November 2011

Have Eurail Passes… Will Travel

With Hallie and Madlaina


Week 43 of 52

We’re down to two medium-size suitcases and a carry-on for the rest of our time here in Europe. Packing clothing for a year-long adventure in all different seasons, plus our large laptops and what we need to manage our properties and pay bills, was no easy task. But we have twisted and turned where necessary, and at this point we have personal belongings in Hawaii, Seattle, Switzerland and Amsterdam! Now we only have what we can carry and, although this is the season for Christmas markets throughout Germany (and other parts of Europe), we have NO room to buy anything!

Paul Franziska Inge-Lore

Paul, Franziska and Inge-Lore

The first stop on our multi-country trip was Oberursel, Germany, just outside Frankfurt. There we visited relatives of our dear friends Rick and Maggie from Gig Harbor, Washington. We met them a number of years ago when they, along with Rick and Maggie, were guests at our home in Hawaii. Now here we are, halfway around the world, being wined and dined in their beautiful home.

Inge-Lore and Paul, their dazzling daughter Franziska, and her very British boyfriend Michael were wonderful hosts. They served us a traditional German meal on an elegantly set table complete with a perfect autumn desert made from chestnuts! A wonderful warm welcome on the first night of our “European tour.”


Hallie and Madlaina

Hallie and Madlaina

We arrived at Berlin’s main railway station Tuesday evening, and who was there to surprise us with a big smile and arms spread in a TA-DA! move but Hallie, one of our lovely and talented “adopted daughters” from Switzerland! We knew she was at a conference in Berlin but hadn’t expected to see her until Friday… wow, were we surprised!

We met Hallie’s friend Madlaina and the four of us went to see the holiday lights lining the Kurfurstendamm (the Champs-Elysees of Berlin). Our photos don’t capture the millions of lights on the trees and around the buildings or the hundreds of kiosks that make up the Christmas markets. Street musicians play holiday songs and where there aren’t street musicians there are speakers, so the music is everywhere. Walking along the Ku’damm is a festive and fun way to catch the spirit of the season.


On the opposite side of “festive” is the tragic (and not-so-long-ago) history of Berlin: World War II, the division of Berlin, and the Wall. We took walking and bus tours and were reminded once again (as we have been so often on this trip to Europe) of the Holocaust and its aftermath. You see evidence of all those terrible events everywhere, including the photos above showing a remnant of the Berlin Wall that separated East and West Berlin for almost 30 years and the Stolperstein (“stumbling stone”) sidewalk memorials to the individuals who were put into Nazi prisons and death camps. Berlin along with Germany overall seems to be facing its awful past by being open about the mistakes and taking many tangible and intangible actions to keep from making them again.

Seventy percent of Berlin was destroyed in the war, so vast areas (primarily in the former East Berlin) are still under reconstruction and most buildings are newer, but from time to time you do see some of the beautiful architecture of the 18th and 19th century.


Berlin is a world-class city with over three million people and lots to see and do. We visited one of the main Berlin landmarks, the Fernsehturm TV tower, which at 368 meters or 1207 feet is the tallest structure in Germany and the tallest public building in all of Europe. Harrison tried to be duly impressed, but after years of working on TV and radio towers across the U.S. of up to 2000 feet as well as the broadcasting facilities on the World Trade Center and Empire State Building in New York City and the Sears Tower and John Hancock Building in Chicago, he found one area on this trip where Europe literally came up short.

Of course, we try to enjoy as much local culture and entertainment as possible, so one evening we decided to have the ultimate German experience: a dinner show performance by the Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain! All seriousness aside, they pronounced it “you-kuh-lay-lee” rather than the correct “oo-koo-lay-lay”, and they weren’t ukulele masters like our fave Jake Shimabukuro from Hawaii, but they were very talented and a lot of fun.

Keeping with the (non) German theme, Sharene had a fantastic drei-Stunden (three-hour) experience at a Turkish Hamam… she went in not knowing what to expect, and came out a Hamam convert! Basically, you go into this large warm marble room and get a body wash and massage that leaves you limp as a wet German spaetzle!

Between Hallie, the Hamam, the history, and the Christmas lights, Berlin has been a great visit.

Even though Europe doesn’t celebrate the American Thanksgiving holiday, we continued our several-decade-long Thanksgiving tradition in this Week 43 of our “year-of-being-homeless” by listening to Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant, a memorable 1960s song about a Thanksgiving Day adventure. We hope everyone in the U.S. was able to give thanks in their own way.

A hui hou,
Sharene and Harrison

Aloha, Mahalo, Dank U Wel, Tot Ziens

Amsterdam People

Week 42 of 52

Our four month stay in Amsterdam has been one of the most fun, interesting, and memorable times of our lives with many adventures and life-changing moments. As you know from our weekly updates, Amsterdam is the most welcoming city we have ever seen, alive with beauty and culture, with something to do or somewhere to go each and every day. We have felt privileged to be a part of it.

But beyond canals, fabulous architecture, world-class museums, and music and events, the true spirit of any place and adventure is created and flourishes because of people and relationships. Every person in the photo collage contributed to making Amsterdam so special for us. We made many new friends and many of our dearest friends came to visit. Each encounter was its own amazing experience.

Top row: Frank, Sarah, Hanneke, Stephi, Phil, Amelia;
Row 2: Karin, Hallie, Isabel, Mandy, Cathy;
Row 3: Marco, Desiree, Kathy, Nico, Annemiki;
Row 4: Janice, Walter, Michael, Peter, Loes;
Row 5: Tanja, Richard, Lyn, Connie, Sape;
Row 6: Manouk, Tony, Mary Lou, Ben, Sheryl;
Bottom row: Arthur, Lance, Erica, Joost, Xaviera.

We thank each of our friends for making the effort to visit us and for all the good laughs, deep conversations, and fun excursions along the way. And to our new friends in Amsterdam: you have taught us what it’s like to live in one of the world’s greatest cities where people are living happy, full lives. We promise to stay in touch and we will be back as soon as we can!


Our Friend FrankOf all our friends, old and new, surely the single most important person in making this magical trip come to pass so beautifully is Frank. From the day we met two years ago, he has been here for us every step of the way, always with the goal of making sure our Amsterdam experience is positive, enjoyable and drama-free. (Frank is also an Amsterdam historian so we had a personal tour guide by our side all the time!) We have no words to express our appreciation for all Frank has done for us. He may be in Amsterdam, but he has the Aloha Spirit as much as anyone we know in Hawaii.

Our humble and heartfelt thank you, dear Frank.


So we really are leaving Amsterdam! We have a Eurailpass good for the next month so we’ll become real travelers living out of a suitcase. While we are sad to leave this amazing place, we’re excited about exploring new countries, cities and places in the last couple of months of our “year of being homeless.”

Again, thank you to everyone above… and for everyone following our weekly update, it’s been a grand time!!

Have a great week and a hui hou!
Sharene and Harrison

SEX! Now That We Have Your Attention…

Old Church RLD Night

Week 41 of 52

Week 41 is about sex. After all, we have been here in Amsterdam for four months and we’ve barely mentioned it, although sex is one of the things people think about (that and “coffee shops” where they sell pot) when they hear “Amsterdam.” There is a lot of sex here, like everywhere, but here it’s out in the open. Interest in sex here just seems normal, unlike the United States where anything overtly sexual often looks seedy and illicit (because it’s usually illegal). In Amsterdam, sex fits into the city like all the other possibilities of things to do and see including the museums, art galleries, concert halls, theaters, canals, houseboats, and friendly people.

The most obvious example of sex in Amsterdam is its famous Red Light District. There are actually three different ones, each of which has streets and walkways lined with women behind windows (yes, with red lights). The main one is right in the center of Amsterdam in a very picturesque tourist area. We walked through it last night and took the photo at the top of the page. This scene is at the edge of the Red Light District; you can see a couple of windows on the left. Taking detailed photos of the occupied windows is discouraged, but the web has many photos of Red Light District windows.

The fact is, you walk right through this area to get to many tourist attractions and local businesses, so after a while it doesn’t seem strange at all. You see locals and tourists, adults and families with kids, people of all kinds walking through it. And the Red Light District windows are just one part of the legal sex industry, which also includes brothels (called “Private Houses” here), sex shows and clubs, many types of massage parlors, escort services, and straight and gay bars where sex is very much out in the open. Most of these establishments are licensed, and the women who work there (they are almost exclusively women) have health care including regular STI tests, pay taxes, and have the same rights and protections as traditional workers.

There is a sex industry in every large city in the world (and most small ones, too), but here it just blends in with everything else and, from what we can see, there is little drama associated with it. The fact that it is legal, together with other government policies, keeps it largely free of crime and the human trafficking problems found in many other parts of the world. Just like any other industry, some sex businesses are run well and some badly. Just like any job, sex work undoubtedly has its bad customers, bad co-workers, bad bosses, and bad days. But most of the women are gorgeous and certainly don’t have obvious drug problems or look like they live a seedy life. They look happy, like most everyone else in this city!

In fact, we haven’t found a sad person yet or even anyone who seems to be in a bad mood! (Is it because no one is sexually frustrated???)


Happy HookerSpeaking of happy hookers; we met the most famous HAPPY HOOKER this week!

You may remember the popular book published in the 1970s called The Happy Hooker by Xaviera Hollander. Yes, she is Dutch and she’s still here. She now runs a bed and breakfast, has a vacation rental in Spain, writes books, and produces some theater. We were in her neighborhood the other day and decided to drop in and say hello. She’s now 68 but still full of energy and her eyes have the sparkle of someone who has indeed led a very interesting and unusual life. We told her about our background and we consoled each other about how hard it is to make reservations and deal with property management. Then, she asked us if we wanted to buy her B&B!!!

Now that would really bring us full circle, wouldn’t it?


With DesireeWhen we stopped in to see Xaviera, we really and truly were “in the neighborhood.” In this same area, Desirée, one of our new Amsterdam friends, owns DeDe’s Underworld, a high-end lingerie shop on Beethovenstraat, which is an exclusive shopping street in the southern part of old Amsterdam.

We had fun visiting Desiree and she helped Sharene pick out some new pretty lingerie… even Harrison assisted!


At Cafe BarderijOf course there are many gay bars here and a large gay population. We met some friends at a hetero-friendly gay bar in a busy area of Amsterdam not far from the Red Light District. It was a bustling place, but we managed to “score” our own little room (or as we would say in Hawaii, puka) and had a lot of laughs.

Our friend Frank brought us goodies from Sinterklaas, a Dutch saint who was one of Europe’s traditions from which the American Santa Claus was created. Check out the Wikipedia page; it’s really interesting! (No sex in this paragraph, in case you were wondering!)


Sex MuseumIt’s our last week here and we’ve been to almost every museum in town. We even visited the Museum of Bags and Purses (but we skipped the Vodka Museum and Torture Museum). Before we left, we thought we should see the Sex Museum, so off we went last night to check it out.

The Van Gogh Museum it was not, but it was what you might expect: a bit of history (turns out sex has been around a really long time!) and some displays of paraphernalia, old photos, and some things that you just had to have a good laugh about.

We find it interesting that Amsterdam is an appealing, engaging, vibrant, world-class city without much visible crime (organized or random), drug problems, or homelessness. Is it because they offer legal services that are associated with these problems, which avoid the illegal and often dangerous alternatives found in most big cities? We’re sure Amsterdam has some crime and drug issues, but having lived in many big cities including New York, Chicago and San Francisco, we haven’t seen anything here like what you find in those places. We have never once felt uncomfortable walking around, no matter where or what time of day or night. We think the chances of getting hit by a bicycle far outweigh getting robbed or your pocket picked.

Like we said, people are happy here, and so were we. We’ll be sad to leave next week but it will be on to a new adventure.

For those of you who have been with us since Week 25 when we arrived in Amsterdam, thank you for letting us share so many weeks of our life here with you. We have never been bored even once and we hope you haven’t either. One more week and then we’ll bring you news of Berlin, Prague, Vienna, and some of Italy as we embark on our Eurail trip.

Until then, have a great week and a hui hou!
Sharene and Harrison

It Finally Happened!

Amsterdam Film Week Sign

Week 40 of 52

We returned from Germany to spend our final few weeks in Amsterdam, and we had a positively uneventful week! After 39 weeks of having way too much fun, seeing lots of dear friends, and meeting some wonderful new ones, Week 40 was one of movies and getting organized.

Our Seattle-area friends Rick and Maggie sent us some movie DVDs, which we had a great time watching this week — thank you! We also took in some of Amsterdam Film Week, an annual event that features pre-release and recent films that have won awards at other film festivals throughout the world.

With Felicity Jones at Hale Kakahi

We loved the film Hysteria and can highly recommend it when it comes to a theater near you. Believe it or not, it’s “a romantic comedy about the invention of the vibrator,” and a very interesting and funny true story it is. Set in London in the 1880s, Hysteria stars Maggie Gyllenhaal in a brilliant performance and also features Felicity Jones, who, with Helen Mirren, stayed at our house on the Big Island in 2008 when they were filming The Tempest. The photo to the right shows us with Felicity and her boyfriend Ed Fornieles. The Hysteria trailer does a nice job capturing the look and humor of the film.



When we weren’t watching movies, we were settling into our new home for the next three weeks. Our third Amsterdam apartment is on Frederiksplein (a lovely park) and about a block from shopping and the tram. The apartment is filled with original, gorgeous art painted by the owner, Annemiki Bok, the artist we visited outside of Amsterdam in Week 33 who owns the church she converted to a house and studio.


We began the process of organizing ourselves for a Eurailpass train trip beginning in a couple of weeks, followed by the Christmas and New Year holidays in Switzerland and our return to the States in January. Our original planning back in Hawaii had to take into account long stays in Seattle, Boston and Amsterdam, and that took a whole lot of luggage. Now we need to become serious travelers, carrying everything we need in as little space as possible. That means shipping back much of what we had with us, and that’s our main task for these last weeks in Amsterdam.

So that’s all there is for this week. We will leave you with two interesting photos we took recently. Although we are half a world away, we are reminded of our beloved Hawaii even here.

Have a great week everyone.

Aloha and a hui hou,
Sharene and Harrison

Hawaii Express Pedicab

HAWAII EXPRESS on the frame of an Amsterdam bike

Hawaii Sign in Frankfurt

Posted on a storefront in Frankfurt