Bikes, Surprises, and DGIBs

Skinny Bridge Night
We got lucky again! Sarah’s oldest daughter (and Isabel and Hallie’s sister) Amelia hopped a train in Paris (where she was attending a conference) and 3-1/2 hours later landed on our doorstep in Amsterdam. We got to keep her for six days and since, in addition to full-time university studies, she is Managing Editor for the European Heart Journal, we figured she ought to be able to polish off this week’s update without breaking a sweat! She said, “Sure!” and so we have a guest author for this edition. Probably a good thing because all we would do is blabber on about how smart, interesting, beautiful and wonderful she is. So here is Week 31 from a different perspective!

Week 31 of 52

With Amelia at Amstel

Harrison, Amelia and Sharene moving into the new apartment on the Amstel canal.

Lieve Vrienden,

You know you have made it home when you are greeted on the train tracks at Centraal Station with open arms by Harrison and walk in the doors of a stylish Amsterdam residence to the smell of a delicious meal cooked by Sharene. This happened to me on Wednesday evening of this past week. The days since have been filled with cultural highlights galore, excellent food (all Sharene’s doing), various adventures involving bikes, a surprise visit, helping Sharene and Harrison move to a new apartment (see their view at the top of the page), and lots of laughter and good conversation.

Spui Quartet

Pachelbel et al.

One of the cultural (and very unexpected) highlights of this week was a long morning spent at the Dutch Resistance Museum, where we learned about how the Dutch dealt with the Nazi occupation during World War II. This prompted the discussion of whether we might have taken part in the movement had we lived during this era, a question that will go unanswered. Other highlights included the Jewish Historical Museum, the Amsterdam Museum, and the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art. In between all this cultural input we heard lovely street music (including the string quartet at left), enjoyed delightful park picnics, and discussed family history, how to make chocolate chip cookies without chocolate chips (hard to find in Europe), and politics.

Frank Home Merwedeplein

The Frank family’s pre-occupation apartment on the Merwedeplein.

Warm and dry weather has been a bit of an unusual occurrence so far during Harrison and Sharene’s weeks as residents of Amsterdam, so the two days of blue sky and sun were a true treat. Attempting to enjoy this good weather to the fullest, we rented bicycles and Harrison navigated us through the city as if he had been cruising along these canals for years.

We made one very memorable stop in front of the apartment complex where Anne Frank grew up — a very unassuming building overlooking a small park where she played. (This is not a tourist stop; finding this building takes a little research.) Knowing so much about her last years spent behind the infamous hinged bookcase, it was very moving to recall the years during which she lived a carefree life.

The big surprise of the week came after that long day of biking, when my dear husband Phil and his sister Stephanie suddenly popped out of the woodwork at a local cafe to spend two days with us in Amsterdam. This being Stephi’s first visit to this magical city (and I am not referring to any mushrooms here), we spent our first evening giving her a little tour. Our group of five enjoyed the second bike ride of the week, which was on canal bikes. We certainly didn’t break any speed records, but being on the canals allowed for a whole new perspective and the exercise made us feel better about the “Frietjes” (Dutch french fries) we enjoyed for lunch and the delicious Tibetan family-style dinner we had on Phil and Stephi’s last night here.

 

Powerbocking

Powerbocking, a sport we will probably not be trying anytime soon…

The new discovery of the week for Sharene has been Powerbocking — running and jumping on spring-loaded stilts — which she saw a girl doing on a small plaza. Harrison later found a YouTube video that takes the sport to an amazing level.

 

In turn, my discovery of the week is the fact that Sharene used to be a member of a “Water Garden Club” on the Big Island. This I learned during our trip to the Botanical Gardens in Amsterdam, where I also learned that it is ludicrous to visit botanical gardens with someone who comes from a place that calls itself the “Orchid Island”.

Victoria Cruziana

The Botanical Gardens’ saving grace: the back of a Victoria cruziana (one big lily)

 

While I am gently trying to bring this week to a close in writing on the couch of Sharene and Harrison’s new apartment at the intersection of the Amstel and Prinsengracht canals, I have just been introduced to yet another novelty of Amsterdam. A boat filled with men, fittingly labeled “DGIBs” (drunk guys in boats) by Harrison, floating down the Prinsengracht, singing at the top of their lungs completely off-tune. The Swiss in me immediately wonders whether there are any restrictions to operating a boat under the influence.

I remember reading in one of the newsletters that Harrison and Sharene chose Amsterdam due to the fact that it was one of “Europe’s unique and most fascinating cities”. It has been a very special privilege to further discover this place with two of the most unique and fascinating people in my life, and I feel lucky to have two more days to go. Thank you for everything!

Freundliche Grüsse / Liebe Gruess / Mes meilleures salutations / Ciao / etc.

Amelia

“There Is No Bad Weather…”

Hallie and Isabel

Week 30 of 52

“…Just Bad Attitudes and Bad Clothes!”

Great advice from two wonderful young ladies who have traveled more miles than most 25-year-olds. Lucky us, we were graced this past week with a visit from Hallie and Isabel, two of our three “adopted daughters” from Switzerland.

We tried and tried and tried and to find some fault with these two, but we just couldn’t see any, no matter how close we looked. They were full of life from the moment they stepped through our door. Even when we went to our favorite restaurant in the rain and found it closed, and the houseboat museum closed, and one of the canal houses closed, and the Van Gogh museum packed… (guess that’s where all the people went!), these two just twisted and turned and we went on to Plan B or C.

These twins are much more than savvy travelers. Between the two of them they speak Swiss German, German, English, French, Spanish, some Italian, some Russian, and Izzy even sings in Elvish with the Lord of the Rings! Oh yes, they are both accomplished musicians: classical piano, cello, a cappella; Izzy even picked up Harrison’s ukulele every free moment while she was here to see what this little instrument could do. They both play lacrosse in what spare time they have; in fact they had a game right before they hopped on the flight to Amsterdam! Hallie is in her last year at the University of Zurich studying psychology, and Izzy works for PricewaterhouseCoopers as an auditor and is also going to school to complete the Swiss version of a CPA.

Besides being beautiful, smart and charming, they know how to have a lot of fun. One night we went to a comedy club where Izzy was called up on stage and entertained the audience with an a cappella Beatles song, all impromptu and just as poised as can be. And check out the photos of our trip to Madame Tussauds; these two were not going to stay out of the picture. Shy they are not! These are just a few of the 30 or so photos we took of them in every corner of this very fun place overlooking Dam Square in the center of the city.

 

We don’t focus much on politics in these updates since you already get more of that depressing topic on a daily basis than you probably want. But since we just showed you a photo of President Obama, we wanted to insert a serious note. Most of our readers know we supported Obama in the last election, so naturally we have been sorry to see so little progress made in addressing the many problems faced by the U.S. One of Harrison’s best friends from MIT, Paul Schindler, has been writing a weekly blog called P.S. A Column On Things since long before they were even called blogs. Paul’s blog recently had a reference to an excellent commentary about Obama by Drew Westen called “What Happened to Obama?” Westen’s article does the best job we’ve seen of explaining the ambivalence many Obama supporters like us feel about his time in office.

 

Isabel at the Library

Izzy sitting in her own private work pod at the library.

We even had fun with Hallie and Izzy at the amazing Amsterdam Public Library! Hallie kept saying she wanted to show us the library, and we were, to put it mildly, blown away. This is a six-story, truly state-of-the-art facility. It has a huge inventory of books plus every modern digital convenience, along with places to read, study, work, and even practice on a silent piano (with headphones). The top-floor restaurant has an incredible view looking back to the city. Thanks, Hallie, for encouraging us to go. Harrison’s mother, Agatha — a forward-thinking career librarian — would be impressed by the library and pleased to see young people who value it.

 

With Hallie and IzzyWe managed to get in another canal bike ride (we also did that when Cathy was here several weeks ago), and as you can see above left, you just never know what you will see in this city! Hallie made a trip out to the AJAX (pronounced i-yaks) soccer stadium, which is to the Dutch what Yankee Stadium is to New Yorkers. She didn’t get to see a game but she took a tour.

And we finally did make it to the houseboat museum where Harrison looks very happy posed with two of his favorite women.

Junk Bike Barge

When the crane operator pulled up this large “catch,” the crowd started applauding; he stood up and took a bow!

The underbelly of Amsterdam doesn’t have much to do with organized crime, excessive drug use, or corrupt government, at least as far as we can see and have read.

But there is a dark side… the huge number of bikes that get dumped in the canals! We just happened to run across this barge, which never moved from this spot in the 10 minutes we were there and kept bringing up loads and loads of bikes from the bottom of the canal. It was pretty shocking to see. We just wondered who does this and why do so many end up this way??

Turtle SculptureBut to offset what’s lurking in the bottom of the canals, there is art everywhere! This is just one piece from an outdoor sculpture exhibit the city promoted during the summer months. You could take a 2.5-km sculpture walk and see lots of whimsical, interesting art without even stepping foot in a museum.

Here we are on our last day at one of the canal house museums. Thank you Hallie and Isabel for sharing Amsterdam with us! It seems very quiet here without you…

As we write this it is Sunday afternoon in Holland, about the time the East Coast is getting pummeled by Hurricane Irene. To all our readers there, and especially to Sharene’s nephew who is a pilot and flies all over the East Coast, we are thinking of you and, well, we guess there really is bad weather no matter the attitude or clothes. We hope by the time you read this, the worst has passed without much impact.

A hui hou and tot de volgende week!
Sharene and Harrison

How Muzak Changed My Life

Yellow Submarine

Week 29 of 52

Yes, that is a YELLOW SUBMARINE! We spent last Sunday afternoon on an art walk to several open studios in the Western Islands, a part of Amsterdam that used to be warehouses and now is full of charming apartments, houseboats, and artists-in-residence. The art walk included a free canal boat tour, and in this city you just never know what you’ll see! The tour guide said the sub was formerly a floating brothel in Paris and was “asked” to leave; where else to go but Amsterdam?

Arthur MeijerWe saw a number of studios on the art walk and met some interesting artists, but our favorite on both counts was sculptor Arthur Meijer. He creates phenomenal terra cotta sculptures of real and fanciful Mediterranean houses. The tall walls have tiny real window openings that you can’t quite see inside, so they make you daydream about the kind of life that goes on in these old buildings. The word “unique” is often thrown about when it’s undeserved, but we’ve never seen anything like this!

 

Our goal when we set out on this adventure was to stay long enough in several places so that we could live like the locals, and so far in Seattle, Boston and Amsterdam we have felt the pulse of our neighborhoods and have become residents more than visitors.

Sharene: I got a bike this past week and I’m in heaven! The city really isn’t that big — more like a very large village — and since there are bike paths on almost every street, it’s a fantastic way to get around. It’s been almost three months since I drove a car, so hopefully I won’t lose that skill, but while in Amsterdam, I am doing what the locals do and riding my bike.

Harrison: I’m also doing what I would do if I lived here — working on websites! Even though we sold Hawaii Holiday Vacation Rentals last year, we still have a number of business websites, including MauiHotels.com, HonoluluTower.net, and several others. I enjoy this work, particularly if I have a nice view when I look up from the computer. Even though I never have enough time to get really good at it — so these sites are pretty basic and still a bit dated — at least now they all work properly and have current information, which may actually generate a little income!

Van GoghThere are so many things we love about Amsterdam. The city has 37 museums; so far, we’ve seen 12 of them and our goal is to see 36 of the 37 (we’ll probably skip the Torture Museum). We love the canals — 47 miles worth — and bridges… all 1,287 of them! We live on one of the canals and we watch tour boats and personal boats go by all day with people out enjoying this city. As we write this, boats are passing by our apartment with people waving. If it’s a nice day, the Dutch will be outside on the canal or having a coffee on their balcony. People here are happy! We have not run into one rude person. They enjoy life, they look healthy, and (thankfully for us and our indecipherable Dutch) they speak English well; even when they don’t, they are happy to try. We also love the streets. There are generally four lanes on the big streets and three on the smaller ones, but we don’t mean just for cars; besides the car lane there are almost always bike lanes, tram lanes, and/or bus lanes, and lots of space for pedestrians. The public transportation is superb; we rarely wait more than three or four minutes for a tram or bus. With the ease of public or bike transportation, there are just not that many cars, and we love that, too.

Making IceA few things about Amsterdam are different and we have learned to adapt. Ice (as in frozen water)… Europe is just not a continent that likes ice; their version of an “ice tray” is this flimsy plastic bag you fill up with water and then, when it freezes, you spend about 10 minutes extracting the little round cubes from the baggie. Wash cloths… no such thing here, they’re little mitts. Credit cards… it’s cash only here, or a Dutch debit card, thank you very much! Drinking water… just not a big deal here; you never see people walking around with water bottles, and if you go to a restaurant and want a glass of water, it’s usually 2 euros for a very small glass (and of course, no ice). Ice tea… you can find the sweetened kind from a bottle or can, but unsweetened, freshly brewed ice tea? Forget it. But these are all very minor inconveniences and such a small, small price to pay for having this wonderful experience.

 

Harrison: So how did Muzak change my life? You may remember from last week that Amsterdam dim sum restaurants open at 2 pm, so earlier this week we decided to have a dim sum dinner, which was accompanied by some of the worst background music I’ve ever heard: disgusting synthesized ’60s pop standards that sounded like instrumental versions of Barry Manilow on quaaludes! But as I was making some joke about Muzak, I realized: we’re here because of Muzak!

In 1982, I became Director of Radio Engineering for Westinghouse Broadcasting (now CBS) in New York City. Westinghouse had just acquired The Muzak Corporation and, since it was an audio service, they put me in charge of Muzak’s technical operations. Muzak may be a joke to many people, but it’s a worldwide operation with thousands of subscribers and a very large and complex music production and distribution system.

My first Muzak task was to fly to Switzerland and check out an exotic new music playback system made by the Swiss audio company Studer Revox. It was my first European trip and I knew no one. The managers at Studer Revox introduced me to the newly appointed president of their American division, a young man about my age named Hans Batschelet. Hans graciously invited me to dinner with his wife, Sarah. That was the beginning of my life-long friendship with the Batschelets that endures to this day.

And so because of Muzak, I have my love for Europe and some of my closest friends, so I shouldn’t complain too much about even the worst background music!

And so also because of Muzak, we are very excited that Hans and Sarah’s twins, Isabel and Hallie, have just arrived and will be with us this week. We can’t wait to share this wonderful city with them.

Hope everyone is having a wonderful summer!

A hui hou and tot ziens!
Sharene and Harrison

Anne Frank and Her Diary

Anne Frank

Week 28 of 52

The Little Girl Who Touched The World

Anne Frank Diary

Part of Anne Frank’s diary

In her wildest dreams of being a writer, Anne Frank could never have imagined that her story would become one of the world’s most widely read books, translated into many languages, the subject of movies and plays, or that she would be named one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century.

On Tuesday a couple of weeks ago, we went to buy tickets to visit the Anne Frank House here in Amsterdam where she went into hiding with her family. To our surprise, the first available tickets were at 7:15 pm the following Sunday! Just over a million people a year go through this house; for those without advance tickets, the queue is lined up around the block starting early in the day. The museum turns away many every day because it simply cannot handle the volume of people coming to see this historic place.

Probably everyone reading this knows that Anne Frank and her family hid in the attic annex of her father’s company to keep from being sent to concentration camps by the Germans who occupied the Netherlands (and much of Europe) in the 1940s. The Anne Frank Foundation has created a moving memorial not just to Anne and her family, but to all Holocaust victims. Spending a few hours in the house where they lived in secret for almost two years, without being able to go outside, open a window, or make any noise, gives you a very tiny taste of what they must have endured. In the end, of course, they were betrayed, arrested and deported, and all but Anne’s father died in concentration camps. Sadly, Anne and her sister both died just weeks before the camps were liberated by Allied troops.

Personally, we were pleased to wait our turn and gratified to see so many people interested in the Anne Frank story. She was a little girl who loved to write, wrote well, and had dreams of a better life. She never got a better life, but though her tragedy is only one among the millions of Holocaust victims, her story has touched and hopefully taught many, many millions since.

 

Dada Image

Painting by Victor Brauner from the JHM exhibition

We’re actually living in the old Jewish section of Amsterdam. Just a block away from our apartment is the Jewish Historical Museum, which we went through yesterday. Our last name may be Klein, but we’re not Jewish so we have a lot to learn! We were impressed by the extensive array of interactive exhibits and information about the history, culture and customs of Judaism, from Passover to circumcision and much, much more than we could assimilate in one visit.

We had our most fun at the temporary exhibition of Jewish avant-garde artists from Romania. The exhibition, From Dada to Surrealism, includes more than 70 works of art from the period 1910–1938 by several Romanian artists. A world war, economic boom and depression, communist and fascist revolutions; it was a fascinating but difficult time and place to be a Jewish artist, writer, poet, or musician. Very interesting and appealing styles that we had not seen before or known much about. Surrealist, abstract, and expressionistic works, picto-poetry, and personal variations on Constructivism — nothing was too radical for them.

 

Following up on our great experiences at Symphony Hall in Boston, this week we got to hear a performance at the Concertgebouw, another of the world’s most renowned concert halls. The Concertgebouw is actually the second most visited concert hall (that must be true… we read it on Wikipedia). It was built in 1888 and just being inside is exciting enough! We were lucky to see Hugh Masekela (remember Grazing in the Grass?) perform there this week. We had actually seen him a few years ago in one of the least known concert halls in the world… the University of Hawaii at Hilo! We loved him both times; he puts on a fabulous, energetic show (how we hope we are as limber as he is when we get to be 72). We loved how he paid tribute to all the classical composers whose music has been played in this distinguished hall and how he felt very honored to share his music in this special place. Good music, great acoustics, a beautiful building and an appreciative audience — a very lovely evening!

 

We may be living in Amsterdam, but we are still Hawaiians at Heart. No matter where we go, little things remind us of Hawaii. This flower-filled bike prompted our memory of an old truck on Kauai (some of you probably remember seeing this down near Hanapepe).

We know there is beauty wherever you go. What there is NOT in Amsterdam, however, is Chinese dim sum for lunch, which we find very odd since there are dim sum restaurants. Dim sum is one of our favorite brunch or lunch foods and we have it whenever we can — one reason we have a condo right in Honolulu’s Chinatown. We’ve eaten dim sum all over the U.S. and Canada and it’s always been a late breakfast or lunch dish for the Chinese. If you get to a dim sum place after 2 pm they’re usually pretty much sold out. But the dim sum restaurants in Amsterdam don’t even open until 2 pm! We don’t get it and, well, we didn’t get it!

That’s it from Week 28. Wishing you all a good week and we’ll touch base next Sunday.

A hui hou,
Sharene and Harrison

All Together Now

Gay Pride Flag

Week 27 of 52

Another fun and interesting week in this amazing city. Although many of the locals leave to go on their annual August holiday, the city fills up with hundreds of thousands of visitors coming in for the biggest Gay Pride celebration around (even bigger than San Francisco, we think). Banners throughout the city, starting at the train stations and airports, welcome all who come to take part in the festivities. The entire city embraces this week with signs everywhere. Businesses and museums offer special events, the gay men’s choruses give a free performance, street parties abound, and then comes the crowning event: the grand canal boat parade! Over 60 wonderfully decorated boats float down the canals through the center of Amsterdam (is this where they got the name “floats”?) accompanied by loud pulsating music as about 250,000 spectators cheer from the adjacent streets. Throughout it all, you feel the hospitality, tolerance and pride from people of all shapes, sizes, colors and backgrounds having a good time and sharing in the celebration of personal freedom. You gotta love that.

No other city in the world takes a more tolerant or progressive attitude toward homosexuality and other personal freedoms than Amsterdam, surely the “gay capital of Europe” and for many years the gay capital of the world. A’damers are tolerant and progressive in many areas but in sexuality they are way ahead of the curve. Not only do they strive to give the gay community a separate voice, but they seamlessly accept gays and lesbians into their everyday lives and give them the same rights and benefits as heterosexuals with little controversy. They not only see but support what’s in front of all of us: many of our policemen, medical professionals, businesspeople, and soldiers — brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, friends and co-workers — are gay. So each year when they publicly recognize this branch of humankind, they end the week with a huge canal boat parade where they invite locals and visitors alike to come out and celebrate the diversity not just of homosexuals, but of people.

How boring it would be if we were all the same! The gay community is generally very colorful and a lot of fun, and this year’s parade did not disappoint! Some boats had political messages, many boats were sponsored by businesses showing their support (YouTube had one of the more colorful entries), and some were just plain fun, like the “Priscilla Queen of the Canals” boat. Representatives of the Dutch military showed up in full uniform bearing PROUD TO SERVE and DO ASK DO TELL banners. Boats full of police and paramedics, Christian and Jewish supporters, and representatives of the Dutch government followed right behind them.

Enjoy the photos, and to all our gay and lesbian friends and family… you would have been proud to be here; there was a lot of love and support and people in pink in this unique city this past week.

Besides participating in the Gay Pride festivities this past week, we rented bikes and rode about 32 kilometers (just 20 miles but kilometers makes it sound farther!). We are doing our best to take in all that Amsterdam has to offer. We spent most of our time riding in the Dutch countryside but got back to the city just in time to experience “bike rush hour”… sort of like a 15-minute E-Ticket ride at Disneyland (they probably don’t have those anymore, do they?)! No photos of that adventure; that would have been courting instant death!

Until next week, a hui hou and tot straks!
Sharene and Harrison

Iamsterdam

Amsterdam: Our Week In Pictures

Canal At Night

Week 26 of 52

We’re at the halfway point in our year-long adventure and we decided we’ve done enough talking (at least for this week)! We love this wonderful city; it has beauty and interesting buildings, canals, people and lifestyle everywhere, so this week we tell our story mostly in pictures. (Click on any photo for the complete slide show.)

 

First Amsterdam Dinner Party

Back row: Cathy, Sape, Sharene, Karin, Harrison. Front row: Hanneke, Frank, Connie, Brenda.

Of course our week would not have been complete without a dinner party! Being in one of the world’s most interesting cities is incredible, but sharing an evening here with friends makes it even more special. Our dear friend Cathy from San Francisco came to visit us this week after a week in Paris, and Brenda is here from Boston visiting her sister, Karin. We invited them along with Frank (see last week), his friend Hanneke, and Connie and Sape, who all live in Amsterdam. Most were strangers to each other when they came in the door; all were friends when the dinner party ended. It was a great way to end the first half of our adventure.


Aunt SueOne very sad note this week: Harrison’s Aunt Sue passed away Friday at the age of 94. Sue was the youngest sister of Harrison’s father and the last living relative of her generation on either side of Harrison’s family. We had a wonderful time with Sue and another family friend when they visited us on the Big Island back in 2002. We’ll miss you, Sue.

We’re settled into our Amsterdam apartment and getting comfortable with the city. Cathy’s visit ends on Tuesday and we’ll be on our own for several weeks until our next guests arrive.

A hui hou and tot ziens!

Harrison & Sharene

Flip Flops are Out… Clogs are IN!

Wooden Shoes

Week 25 of 52

Frank

Our friend Frank… he makes our life here better!

Aloha and goedemorgen! We arrived in Amsterdam safely after a 7-hour train ride from Basel, Switzerland, last Tuesday. As we stepped off the train at 10 pm our dear friend Frank was there to meet us; it was great to see a familiar and friendly face to help us with our luggage and get settled. He helped us get a taxi (and in traditional Dutch style he rode his bike!) to our new home. He gave us such a warm wonderful welcome; he armed us with loads of information that he had collected for us, showed us where to go shopping and told us not to make an important purchase without checking with him first! This is a guy who first and foremost wants to be sure we have a great experience while we are here.

How do we know this great guy? We met him two years ago through craigslist (Sharene’s answer to everything)! We traded our Maui condo for his Amsterdam condo, and over the past two years through the exchange we became friends. We are so grateful for his help and friendship; he even spent all day Friday showing us some of the famous windmills and took us to the cheese market in the little village of Alkmaar — a charming town that dates back, oh, about 750 years… another reminder that we are not in America anymore!

Among his many talents, Frank is also a tour guide for hire (complete with canal boat!) and authority on Netherlands history. If you come to Amsterdam and want a personal tour, he’s your guy! Let us know and we will put you in touch.

Why Amsterdam? It is one of Europe’s unique and most fascinating cities with beautiful canals and architecture, first-class museums and culture, and a very liberal approach to politics and civil matters. No need for a car; you can walk, ride your bike, or take public transportation everywhere, and who doesn’t love windmills and tulips and cheese? Yes, you can smoke pot and pay for sex and both are legal, but the main reason we wanted to spend three months in Amsterdam is that it offers two things other European cities do not: most people here speak English, and the Dutch are a very welcoming people. Unlike the French or Swiss (our dear Swiss friends and family excluded!), people in Amsterdam are happy to have you here and have no expectation that you should know how to speak Dutch. That’s a good thing… because it’s hard! A simple HOW ARE YOU is hoe gaat het met u. PLEASE is alstublieft. Another one we seem to need a lot is I’M SORRY: Het spijt me! (And how are you supposed to pronounce that?!)

Grocery shopping has been an interesting experience. We are thankful for fresh fruit and vegetables and pictures on boxes. We already bought lard when we thought it was butter. Yes, we know, there’s an APP for that… and we just downloaded it. As long as we set aside a couple of hours for grocery shopping we will be OK! Since Amsterdam entertains so many nationalities, you often see LNP on events, which means Language No Problem!

When it comes to paying for things, the Dutch have their own unique banking and payment system, so except for establishments that cater mostly to tourists, don’t bother bringing your VISA, MC or AMEX — they don’t accept them. We can’t set up a Dutch account in the time we’re here, so for us it’s mostly cash. That means we are daily customers of the local ATM; odd but we’ll get used to it. It’s really not too bad — we are old enough to remember when the only way to get money when traveling was by cashing a traveler’s check.

So, why Amsterdam? The city offers diversity at its best and a true melting pot of colorful, warm, friendly people who, like Frank, show their own version of aloha to outsiders, insiders, and just people like us who are passing through and want to learn another way of living.

With Frank in ZaandijkSpeaking of a different way of living, Holland was ahead of its time a few hundred years ago. Windmills were the state-of-the-art industrial parks of the 17th century, with over 700 in the Zaandijk area we visited. They produced paint, milled grain and wood, processed oil, and did much more using wind to turn the machinery. Some of the mills ground down rock to produce other needed minerals — guess you could call this the Silicon Valley of its day!

Bike BridgeWe’re excited about what the next few months will bring. We have so much to do and see and learn, and thanks to modern technology, we can share it with all the people we care about.

Once again heel erg bedankt (thank you very much) for coming along for the ride!

A hui hou and tot ziens!

Sharene and Harrison

Swiss Hospitality

With Jon and Regula

Week 24 of 52

Switzerland has Alps, castles, lakes, culture, world-class historic cities, glaciers, and some of the best hiking in the world. And except for a few wonderful long walks and a day at one of the famous baths, we didn’t see or do any of those things! Week 24 has been a week of our extended Swiss family spoiling us with dinner parties, lots of laughs, rounds of Bananagrams and lots of great food!

Hans and the Twins

Hallie and Isabel with their father, Hans, in 1987

Jon and Regula (top photo, left rear) invited us to their beautiful home near Baden for a traditional Swiss grill of Bratwurst and Cervalat. We raised our glasses to Hans, who passed away about 11 years ago and who brought this group together. Hans and Harrison met on his first trip to Europe in 1982. Hans introduced Harrison to his American wife Sarah and the three became life-long friends. Hans and Sarah had three beautiful girls: Amelia and the twins, Isabel and Hallie, who all light up the room wherever they go! Later Hans went into business with Jon, Harrison married Sharene, and they all got to know each other. Hans was a true gentleman and we honor him for enriching our lives and allowing us to be part of his legacy.


Our friends Maxine and Maya invited us to their country home southeast of Zurich. We took a quick 3-minute walk from Sarah’s to the train station, and before we knew it we were out enjoying the Swiss countryside. Maxine met us at the train with a huge smile and a big hug, whisked us away to a little outdoor cafe where we had coffee and the best pastry Sharene has had in her entire life, then drove us to their home in the little hamlet of Adletshusen. We had a long wonderful walk around the Luetzelsee, a lake with Swiss Alps and cow bells as our backdrop (we half expected to see Julie Andrews or Heidi appear as we rounded each corner). This little area is home to a couple of hundred storks who come here each spring and summer. The farmers put out food and places for them to nest to attract them.

Maxine is a Swiss Julia Child, and Maxine and Maya’s house has a big herb and vegetable garden. Maxine put us to work picking beans and peas out of her garden while she started preparing an (almost) entirely “bio” meal for us to feast on. Maya prepared the grill and assured us the meat was “happy meat.” Bio is the word they use here for organic; happy meat means the cows were treated humanely. All we know is that it was very fresh and delicious! They were both gracious hosts and the day just flew by. Another memorable day in Week 24.

Bad Zurzach

The pool at the top right is the one with the current like river rapids… fun!

One non-food highlight of our week was Bad Zurzach. Think of a Jacuzzi tub on steroids and you get a good sense of what these thermal baths are about. For a small fee, you can spend the day here and go from one of the five pools to another. Each of the pools has a different temperature but most have jets about five feet apart around the perimeter that are strategically placed to work on different body parts; it’s like getting a massage from your toes all the way up! One large donut-shaped pool has a strong current that pulls you around and around like you were traveling through river rapids, others have waterfalls to wash over you. You can relax in a recliner in the water with gentle jets swirling around you, or you can choose a more gentle “zen” pool. inside they have massages and quiet rooms. Yes, we know, we are very spoiled.


Patrick and ChantalPatrick and Chantal form another wing of our Swiss family near Baden not connected to Hans. Patrick was a high school foreign exchange student who lived with Sharene’s aunt and uncle in California. Even though he doesn’t look much older than he did in high school, that was over 20 years ago and we have remained close. He fell in love with Chantal in 1992, and we did too when we met her shortly after that. They’ve come a long way in the past 20 years. They are both successful young professionals; Patrick works for Credit Suisse, Chantal for KPMG, and they just moved into their chic, contemporary home (we could have done a newsletter on their kitchen alone!). They graciously invited us, Sarah, and “our” girls to another Swiss grill Saturday night. We are so proud of these two; they are smart, successful, and so much fun to be around! It’s a wonderful coincidence for us to have these two Swiss connections who live so close to each other but who didn’t know each other until we brought them together.

 

Hiking with Sarah

Sharene, Harrison and Sarah on a hike above Neuenhof

As you can see, we were spoiled all week from dawn until dusk and we are so grateful to have these dear friends in our life. Sarah is a perfect host and we have loved being with her these past two weeks. The Alps might be amazing but they can’t hold a candle to our Swiss family.

Tuesday we take the train to Amsterdam to begin our next adventure. We’re reading a book called The UnDutchables to figure out how life works in the Netherlands. Wish us luck… we’ll probably need it! Next week you’ll hear from us in our Amsterdam apartment. Until then,

A hui hou and auf Wiedersehen!
Sharene and Harrison

Happy Anniversary To Us!!!

At The Rossli

Week 23 of 52

Sarah On Her PatioAloha and Gruetzi!

After our Boston-Newark-Dusseldorf-Zurich flight, our Swiss family welcomed us with open arms, sunflowers, lots of love and a few bars of Swiss chocolate! Jet lag? We hardly felt it.

Our mornings start on our dear friend Sarah’s terrace (patio? deck? balcony? lanai?) with lovely views out to the hills. As you can see, she spoils us at every turn.

Pictured at the top is Sarah along with our dear “adopted” daughter Amelia and her brilliant and handsome husband Phil. We’re dining on the terrace at Landgasthof Rössli, a restaurant and inn owned by Phil’s parents that has been in his family for five generations, since 1863. The property itself has been around since 1293 (and we thought the North End of Boston was old)! We dined as their guests two years ago and — lucky us — we were invited back a second time! The ambiance of the inn reminds you of the days of Shakespeare but the food is as fresh as can be. The service, the wine, and of course the company was phenomenal. We had a very special evening and it was a wonderful way to start our European adventure.

As ever, we stayed busy during our four days here so far. We started out Thursday evening with a visit to Amelia and Phil’s chic new apartment right in the middle of Baden with a theater and gym and public transportation right outside their door allowing them to live a very urban life. The next day we saw Amelia’s office (she is the acting managing editor for a medical journal AND going to college); she has more energy than anyone we know. We couldn’t be more proud of her.

We enjoyed beautiful days of sunshine in Zurich and Baden. On Friday we strolled down a park-like walkway to one of Zurich’s many town squares and walked the cobblestone streets seeing wonderful shops, amazing buildings, churches, and lots of clock towers. On Saturday we went to the local farmer’s market in Baden that has as many flowers as fruits and vegetables. Everywhere you look, you are amazed at the craftsmanship in these centuries-old buildings and the gardens and flower boxes that adorn every property. These Swiss know how to capture your heart with beauty and we haven’t even gotten to the Alps yet!

Hallie and IsabelOur other charming “adopted daughters” are Hallie and Isabel; Sarah’s twins and Amelia’s younger sisters. We met these two beautiful young ladies when they were 2 years old, and now here they are at 25! Isabel is an auditor for the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers and Hallie is in college studying psychology, and they are both accomplished musicians, lacrosse players and world travelers. They are so much fun to be around; no matter what we’re doing, we find lots to laugh about. Here they are on Sarah’s terrace, after dinner and before some lightning rounds of Bananagrams!

In ZurichTwenty years ago today we were married on the Big Island. Sarah, a poet and artist among her many talents, designed our wedding notices for us, so we can’t think of a better way to celebrate such a special day than with her and her beautiful family.

There are sweet surprises where you least expect them. We just returned home from an evening walk in the hills behind Sarah’s home where we were serenaded by someone playing the alphorn in a meadow.

We’ll venture out a bit more this coming week and will report back faithfully next Sunday. Hope everyone is having a wonderful summer in places new and old.

A hui hou and yoda-lay-hee-hoo!
Sharene and Harrison

P.S. Harrison’s cousin Beth was also married on July 10th two years after we were, so we send Happy Anniversary wishes to Beth and Bob!

Boston Celebrates July 4th In Style

Fireworks Over Boston Harbor HotelPhoto courtesy Boston Harbor Hotel

Week 22 of 52

There’s no more exciting place to be in the US on the 4th of July than Boston, and what a fitting way for us to end our “USA TOUR.” This is a city that celebrates the birth of our country in style! We’re staying a short distance from where the Declaration of Independence was read for the first time, a couple of blocks from Paul Revere’s house, and near the historic Freedom Trail, so we see a lot of tour guides dressed in period costumes walking around. There will be a lot of Star Spangled Banners, Yankee Doodles, and 1812 Overtures playing over the next few days. The fireworks started on Thursday and will continue until the big finale on July 4th with the live nationwide telecast from the Charles River Esplanade of fireworks accompanied by the Boston Pops. We decided not to share that special event with 800,000 of our Boston neighbors on the Esplanade and opted instead to go up to the rooftop garden of our apartment building and watch the festivities from there. In the meantime, even though we’re packing up, we’ve tried to make the most of our last week here in New England.

The Girls with Fran

Sharene, Cathy, Ann, Kate and the adorable southern belle, Fran!

One nice thing about living on the East Coast is the ease of traveling to another state. Maine is just a quick drive from Boston, so while Harrison stayed in Boston, visited MIT one last time, and did some consulting work for our old company, Sharene got together with her best friends Cathy and Kate (from San Francisco) and Ann (from New York) to stay at the home of Kate’s mom, Fran. Fran is a cribbage master and a beautiful, lovely lady who welcomed the four into her home in Saco, Maine. Kate, whom Sharene has known for almost 20 years, was raised near Boston, and Sharene only associates her with New England and San Francisco. Imagine Sharene’s surprise when Fran greeted the girls with a lovely, gentle, southern accent and Sharene found out she was a southern belle from Atlanta GA! Where did this come from? Kate has southern roots? Goes to show that even your best friend can surprise you! As always, the girls played lots of cribbage, had lots of laughs, and loved listening to Fran’s lilting, soothing southern drawl. They took a drive and saw lighthouses and sailboats, and they ate at the famous Lobster Shack on Two Lights Road, which has been around since the 1920s. (They all agreed, the onion rings were worth the trip!)

Dori

Dori

One benefit of graduating from a great university is the ability to meet and sometimes mentor talented recent graduates. Harrison got an email a couple of weeks ago from Dori, a young Iranian woman who just finished her degree at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. Her career interest is in tourism and hospitality, not a common focus of MIT graduates, so when she saw in the alumni database that Harrison was in Hawaii and involved with tourism and hospitality, she emailed him for some career advice. She still lives on the MIT campus, and when she found out we just happened to be in Boston for the month, she invited Harrison to lunch, and they spent a couple of hours at Sloan talking about her fascinating life and her past and future career. Dori studied engineering in Iran, founded and ran a management consulting firm there for 10 years (yes, they have those even in Iran), then came to the US to get a City Planning degree from Rutgers University and now her masters in Strategic Management from Sloan.

Talking with someone from Iran is enlightening, because many Americans stereotype Iran as a desert sheikdom run by radical Islamists out to destroy America, not to mention any of their own people who disagree with them. As with most stereotypes, the truth is far more complex. The vast majority of Iranians live fairly typical lives going to work or school, living in modern housing, and spending time with family and friends in what is, in many places, a very beautiful country. Many of them strongly dislike their leaders just as many Americans sometimes strongly dislike our own, and they aren’t taken out and shot. They’re really not so different from us, and it makes you wonder, to paraphrase Rodney King, “Why can’t we all just get along?”

At the Green Dragon

Harrison and Sharene having lunch in downtown Boston at the Green Dragon Tavern, established 1657… NO KIDDING!!!

Our month here in the North End has gone by way too fast, but it’s been a wonderful time. Sharene has fallen in love with Boston and Harrison has been able to see it with a new appreciation; Boston was pretty gritty back in the ’60s and ’70s when he lived here as a student. Staying in a beautiful apartment hasn’t hurt, either.

We leave Boston on the 6th for Switzerland where we will stay with our dear friends near Zurich for the next couple of weeks before going on to Amsterdam for an extended stay. Our “year of being homeless” continues to unfold in amazing adventures and we’re pretty excited about Part II.

Thanks again to everyone who made Part I of our trip so much fun and to all of you whom we get to share it with each week. Have a wonderful, safe, fun 4th of July and we’ll check in from Europe as the journey continues!!

A hui hou,
Sharene and Harrison

P.S. A number of you have asked us who writes these updates and how. Actually, we don’t write them ourselves — they’re ghost-written by Garrison Keillor, which is why they’re so incredibly amusing and well-written! Just kidding!! Seriously, Sharene usually starts them… she can take a blank page and fill it up quickly with all sorts of interesting stuff, and she’s in charge of the camera so she looks over our photos from the past week to remind her what happened. Then Harrison takes over as editor, wordsmithing until it seems fit for publication. By the time you read them, they are truly a team effort and it’s often impossible to say who’s responsible for what. We’ve received a lot of comments about how much goes on each week, and we’ve surprised ourselves with all we have to write about. We often feel they’re too long even after we leave out some pretty interesting material. But we’re glad you seem to like them, or maybe you’re just too tactful to take your name off the list!