Amsterdam

We’re back from Amsterdam after a five-day trip. The biggest challenge of the trip was the actual getting there part, since we chose to fly Alitalia. We’d heard that Alitalia was notorious for losing luggage, so we carried our bags, but apparently their plane maintenance isn’t a lot better. We had arrived with plenty of time for a 5.35 AM flight; found parking easily; checked in smoothly; boarded quickly; and had great seats at the front of the plane. At 5.35 the captain announced that we were ready to go except for “a small technical problem” that they would fix in a few minutes. At 6.00 they began handing out the water and snacks. Abby said that it was always a bad sign when you are still on the ground and they begin handing out the water and snacks.

At 6.30 they announced that we had to get off the plane, and that we’d receive more information back in the terminal. By 7.30, we’d had a cup of coffee compliments of Alitalia, but the flight staff still hadn’t announced a thing. Nonetheless, some word had gotten around somehow, because people had started lining up (which in Albania, means “clustering in a large mass around a tiny entrance”) to collect their luggage and go to the airline desk where – at 8.00 – a lone staffer would be charged with fixing all 60 passengers’ problems.

Fortunately for us, we have a guardian angel in the form of Mira, who is on the Austrian Airlines staff. Mira is a “fixer” for Americans with flight problems regardless of which airline they fly, and she was able to get us onto the 12.05 PM Lufthansa flight just minutes after she arrived at work. This meant we had a lot of time to kill -you can only visit the news kiosk so many times – but at least we’d get to where we were going, unlike a lot of other people. So we boarded, left on time, and arrived in Munich at 2.20, where we transferred to a second flight shortly thereafter for a 2.50 departure. At 2.50 the captain announced that we were ready to go except for “a small equipment problem” that they hoped to solve quickly. About 15 minutes later, he came back on the intercom to announce that they had solved the problem, but that an executive jet had made an emergency landing on the tarmac in the meantime and it had backed up all the runways. So we sat for another 20 minutes but, put into perspective, it wasn’t a problem at all. We were just glad to get to Amsterdam on the same day we had set out for it.

Amsterdam is a wonderful city. I didn’t take a lot of photos, because (a) it is all so pretty that no one thing really stands out, (b) most of the museums don’t allow photography, and (c) I was primarily using a film camera, so I was being more careful since you can’t erase the ones you don’t like, and the digital mostly stayed in the bag. The museums were fantastic – the Rijksmuseum with the Dutch Masters and the collection of silver pieces from royals past; the Rembrandt House with its paintings, etchings, and restored studios; the Van Gogh Museum; the CoBrA Museum (CoBrA was a post-war modern art movement based in Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam, and is truly brilliant stuff); the Hermitage Museum in Amsterdam; a secret Catholic church hidden in the attic of a townhouse from the time when open Catholic worship was forbidden; and even the Sex Museum. A note on this: the Sex Museum actually had a lot of items on display – mostly surprisingly explicit photos from the turn of the century – and it could have had a lot to say about the history of pornography and sex, but it was so badly organized that after a while it was simply boring. And since it was packed with giggling 20-somethings, it was also an annoying place to be. The Red Light District, with prostitutes in the windows chatting with passersby or filing their nails, was subtle by comparison.

We walked a lot, shopped a bit, and with one exception ate only Asian cuisine, since the Chinese food we get here is absolutely below par. Indonesian, Chinese (twice, including dim sum), sushi (twice), Japanese pancakes (if you get a chance, try these – they are delicious), and the best Thai I’ve ever had. Not a slice of pizza or a chunk of grilled meat passed our lips. In fact, we filled a backpack with Asian spices to use at home. We also attended a rather dolorous recital – piano and baritone – that our host, Fred, invited us to see. The recital featured songs by Brahms, Eisler, Debussy, Gounod, and someone else whom I can’t remember. While some of the numbers were lovely, overall it was pretty stark fare, with songs seeming to end in mid-depressive thought about the changing seasons, or accidentally leaving the baby on the bus, or whatever the hell they were singing about. (And even though I’m being snarky about the music, it had nothing to do with Fred, who is a truly generous host.)

The trip home had its own difficulty insofar as we had switched from e-tickets to paper tickets when we changed our outgoing flight, and the Alitalia people hadn’t put two and two together, so check-in took about an hour. Cooper was glad to see us, of course, but we think his sitter indulged him a bit too much because he now insists on trying to snatch food out of our hands, and just in general he seems to have a bit of an attitude. A quick story about him, insufferably proud parents that we are – the other week, we went on a Hash that started in a farmer’s field. The farmer had some chickens loose, and Cooper went after them. We were mortified, and half-expected to hear the cocking of a shotgun, but we couldn’t stop laughing nonetheless.

He did the same thing with a herd of sheep later in the hike: he’s probably thinking “one of these days, I’m gonna catch something, goddammit,” but we have no idea what he’d do with anything if he did catch it. Anyway, here are some photos from Amsterdam.

One of the many beautiful canal views; Abby; not Albanian food, thank god.

Work of Karel Appel from the CoBrA Museum; goods from the Bloemenmarket.

Finally, I have to say that we are taking a pounding against the euro: it was $1.49 when we left, and $1.51 when we got back. The only bargain I found in Amsterdam was in art supplies, since the good stuff is made in Europe; for everything else, we just had to shut our eyes and hand over the Visa. We’ve even lost somewhere between 11 and 15 percent of the dollar’s value against the lek in the last six months. When the lek is a better investment than the dollar, you’re really in trouble …