paraphenalia amsterdam-h-0520
Just to get it out of the way: I’ve never tried pot. And the reason I’ve never even thought of smoking marijuana has more to do with the fact that the smell of it makes me feel like I’m riding  an angry bull, which is jumping on a trampoline, on a capsizing ship sailing through the middle of a hurricane, than the fact that it’s totally illegal here in the US (sorry Colorado, California, but you can’t just magic away federal law. Nice idea, but no.) …and realistically, it’s not like I need to spend money on an addictive consumer good. I have coffee for that.

Honestly, I spent most of the day looking at graffiti:

…which in Amsterdam is generally very artistic

Graffiti amsterdam-c-4061 Graffiti amsterdam-c-4062 Graffiti amsterdam-c-4063 Graffiti amsterdam-d-0365-ns Graffiti amsterdam-h-0502

…not trashy at all. I bring all of this up only because, apparently, for certain people in my age group this is the only attraction that Amsterdam had to offer.  They completely ignored the cute Dutch guys and the wind turbines.   I mean come on, wind turbines!Leaving Port amsterdam-c-4150 crop

It’s not like I’m one of those people who gets off on old, moldy buildings either.  For a city to have a history is nice; but  it’s like a sexy woman with a degree. Pretty cool, and maybe more important, but honestly, no one cares. I go into all this excruciating detail of course because I get off the ship (yeah, it was a cruise ship, tres bourgeoisie, get over it) and my dad asks someone at some generic help desk where the Nieuwe Kerk — literally, the New Church — is.
The guy blinks, very slowly. He blinks again.  He looks at my dad like he’s a little bit special* and says “There is nothing new in Amsterdam.” Which sounds like Euro-historic snobbery, but it’s also basically true. I mean really, there’s the old kerk built in 1305, and the “new” Kerk. Which was only re-built in 1645.  After it burned down, which, you know, tended to happen to decrepit old buildings a lot in the days before flame-retardant materials and things like plumbing.

St Nicolaaskerk amsterdam-d-0325-ns crop
St Nicolaaskerk
St Antonia amsterdam-eileen-0102
St Antonia

So that was the first five minutes in Amsterdam. We walked along the harbor. Got lost. Found the canals (not that hard, there’s practically nothing else in the old section of Amsterdam). We missed most of the flashy stuff like the flower market, and the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh museum, the annual cheese-bowling fest and, much to certain people’s chagrin, the sex museum. We also elected to skip getting the cannabis T-shirts.  So we saw another church, and a (oh my god) pissoir, which was like a little scratch and sniff of the middle ages.

houseboat plants bike langern trees canals amsterdam-c-3939
The canals + houseboat
houseboats canals amsterdam-c-4023
More canals
houseboats canals amsterdam-c-4025
…and oh look… more canals (feel free to imagine Sean Astin narrating)
guy amsterdam-c-3707 crop
Yeah that’s him

Then we met this drunk English guy who used a lot of old Dutch words to explain how much he didn’t like the Dutch.  No one at the time thought to ask him why he was in Amsterdam. Saw some of the shops.Popped in and out of several more churches  and then we went back to the ship for lunch. I told you it was all very bourgeoisie.


So yeah, I spent a total of maybe six hours in Amsterdam. Walking very, very slowly.

It’s actually been several years since I was there. But I still had the pictures and I wanted to post this in honor of Still Omgang on the 15th (I think it falls on the 15th anyway). It’s a protestant procession which commemorates a miracle which involved a miracle where a guy at death’s door received the final sacraments and vomited the host up. And the miracle here is not that the guy lived or anything silly like that, but that the host was thrown into the fire (because seriously it freaks people out if something gross happens to the host, if you drop it or crumble it or say a bad word in front of it you have start the whole church service over and all that) and it came out unburned and as body-of-christy as the day it was first baked.


*Which he most definitely is. My father is very special. But there’s also definitely a Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam:

De Nieuwe Kerk  church (bathroom) amsterdam-h-0443De Nieuwe Kerk amsterdam-c-3766


Lisbon cubed

Explorer's Monument Left Side lisbon-d-0578

Lisboa is as nice a town in Iberia as you’d care to meet, but just like the only thing you remember about that brilliant topologist who donates kidneys in his spare time is how he clogged your toilet with spent Indian food, there’s only one thing I’m going remember about Lisboa:

You see, I was not traveling alone.  I was with my mother and grandmother, so the first thing we have to do is go for a tour of the local bathrooms. Because, you know, there are no lavatories in America and we’ve only recently invented fire. That’s ok though, honest, because I don’t feel thoroughly acquainted with a place until I have to use the toilets.1

So we waddle past Praça do Município (city hall), down the Rua da Prata (Portuguese for ‘giant tourist trap’) and turn off at the first likely looking café:

Cafe S. Nicolau, Lisbon, Portugal
Cafe S. Nicolau, Lisbon, Portuga

Like polite people we buy some coffee. At least I think it was coffee. They called it coffee, that was the important thing. So we’ve got the coffee and are now customers in word and deed. We go downstairs to use the toilets near the stockroom. Now, truthfully lower level bathrooms aren’t really unusual in Europe; the fact that it feels like a set from  Young Frankenstein can’t be helped.

After assembling downstairs — chaining ourselves together with a rope, because none of us have money, phones or the slightest ability to return to the place we’re staying at if we get separated– we find the bathrooms. My mom and I let my pint-sized grandmother go first because her bladder to height ratio is the largest.  So I’m there in this little hall, chatting with my mom and we start hearing these strange noises. It sounds like a constipated motorcycle engine. There’s kind of a rhythm to it. Our first thought is that someone in one of the two bathrooms is.. how shall we put it… suffering from some sort of internal instability?

It gets louder. Much louder. I hear a crash from the stockroom. A dish breaks. We then realize the source of the noise is not one, but two people. A minute later the stockroom door opens, a rosy-cheeked, slightly out of breath portuguese gal walks out, trying to avoid eye contact with the four people now waiting for the toilets. For the record it is very difficult to grind against four individuals in a tiny hall without looking at them. A short while later another employee walks out. He looks to be in similarly fine health. By the time my grandmother comes out, my mom and I both look like we’re having seizures we’re laughing so hard. Unfortunately, my mother and I both lose our minds in the gutter so often we’ve taken to leaving them there, and my grandmother thought we were making it all up.

Pastel De Nata (portuguese egg custard pastry)
Pastel De Nata

So we get upstairs, back to the un-coffee, funny tartlet portuguese pastries and of course the very annoyed proprietor. We talked to some customers upstairs and it turns out they heard too and it wasn’t just us. The owner’s calling the employees various names some in english for the sake of the patrons, others in portuguese, which, based on the tone he was using, I think I’m glad I didn’t understand.

As you can imagine, we do not stay to finish our coffee. This was my introduction to the fair city of Lisboa.

Big Clock(lisbon)
Big Clock

After our crash course on portuguese culture, we escaped various vendors, tourists and street musicians (pics here), stared at the big clock and generally enjoyed the city. Lisboa is kind of like an old supermodel; you know she’s maybe seen better days, but she’s still light years ahead of your average person shopping at Walmart. There’s still a lot of marble,which is as clean as five hundred year old marble can be reasonably expected to be, and the architecture is cool. ( Note: I’m an architecture nerd, my computer is full of pictures of spandrels and artistic manhole covers and shots of ‘exotic’ paving materials. I did not have time to geek out when I was there, which is fortunate for.. well.. pretty much everyone in the universe).

We actually did stop to see Praça do Município (aka City Hall) with its cute little Portuguese flag and a square or two and some other stuff, and  then caught a tram to see the Explorer’s Monument ( Padrão dos Descobrimentos pictures).  After London’s fantastic Tube, Lisboa’s public transit system requires some adjustment. It’s actually fine, once you actually y’know find the stop. For someone coming from a culture where everything is over-communicated and writ large, in technicolor, it just takes a bit of time to adjust to the teeny tiny signs, which are almost always in portuguese… and tourist information/post office, which is only open three days a week (yes I am being hyperbolic, and no I’m not sorry). Which is fine, I don’t feel entitled or anything, I come here, I don’t know the language and all I want to do is spend money on the “natives”. If they don’t want to help that’s fine with me.

Jerónimos Monastery  Exterior
Jerónimos Monastery

The best touristy thing we did was easily the Jerónimos Monastery. It really is beautiful, it’s a great example of Manueline architecture  and it’s important in Portuguese history or something like that.  It’s like one of these little restaurants that has some sort of   “Vasco de Gama ate here” placard hanging up near the entrance.

The history was probably fascinating, but I wouldn’t know: all the signs were in Portuguese.

Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (information in portuguese)
Mosteiro dos Jerónimos

All kidding aside, it’s a lovely city, it’s got friendly people, they’re not into obnoxious siestas and it’s on one of the most gorgeous stretches of ocean I’ve ever seen. I just wish I could pronounce the names of the streets.





1.You can tell a lot about a cultured from their toilets. If you want Cyndi to write a post about every funny bathroom story she has, beg her in the comments.

And: If the name of this post sounds familiar, it’s because I stole it from a great short story by William Tenn, from this book.