Hoards of young guys and girls, wearing team shirts, began singing and shouting as they
marched through the streets of Amsterdam, preparing for the soccer game that evening
between their team, AJAX, and Manchester United.(AJAX lost but the Dutch still celebrated).
The trams stopped running due to the chaos in the streets; the bars were overflowing with
younger folk waiting for the game to begin; my only option to get back to the hotel was by foot.
As I crossed Vondelpark, toward my hotel, it felt like a warm summer day in the country.
Couples were lounging on the grass in front of the lake, and bicycle riders were dodging the
pedestrians. It was a welcomed escape from the tourist drone. Back at the hotel, exhausted
from 2 days of walking and 24 hour jet lag, I went to bed at 7.pm. The next morning I was
traveling to a small town in Belgium.
Relieved to be leaving Amsterdam, I reminisced over my short stay. Becoming a tourist
destination is good for business but unpleasant for the locals; the cost of living rises but not their
salaries. Fast food restaurants replaced locally owned cafes. The infamous American chains,
like KFC, and Pizza Hut, had inspired so many Dutch look alikes. Along with food came the
trendy clothing stores. Of course Abercrombie and Zara were there and many look a likes with
names like Biggles, Scotch and Soda and Sissy-Boy; the same generic clothes worn all over
the world by young girls and boys. Did I mention Starbucks all over the city?
But not everything was disappointing.
The canals are still charming and for transportation bike riding competes with driving. At least
half the city is on bikes so its more likely to be run over by a bike than a car. My 3*hotel was in
a upscale residential neighborhood, far from the maddening crowd.. the quality and price of the
food in the shops is so much better. My breakfast was a delicious croissant, black bread, jam,
butter and a doppio cappuccino for $6.90. My favorite museum in Amsterdam is the Stedeljik,
( translation state museum). The special exhibition was Dutch portrait photographer Rineke
Dijkstra, making me a little jealous that I never tried to make a career in art. I museumed out at
the World press Photo show and finally at the Foam photo gallery, showcasing the American
street photographer William Eggleston.
As I was sitting in the cafe at Foam, devouring home made cheesecake,,I started a
conversation with the interesting looking man next to me. An expat American, he lived between
Britain and wherever he fancied; the girl cooking was an Italian from New Jersey who spoke
fluent Dutch after several years living in Amsterdam; definitely not like the Americans living in
Mexico who barely speak 50 words of Spanish.
My next stop on my journey was to visit Dutch friends, who I met in the seventies in Greece.
They lived in a small Belgium village in a big house, surrounded by a lush landscape. Distances
in Europe are small so I expected to be in Eindhoven in 90 minutes. But the train was pulled out
of service halfway there and we had to wait for another train. Since we were an entire train of
people, it felt like New York City at rush hour. Searching for the bus to Achel in Belgium, I
stopped a large black woman to ask directions. She didn’t speak English so I asked if she was
from West Africa and spoke French. She did and she was from the DRCongo. And I’m sure
happy to be out of Africa. Twenty five minutes later the bus arrived and my friend was waiting
at the station; I hadn’t seen her in 9 years.
As if it were yesterday, we easily began our conversation. During my 4 day visit, we drove to
Hasselt, a charming town in central Belgium, which had the most amazing department store I
had ever seen. Floor to ceiling glass windows, halls lined with ornate jewelry in frames, over a
1000 different styles of shoes at affordable prices and many departments filled with interesting
clothing for men, women and kids. I had the feeling of being in a huge art gallery with affordable
art. I rarely see anything that excites me back home, but I was overwhelmed with so many
interesting clothing, shoe and house ware designs. So I went on a shopping spree and had a
After visiting the Modamuseum in Hasselt, an exhibition showcasing the influence of Japanese
culture on fashion through the 20th century and beyond, we walked the cobblestone streets,
lined with old stone houses. This was a Catholic holiday, an official day off in Europe, so the
whole town was in the streets celebrating the first rising of Christ, by shopping, and sitting in
cafes eating and drinking. More culture the next day driving west back into Holland to the
famous Kroller-muller museum near Arnhem. After only 1.5 hours we are in the center of the
The museum is located on a 75 acre estate with bicycle paths leading to the museum. We left
our car and with one of the hundreds of available bikes(no gears) we rode 11 km ( 6.8m)
through all kinds of terrain to the museum. Known for its collection of Van Gogh, and a
sculpture garden filled with 160 pieces done by world famous artists, there was a huge
exhibition of the French Swiss sculptor painter Jean Arp. Shopping, art viewing and the last day
an outdoor activity in a metal canoe down a shallow river. Within minutes the canoe tipped over
and both my friend and I were in the river along with our iPhones. I am happy to report that my
iPhone 7 plus survived possibly because it was in a battery case. The case however, did not
survive the drowning. Since I have been kayaking for years, I know how to handle a boat, and
was surprised we flipped. We had to keep paddling for 1.5 hours in our wet clothes, full of
seaweed and dirt, to return to the other end of the river where our car was parked. And then we
realized my seat was missing a screw on the left side, causing me to lean to the left and flip the
boat. We complained to the owner’s son who was speechless, most don’t complain here. After a
phone conversation, they agreed to pay for repairs for one phone.
My short visit with my friends Jan and Ingrid was close to its end but hopefully to be continued
again soon. Next stop Berlin.