I’ve finally gotten confirmation that I will be here in the Netherlands until April 26. Ted will arrive a week from tomorrow, and he’ll be here for 2-3 weeks, so at least we don’t have too much time apart. I’ve decided that I need to sort of live my life wherever I happen to be and not wait until I get home to take care of things, so this week I went ahead and got new glasses. I’m not entirely thrilled with them; they’re less comfortable than my old ones and the color is not quite as versatile. I do like the way they look but may go see if lenses with the new prescription can be put in my old frames, even though they are a little beat-up.
My second weekend here is also my birthday weekend, and it’s been pretty good so far. On Friday, one of the managers took me and the other people visiting from Taiwan out for Thai food. After that, a few of us went to a piano bar, where someone from our department plays piano most Friday nights. Apparently he volunteers, because the piano is better than anything he normally has access to, so he has a lot more freedom to play what he wants and to take breaks when he wants. He was excellent – and since we sat at a table near him and he knew my colleagues, he was catering to us, looking over to see if we recognized what he was playing and asking if there was anything we wanted to hear. I was pleasing him by recognizing most of his tunes and singing along (softly). No one seemed to mind. I might stand up and sing by the piano another time, if I ever go back when the place is fairly empty; he was telling us of times when people have done that. My voice isn’t really good enough to justify it, but I do enjoy singing and if no one else minds then why not. I also took the opportunity to finally sample real Dutch jenever (jonge, not oude – it’s gin, basically) and to try some Islay as one of my occasional forays into single-malt. I liked it – I do seem to like the peatier ones.
Yesterday I went to Amsterdam to meet Rowena. There’s always a bit of worry when you meet someone in person whom you’ve known online for a long time, about how it will turn out. I haven’t been disappointed yet, though, and this was no exception. The meetng began at a disadvantage – let’s just say I probably should have stopped with the jenever on Friday night, and not had the Scotch. Or stayed up until 1AM. Also, the new galsses were giving me a headache. However, Rowena’s company was sufficiently interesting to distract me from these woes, and as an Amsterdam native she was able to find places a bit quieter and less overwhelming. (Every time I go to Amsterdam I realize I’ve forgotten how obnoxiously crowded and cheap-touristy the walk down the Damrak from the train station is. Maybe it will be somewhat better when there’s water there again instead of construction, but I doubt it.)
We met in the American Book Center, where I was disappointed not to find anything I wanted enough to deal with taking it home to Taiwan, then went to the Begijnhof, which is a miracle of serene quiet right off the crowded shopping stret Kalverstraat. It was built to house Beguines (a lay order of religious women) and remains home to lower-income women today. This picture isn’t very good (I only have the small camera with me and much of the area was closed to the public, in respect to the residents) but it may give some idea:
Next we went to the Amsterdam Historical Museum, which is currently showing a good exhibit on the history of the relationship between Amsterdam and the ruling monarchs, the House of Orange. By then we were hungry, so in true piffler style we spent the rest of the afternoon sitting, eating and talking at the Cafe de Schutter, a nice old dark pub sort of place, where I had a very good goat-cheese and honey broodje. On the way back to the train, we stopped to check out a “crime scene” with a shot-up car with a “body” in the trunk that turned out to be an ad for an upcoming TV show. I took a couple of pictures.
Then we cruised through Waterstone’s bookstore where I had better luck than in the ABC (I guess I will be shipping home a box of books), and we we took the obligatory pifflefest photo, and looked at the tulips for sale outside.
On the way back to the station, I noticed how much less annoying the bustle on the main streets is when you’re with someone else, and concentrating on talking to them.
I got home in time to rest a bit before heading out again to a birthday party for a former coworker. I was a bit nervous about getting there, since the place is out in the middle of a small woods which wasn’t helped at all when I asked the hotel people to help translate a few words in the directions and they were unable to explain what a “vluchtheuvel” is (sort of a small divider mound in the middle of a street) and assured me that a street was open that I was sure was under construction. It turned out I was right. Nonetheless, I got there without much trouble and enjoying talking to people from the department I worked in while we were here. I ended up leaving fairly early though; I was still tired from being up late the night before, and the place was crowded, smoky and very loud. They had the music turned up high enough to make conversation difficult, especially with the majority of people being a foot taller than I am.
This afternoon I will go out rowing with my old crew, since one of the women is coxing in a race today and they needed a sub. I’m looking forward to that, and enjoying this quiet leisurely morning. Tomorrow I will go out to idnner with some colleagues, so I will have company to celebrate my birthday.
Meanwhile, Ted’s been on an adventure of his own, with the rowers to Tainan. He got to row with Taiwan’s only (he thinks) Olympian hopeful, and also with her coach. He’s not all that impressed with Taiwan’s chances in the rowing events, I gather, but there’s a possibility she’ll end up competing in his boat, which would be sort of cool. (He’s still wondering if it’s possible to bargain to go along as a junior coach!) He said the etting the train ticket was a bit complicated, hotel was OK, the food was “interesting”, and everyone was very nice but communication, as always, was a bit of a challenge. (With luck, mabe he’ll write a full account here.)