Friday, August 24, 2007

Great Beer and Exquisite Cheese in Amsterdam

Well, I knew I’d find that. I took every opportunity to splurge on beer and cheese. What I did not know about Amsterdam was the popularity of bicycles. Everyone rides a bike. There were some cars but most people, even the pregnant mommies with only a week or so left to term, were on their bikes. New born babies were strapped to their parents’ chests and their little heads were sprinkled with rain drops. Toddlers were loaded into little wooden carts affixed to the front of the bikes and off they rode.

Our hotel was on this Canal and in a nice, not - so - touristy area. We had lovely accommodations. I did not see the red light district that everyone talks about but I was only there for a few days. When you go to the Dam Square shopping area it is really touristy and there were some sex toy type of shops with risqué toys in the windows right across from the McDonalds. I thought the Pot shops were funny. Bijan went into one to get some T-shirts for his buddies and they handed him a menu for pot. Since he was shopping with Matt it was unlikely that he would buy anything more than t-shirts. I knew from my research that they had public urinals right there in the street. The men can just walk behind a small metal screen and go. That was interesting.

I finally got to see the Girl with Pearl Earring; she creeps upon you in a room in the Mauritshuis Museum. Unpretentiously, this famous work of art just sort of waits for you to turn around and discover her, and it was all that I thought it would be – beautiful! I was really surprised to find the View of Delft, also by Vermeer, to be another favorite. It was much more impressive in person.

Amsterdam was bustling with small cars, bikes, canal boats and sidewalk cafes everywhere, but I got the feeling that there was less tension between the people that lived there. I got the feeling that it was ok to be however you wanted to be. The Dutch seem to be much more relaxed about human nature and the reality that people are all very individualistic. Conformity might not be so good for everyone and every personal preference is not left open to so much scrutiny. There is a pervasive feeling that it makes no sense to be so up tight in this life. I took the lesson of that attitude as a souvenir.

Oh, we also loved the syrup waffle cookies – really good with hot chocolate!

I’ve been to Mr. Darcy’s house!

If you have seen Pride and Prejudice with Kira Nightly and Mathew McFadden you will remember Mr. Darcy’s house. If you have not seen that particular Pride and Prejudice then what are you waiting for!!

Mr. Darcy’s house is Chatsworth house, or I guess I should say they filmed those sequences there at Chatsworth. But really, lets just stay in the dream of it all - magnificent Mr. Darcy, so noble, so good looking, (not at all “dragged through a hedge backwards” as Donna says.) and he lives there in that incredibly over – the - top house!

If you’ve seen the movie you may remember the sculpture room that Kira wanders into. Yes, it is there and yes, I went and was thrilled to see my favorite in the room the Veiled Vestal Virgin by Monti. It is incredible to think that soft filmy veil is actually marble and not a flimsy whisper of silk. But I fell in love with all of the sculptures especially the Canovas. And at the end of the room they retain the bust of Mathew McFadden as Darcy.

Funny, after we got home I was unable to sleep – over exhausted with jet lag and turned on the TV and guess what was on. I loved recognizing every step in the great house.

Sorry to be away so long...

Amsterdam was wonderful. In fact our entire trip was wonderful. I would have updated each day here on the blog except that my digital was not compatible with the computer at my sister’s house and we were really on the road as we covered four countries in two weeks. I think we only had one day that was down time.

Scotland has got to be the most beautiful countryside in the world. It really is as green as the photos and there is so much sprawling and lush land dotted with “white things” (sheep) and “brown things” (cows) – I mean everywhere! On our last day we visited Inverary, a little Loch side village in the north. The Castle in the photo is one we did not go into as we had been into so many and after Chatsworth house in England (more on that later) – well, it’s all down hill from there. Instead we shopped in the little village for goodies for our friends and had lunch at the George Hotel. Matt had to order Haggis which is like an oatmeal meatloaf served with mashed potatoes and mashed turnips. Surprisingly, it was pretty good.

In Scotland we also were fortunate enough to drive out to Drumlanrig Castle. This was a gold mine of artwork and extraordinary furnishings on beautiful grounds. I guess the previous year someone stole a Da Vinci from there. I wonder how that happens, but with so much glorious artwork filling the walls it may not be that hard after all.

Being a California born and raised girl, I am always in awe of houses and castles that are so completely old. It fascinates me because California has so very little historical buildings left. Besides the Missions, there just is not anything that is really historic – we certainly are a new country. So I am most impressed with the National Trust in the UK and how they work to keep everything preserved and open for the public to visit.

It was great to travel with my sister. She gave up her flat to us, shuffled us all over and helped get the most out of our trip. Considering we had one child visit the ER with an asthma attack, and one sleep in the hotel all afternoon in Amsterdam with the flue she was also flexible and understanding.

I must also mention that young Scottish men look really good in their kilts with tight tee shirts, Doc Martins and lots of chains!