June 12, 2019

The City of Rembrandt

by Rosemary West

Amsterdam is so crowded with tourists that city officials have considered an advertising campaign to encourage people to go to other cities. It's not surprising everyone wants to come here; the city seems to have everything: scenery, history, art, a lively nightlife, shopping, and plenty to eat.

This old clock on a building in the main square is actually a sundial.

Probably the most famous historical site in Amsterdam is the Anne Frank House, where Anne wrote her diary while she and her family, along with some other people, were hiding from the Nazis in the Secret Annex, a small suite of hidden rooms connected to her father's business. The furniture and personal possessions are long gone, but the magazine pictures Anne tacked to the wall are still there. It's a tiny space for eight people, who had to share one bathroom whose toilet couldn't be flushed during the day for fear of making too much noise. Eventually, the location of the annex was revealed to the Nazis; Anne and everyone else, except her father, died in concentration camps.

A statue of Anne Frank on the way to the house.

It rained nearly every day.

During its Golden Age in the 1600s, Amsterdam was the world's richest city, and it is still an important center of commerce and technology. The Stock Exchange building opened in the city center in 1903.

The Amstel River runs through the city and is connected to a system of canals that are lined with distinctive, traditionally styled buildings.

These houses are not falling over. They were built this way deliberately. Using the hooks and pulleys on the roof, the angle allows heavy objects to be lifted into the building without hitting it.

We appreciated Amsterdam’s good public transportation, but we also enjoyed walking along the old cobblestone streets and the canals. One of our walks took us through the Red Light District, where prostitution is legal and carefully regulated.

Outside the Old Church at the heart of the district is this statue of the Unknown Prostitute, nicknamed "Belle”, who symbolizes the sex workers of this area.

There are no streetwalkers in Amsterdam, and no pimps. Each prostitute is an independent, taxpaying businesswoman who rents a small storefront. The ladies, dressed in skimpy underwear, stand (or sit, or eat dinner, or make phone calls) in the display windows as tourists and potential customers walk by. For some reason, I had expected the windows to be above street level, and was surprised to find myself eye to eye with the workers.

Another interesting walk took us past the flower market, where we saw every possible kind of tulip. In the early 1600s, tulip mania overtook the country. Fortunes were lost as people speculated in bulb futures. Today, the Netherlands is Europe's largest flower exporter.

The starter kit is a reminder that recreational cannabis has been decriminalised in the Netherlands since the 1970s Although possession for personal use is technically a misdemeanor, it is not enforced. Marijuana is sold and consumed in coffee shops, and other “natural” psychoactive substances are available in boutiques.

Other popular shopping experiences include wooden shoes and Delft porcelain.

The department stores had fancy Christmas displays in their windows.

Herring stands were selling snacks and sandwiches.

Steve looks hungry

We enjoyed a visit to the Rijksmuseum, filled with the works of master painters from the Dutch Golden Age.

Rembrandt’s huge masterpiece, ”The Night Watch,” is a crowd favorite.

A short tram ride away, in Rembrandt Square, is a sculptural tribute to the painting.

Rembrandt is buried in the church known as Westerkerk, but the exact location of his grave is unknown.

It's here somewhere.

We also visited the Van Gogh Museum. Vincent van Gogh created over 2000 artworks in his brief career. He struggled with mental illness, and committed suicide at age 37. Today he is one of the western world's most famous and influential artists, but during his lifetime he sold only one painting.

The museum does not allow photography, so these pictures are from Wikipedia.

For a change of pace, we went to the Botanical Garden, where we were able to warm up a little in the greenhouses and the butterfly exhibit.

We were here during the first week of December. It was always cold and damp, and I came down with a terrible cold. Steve's attempt to get me some medicine at the local pharmacy did not work out. In a city where cannabis is sold in coffee shops and people smoke weed on the street, we were surprised to learn that you can't get decongestants without a prescription.

It was past time to go someplace warmer, so we headed for Spain.

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June 2, 2019

Two Years On the Road

June 3, 2017 was Day One, the day we officially began our grand tour. Two years later we are still on the road. This is day 730.

Straddling the Prime Meridian in Greenwich

New Year's Eve in Lisbon

Recently, we have fallen a bit behind in blogging. We still have plenty of stories and pictures to share, and we will be catching up soon. We will also be starting the next phase of our adventure, looking for our new home in the Pacific Northwest.

Stay tuned.

April 28, 2019

Stockholm, revisited

by Steve Winogradsky

After leaving Oslo at the end of November, we decided to make another visit to Stockholm, a city we had been to in the summer, to see what it was like in colder weather. And colder weather is what we found, although not quite as cold as Oslo. In the summer, there was daylight for about 20 hours a day, but at this time of year, the sun was only out for about 6-7 hours, so we had to make the most of it while we could.

It's as if they knew she was coming!

Snow plowed in the Kungsgaten.
In and around Kungsgaten, there was permanent and temporary artwork besides the usual statues of past kings.

One of several lighted reindeer near the harbor.

Oh no, they've killed Kenny!
Being both brave and crazy, we took a walk through the King's Park, a long stretch of public land along the archipelago and inland. Among the interesting sights was Rosendahl Palace which, like so many buildings in Europe, had been burned down and rebuilt.

On the grounds of the palace is the Porphyry Vase, carved from a single 140-ton piece of granite, taking 3,500 man days spread out over two years and moved into its location with the help of 100 men.

That night, we had a traditional Swedish Christmas dinner with friends Raila and Anders. What a feast it was! A buffet table (below) with at least 8 different types of herring, 4 types of salmon, as well as sliced sausages and cheeses. Then came the hot entrees, which included (no surprise) meatballs in gravy, followed by the dessert table. Needless to say, no one leaves these dinners hungry!

The next day, we walked around the harbor, which has many beautiful buildings lining its banks, including the Grand Hotel (traveler's note: Every major city has a "Grand Hotel", some grander than others) and the National Museum.

The main attraction of the day was going to the King's Palace to see the changing of the guard. In better weather, the guards are accompanied by a full band, but on this day only a sole drummer and bugler. I felt sorry for the bugler, as I was afraid that, in the very cold weather, her lips would freeze and stick to the mouthpiece. But she managed to play all the cadences without injury.

Afterwards, we wandered over to a nearby Christmas marketplace set up in one of the town squares.

As beautiful as it was in the summer, Stockholm was equally beautiful in the winter. But we were cold, and decided to head South.

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March 31, 2019

Oslo, It's Cold Outside

By Rosemary West

The tiger in front of the Central Station symbolizes Oslo's spirit

In mid November, we flew to Oslo. From our hotel window we could see a sign that reported the temperature, which always hovered around zero degrees Celsius. Although it was about 30 degrees warmer than Utah had been the previous winter, it felt colder, probably because it was so damp.

Despite the cold, we saw these planters everywhere.
We took a self guided tour known as “Norway in a Nutshell”. This started with a seven-hour train trip to Bergen, where we spend the night. From Bergen, we returned to Oslo by boat and train, traveling through the Aurlandsfjord. Although this was not the ideal time of year for the trip (not yet fully white winter and not green spring), the scenery was terrific.


Steve waits for the ferry

Back in Oslo, we enjoyed walking around town, despite the weather. We visited the National Gallery, where we saw artwork by many outstanding European painters, invcding Van Gogh and Edvard Munch. At the Christmas market, I bought new gloves and Steve picked up a scarf.

Self portrait by Van Gogh
Edvard Munch
'The Scream" by Munch
Also by Munch

A highlight of the trip was our visit to a huge park devoted to the work of Gustav Vigeland, Norway’s favorite sculptor. These larger than life statues represent human beings at all stages of physical and psychological development. The art is presented without description or explanation, so it is up to the viewer - and the occasional tour guide - to interpret it.

We also enjoyed a visit to the Fram Museum, which documents the history of polar exploration, with an emphasis on Norwegian explorers, particularly the expedition led by Roald Amundsen, the first to reach the South Pole. The museum is centered around the ship Fram, which has been preserved intact, allowing visitors to walk inside.

The Fram, looking much as it did in the Arctic.

A recreation of an officer's cabin.

From Oslo, we returned to Stockholm.

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