Remembering Amsterdam

We took Norwegian Air out of Copenhagen and landed in Amsterdam a bit late in the day. The train station was a bustling hub of diverse humanity. People looked to come from every corner of the globe. Outside central station it was crowded, rushed, and dirty. By the time we got to our AirBnB, via a 15 minute bus ride, we were sure we’d made a poor decision on where to stay…until we met our host and saw our apartment. Until we woke in the morning to find a green parrot perched in an Elm outside our bedroom window. Until we found the local grocery store had fresh organic produce, eggs with bright yellow yolks, and found the Danish nut and seed bread we’d eaten in Copenhagen. We continued to eat our mostly raw breakfast. I was loving it.

amsterdam breakfast

The buses ran prompt and got us around town quite easily. But the streets are the places we found most charming. Strolling hand in hand along quiet canals, as bikes cruised around corners, horse-drawn carriages clopped along the cobblestones, and musicians played music here and there.

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Donna loves the bikes.

And of course the Coffeeshops, not to be confused with Cafes. Both are plentiful in Amsterdam.We talked with the proprietor of one of Amsterdam’s oldest coffeeshops, The Bulldog, about cannabis edibles and discovered that it’s against the law to make anything with cannabis. Even the lollipops and Spacecake are made with some kind of cannabis oil, with little to no psychoactive properties. He said that once upon a time, Amsterdam was the world leader in progressive medicine, but now they are trailing the likes of California, Colorado, and other US Cities.

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We hooked up with a friend of a friend, Lorand, who lives in the hip neighborhood of Kinnerbuurt. They have a farmers market that runs the length of a pretty long street, and is open every day of the year. Fresh everything. Lorand guided us through enormous food courts inside a refurbished tram repair center. It’s called Foodhallen. It’s spacious rooms, varied aromas, music, and people made it an interesting place to get a bite and feel the vibe. We also discovered a fantastic cafe where I tried fried goat cheese. I thought it was fish. Our cafe host even got in the action.

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L-R, Lorand, our host, Tom, Donna

We spent hours touring the Nine streets area where we found cafes, retail stores, canals and reflections, plus the ever-presence of bikes, locked and being ridden.

We walked many streets more than once, and it didn’t seem to matter. There was always something to see, taste, smell. We tried to go to the red light district, but each time we tried, the way there was crowded, and the energy was more than we wanted to handle, so we’d mosey on over to the nine streets area and relax into the non-stop shops and cafes.

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Near Ann Frank house while touring the canals on our last day.

The only activity we planned in advance was Ann Frank’s house, and if I had one word of advice for that tour, see the movie first. We streamed it on Netflix and it gave such a great sense of the cramped quarters, the difficulty of being quiet, and how personality conflicts are amplified by war and confinement. The place is tiny, the stairs narrow, and with wooden floors, it’s practically impossible to keep quiet.

Our second day in Amsterdam we wandered into a souvenir shop to purchase refrigerator magnets and gaze over all the shiny objects.

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What a fun store. I thought it must be hard on a shop owner trying to sell high volumes of tiny items to make ends meet. While doing our transaction we asked if he could point us to the Van Gough museum. He asked if we had tickets, and said that it’s quite helpful to purchase in advance, and it’s great to go late in the afternoon to avoid the crowds. He said he could sell us tickets which turned out to be such a great move.

My lack of art history knowledge caught up with me the next day. We took the tram to the museum area when I got the feeling that Amsterdam was bigger than I’d thought. Much bigger. It’s almost twice the area of San Francisco, and larger than all the cities we visited, Copenhagen, Brugge, and Paris.

We walked by the Rijksmuseum and sat in the sun at an outdoor food court with coffee and a nibble. When it was our designated museum entry time we walked a hundred meters or so to the Van Gogh museum. We’d asked about its location a couple of times and were corrected on our pronunciation each time. It’s not Van-Go, it’s Dutch, Van-gawk, but you have to slur the second syllable through the back of your mouth. An acquired skill I think.

We picked up our audio tour gear, and agreed on when and where we’d meet, since we have vastly different attention spans for museum tours. I started the exhibit and was greeted by a large, say 8×12 foot painting of peasants in the field, some mostly sitting, eating, sharpening blades. I’d seen it in art appreciation class in junior college. I moved on to a series of self portraits and learned that he taught himself many techniques by painting himself, as he did not have money for models. I searched for that image when drafting this blog post but never found it. I did find dozens and dozens of peasant paintings, little studies of faces, feet, and folks at work. He was a prolific painter, who took great pleasure in painting the simple life. When I got to the timeline display of his life, I was shocked to tears when I discovered he’d taken his own life.

We spent a bit of time in the tulip museum, in the Nine Streets area, where Donna learned that many of the varieties of tulips they sell won’t do well in our climate, so we waited for home to buy our bulbs. They went in the soil this past weekend. We’ll wait for Amsterdam in our spring garden.

Outside the tulip museum we discussed a book we’d read. Donna confused All the Light We Cannot See, with bits from The Goldfinch. I’ve had a fear that I might lose my wife to dementia. In that moment, I thought it was happening. I started to cry. Donna took me onto the bridge where I tried to talk about it. She reassured me that she is not losing her mind.

memory bridge

I’d love to spend more time in Amsterdam. Such a vibrant city with more to see than can be done in four days. When we returned home I told Donna I wanted to visit Ikea and get a little hit of Scandinavia. We came home with a few odds and ends to keep our trip alive along with a mounted and framed black and white photo of the same image that got me interested in Amsterdam a few years ago. I’d seen it at an executive office on Sutter Street in San Francisco. It was one of several framed images, all done in black and white, of various cities around the world. Each had one element of color. We brought it home from Ikea. It’s lovely next to our fireplace.

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Window to Amsterdam in our living room.

Until we return, we have a photo, we buy aged Gouda cheese, and we recount stories real and imagined.

 

 

Copenhagen Surprised Me

It was Donna’s idea to start in Copenhagen and work our way south to Paris. She wanted to check out her heritage since she’s an 85% Denmark DNA match. I was neutral about the place until I started researching, and once we landed I was met with friendly people, a fast running tram, utilitarian architecture, muted tones, and bikes: the blood in the veins of the city, pumping the place full of life.

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Donna got a tip from a friend about inexpensive flights to Scandinavia on Norwegian Air. Out of Oakland, round trip air for two, including a checked bag and four vegan meals (which we might pass on next time) was $1,260. We flew on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. It’s a pretty nice airplane with long skinny wings, big windows that can be dimmed with a button, lots of free entertainment, and leg room for a 6 foot 1 inch guy.

Our home for the first five days was an AirBnB on the top floor of a three story residence in the borough of Fredericksberg.  “Frecksberg” is how it’s pronounced if you slur the middle bits. It had lovely white floors that creaked in a nice way. The place was once the studio of our host’s mom Jo Selsing, a professional photographer.

It’s hard to do the place justice. It wasn’t fancy, but it was spacious, clean, and had the artist’s touch. Plus a Bosch toaster that we used every morning. I did not want to leave.

We started the day just like at home, with me getting up first, doing my morning core exercise routine, a little stretching while my tea water boiled. Then into wake Donna and start our chatter about what was going to happen next.

We bought local groceries and ate breakfast like love-crazed hippies. Eggs, cucumbers, smoked salmon, red onions, avocados, cheese, snap peas, toasted almonds, and tomatoes. The bread turned out to be my favorite. Dark rye, full of seeds and nuts.  A small loaf weights over a pound and it just made me smile. Organic produce in all our stops was labeled biologique.

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We did the walk from the Norreport station, past Nyhavn, and on toward Paper Island, which was mobbed. It felt a bit like Fisherman’s Wharf except the buildings were older, and of course the cobblestone streets.

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We kept walking to Christiania where it’s kind of legal to smoke pot. There were colorful buildings, many gardens, and a sense of Berkeley or the Haight in the 60s. Vendors on both sides of the foot path selling bud, like a farmers market. There were multiple restaurants and lots of people sitting at tables, chatting, laughing, and nibbling on their food stuffs. While it seems quaint as I type, it felt a little dark at the time. Not the people at the tables, but the vendors selling bud. Perhaps my 6 foot frame, black clothing, and grey hair brought police to mind. We’d heard not to take photos, so I didn’t take one until we were out of the neighborhood.

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One of our goals for the trip was to find spiritual places. We didn’t plan when or where we’d find them, but as we poked around Christianhavn Donna spotted a steeple, and asked if we could go in. We walked up steps and were greeted by a stern looking man in his sixties who I thought would turn us away. He explained that an orchestra was practicing inside and that we were welcome to go in. This orchestra was rehearsing for a performance that night and the lead violinist had us by the ears and would not let go for the next half hour, though Donna I’m sure would say that it was more like 15 minutes. The maestro was barking out commands as the group went through their paces. It was the last time I’d witness extraordinary sound and not record it. I can only tell you that it was my awakening that this was a special trip, that something different was happening. I left the church with a smile in my heart and a warm glow on my face.

For more about Copenhagen check out “No Time” in Copenhagen.

Peace, Love, Out.

 

Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Brugge, Paris

My wife and I get a lot of mileage out of our vacations. From pre-trip planning to the embrace of each city as we’d get to explore them, and then basking in the memories through photos and story telling after we’re home and back to business.

This year, as part of our pre-trip planning, we dove into WordPress Reader posts every morning, before going to work. We continued looking at Reader posts during the trip. We discovered things like the giant wooden sculptures outside Copenhagen, or how best to get to Chatres to visit their famous cathedral.

We booked all our rentals through AirBnB and enjoyed getting acquainted with each city through their photos, maps, descriptions, and tenant critiques. The units got smaller as we headed south. The Paris apartment was very small but what it lacked in size made up for in efficiency, proximity to services and the metro.

I’d say the world is a better place than it was 10 years ago though there is strife, in our own back yard. But we found plenty of heart, plenty of light. Now Anaïs Nin might disagree, since she did not like this image displayed in the Irving Penn exhibit in the Grand Palais, but I found the photo engaging, personal, and it was my favorite.

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Anaïs Nin

But how on earth did we get to Irving Penn? We stumbled upon him in Paris, the same way we found ourselves in Chartres, laughed with Chinese tourists in Amsterdam, and got a museum recommendation from an Iranian in Copenhagen. Our guides were out there and we kept running into them.

Even in Paris, where it’s big and fast, guides would materialize with a regularity that we started to expect. Paris was the only destination where we saw signs of terrorism. Not terrorists, per se, but the vestiges of anti-terror. Police patrol in groups of four, machine guns at the ready and no-nonsense looks.

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The Eiffel Tower was completely fenced off. If you didn’t have a ticket and cleared security, you didn’t get in. At train stations, large parks, and Notre Dame we saw baret-clad police patrolling the grounds. In Chartres and other prime terrorist targets there were large stone slabs around the perimeter to prevent cars and trucks from getting too close.

I just love train stations like Amsterdam, Antwerp, Montparnasse and Gare de Lyon. The symmetry and size of the old stations is worth a coffee and a few photos. The vanishing lines, the repetition of simple themes to adorn large structures that house the likes of all electric trains that can travel 170 k/h. They leave the station, rolling smooth, gaining speed as the city shrinks from view, and accelerating to love-on-a-fast-train speed through the countryside.

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Antwerp Train Station

I wasn’t prepared for Copenhagen, but I say that in a good way. I’d done research to find attractions like Tivolie Gardens, Nyhavn, and Paper Island for food choices galore. We walked through Nyhavn and it was a vibrating place with boats and outdoor cafes.

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Nyhavn

We never got to Tivolie Gardens, and Paper Island was so packed that we just kept walking.

The day after we arrived we decided to let our senses guide us and what guides they were. We found photo ops everywhere, a metro system that connected us with lots of exploration, and a city that has made bike riding an art form. There may be more bikes in Amsterdam, but there are more bikes on the road in Copenhagen, and the bicyclists move along as a well-oiled machine.

I had issues with Musee D’Orsay. People with smart phones and cameras were getting selfies in front of Monet, Renoir, and Manet. But it’s still a feast for the senses with all those impressionist paintings in one place. I had an awakening there a few years back, when I started to cry and couldn’t stop. It started as I approached the Renior painting of Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette.

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Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette

I started to get emotional, like the work meant more than paint on canvas or a name on the painting. I’d seen it in books during college, and never thought I’d see it in person. When I walked around the corner there was an enormous painting of a woman on the hill with a white flowing dress and parasol. It overwhelmed me, in a way that I could not then, and can’t quite now, explain. I’ve recounted the story of seeing this painting many times. When I entered the room this year, I found the painting smaller than I’d remembered and there were two, like it had been a study of the same woman in the same dress on the same hill and then I thought that there’s probably more to the story. BUT, this year, after looking over paintings, I was shocked to find that they were not Renoir paintings, but Monet. MONET.

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Woman with a Parasol, facing left

We spent three weeks on this trip. A good amount of time to be gone without breaking the bank, or overdoing my capacity to play from late morning until ten or eleven at night. We walked between three and seven miles a day. We’d keep my injured  knee happy with a stop for a coffee or a perusal in a charming shop; there were plenty of both.

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Pidgeon House, Brugge

In the countries we visited, Denmark, The Netherlands, Belgium, and France we felt a sense of unity; like we belonged to each in our own way. In each country I was mistaken for a local. And it was fun to fit in. But as with all our vacations, it came to a close, and we came home to jet lag, stacks of email, and colds. Tune in as I traverse those steps again, with photo and motion pictures. Let me make my vacation last a bit longer and perhaps give you a short one in your office or home.

 

Peace. Love. Out.

30th Anniversary SUP

Donna and I celebrated on the eve of our 30th.  We paddled around Hanalei Bay on the north shore of Kauai.  We rented 10-6 Laird Hamilton SUPS.  They are big and heavy, but I caught my share of waves at the reef and Donna paddled to the end of the Hanalei River.  I took a little break, ate a cookie, then paddled up the river to find her.  That’s what I do.  Find Donna.

There were fish, turtles, herons, egrets, flowers, rain, and DONNA.  I found her just below the bridge.  We paddled back in the rain to another stunning sunset.  Even caught a few outrigger canoe teams working their stuff.  Check out the scene with this 1 minute video.

30th Anniversary SUP from Tom Adams on Vimeo.

First Flirt

This is in response to the daily prompt:  Tell us your funniest relationship disaster story.

I would hardly call her third rate.  We’ve been married 29 years.  We have two sons and a grand daughter on the way.  We have a full life, we’re still in love.  But it did not start that way.  It almost didn’t start.

I was visiting friends in San Francisco, May 1983, to house warm their new home.  It was a wonderful flat in the Richmond District, with bay windows, wood floors, and a garage.  I was planning to meet a specific woman, Maria, whom our host thought I would enjoy.  She arrived with a female friend in tow.  My former house mate Rob showed up at that moment, perhaps with a drink or two under his belt.

“Tommy, Tommy” (he’s one of maybe three people on the planet who call me Tommy)”This is Donna, this is Donna.  She’s the one I’ve been telling you about.”

Donna had beautiful green eyes, a big smile, and seemed pleased to meet me.  I thought she was beautiful but was quickly bewildered by two women and a matchmaker friend.  I excused myself to get a snack, and caught Donna’s eye on the way down the hall.  She smiled.  I told the hosts I wasn’t feeling well, and left.

Rob called, a few days later, and sang me happy birthday.  He was sure I’d really like Donna, and gave me her phone number.  I held the number for a day or two then gave her a call.  We planned our first date.

Writing prompt:  Third Rate Romance

New Name II

Last night I told my wife, Donna, about the name change and she reminded me that I would lose a fairly wide spectrum of readers if I limit WHAT SUP to Surf.  While I love to surf, I’ve also loved paddling through the South Florida mangroves; around the harbor by Jeff Clark’s Paddle Surfthrough the Marina at 101 Surf Sports, along the kelp beds off New Brighton Beach, and down a river in search of Manatees.

From a relationship point of view, paddling promotes connection.  We strap the boards on the roof and hit the road.  We plan a day around getting in the water, exploring new locations, getting great gobs of time out in nature, and after exercising all those muscles we get a nice meal out.  It’s been pretty romantic at times.

Plus there’s such a huge variety of topics to discuss like board selection, sites to SUP, fitness, diet, technique and SUP shops.  I did a whole post on SOPOSUP, a cool little shop in Portland, Maine.  We never got in the water, but being with the owner, reviewing his blog, and checking out the local surf, which was flat, was just fabulous.

I remember the first blog post like it was yesterday.  It was from this past mother’s day when I sat on the sidelines with a bit of a cold.  It was Donna who wanted to paddleboard.  It was Donna to get in the water first.  It was Donna who inspired me to give it a try.

She’s even asked about paddling at night.  Here’s what it might look like from a pin I found.

Stand Up Paddleboarding for Life will still include SUP Surfing, where my little wave passion ignites in cool water.

Fenway Park Takes Me Back

I’ve never been to Boston though I remember Wade Boggs. It was 1986.  Donna and I had returned from our very romantic honeymoon at Packer Lake Lodge. We took lovely hikes and drove the Gold Lake Highway to Graeagle for supplies and sweets. A large bear strode across the road so quickly that it seemed imagined.

The day after returning to work I got sick. Real sick. Tired to the bone sick. I watched post-season baseball. Redsox and Mets. I don’t remember who won but do remember Wade Boggs running bases on old worn out knees and Lenny Dykstra chewing gum, making stunning center field plays and getting on base over and over.

We’re in the air to Boston. My first trip to New England. There are tours of Fenway Park where I’m sure there are vestiges of Wade and that post season back in 1986.  It’s only a mile or two from our friend Letti’s place in Cambridge.

I looked it up. The Mets won in 7.  Here’s an image with the left field Green Monster.