gasworks are) stretches on into another park, and then joins on with the De Bretten nature preserve. Within this row of parks there are three tuinparks, where people like me live part of the year in a tiny house on a garden plot, in a community of gardens. These range from arty and wierd to picture-perfect, and you're welcome to have a look around at almost any of them during the daytime. Westerpark has a great Sunday market and is a super place for a picnic.

    If you want to see live music, BE SURE to check the listings at the Bimhuis--which is right by the ferry terminal. It has one of the best sound designs and most fantastic nighttime views ever seen in a music venue, and is well programmed with a variety of jazz and jazz-related music ("world music," improvised, electronic etc., even if you think you don't like jazz chances are they will have something on that you will enjoy).

    Oh yeah--and getting out of Amsterdam is cheap and easy. Haarlem is a superb day trip, especially when the boermarkt (farmer's market) is on, so are the coastal dunes.

    Political Compass says: -8.88, -8.67
    "We never sold out cos no one would buy."--J Neo Marvin

    by expatyank on Wed Aug 21, 2013 at 03:30:47 AM PDT

  •  Good pictures (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lotac

    My friend and I would always take a boat tour when in Amsterdam, so I took plenty of pictures along the canals.
    Anne Frank's house always had long lines so we did not go there. btw the Homomonument is very close by, a little wharf jutting out into the canal. It has a big sign to identify it.

    Censorship is rogue government.

    by scott5js on Wed Aug 21, 2013 at 07:20:05 AM PDT

  •  Excellent diary! Sorry I missed it yesterday! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lotac

    I just flew back from Amsterdam Monday. My fourth trip, but my girlfriend & her daughter's first. Excellent photos! We spent two nights at the Nadia Hotel on Raadehuisstraat, 2 blocks from your Pulitzer. The next 2 nights we spent staying with family. My maternal grandfather emigrated at age 17 in 1903, but his favorite sister stayed behind, & we have stayed in contact with her son, (my mom's cousin,) and his 5 kids, my second cousins. One of them lives in one of those houseboats; we had dinner there Friday night, then another second cousin drove us to his home in the small town of De Rijp, just north of Amsterdam. Saturday, they drove us north, across the Afsluitdijk and into Friesland, where we visited the farm my grandfather grew up on, (I hadn't been there before.) We ended up at their family home in Emmen, near the German border, where we stayed overnight. Sunday, we were driven to the lovely town of Deventer, where we met another second cousin & spent a nice day walking around. That evening, they dropped us at one of the big airport hotels & we flew home Monday morning. It was a good time!

    -7.25, -6.26

    We are men of action; lies do not become us.

    by ER Doc on Wed Aug 21, 2013 at 09:36:32 AM PDT

  •  Excellent. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lotac

    Did this similar cruise last year on another line. Loved loved loved it. Thanks for the reminder photos.

    Abortion Clinics OnLine, the world's first and largest source for online abortion clinic information. Join my DK Abortion Group.

    by annrose on Wed Aug 21, 2013 at 11:15:03 AM PDT

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