I amsterdam: Dutch Culture

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I have 2 questions whenever I arrive at a new place.

Question 1. Can you jaywalk?

Yes. But cars and bikes will run you over–even if you are in a crosswalk! Between the street and the bike lane, it is a bit like playing Frogger. I finally figured it out over time. there two kinds of crosswalks. the ones with broken lines. will not protect you. They appear to be for bicycles. Cars will stop for you in crosswalks with solid lines.

People always complain about getting run over by bikes. The bike lanes are clay-colored, so just stay off of anything clay-colored. I forgot this rule ones and cried, “Shit!” as I jumped out of the way of a passing group of bicyclists who had a good laugh at my panic.

Do not walk on this clay path:

Question 2. Do you greet strangers on the street?

No. You do not nod or smile or even look them in the eye unless you are taking part in some transaction, then eye contact is pretty much the same as in American culture. I had a hard time not looking people right in the eye and smiling, which I gather is being overly familiar. People do respond nicely to questions like, “Is this the right bus stop?” Or “Which way to the museum?” But if you are just passing on the street, don’t look at them. Stop it! They have nothing to do with you.

We take our sunshine for granted. My first day in the Netherlands was a sunny one, and I took a long nap. The next two days were overcast and rainy. So even though I didn’t want to go on a boat ride, as soon as the sun came out I took a boat ride.

I noticed most people in the cities and who work in hotels and shops speak English. Those who don’t are game to speak a patois with you and use a lot of pointing and gestures. Some people act offended if you ask if they can speak English. They respond with “Of course!” in a tone that sounds like, “Do you think I’m stupid?”

People say, “Good morning,” and “Hello,” but they don’t ask, “How are you?” If they do ask, they genuinely mean it and expect a real answer.

They are also very conscious of class issues. If you order an Uber, you sit in the front seat with the driver. To sit in the back like you are something special is very classist.

One difference between Southern California and Europe in general is that people do not walk around staring at their phones there. High School kids do it on the U Bahn in Germany, but that’s about it.

Another thing–we are really serious about hydrating in L.A. No one else I saw on my entire trip walked around with a drink. Even serious bike riders in spandex bodysuits didn’t have plastic bottles of water.

The cokes were small, so I would order them two at a time, which freaked people out. They would bring me a separate glass for each coke I ordered, which I didn’t really need. I tried to ask the front desk to stock my mini fridge with Coke Zero, a service the card says they offer. They just kept telling me to order room service. So I ordered 3 diet cokes and 3 sparkling waters, planning to keep them in the fridge. Communication breakdown.


Other things to love about Dutch people:

They always have Drost chocolate sprinkles on the breakfast buffet.

They charmingly call the train drop off point “the Kiss and Ride.”

They are extremely apologetic.

They have done away with so many of those pesky vowels.

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Rotterdam: Foodhallen

There was a much more extensive Foodhall in Rotterdam than in Amsterdam.

Besides the prepared food, there were counters of spices and cheeses and sit-down restaurants. It was right next to the train station and just across the street from my ideally located hotel. I had a nice breakfast of an egg, bacon and cheese broodjie on fantastic French bread from a little French bakery.

Marketplaces around the world are so similar in many ways you can almost forget where you are. Almost.

Another great thing about Europe is its proximity to all of the other countries, so you can get some amazingly fresh delicacies at reasonable prices. I was really into the Iberico ham.

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Rotterdam: Mooii

Citizen M did not have a restaurant, but it faced a large square with at least 5 restaurants, and if you wanted to walk around the small harbor, there was a whole restaurant row with some really jumping bars. It was cold and cloudy and I was exhausted so I stumbled over to the back patio of the modern French/Dutch Mooii, which thankfully was open until 10 PM. The waiters seemed to sense my fragility and were very kind and overly accommodating, or maybe that place just has incredible service all of the time.

I ordered the “Ossenhaas van Clare Valley, Gold Rund, Polenta en Truffeljus” or Tenderloin of Clare Valley Gold Beef, and Polenta in Truffle Gravy. One reason that I ordered it was that you could add seared foie gras, but the foie gras was all out since I was eating so close to closing time.

I knew with a main course that good I would have to order dessert. I had the “Chocolate Ganache-cake bosvruchen marshmallow en yoghurtijs” Chocolate ganache cake with forestfruit marshmellow and yogurt ice cream.

It started to rain and I didn’t really care. Sometimes when you are traveling you just take things in stride. But the waiters rushed out and put me under a big umbrella. I felt very taken care of, which means so much when you are a lone traveler.


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Rotterdam: Thoroughly Modern Citizen M

I had heard a lot about the architecture in Rotterdam, with one striking example being the yellow cube houses (Kubuswoningen). As soon as you exit the train station they are right there, and continue across the street right to my Hotel. The smaller houses, designed by architect Piet Blom, are single family units, with one being used as a showcase house for tours. There are two large ones that have been converted into hostels. I was unaware of that when I was booking this trip, but maybe next time. StayOK Hostel.

The location of Citizen M couldn’t be better. Although it is across the street from the station and Foodhallen, the hotel is through a breezeway and faces a courtyard with a small harbor, so it is sheltered from the hustle and bustle.

I asked for a room with a view and they looked a little pained and said they wished I had checked in earlier. I made mention of my long day and she kindly dug up a fantastic room for me. The room was rather small. If you are traveling with someone else, you had better like them enough to be right on top of them. The view from the bed that was nestled in front of the giant picture window made me feel like I was in a nest, so I was very comfortable.

The only weird thing is the bathroom, which is a kind of giant plastic insert with the toilet and shower enclosed. I would not want to be sharing that bathroom with another person.

There are a lot of shared public spaces for hanging out in the hotel, and Europeans seem to make use of them more than we do in America. The hallway was a little spooky.

The room was super high tech with an Ipod that controlled the drapes, the tv and the lights. My mother would have hated it. But I was into it, and I enjoyed curling up watching the almost first-run movies.

It was getting late, but again, I love Europe’s late night dinners.

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Off to Rotterdam, Dammit!

The train station in Haarlem was beautiful, with mosaics that looked almost socialist.

There was some confusion in the Haarlem ticket office about how my Eurail pass worked. I had to run back and forth between the office and the ticket taker. When it was finally handled, I rushed off to my train. When i arrived in Rotterdam an hour later, I realized I did not have my backpack with me, only my rolly bag and a shopping bag with snacks and magazines. I called the train people from the Rotterdam station. You can imagine how time-consuming and useless that was. So I got on the train heading back to Haarlem.

It was not in the lost and found in Haarlem even though I was certain I left it in the office. No one had seen it. They called the train people too, and after 20 minutes of the woman on the phone questioning me and writing down all of my info she said, “We will not be calling you.”

Why not?

“That train has arrived at its final destination and the bag is not on it.”

It’s not on the train. It’s in the station. There is no way to let me know if my bag is found at the station?”

“I’m sorry. No.”

After 2 hours of frustration I did the logical thing and went outside to cry. Then, just like in a movie where the hero/lost puppy/girlfriend reappears just as all hope is lost, one of the people from the office came out to get me. And there it was, on the counter.

I had left it on the floor while I went back and forth dealing with my ticket and a guard had assumed it belonged to an employee…because its not like anyone else would have luggage at a train station…and he put it in the room with the employees stuff.

I arrived back in Rotterdam too late to do anything that day, but I did handle a lot of frustration on my own without calling Bob and leaning on him for support. So I feel good that I am becoming more independent, which is one of the things traveling is supposed to teach you. Also, never set your stuff down, and count all of your bags repeatedly. Lesson learned.

Well, since I did have to take 3 train rides, here are some pretty pictures from the train.

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I amsterdam: Touristing in the City

On Sunday I wasn’t planning on doing too much, but the sun was out for the first time since I arrived and I couldn’t waste it. We take our sunshine for granted in Southern California. I decided to take a boat ride through the canals in Amsterdam. The boat docks were in Dam Square and it was crammed with tourists. It was like the worst of Disneyland and Vegas. Lots of cranky Americans. The buildings were beautiful, and the train station was stunning.

Since I arrived on impulse I hadn’t pre-booked so all of the open boats were booked. I had to take a semi-open boat which was like a greenhouse with windows. Every other bench did not have a window, but luckily the man in front of me didn’t mind me sticking my camera over his shoulder to shoot out his window. I recommend you book your boat tour beforehand.

The recorded tour was boring, and I started to feel like a kid whose parents were forcing him on horrible educational vacation activities. One note in the long boring talk of merchants stood out, “Although merchants did trade in slaves, they were never employed in Dutch households.” But you did pretty much invent the African slave trade and used them on your plantations in the Americas. Anyways, back to the pretty buildings…

I wandered around a bit on foot, but I couldn’t find the museum of black light art. It seems to have closed. And Poesenboot, a floating cat sanctuary is closed to visitors on Sundays. I got burned out and took an Uber to Foodhallen.

Foodhallen, in a converted tram depot, is similar to LA’s Grand Central Market, Vancouver’s Granville Island and Philadelphia’s Terminal Building. It does not have the grocery-like stalls of vegetables, cheeses and butchers that many other markets have. Most of the food, except maybe some scores from the bakery and charcuterie, are meant to be eaten in the large, communal dining hall. Being that it was a weekend, it was crowded, but people were happy to share their table and compare plates with each other.

I tried the famous bar snack, Bitterballen, but I wasn’t too into it. More about that later. Italian food and tapas are big here. I loved the little open-faced canape-like sandwiches from Basque Barra de Pinxtos. Pinxtos differ from tapas in that they are speared with little toothpicks, usually affixing meats and seafood to bread.

Belgian friites with mayo are a popular snack, as well as shavings of Iberico ham in paper cones. I even splurged by having a beer and taking some little tarts home. Wait, that didn’t sound right…

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I amsterdam: Just Hangin’ in Haarlem

DSC02236 (Copy)I wanted to stay local and do some laundry on Saturday, so I found a laundromat and stuffed my clothes in the reusable grocery bag I had bought at the market. If you ever do want to “blend in” with the locals I suggest you buy a local grocery store bag. Almost everyone spoke to me in Dutch.

A really nice girl at the laundromat showed me how their system worked, then recommended a nearby bakery to while away the time. Banketbakkerij D&P is a small bakery and chocolate shop, so I bought some candied citrus dipped in chocolate with a little cayenne for the people back at work. They had a menu of broodjes which is a roll, and it can mean a sandwich or a burger or anything on or near a bun. I ordered without knowing what it was, and it turned out to be a nice egg and cheese sandwich on delicious, fresh bread.



When I got back to the hotel, the park next door was having a big antique flea market. Everyone was so accommodating when I asked to take pictures of their wares. I think they were flattered that I admired their staging, which they had obviously spent some time and thought on.

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One man demanded a euro to photograph the table, then insisted I take his picture. Afterward, I gave him a 2 euro coin and told him to have a beer on me. I expected him to refuse, but he took it and asked, “That’s all you’ve got?” I am beginning to love Dutch people.

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There are some old toys that are so intensely happy that they look creepy. My friends the Guerenas collect trippy toys and there were so many of them that I wished I were their personal shopper. The kid on this box is not really into this tea party

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DSC02239 (Copy)IMG_9501 (Copy)I couldn’t take this doll home because I would have had to buy it its own seat on the plane.

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I took this pic for my friend Donna..

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I did buy this evil-looking manic dog. How could I not?

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I also had to buy this crying baby doll. Because what little girl wants a doll that is so miserable? The lady at the stall tried to show me some happier dolls and i insisted, “I want it because its crying.” That caused a nearby shopper to burst out in laughter and I felt I had met a kindrid spirit.

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There was an Indian restaurant on the corner across the street from my hotel, imaginatively named Restaurant India Corner. The owner was really nice, and they had insanely hot samosas. The shrimp curry wasn’t too spicy, but was flavorful. The mango ice cream was mind-blowing. As seems to be the rage in Haarlem, it was deconstructed and had delicious smears of raspberry and flurries of coconut.

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Haarlem is a great little town for a romantic getaway, to just wander and look at pretty buildings, window shop, walk in the parks and eat in cute little restaurants. During tulip season it explodes with flowers, and there is a very picturesque windmill that I didn’t visit.

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I amsterdam: Stedelijk Museum

Mechanical flowers installation at Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam from Studio Drift

After Banksy, I went to check out the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam’s modern art museum. As pretty as they are, I did not fall down these stairs.


They are featuring an exhibit called “Coded Nature” from Studio Drift, two Dutch artists who create installations based on their shared love of science fiction and technology.

From Studio Drift:  Coded Nature, shows an overview of 10 years exploring fluctuating relationships between nature, technology and mankind. In addition to early work, the exhibition features new and previously unseen work. In total, the presentation comprises eight room-filling installations, together with a selection of films, sculptures, prototypes, and models. The show will run through August 2018.

Drifter, “a floating concrete monolith measuring four by two by two meters.” This sculpture not only floats in space, but it does drift around the room. I asked the guard how it is held up. He replied, “It’s a mystery to me too.”



Fragile Future Chandelier can be adapted to fit any space. This one is Fragile Future Chandelier 3.5. I really like the way the lights on the right wall balance the piece.


Another whimsical exhibition were the dioramas of Stefan Tcherepnin, inhabited by “The Mad Masters.” American artist and musician Stefan Tcherepnin captures moments in the lives of four furry monsters.


“Freedom is Recognized Necessity” will be on view through August 12, 2018. “Featured are artworks from the Soviet sphere of influence, acquired by the Stedelijk after the end of the Cold War.” This totalitarian art from the time of Brezhnev features slogans from political leaders and images of heroic workers.


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STEDELIJK BASE is the permanent installation of iconic works from the collection. The entrance to the base is unreal. Using quotes from people like George Orwell, Barbara Kruger designed the entire stairwell. There is a hidden bathroom door on the right.


I did not fall down these stairs either, although it would have been somewhat poetic.


The two paintings in this installation, “High Voltage Painting” by Martial Raysse and Elaine Sturtevang were painted four years apart, the first by Raysse and the second by Sturtevang with Raysse’s permission.


A section of “Naked Girl Behind a Curtain” by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.


“Double Portrait of the Artist and His Wife,” Quappi by Max Beckman. After fleeing Germany after his expressionist artwork was condemned by the nazis, Beckman painted this portrait during an extended stay in Amsterdam on their way to the United States.


Claude Raimond-Dityvon. Paris, May 1968. A lone protestor challenges a line of riot police.


Pablo Picasso “Seated Woman with a Fish-Hat.”


Billie Zangewa’s fabric work, “Midnight Aura,” which addresses globalization as well as self-discovery. The designs used are known as Hollandaise or Dutch Wax due to Dutch textile industry. I am unsure of what Hollandaise sauce has to do with textiles.


I decided to leave the Van Gogh and Rijksmuseum until my last weekend, as I can only not fall down so many stairs a day. There was a grocery store serendipitously next-door. I loaded up and took an Uber back to my room for a late night picnic.

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I amsterdam: A Day at the Museums

"Mickey Snake" from "Dismaland" installation. 2015. Fiberglass, Polyester Resin and Acrylic.

“Mickey Snake” from “Dismaland” installation. 2015. Fiberglass, Polyester Resin and Acrylic.

Friday was a cloudy day, and after another breakfast of eggs benedict I headed to the museums. I took the city bus, and the driver yelled at me for not understanding that you need a special card to wave in front of a sensor for the bus, and they do not accept cash, but you can use your ATM/Mastercard in a machine near the windshield, but only after the driver keys in the amount due on a little screen. I retorted, “Stop yelling at me! It’s my first time!” To avoid these little quibbles, I suggest you buy the City Pass ahead of time. It is good for public transport and museums and most of the tourist sites. This is not an advertisement or a sponsored post. I really wished I had the damn card I could just wave in front of the sensor.

After I arrived in Amsterdam, I stopped at Happy Happy Joy Joy. My hipster radar should have been going off at that name, but the chef is Julius Jaspers and I had read good things about the place. The interior was cool.


I tried the Peking duck bao, which I expected to be in a folded-over bun like a taco. LA-style. Instead it was a cute little slider. Sadly, it was excruciatingly sweet. It reminded of a pulled pork sandwich. The shrimp har gao was good, but no better than most other dim sum places. It was a very small sampling from a huge menu, but enter at your own risk.

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I first checked out MOCO, their modern art museum located in a refinished old house. They were having an exhibit of Banksy and Lichtenstein. The mysterious Banksy started his graffiti career in 1990 as part of the Bristol underground scene. Since then he has gone on to create subversive art through sculpture, painting, installations and “actions” such as distributing fake UK currency bearing the likeness of Princess Diana. He has even written a book and directed a movie. But his primary medium has been stencil work. He said in an interview that he couldn’t spray paint fast enough and would get caught, so pre-made stencils gave him the ability to create intricate designs with quickness. The use of this medium has also helped him to become a prolific artist with a staggering body of work. Some people believe the quantity and scope of work points to a collective rather than an individual, although Banksy is always referred to as “he” by his friends and representatives. Some people have synched up the appearance of Banksy’s public works with the touring schedule of a certain rock band, but like the Residents, I ignore any attempts to out anonymous artists as I believe it takes the fun out of it.






The museum also had a small exhibit of Roy Lichtenstein’s pop art from the 60s, which focuses on the melodrama and art of comic books and advertisements.


Being that the museum is in an old house, there were narrow stairs coming down from the attic. I naturally slipped on them and fell down the stairs. It wasn’t too serious of a spill. I fell on my ass and went bump bump down a couple stairs. I scraped an elbow and had a sore bruise on my thigh for several days. The guards were extremely worried and followed me around for the rest of my visit, presumably to catch me? I had to lock myself in the ladies room. Later when I checked the tread on my sneaker the brand name printed there was ironically TRACTION.

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I amsterdam: Arrival in Haarlem

I amsterdam

I checked into my hotel in Harlaam, Carlton Square Hotel, late Wednesday night. The hotel is nicer and more boutiquey than I could tell from the website. The bed is so soft and cozy and the bathtub is huge. The hotel is next to a park with a big tree nearby for reading under.



One section of the hotel had a Monopoly theme.

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One thing I love about Europe is the late dining hours. I was able to order room service, although it was a mixed bag. The shrimp cocktail was not what I expected. It was a jar full of tiny shrimp that tasted really intense and fishy. I know to some people and many cultures that is considered a good thing. I know my friend Tequila would have LOVED it.

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I had a serviceable steak friites, and a very modern cheesecake.

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I slept well, woke at 11am and enjoyed a fantastic eggs benedict at the hotel’s restaurant, Bar & Kitchen Zocher, on a patio overlooking a park.

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I wandered through the neighborhood…they had nice little thrift shops and eateries. Here is a great thrift store find, but way too big and heavy for my luggage.

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When I came back to the hotel the guy at the front desk looked at me weird and I felt paranoid. I recognized the symptoms of culture shock, so I went upstairs and went back to bed.

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In the evening, I went to the Grote Markt (Big Market) at the center of town and looked around the 700 year-old square. It’s great to sightsee in the summer here, since the sun doesn’t go down until after 9pm.

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I noticed one of the little restaurants was packed, so I figured Fortuyn must be good. I had a really nice, chef-forward dinner. I asked what was on the chef’s 3-course prix fixe menu for 39.50 Euro, and the waiter told me, “It is a surprise.” You have to take a risk sometimes, right? The meal started with an amazing plate of Beef Carpaccio with white asparagus, fresh tomatoes, pepitas, avocado and Parmesan. The dish perfectly highlighted the eco-friendly hereford cows the restaurant sources.

Beef Carpaccio

With the second course I drew the short straw. I’m not a big fan of lamb, but the lamb chops accompanied by roasted sweet potato, friites, a squishy cooked eggplant and salad were of the highest quality. I didn’t want to insult the chef or waste such good food, so I actually ate all of the lamb, and it sort of grew on me. They cook in a Spanish josper oven, which uses charcoal, and the lamb was enhanced by a gentle smoke flavor.

Lamb chops

The dessert was just spectacular. It was deconstructed, as has been the trend for a number of years now. Raspberry ice cream and custard were accompanied by a rich pastry cream, fresh raspberries and a sweet fluff that was almost like cotton candy. It was garnished with a paper-thin slice of candied orange that cracked like glass under the teeth.

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Freak Valley Fest in Germany: Another European Adventure Begins


After visiting Italy last year, I figured it would be years before I had another opportunity to travel. It’s really expensive. But then Bob’s band got scheduled to play a festival in the western part of Germany and built a tour around it. Years ago, when Bob went to England, I tagged along because he had a week after to hang out with me, and his travel was free. With Italy I planned to meet up with the band every 3rd or 4th day, but it didn’t work out. This time I’m not even pretending. I will go to the festival, which is one day, and travel Holland and Germany alone just because I have an excuse.

I would not have chosen to go if the flights were $888 – $1200, which they were when I started looking. But after a few days of messing around, I found a RT flight for $516. So, cool! I decided, I will stay for maybe 10 days, in cheap hotels, can do. But then I saw that the end of Tulip season will be a week after I get to The Netherlands. You can’t go all that way and miss the tulips! I stretched it back as far as I could, leaving in Mid-May. Giving me a 3-week trip, because Freak Fest is in the beginning of June. The tulips may still be gone, but I will have given it my best shot.

I decided to only stay in 2 places — Amsterdam and Berlin, then to the festival. I didn’t want to lug my heavy bags across train stations like I did in Italy. I am no longer a backpacker hopping casually from place to place nimbly-pimbly. Then I started looking at hotels. Amsterdam hotel prices go crazy in the summer. The hostels were over $100. With 4 – 8 people on bunk beds in the room. Although some of them were interesting, like the Botel (I was into it, but reviews said you have to take a ferry then a long walk every time you come and go).


Then there is Train Lodge. It might have been super cool if I were in my 20s and traveling with a friend. But reviews said the beds were so uncomfortable that in the morning it felt like you had been hit by a train. Other descriptors: Nasty, terrible, cold showers, cramped…Yeah…I’m out. Trip Advisor reviews and photos are indispensable when it comes to booking a place.



Oh, and I also considered a place full of pods, lit with neon, in case it wasn’t futuristic enough. 21st century people storage. If you didn’t have to share a pod with a rando, it might be ok. But it is a little Soylent Green for me. It’s called City Hub Amsterdam, and it was already sold out. At $160 a night.


I decided I am just too old for hostels. I can’t do it. I need my sleep when I travel or I’ll get sick. I started looking at places with private rooms and shared bathrooms. There is a place called Hotel Not Hotel with some trippy rooms, if you can call them that. You can sleep in an old camper inside the large hall, or in little mini houses built in the hall. Upstairs there is a fun feature…rooms that are hidden behind book cases. In Amsterdam. Home of the Anne Frank House.





Of course I booked that room, because it was so crazy. Just no self-awareness at all. Or quelle horror–are they real places where Jews were hidden as well? Like, “Every house here has a hidden room from the German occupation. That’s where the kids sleep when my brother comes to visit.” Nevertheless, I cancelled the reservation. It was just too creepy. I also decided not to visit the Corrie Ten Boom House. The book, The Hiding Place made a big impression on me as a kid. But Tripadvisor showed pictures of people posing and smiling in the crawlspace and hiding place behind the wall, which I found incredibly tacky. I don’t think I will visit any WWII sites. I don’t think I can handle it.

So I decided to stay just outside of Amsterdam, in Haarlem. Haarlem is in the center of the flower district, so I won’t have to book a tour to see tulips. If there are tulips. But I was still going to have to cut Amsterdam short and spend some of the time in another place, even though they have so many museums I want to see. So I am spending a few nights in Rotterdam, an ultra-modern, design-focused city near the sea. So it will still be the Netherlands, and anyways, I will have to go back to Amsterdam for my return flight anyways.

I’m going to work full time, plus freelance, and sell all of my records. Along with our tax return, hopefully it will be enough. I spent so much in Italy, which was only 2 weeks, so I will have to be super-careful. luckily it looks like there are a lot of cheap eats!

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Arrivederci Roma! Trastavere

Trastavere hotelMy friends recommended the Trastevere neighborhood, so I got a room there for my last night in Rome. They loved the area and wanted to move there. I could instantly see why. It was the first place I visited where the Italian people were out of their tight jeans and puffy jacket uniform. The homogeneity of Italy was less pronounced, and there were people with pink hair, gay couples and POC.

I had the Uber driver drop me off at Paris, a restaurant where I wanted to lunch. But they are so popular the sign-up sheet was filled right until closing time. I wandered towards the road and it looked really desolate. It was one of those “Why didn’t I have the driver wait? Why am I here? Why is my luggage so heavy?” kind of moments. I serendipitously stumbled upon Cave Canem. I was seated in a cozy basement dining room with brick walls and white tablecloths. Everyone was chatting away in the bustling room, and I found the rhythm of the language comforting.

pasta amatrice

I had not yet tried Pasta Amatrice, which is a Roman specialty. I also ordered an artichoke, Roman-style. They are very delicate young artichokes that are fried, and even the thistles are tender. That is one dish I have never seen replicated. The Pasta Amatrice was bucatini with guanciale, or cured pork cheek, and Pecorino from, unsurprisingly, Amatrice.


My room in Trastavere had a staircase even more formidable than the room we had stayed in near the Vatican. Thank goodness there was an elevator. A scary elevator, but an elevator nonetheless. The room was comfy and served its purpose for one night. I might have felt claustrophobic if I had been staying for a long time. There was a giant bath, though, and the hallway was cool. I wandered a block up to the Piazza San Calisto and snagged the last available table at Cajo & Gajo. It was a hip little place with good pizza.



For dessert, they passed around a huge jar of shortbread cookies. I fell in love with those cookies and when the server noticed my ardor, she offered to take a picture of me with it. Thanks for the great time, Italy! I hope to see you again!


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Italy: Pompeii Where is All the Porn?


When Pompeii was first being excavated, one of the scientists noticed that some of the earth was soft, like ashes. On a hunch he poured plaster into those spots and they came out people-shaped. Much later after X-rays came into use they were able to see people’s bones inside of the plaster. I had seen pictures of rows of people and even a dog frozen in time. And, as I mentioned before, I expected pornographic frescoes. I once wrote an essay about porn and used Pompeii as an example of the earliest porn. In reality, the first porn was probably on a cave wall, but I digress.

I walked around for a while in the dusty ruins, not finding any sexy frescoes. I should have read Wikipedia first. “These frescoes are in the Suburban Baths of Pompeii, near the Marine Gate.”  I started following a tour group around and they led me into a courtyard full of huge, breathtaking art. There were giant statues that seemed to have broken in the most visually pleasing way possible, almost as if on purpose.


See the cluster of teensy tiny people?



DSC04646 (2)


As I walked towards the back of Pompeii, the crowds disappeared and the land became verdant. There was one last building with some beautiful faded frescoes that looked like wallpaper. One of them was even done in an Egyptian style.


So, in the end, I saw a lot of amazing ruins, great sculptures, two dead people and no porn. I guess you have to take a guided tour or visit the Hidden Museum in Napoli for that.

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Italy – Pompeii: Non Me Toca!

Sometime in the early 90s i had to write an essay about pornography, so i wrote about Pompeii. Ever since, I have wanted to visit these historic ruins. Since I wasn’t into the guided tour of the Vatican, i decided to see Pompeii on my own. Uncharacteristically, I had not thoroughly researched this part of the trip. And they did not have maps. And let’s face it, by this part of the trip i was pretty burnt out on antiquities anyways.

DSC04612I went into the small museum to try to get the lay of the land, but their big model only showed thing like “Here is the Forum. Here is the Shrine.” It did not say ‘”Here is a fresco of a priapis. Here is the dog trapped forever in time.”

I left the museum via the back door and soon discovered that it only led to an exit back to the parking lot. Heading back to the museum, I see an old Italian woman and a British tour guide screaming at each other. The British woman was yelling, “I can’t understand you! Speak English!” Which strangely enough, did not make the screaming Italian woman speak English. They were blocking the stairs and I wanted no part of that scene, so I waited. But then I saw the Italian lady move aside to allow two park employees to pass, so I headed up the stairs.

Quick as a flash, her talon shot out to stop me. She clotheslined me and I nearly fell down the stairs. Then she started grabbing at me and screaming at me in Italian. I got the gist that she wanted to see my ticket. The “ticket” was a little paper receipt, and I had a purse stuffed with two week’s worth of trip receipts. I wasn’t going to start digging in it and lose my balance and fall down those stairs. So I yelled in Italian/Spanish and gestured, “No…I don’t believe you work here. They don’t hire crazy people!”

Then every time she screamed, “Show me your ticket!” I screamed, “Show me your laminate!” Finally, she yelled that it was over there, and she pointed to a small outbuilding. I said, “Fine. You get the laminate and I’ll give you my receipt!”

She started down the stairs, and I ran into the museum. But I knew she wasn’t going to let me get away with that. Looking for a sane employee, I ran into the bookstore and shouted, “There is a crazy person coming!” I immediately discovered as I looked into the eyes of 3 teenagers who must have been interns, that if you yell about crazy people, they assume YOU are the crazy person.

A lady who was clearly a “fixer” showed up and tried to pacify me in English. Then the old lady came in madder than hell that I had tricked her. She reached around the fixer, scratching and clawing at me. I yelled “Non mi toca!” Over and over again, which is a weird pidgin I made up for “Don’t touch me.”

Finally, I dug out my receipt, the old lady went away and the fixer walked me to the front door. I asked her which way I should go to see the frescoes and dead people trapped in time. She didn’t understand, so I put a shocked look on my face, held my arms up as if to shield myself and froze in place. She said, “Ohhh they are over there” and indicated the left side of the road.

There are ruins everywhere, and little buildings, I saw a few frescoes and carvings but I was not that impressed. Yet.


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Italy: She’s Gone to Capri and She’s Not Coming Back

IMG_0798When I was little, there was an ad for Capri Cigarettes showing an elegant woman on a balcony smoking and staring off into the distance with the tagline, “She’s gone to Capri and she’s not coming back.” That ad enchanted the part of me that has always wanted to run away from home. Now, many years later I finally ran away to Capri.

I have had the Blue Grotto on my bucket list since the age of 21 when Pietro, an Italian sign painter I worked with showed me pictures of the stunning cave. He also used to shout, “Fungula! Fungula! Fungula!” every time he messed up a sign, but that is neither here nor there. Capri is a volcanic island, and in many places limestone caves have formed in such a way that light travels into the water in one place and radiates up from another, causing the water to glow an ethereal turquoise. Nowhere is this effect more stunning than in the Grotto Azule. Boats take you to the entrance of a cave where you have to get into a little rowboat and lie down flat to enter. The littlest bit of wind and the boats won’t run.


I asked the front desk at my hotel if the Blue Grotto was open, and they had no idea. They said there was no one to even call. I found that very hard to believe, but I had to accept that this hotel was not going to spoon-feed me the way the others had. A man handing out pamphlets on the dock told me that the grotto was open, so I took the ferry to Capri. When I arrived at the little tour office on the dock I was devastated to learn that the Grotto was, in fact, closed. They had another boat tour of the island but I didn’t give a fungula about anything but the Blue Grotto.

Besides the professional tour company, there were also independent tour guides, which basically means a dude with a boat. One of these guys, recognizable as a sailor by his watch cap, started trying to talk me into going on a tour of the island. After all, there is also a green cave, and a white cave. I tried unsuccessfully to explain the concept of a bucket list to him in Italian before walking away. But I walked around the harbor for a bit thinking, and besides there being nothing else of interest on the island, I decided it was foolish not to accept anything less than a perfect experience. I reminded myself that it’s not about the goal; it’s about the journey.


Since it was off-season no one else was biting, so I had a private tour for far less than it should have cost. The boatman, who I would later learn was named Ciro, was kind of grumbly at first. But it was a beautiful day to be out and it was clear he loved showing off his island. Once he caught me saying, “muy” instead of “troppo” he started speaking Spanish to me and we made do with a trilingual patois.


This is where the sailors of Greek mythology were lured in “when their naked ears were tortured by the sirens sweetly singing” only to be dashed upon the rocks.


There are places around the island with the luminescent water, and Ciro knew every single one of them.


The Green Grotto




There are large rock formations jutting out of the sea. One of them had an arch that looked kind of iffy size-wise and for some reason I shouted, “Do it! Thread the needle!” Even though I hollered in English, I think my enthusiasm got the point across and he headed for the arch. Or he had planned to go through the arch anyways. Whatever.


As we approached the arch he cut the motor and reached for my hand. That wasn’t weird because he had been taking my hand to help me from one part of the boat to another where I would get the best view of whatever he had wanted to show me. But he didn’t sit me back down. He kept me standing next to him at the wheel. That was weird. But maybe he didn’t want me leaning out or getting my hand smashed between the boat and the rock walls we were floating through. The he started singing an Italian song. That was super weird. He had a lovely tenor voice and the acoustics inside the arch were great. He sang confidently and earnestly, holding his hand to his chest and opening his arm expansively like you see opera singers do. And he looked me in the eyes the whole time.

I had a big smile plastered on my face. You know that smile you get when shit gets weird and you are trying to maintain. When you are trying really hard not to laugh at someone who is being so genuine about something. I made it through the song, which ended as we exited the arch. Then he turned the boat around and drifted through the arch again singing another song. Holding my hand. I was dying. I have no video of this or because I was kind of frozen in place. Later I remembered that the boatmen who take you into the Blue Grotto sing to you. Maybe he usually does that and was trying to give me the full experience. Or maybe when an Italian guy gets you in a boat he just sings to you, like gondoliers do.


I sat on the back of the boat for a little while and dangled my legs in the turquoise waters. I wanted to swim, but with my rotator cuff problems I was worried I wouldn’t be able to pull myself back onto the boat. This is Ciro (Cheer-oh). Note the watch cap that proves he is a sailor. Note the puffy jacket that proves he is an Italian. I asked him where I should eat and he told me to go to “The Yellow Virgin.”


A funicular is a little railway that is pulled up a steep hill with cables, like the Angel’s Flight in LA. It wasn’t running that day so I took a little bus to town. (Funiculi funicula –yeah, really. That’s what the song is about.) After the magical waters of the Bay of Napoli and the gorgeous coastline, the town of Capri was no big whoop.


IMG_0812I bought a little silver charm then asked the saleslady where I could find the Yellow Virgin. After she finished laughing she directed me down some stairs. When I sat down at the table I saw why she had laughed.


I saw someone else eating the octopus salad and it looked so good I had to order it. Like the tuna tartare in Florence, it was wonderful, but just too much octopus for one person.


I was fascinated by their trippy pizza toppings, like corn and potato chips, but I ordered a steak and it was delicious.


The next morning I only had to look out of my window at the choppy waters to know the grotto would not be open. By the way, if you ever need to know if the grotto is open, you can check this website. Yes, I gave the brochure to the front desk. So, no Blue Grotto for me.


But I had enjoyed a gorgeous day at sea, probably the best vacation day I have ever had.


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