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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

Romanian Buskers, British Theatre, and American Fossils in Frankfurt, Germany

Romanian Buskers

Week 39 of 52

Frankfurt DestructionFor a city known more for its commerce and finance than for its culture, Frankfurt turned out to be more appealing than we expected so we stayed on for a few extra days. Since we had such great fall weather, we took the intensive 4-hour Frankfurt on Foot Walking Tour and got a thorough introduction to the place. When you look at the city today, it’s hard to imagine how it looked after World War II when bombing almost totally destroyed it. The top photo on the right shows what little was left of the city center in 1945. Despite that destruction, the bottom photo on the right shows buildings in the town square that look old. That’s because they were built to look that way… in about 1980!

 

Frankfurt RowhousesSince much of the city had to be rebuilt, Frankfurt had the opportunity to experiment with architecture. A lot of ugly buildings sprouted up in the 1960s and ’70s, and our tour guide pointed out several large construction projects where those buildings have already been torn down! We did see a few examples of interesting modern architecture that seemed to work. One street had houses built as part of an architectural design competition to create a residential area with traditional tall, narrow buildings but in a modern form.

 

Jack and Gwendolyn

Jack proposing to Gwendolyn, who looks just like our dear friend Maggie!

For entertainment, Frankfurt has its share of street musicians like the group from Romania at the top of the page. We also discovered that the city has the largest English theatre on the continent, and we happened to arrive during the final week of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. It’s one of our favorites and we’ve seen it quite a few times over the years, but we have to say that this was probably the best performance of them all. The cast all came from England and delivered Wilde’s witty dialog with perfect timing and impeccable native British accents. The clever staging and lighting, elegant period costumes, and just the right amount of music made for a thoroughly enjoyable evening. And all just a 10-minute subway ride from our apartment!

 

T-RexWe talked last week about some of Frankfurt’s many museums. We saved perhaps the top museum for this week, the Senckenberg Natural History Museum. While not quite the tour-de-force of the Smithsonian or some of the world’s other top natural history museums, it has a wide variety of exhibits covering most of the current and historical natural world including a large collection of dinosaur bones, many of which came from the United States.

 

Conception

The text reads, “After loveplay can lead to the development of a child if the sperm cell of the man fuses with the fertile egg of the woman.”

We continue to be amused and impressed by the European approach to sex. Walking down one of the corridors at the Senckenberg, we came to an exhibit showing the development of a human embryo. The first display panel (at right) introduced the subject in the usual direct, matter-of-fact European style. We can’t imagine this (particularly the sketch) at an American museum, but as we looked through the exhibit, throngs of Frankfurt grade-schoolers on a field trip passed by without so much as a giggle.

 

Spitting StatueLike most European cities, Frankfurt has its share of cute neighborhoods. Our favorite is Sachsenhausen, just a short walk from the Frankfurt city center on the south shore of the River Main. Besides being home to many of Frankfurt’s museums, the old part of Sachsenhausen, which was largely spared in WWII bombing, still has its original narrow streets, buildings that are hundreds of years old, and small plazas with unique artwork such as the “spitting woman” statue at left. Every 15 seconds or so, the woman lets fly a stream of water that will soak the unsuspecting visitor. Perfectly timed for a Halloween “trick”!

With that we will close by saying Happy Halloween and of course, Aloha and A Hui Hou!

Sharene and Harrison

Guten Tag!

Frankfurt Romer Square

Week 38 of 52

We arrived in Frankfurt, Germany, last night on the ICE (Inter City Express) train, which is the German version of the high-speed trains that run throughout Europe. Once you travel on one of these trains, you will never want to go through a TSA line or board an airplane again! Such a nice ride and so civil. This morning, Frankfurt welcomed us on our first full day with blue skies and fantastic crisp autumn weather as we made our way through some of the museums.

In pretty much every museum, some of the exhibits are breathtaking, moving, surreal; some are really interesting, odd, quirky; and then there are those that simply leave you scratching your head. Today we saw all types! Now we don’t have art backgrounds, so we often have to rely on our artist friends to come up with something redeeming about large pieces of stuff that a museum is trying to pass off as art. But we can’t help wonder how the “artists” who created the three items below convinced the head of a world-class modern art museum in a large cosmopolitan European city to give up some of its precious museum space for them. Keep in mind, each piece takes up either an entire room or at least an entire wall or large floor space. (And there were a lot more than three pieces like this!)

But we also saw things that we found very interesting. The first photo below shows an exhibit in which projections of a moving elephant appear on two giant translucent screens along with the viewers’ shadows. The second photo shows a beautiful sculpture made up of 100 or so thin plastic slits suspended between floor and ceiling with tiny parallel wires. The artist simulates a scene and its reflection almost as if it were a mirage. The third photo shows how thin the plastic pieces are.

 

A beautiful walking bridge crosses the River Main between our apartment and the art museum. We have started noticing an apparently very popular fad in which bridges are becoming covered with hundreds or even thousands of padlocks. The locks display names and sometimes dates and even slogans, the idea being that lovers put their names on the lock, lock it to the bridge, and throw the key in the water to express their eternal love for each other. At least until they break up, when we’re waiting for the bolt-cutting fad to begin! This must be a whole new business opportunity for lock manufacturers!

 

With Frank on Sharene's BDWe did have one last celebration in Amsterdam before we left: Sharene’s 58th birthday (and she thanks everyone for all the good wishes).

We couldn’t think of anyone we would rather be with on one of our last nights in our new most favorite city than our dearest Amsterdam friend Frank. He has been the best and most helpful friend anyone could have. It was a nice evening and don’t worry, Frank… we’ll be back soon!

 

Frankfurt MenuWhile there are lots of American fast food restaurants in Europe, such as McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, and Starbucks, you don’t see the bigger American chain restaurants like Applebee’s, TGI Friday, Olive Garden, etc. But what you do have every 100 feet or so in every big city is some cute little local bistro. Tonight we ate at a charming little place and asked for the menu… this is what they brought us!

We hope everyone is having a great October. We’ll check in next week.

Until then, Auf Wiedersehen,

Sharene and Harrison

Fall Is Here As We Prepare To Say Goodbye—For Now

Amstel Apartment View Fall

Week 37 of 52

Michael and Peter

Michael and Peter on the day they gave us a tour of the neighborhood.

We have less than a week here in the apartment on the Amstel that we have called home for the last six weeks. We have lived in Michael and Peter’s Amsterdam home while they have been in their other home in Spain. They told us they had one of the best locations in Amsterdam and they were right! The view outside our door has been a constant show of boats, barges, and tankers, bridges going up and down, bicycles and people going by. The trees were all green when we got here and now they are showing their fall colors. It’s been a lot of fun, but now it’s time to move on to another adventure. We thank Michael and Peter for the opportunity to be in the middle of all the action!

Even though our time here is winding down, we sure filled the last of our days with something going on every night this past week! We really are waiting for the week when we write: nothing much happened this week…

 

Rijsttafel with Lyn and Richard

Lyn is just to the right of Sharene and Richard is on the far right. Merci you two!

MONDAY

Lyn and Richard (our friends from Vancouver BC featured way back in Week 13 of 52) came to Amsterdam for two days on their way to a vacation in South Africa. They treated us, their traveling companions, and their Dutch relatives to a fabulous rijsttafel (rice table) dinner, which means about 40 little dishes of Indonesian food for 10 people. It was great to see Lyn and Richard again and we enjoyed meeting everybody and making some new Dutch friends.

 

Hans Klok

In this illusion he spins her head around about 5 times Exorcist-style… BUT HOW?

TUESDAY

Hans Klok… magician, illusionist, entertainer, and amazing showman at the Carré Theater right across the Amstel River from our living room window. Everything he did was fast, fun, and left you wondering how did he do that???? Klok is Dutch but also performs in Las Vegas; if you get a chance to see him… GO! A very fun outing. Watch this quick YouTube clip and you’ll get an idea of his amazing talent!

 

Concertgebouw for Bolero

Our view inside the Concertgebouw before the Bolero performance.

WEDNESDAY

Harrison fell in love with Ravel’s Bolero at a very early age and Sharene probably discovered it in the famous sex scene of the movie “10.” Together we’ve heard it countless times over the decades in recordings but never live, so we couldn’t pass up an opportunity to hear it performed in the Concertgebouw. Harrison got chicken skin (that’s “goose bumps” if you’re not from Hawaii) as the snare drummer began his quiet chant, and the almost painfully slow, sensual crescendo of the piece mesmerized us. We loved being able to watch each soloist create those familiar phrases. When the piece reached its glorious climax, Harrison was reminded of the famous review after the Paris premiere of Bolero in 1928, “If he had gone on for another beat he would have had to marry the girl!”

 

With Janice Ian

A very emotional evening for Sharene.

THURSDAY

Remember Society’s Child and At Seventeen? Well, Janis Ian has been one of Sharene’s favorite musicians for the past 40 years. (And Sharene only has about 5 favorites…) So when we heard she was performing in Holland, we had to go! We took the train to charming little Zaandam, near Zaandijk where we visited in Week 25, and heard Janis put on a fantastic performance with a standing ovation. After the show she graciously posed for a photo. Sharene looks happy for two reasons… she got to meet this talented woman whose songs she knows by heart and she found someone in Holland who is shorter than she is!

 

Lance and Erica

Our Hawaiian neighbors giving us the SHAKA sign!

FRIDAY

We almost didn’t recognize our friends and Big Island neighbors Lance and Erica. The last time we saw them they were hosting a going-away party for us in Hawaii last January and wearing substantially fewer clothes! We have to say it was pretty cool to have our neighbors visit us here from half way around the world. We had a nice visit with them over the last couple of days and gave them a tour of some of Amsterdam’s highlights including a walk through the Red Light District… no guys, you aren’t in little Hilo anymore!

 

Ferris Wheel at Dam SquareOver the next few days we’ll pack up our things and head off to Germany for a while. But who knows what we’ll miss in this fascinating city while we’re away? Just the other day we were walking by the Royal Palace and what did we see? An amusement park created in Dam Square with a mega-ferris wheel and roller coaster! This is a city where the fun never stops… We’ll be back, Amsterdam!

A hui hou,

Sharene and Harrison

A Local Tribute To a Man Who Changed the World

Steve Jobs Tribute

Week 36 of 52

When we got off the tram at the Leidseplein in Amsterdam this morning to meet some friends for breakfast, we discovered this 30-foot tribute to Steve Jobs tacked up on the side of a building. No doubt similar signs of respect and gratitude have appeared around the world. If you live in an urban setting pretty much anywhere, all you have to do is stand in a busy area, make a 360-degree turn, and you will see iPods, iPhones, iPads, and other creations that exist because of this man’s vision. Pretty powerful.

Besides using Apple products since almost the beginning (Harrison began using the original Apple II computer in 1979, his main computer is still a Mac, and we both have iPhones), we had a couple other connections with Steve Jobs. Some of you have heard these stories, but they are good ones, and this week we think they are worth telling again.

Harrison went to the Stanford Business School with many bright, interesting and beautiful people. One of his classmates in the year after him was a woman named Laurene Powell. The school often attracted top business leaders to give talks, and Laurene attended one with Steve Jobs. Steve was sitting in the front row of the auditorium waiting to speak, and Laurene introduced herself and let him know that she had won the business school contest in which the prize was a lunch with him. They exchanged contact details and set up the lunch. Well, they had lunch, soon became serious, ended up getting married, and by all accounts had a wonderful 20+ years together.

The twist to this story is that there was no contest. Laurene made it all up! You have to admire her ingenuity and bold self-confidence.

Like many Stanford MBAs, Laurene became an entrepreneur and launched a couple of small businesses. A few years later when Stanford’s Entrepreneurs Club wanted to have an event where a group of current students who wanted to become entrepreneurs would have dinner with a group of graduates who had become entrepreneurs, Laurene offered her home in Palo Alto as the venue. Of course, her home was also the home of Steve Jobs.

At the time, Sharene owned her bed & breakfast reservation service, and Harrison was involved in that business and his own entrepreneurial interests, so we were fortunate enough to be invited to that dinner. We arrived and a young woman who introduced herself as Lisa (we learned it was Steve’s daughter for whom the ill-fated Lisa Computer was named) ushered us in. The home was beautiful but they hadn’t gotten around to buying furniture yet, so we sat on cushions on the dining room floor and ate dinner on a big comforter! Steve came in and we all traded questions and answers and shared our experiences. An unforgettable evening… we especially loved watching Steve and Laurene interact with each other.

Thank you, Steve Jobs, for a very nice evening and, oh yes, for making our lives better.

Speaking of connections…

Mary Lou and Ben

Mary Lou and Ben on Utrechtsestraat

A SEATTLE CONNECTION!

As you have seen from our weekly updates, we have not been bored or short of company. When you choose an interesting place to live, you can always be assured someone will visit.

Harrison has known Ben, a consulting engineer from Seattle, for over 40 years. For several years they were officially competitors, but in the small world of broadcasting they always saw themselves as professional colleagues and have remained good friends.

One of our first dinner parties on this year’s adventure was at the home of Ben and his wife, Mary Lou, during our stay in Seattle last winter. We got to see Ben and Mary Lou again a few weeks ago when they came to Amsterdam for Ben to attend the annual IBC Conference and Exhibition, one of the world’s largest broadcasting trade shows. We had a couple of dinners together as well as a private showing of our beloved Taylor Camp film, and Ben was kind enough to get Harrison a pass to the gigantic IBC exhibition hall.

Janice Walter Concertgebouw

Janice and Walter in front of the Concertgebouw

A FRENCH CONNECTION!

This past week, our friends Janice and Walter came from France to see us for a few days. Although they live only a few hundred miles away, they hadn’t spent much time in Amsterdam so their trip was a wonderful getaway. Janice is American (although she has been in Europe for 32 years), Walter is German, they live in France, work in Switzerland, and they have a son who speaks English and German at home but French at school. Talk about diversity!

Janice is a violist with the Basel symphony. We knew we had to get her together with Connie, another professional violist, who you may recall lives in Amsterdam with her husband Sape and has been featured in these updates a couple of times. Where better to spend an evening than the world-class concert hall, the Concertgebouw! No violas in this performance, though; we heard an evening of Brazilian jazz featuring legendary harmonica player Toots Thielemans who, at age 89, blew the audience away.

We had a wonderful time with Janice and Walter and we thank them for coming to see us!

At the Pancake Corner

Harrison, Sharene, Randy and Kathy at the Pancake Corner

A HAWAII CONNECTION!

This morning we met Kathy and her boyfriend Randy for a breakfast. Randy is CEO of an IT company in California and is in Europe on business. It was interesting to hear “CEO-speak” again; we haven’t heard that very much since we started on this trip, but it’s something you never forget! Randy is an impressive guy and like most CEOs he juggles a lot of plates and was often interrupted by calls on his cell phone… another reminder that we are happy not to be that busy but we enjoy watching someone else do it so well.

We have known Kathy for about 10 years; she also owns a condo at Kihei Akahi on Maui. Kathy has her own vacation rental company, Maui Vision, so we have worked together over the years. She’s also an accomplished artist, so after breakfast they were off to the art museums!

At 't Fornuis

Old friends, new friends, good times

A NEW AMSTERDAM CONNECTION!

You know how annoying it is when you go to a romantic, charming, quiet restaurant and there is a group of people at a nearby table laughing loudly and having a great time? Well, that was us tonight! Thanks to Kathy and Randy, we had the opportunity to share a lovely dinner at a neighborhood restaurant and meet two of their friends who live here in Amsterdam.

Manouk and Tony both work in theater, television, and movies (Manouk being an actor, Tony a former actor now coach). Another “connection” on this amazing trip.

And that’s how it goes… people ask us how we know so many people in Europe, and it just happens organically. We thank Kathy and Randy for taking the time to visit and introduce us to interesting people, sharing their aloha half way across the world.

Wishing everyone a great week with lots of interesting connections.

A hui hou,
Sharene and Harrison

Danke Switzerland and Vielen Dank to Amelia!

Our Extended Visas

Week 35 of 52

We left Amsterdam this past week and flew back to Switzerland for a few days to get our visas extended so we wouldn’t be considered illegal aliens!

After months of work on Amelia’s end talking with the Swiss immigration department, and loads of paperwork from us and Amelia, Switzerland decided we were not high-risk individuals after all (it took so long and so much effort, we aren’t sure what they thought), and in the end they granted us our requested 90-day extension beyond the standard 90 days of a tourist visa to the Schengen Area of Europe. Without Amelia’s efforts and perseverance, we’d be packing our bags and getting on a plane back to the U.S. right about now.

With that new page pasted in our passports, we are now legally able to stay in Europe as planned until the beginning of January 2012.

We won’t bore you with all the details, but if anyone is interested in spending more than 3 months in Europe… talk to us first!

The immigration office is located in the cantonal capital of Aarau, on the Aar or Aare River of crossword puzzle fame. Amelia’s sister, Isabel, gave us a tour of that picturesque city and served as an effective translator and bureaucrat interface for us at the immigration office… thank you Izzy!

Sharene enjoyed some gardening on Sarah’s terrace in the wonderful Indian summer and had so much fun getting dirt under her fingernails again! (Note the mountains in the background… your first hint we are in Switzerland, not the Netherlands.)

Dinner with Samantha

Harrison, Amelia, Sharene, Isabel, Samantha and Phil

We ended our stay in Switzerland with a dinner party where we met Sarah’s sister Samantha, who had just arrived from New Hampshire for a visit.

Sammy entertained us all evening with her hilarious stories and great facial expressions. She’s a wonderful storyteller and we think she missed her calling as a comedian or politician!

Back in Amsterdam, Frank (or Captain Frank as we call him) invited us out on his boat for a canal ride on Saturday. The weather was a fantastic 75 degrees (that’s 24 C to the Europeans) and the canals were packed with boaters! We took lots of photos of all the traffic in the canals, but we loved this one of the houseboat… look closely and you can see that the “green” plants are actually upside down glass bottle sculptures.

So another Sunday brings us to the end of another week. Although the sun is out, we can definitely feel the season changing into fall and it’s pretty exciting since we haven’t experienced fall for a long time.

Wishing all of you a beautiful autumn as we head into October.

A hui hou and mahalo Switzerland for letting us stay!

Sharene and Harrison

City Saunters, Brides, and Bicycle Rides

Nieuwe Kerk Dresses

You would think after two months in Amsterdam we would have seen most of the sights. But since our dear friend Sarah hadn’t been to Amsterdam since 1973, we waited until she arrived to see Amsterdam’s largest church temporarily filled with 300 naked mannequins and scores of unique bridal outfits! Sarah was managing editor for a corporate Swiss magazine in her last job, so we asked her to follow in her daughter Amelia’s footsteps and write for us: so here’s Week 34 from Sarah’s perspective… Enjoy!

Sharene and Harrison

Week 34 of 52

Sarah Bikes CanalThirty-eight years have passed since I was last here as a college student, but Amsterdam’s charm and the palette of stunning visuals have hardly changed. The architectural details, water and what Sharene and I have called “humpy bridges” make the city something almost like a total work of art. The exhibition of bridal gowns partially pictured above is no exception: Amsterdam couturier Mart Visser, in his role as church warden for 2011, designed a flashy extravaganza to mark “The New Church” as having been inextricably associated with weddings throughout its 600-year history. The silver-painted mannequins acted as bridesmaids in a show that speaks as much to fashionistas as it does church historians, museum preparators and a public hungry for fancy dress. What a way to use a space!

SynagogueInfinitely humbling, though, was our visit to the Portuguese Synagogue later in the week. When Nazi Germany invaded Holland in 1940, there were some 120,000 Jews living in Amsterdam, a figure that had been reduced to about 15-20,000 after the war. Why this remarkable synagogue remained undamaged is a mystery, as the building was certainly an exception in what was occupied Holland. As visitors, we had to pass through a security system of two locked doors and glass before admission, reminding us that even today, the world is still so sadly subject to conflict around religion. The sounds of hammering and electric saws, the synagogue’s restoration project, were much more positive.

Actually, the sounds of construction are pretty much all around us.The canal boat owners are forever repairing bits of their property, and the care the city shows all its monuments and invests in its cultural offer are impressive. Harrison and Sharene’s apartment is within two tram stops of dozens of historic houses and fine art collections, including the superb Rijksmuseum, where I spent that one summer working on a Rembrandt paper. The Concertgebouw, which houses one of the world’s finest orchestras, is another 10-minute saunter away.

Walking to all of these tremendous sites made me aware of another Dutch phenomenon: the loose boundaries around personal privacy. Typically, the canal houses have stories that house separate apartments. On the lowermost floor, windows opening out onto the street offer unhindered views of families doing whatever families do: enjoying their meals or checking their calendars. The take on private space in my “native” Switzerland is an entirely different kettle of fish!

At the Tropen MuseumThe picture opposite shows two very happy campers at the Royal Institute of the Tropics, which falls into the category of ethnographic museums. Featured among the exhibits there was a “Music of the World” area that was no less than an audiovisual delight. While I followed the drumming tapes and learned more about the differences among the world’s stringed instruments, my two mesmerized hosts focused on the ukulele video and enjoyed some of the sounds of home.

 

Sarah ConcertgebouwOn my last full day in this pulsating little city, we went to the Carre Theater just across the Amstel in the afternoon to hear David Sedaris, the humorous novelist and NPR great, whose reading had us all in stitches. Then after supper, we hurried off to the Concertgebouw for a concert by the young virtuoso Russian pianist, Alexander Romanovsky. Imagine: the audience gave him a standing ovation even before the break! For my part, having wanted to visit this spectacular hall (1888) for years, I was over the moon to do so!

Music aside, though, the most lasting memory of Amsterdam this trip will be the lovely bicycle ride we three took in the Vondelpark. Sharene expertly maneuvered her bike through Saturday traffic over to the shop where Harrison and I could rent ours, and we all headed out for an easy ramble on wheels. When I last visited at the end of the hippie era, the Vondel was the “Needle Park” of the city, and my impression of it was that everyone there was in granny glasses and buckled down over their hashish pipes. Not so this time! Instead, young families, bikers, skaters, and even oldies like us proliferated, and the mood was entirely carefree for other reasons. We even got in a few games of Bananagrams after our picnic lunch, which — even though Harrison beats me every time by a long shot — made for the perfect Saturday afternoon!

In conclusion, I can only add that Amsterdam with these two expert Bananas has been better than ever! And, as Sharene and Harrison always say, a hui hou!

Sarah

Going Up The Country

Train to Espel

Week 33 of 52

Nico and Annemiki with Oysters

Nico and Annemiki serving a plate of fresh oysters

We love Amsterdam so much, we haven’t had much of a desire to go outside the city. But when our dear friend Sarah arrived last Thursday and extended an invitation to see her friend and well-known Dutch artist, Annemiki Bok, we headed to Centraal Station and hopped a train out of town.

Annemiki and Nico were the consummate hosts for our weekend filled with fantastic art, architecture, food, wine, and delightful conversations. We had hundreds of visitors over our 10 years in Hawaii, and the past 33 weeks we have been the guests of many wonderful hosts. Having been on both sides, we can honestly say Annemiki and Nico raised the level of hospitality to a new art form. We were showered with generosity from the moment Nico picked us up, and the positive, creative, and loving energy was abundant as Annemiki welcomed us into her unique home.

And what a unique home it is! When the Catholic Church in the Netherlands decided to consolidate and sell its church building in the small town of Espel, Annemiki knew it was the place she wanted to call home. She had the vision to transform this large space into a home, studio and office with lots of windows, high ceilings and, well, SPACE! Her artistic mind extends far beyond the canvas as she has created a beautiful and functional environment for living, entertaining and painting, and she even has a two-bedroom bed and breakfast loft!

We could go on for pages about the architecture of her house and how she designed the spaces, but the essence of Annemiki Bok is her art and words can’t do justice to that, so we invite you to browse her website AnnemikiBok.nl to admire her artwork.

 

Needle Tower II

Kenneth Snelson’s “Needle Tower II”

On Sunday, we all piled into Nico’s car and drove to the Kröller-Müller Museum, a world-class art collection and outdoor sculpture garden. The museum is located in the center of National Park De Hoge Veluwe, a park of over 13,000 acres east of Amsterdam. In keeping with Holland’s bike-friendliness, you can pick up one of 1700 free White Bikes throughout the park and drop it off at one of the other locations.

We started off outdoors, taking a long walk through the sculpture garden with its eclectic mix of sizes, shapes and themes. With Harrison’s background in broadcast towers, he was particularly fond of a work called Needle Tower II, a structure over 100 feet tall made of aluminum and steel wire that doesn’t look strong enough to stand up, but has been in place for over 40 years so clearly can withstand high winds. The sculptor, Kenneth Snelson, was not a structural engineer but still created a fascinating structural concept mixing flexible and rigid components that was later named tensegrity by Buckminster Fuller.

After walking through the sculpture garden we went inside the museum and were treated to hall after hall of fabulous art and famous artists, and lucky us to have Annemiki, an accomplished artist, and Sarah, an art historian, to share their perspectives! The Kröller-Müller has the second largest collection of works by Vincent van Gogh after the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, and many of his best works are here, so it was nirvana for us van Gogh lovers.

By the end of the day we were on complete sensory overload, but very happy knowing we had all just been part of a wonderful weekend away.

 

So, now we know. The people, the culture, the scenery, the attractions outside Amsterdam are just as incredible as inside the big city.

We thank Sarah, who is with us for one more week, for the introductions, and we send our sincere hartelijk dank je wel (heartfelt thank you) to two beautiful people who offered us a memorable trip up the Holland countryside.

Wishing all of you as much generosity in your life this coming week as we turn the page from summer to fall.

As always, a hui hou!
Sharene and Harrison

The View From Our Apartment…

Amstel Apartment View

Week 32 of 52

…We Live In the Second Best Location in Amsterdam!

Sape Connie KitchenThe best location goes to Sape and Connie who live at the intersection of the Prinsengracht canal and Nieuwe Spiegelstraat, one of the most picturesque spots in all of Amsterdam. They have owned their apartment for over 20 years and were kind enough to host a delicious dinner for us in this very Dutch home. The apartment is very wide by Dutch standards because it spans two adjacent buildings, one built 100 years ago and one 200 years ago.

The most fascinating part (to us non-natives) is the spiral staircase from the ground-floor entrance up to their place on the 3rd level. Dutch stairs are really something amazing, with incredibly steep and tiny steps. After the scrumptious dinner of soup, lamb, couscous, a fabulous cheese plate and, well, a few glasses of wine, we said our goodbyes and slowly and carefully made our way down the staircase. As we got to the bottom, Connie comes running down the steps to see us out. As we stood there in awe, she reminded us that they have been doing this all their lives, but we found it a feat worthy of Olympic status! Dank u wel Sape and Connie for a wonderful evening.

 

One traditional Dutch dinner party was a delight, but we were fortunate enough to be invited to two! So off we went to have a feast of mussels at our friend Hanneke’s along with Frank, our friend, tour guide, historian and resource for all things Dutch! Hanneke is a wonderful host and we had a great time with lots of laughs. She served us the best the North Sea had to offer by presenting two HUGE pots of mussels she had lovingly prepared for us along with other goodies. (She admitted mussels when in season are her favorite food in the whole world!) Mahalo Hanneke; you give the expression “Dutch Treat” new meaning!

Charlie Chaplin accompanied by a live symphony orchestra… an amazing close to Week 32!

Charlie ChaplainAfter we arrived in Amsterdam in July we dug through every arts and entertainment brochure we could find looking for events to attend during our three months here. We found a few in the “don’t miss” category and bought tickets. One that we wouldn’t have classified as “don’t miss” but looked vaguely interesting was a showing of Charlie Chaplin’s silent film Modern Times, with music provided by a full orchestra. We bought tickets and didn’t think much more about it until we showed up last night.

Muziekgebouw

Muziekgebouw aan’t IJ

Wow, we had no idea what a rare and special event we had signed up for! The film was an excellent print of Modern Times shown to a sold-out audience on a large screen in the gorgeous Muziekgebouw aan’t IJ, with music performed by the Brabants Orchestra directed by Timothy Brock. Turns out that Brock grew up in West Seattle when Harrison lived there in the 1970s and now lives in Olympia, Washington. He specializes in conducting and composing concert-hall works and scores for silent film, and he restored the music for Modern Times and other Chaplin films with the blessing of Chaplin’s heirs in France. We’ve watched silent films for years and have seen many of Chaplin’s, but seeing one on a big screen accompanied by a full orchestra is like watching Harry Potter on an iPhone and then seeing it in a 3-D IMAX theater. It just blew us away!

Chaplin was an extraordinary talent across many dimensions; we hadn’t realized that he composed the music to Modern Times (and his other later films as well) himself. Restoring the music was a fascinating project that Brock talks about here. He conducts this type of performance from time to time around the world but mostly in Europe; we feel very lucky to have caught him. (Note to Gig Harbor Rick: get Timothy Brock to guest-conduct the Tacoma Symphony in one of these performances!)

 

As we write this on 9-11-2011, we know many are recalling the sad events of ten years ago. The world has changed since then, but we still believe there is good in most people. We have hope that the next 10 years will be a time of healing and progress for the United States and for the world.

As always, a hui hou, and many thanks for letting us share our year with you.

Sharene and Harrison