May You Frolic in Cat Grass Forever

Dear Marley,

Sweet Kitty, you will be missed.

I am glad I came across that ad on that expat message board when we lived in Amsterdam and that Ashbloem had space in her home and heart for you. I know you brought her much joy and laughter over the last several years, and guided her through the changes in love and life that have since transpired. Her Virgil in orange fur.

No doubt you were thankful to be free of those kids in your previous home, and owners who took less than loving care of you. The first of Ashbloem’s brood of kitties, you were the cantankerous yet sweet older brother of Gus and Tugboat. You became the world traveling kitty, passport and all, having lived in Holland, Switzerland, Boston and finally Dallas. You got to see more of the world than most cats, or even people for that matter.

I am sorry that I was not there to say goodbye, but I know that you are up above noshing on some sweet cat grass with a side of tuna.

Farewell, sweet kitty.

Edinburgh

I love Edinburgh, but to be fair, I knew I would. I expected the city to be cute and quaint, but instead I find it rather proud and majestic. Craggy. I haven’t seen much of it, sadly, as I have been stuck in a convention center most of the time I have been here. But that which I have seen I adore. It makes me long for the days living in Europe and wonder if I can convince Damir to move to Europe with me some day. Once married I would imagine I would even qualify for a coveted EU passport, eliminating all of the pain in the ass immigration stuff I had to go through when in Holland.

Alas, I am dreaming of life along cobblestreets, stone houses and flower stalls.

Dreams

In my dreams I am swimming in a sea of tulips, breathing in their earthy aroma. Finally, winter is breaking and spring is slowly knocking at our door. Finally.

Boys are Silly

When I first heard about this, I thought it was a lie. A fabrication. A hallucination even! I was left no other choice than to call Matthijs in Amsterdam to see if it is true.

Do the urinals in Schiphol airport have little flys tattooed on them so that men have something to aim for when they pee, thus keeping a cleaner restroom?

Strangely enough, the answer is: Ja, dat is waar (it is true!).

And I even found photographic evidence to prove it, thanks to http://www.urinal.net, “The best place to piss away your time on the Internet ™”.

Open letter to any man who might come across my blog:

Dear Men,

Why?

Love,
Interravision

Cheeky Indeed

I first learned about olympic speed skating when I was living in Holland. It’s a pretty big deal over there. No, that is an understatement. It is one of the country’s most popular sports and the major players are revered as demi-gods. During the last winter olympics I was dating a dutchman who knew all about the sport, and we spent what seemed like hours in front of my TV watching the matches. At first I thought it was boring and difficult to follow, mostly because I couldn’t really follow the rapid fire commentary in Dutch (and he was often too engrossed to take the time to translate). But then, quite suddenly, I quickly learned to appreciate the sport…

And it’s easy to see why:

Meet Dutch speed skater Dennis Kalker

And let me present to youDutch speed skater Erik Jan Spijkerman

And finally wouldn’t you like to get to know Dutch speed skating olympic champion Gerard van Velde?

So, I ask you… what’s not to like about this great sport? But NOW, I have to tell you about my new skater crush: Mr. Joey Cheek. Sadly, US speed skaters don’t seem to have the same penchant for posing in the buff like our Dutch friends (maybe we should send a formal request or something).

How adorable is this guy? He just won a gold medal for the US in 500M:

And not only is he cute, but he is a good samaritan. He is going to donate the $25,000 awarded to him by the U.S. Olympic Committee for winning the gold medal to children in African refugee camps so they might have a chance to play sports. Wow! Wait a second, did you know that medal winners were awarded cash from the USOC? I didn’t. That’s just the beginning of his philanthropic effort though, he said he will ask his sponsors — Nike and Oakley — and “all of the Olympic sponsors that give hundreds of millions of dollars” to match his donation. And, if he wins the 1,000 meters coming up on Saturday, he said he will donate that $25,000 as well.

Anyway… the good news is it looks like he has a crush on ME too! Look! Look! Look at this article. I am just sure the flowers will be arriving any day now. Yippiieeee!

Sadly, however, based on what his mom thinks her son will tackle next, I doubt we’ll be seeing shots of Cheek’s cheeks anytime soon (ugh, sorry couldn’t resist that one). Ah. well. We still have the Dutch… like Ralf van der Rijst…

Damn you and your movie Rob Schneider

Under normal circumstances you would never catch me at a Rob Schneider film. I don’t mean to be snobby, and I like a good laugh as much as the next person, but his genre of crass doesn’t interest me much. But dammit. He has made a film showcasing the many beautiful sites of Amsterdam, and I just may be foolish enough to go see this film for this sole purpose.
Although why the movie poster shows him in Italy, I have no idea. A review I read today lambastes the the film from title to credits, but then says…

Shot on location in the Netherlands, this film is a visual delight.

A visual delight! How can I say no to that?! So the REAL question is: Amsterdam, how much do I love you? Do I love you enough to sit through a scene where a poor deformed “Russian girl with a phallic nose penetrates a woman with a hole in her throat”?

Yes. Yes, I believe I do. Dammit.

Chocolate, Beer, Fondue and Republicans

Maybe I just have a thing for cities with canals. Other than Amsterdam, Venice and Brugge…what other cities have flowing canals crossing the city? Oh, Delft I think, yes. Anywhere else?

On November 2, 2000, my friend from college Guy (on the left) and his friend Johnnie (on the right) came to visit Amsterdam. We decided to go on a little spontaneous road trip to the teeny-tiny-Epcotesque little town of Brugge, Belgium. We ate a little chocolate, they ate a little fondue (I can’t eat the cheesy kind) and we drank a lot of great Belgian beer. My personal favorite is Palm. You know a beer can’t be all bad when it’s brewery history dates back to 1597. We drank quite a lot of it in Amsterdam on our recent trip.

Anyway.

So Guy, Johnnie and I rented a car and drove to Belgium. Belgium is a cute little country with a funny history and diverse culture. Brugge itself looks too cute to be real. In fact, one of our Tour Directors once told me that a client on one of our tours actually asked, “When does Brugge close?” The client apparently thought that the city was an open-air museum that packed up and closed itself up every evening. And supposedly holidays.

Aren’t they just adorable?

We stayed at the cutest hotel called the Hotel Bourgoensch-Hof which was in a perfect location just a few blocks away from the main square. This took a lot of convincing because the boys, being boys, just wanted to stay in a random hostel; but I guess after traveling so much to so many nice places (mostly for work) my tastes have become more…refined. My backpacking/hostels days are most likely all behind me. (thank god) But we found this little gem of a hotel that was not expensive and just as quaint as the town itself.

The thing about Guy and Johnnie, as cute as they are, they are both Republicans. At least they were at the time. This probably wouldn’t have been such a big deal if the elections were taking place on that very day. So through the course of the day while browsing around Brugge we tried to get updates on the Gore vs. Bush battle while we (me vs. the boys) held a few political debates of our own on the side.

The three of us shared a room, and ended up staying awake all night staring at the tiny TV mounted to the wall hoping to see who won the election. Thank God for CNN’s international broadcasting. I couldn’t believe I was sharing a bed (even if platonically) with a GWB supporter on election night. It made me want to take a long shower. Even if I still felt a hint of the crush I had on Guy when we were in college together. Wait, what? Did I just say that outloud? No. I have no idea what you are talking about. I didn’t have any crush on any Guy.

Here’s me definitely not having a crush on Guy

The next morning, before dawn, I grabbed a train back to Amsterdam to get back to work. All the way I was SMSing Ashbloem and friends for updates on what the hell was going on with this election. Well, we all know how that turned out.

I saw Guy one other time, strangely in Seattle (where we were both visiting friends and family). I haven’t seen him since, and that must have been at least 4 years ago. I heard he returned to Pittsburgh (where we went to college) and opened up a gelateria with his Italian family….

Holy Crap!

I just did a quick search and found out an update! (I love google!) He has opened up a cafe called Grasso Roberto (Fat Robert, Robert is Guy’s first name) in Bloomfield. He has been awarded one of the top 40 people under 40 years of age shaping Pittsburgh’s future. Yay!

And so it is…just like you said it would be…

So, this will likely be my final posting about the recent jaunt to Amsterdam.

On our last night, Tom, Karen, Ashbloem and I (and later Anita) gathered at and old favorite restaurant in the Jordaan called Burger Patio (which has neither burgers nor a patio as far as I can recall). But the atmosphere is lively and the food is delicious. I even had herring AGAIN, which is simply incredible considering it was something I avoided like the plague when I lived there.

Tom’s dessert was taking too long, so Ashbloem left to meet our friends gathering at a local pub called Cafe Thijssen which is named after famous Dutch scholar/teacher Theo Thijssen (1879-1943). [Side note: the pub’s website has a chat room on it. How bizarre!] Since the bill was taking even longer to arrive, I followed shortly after Ashbloem. Stupid me, I thought I would take a quick ride past my old apartment which was just around the corner from the pub. BIG MISTAKE.

I rode past it twice, noticing the belongings of the current inhabitants in my big gorgeous windows. And suddenly I was so MAD. That is my house! Those strangers should be thrown out into the streets and I should walk up that pokey little stairwell and into my old home with the horrible brown carpet and silly kitchenette. I almost rang the bell to see if they would give me a tour, but thankfully had enough clarity of mind to know that this would probably be received as a strange request. I can see now how that conversation would have gone:

Crazy American Girl: Goed Avond. (sniff sniff)
Normal lovely Dutch Couple: Ja?
CAG: Umm, (wiping eyes with sleeve) spreken jullie engels?*
NLDC: Naturlijke
CAG: IusedtolivehereandwantedtoseeifIcouldcomeupandsayhellotomyoldapartment.
NLDC: Vat?

CAG: It will just take a moment. I promise. (sobbing now) Please?
NLDC: Nee. Het is niet mogelijk. You are a crazy American girl. (Slam door)

* Apologies to all my Dutch friends for butchering your lovely language.

I looked for the cats that used to roam and chase things on the deck of the houseboat opposite the flat. I looked to see if the other houseboat was still empty (it is). I was astounded by the renovations that are now complete (that had just been started when I left) in the row houses across the other side of the canal. They look amazing. Each now has a small little deck overlooking the Lijnbaansgracht.

I got back on my bicycle, wiping tears from my eyes. These were stubborn tears that just would not stop throughout the rest of the night, even as I sat happily surrounded by so many good people, my old friends.

It was just a surprise. I have been back to Amsterdam before since leaving, and even stayed in my old neighborhood. I didn’t expect this time to still feel such a loss. But there it was.

I left early the next morning in a taxi for Schiphol (thankfully having discovered at the last moment that my flight was actually departing 3 hours before I thought it was!). The rain came down hard, and the clouds were dark.

Here are some photos from the last parts of the trip. To see complete photos visit Ashbloem’s flickr site or my online photo album.

First, a few photos from Tuesday night’s gathering at Weber:

Karen and Ashlee

Rene and Me

Ashlee, Tom, Petter

Me and GJ

(who is incapable of making a normal face when a camera is pointed in his general direction)

Our last night:

At Cafe Thijssen:


Andreas, Ashlee, Sara

Who knew the Dutch were so fond of Italianesque gesticulation?

Karen and Pam

Rene and Pam

Anita and Rene

Ashlee, Karen, Anita

Pam, Ashlee and Tom

The final shot of me and Ashbloem. Can you tell we’ve shed a few tears?