Paris

I go home tomorrow!

Turned out that my tiny room had air conditioning, so I didn’t ask to move, just cranked it up. And I have had a good time watching various French TV programs. They have stupid shit too, but a lot less of it, and a lot of actually interesting shows — cooking shows where they actually cook, travel shows that are educational, a show every night for an hour WHERE THEY DISCUSS NEW BOOKS.

Monday I slept in and then I wandered over to the Cluny museum, which is my favorite in Paris. I spent quite a lot of time there, and since for a year I’d been thinking about getting one of the tiny pillows with a detail of the Dame à la Licorne tapestry on it, I did. Then I walked across the street to Monoprix (I’d been there last year too) and bought some makeup since mine had gotten busted up in transit. I ended up also buying lipstick, and I loved the shade, which is difficult for me. I made a mental note to go back and buy more.

I walked past the next-door Starbucks this year on my way back to the metro. I have successfully avoided all the multiple Sbux I’ve seen this trip! And in Prague that was kind of hard, because there are at least as many in the tourist districts there as at home.

Tuesday I slept in again (I was beat from all the walking) and then went to my friend S’s for lunch. (On the way, a guy bumped into me on purpose and then asked if I wanted to go for a drink. Someday someone will hit on me who isn’t sketchy; that day was not Tuesday.) She is about five steps from the Gambetta metro station, and there’s a branch of BNP Paribas there, where I can withdraw money without a fee, so that was good. She’s on the fourth floor of a walkup… the spiral staircase is beautiful but FOUR FLOORS. On her door is a postcard of a kitty.

S and E were waiting for me. S is tall and dark and elegant, and E is petite and blonde and gamine. I weigh more than both of them put together and possibly half again.

The apartment is small and filled to the rafters with books. The toilet is in a separate room from the tub and sink and that little room has a full bookshelf in it. I loved it! I threatened to take pictures to prove that other people have as many books as I have, but I refrained.

We had a lot of fun chatting and eating — salad, mushroom quiche, cheese, dessert (strawberry tart) and coffee. Then E went to run errands and S and I mailed some of my books home, then came back upstairs and had macarons. Yum.

At 7:30 we met E for dinner at a brasserie at Place de la Nation. I got a salad with potatoes and cheese toast. Also yum!

S went back to the hotel with me on the metro and then went home. I came upstairs and crashed!

The next day I took the metro and the Montmartre funicular up to the Musee de Montmartre to see the Chat Noir exhibit. Fantastic stuff, if you’re into that era and like that kind of art (I am/do). I stayed there quite awhile; when I came out into the surprising sunshine I met a large glossy chat noir in the kitty flesh, having a bath in the garden. I took pictures of him and tried in vain to get his attention.

I went down into the maelstrom of tourists and had lunch (complete with tarte tatin, the only apple dessert I like). I found a print that I had had in my kitchen for years but got water damage (a French hot chocolate and tea ad), for sale with a bunch of other ads including two Muchas. I bought five for seven euros and will eventually frame them for my kitchen.

Went down to the bottom of the hill and decided that I might as well stand in the long line for the public toilet. Also still trying to get used to saying “toilet” when in American English that’s vulgar. I think that would be a lifelong adjustment at this point.

I decided to go over to the Bon Marché because I’d never been. It was a strikingly beautiful building inside and out, but the atmosphere was pretty much like being at Neiman Marcus. Even if I could afford it, they wouldn’t sell any clothes that fit me; the cosmetics counters were pretty much universal; everything was seriously expensive.

When I came out, I came out into a downpour. I did indeed have an umbrella with me, for a change. Raced back to the metro, and decided to go by the supermarket on my way back to the hotel. However, when I got to Oberkampf, the rain was so hard that I really couldn’t make it there without being completely soaked; I certainly could not have carried a baguette and other food without it getting soaked as well. I turned around and went back to the hotel. I had to strip off because the bottom of my skirt was dripping, my shoes were soaked, and everything else was generally wet. I had to lay out the prints to dry.

I made some tea and watched TV and went to bed early.

Yesterday I went out to Basilique Saint-Denis, which is way, way out on line 13. The neighborhood might give some people pause, but I guess because I come from such a multicultural place and both live and work in cities with some urban grittiness, it was fine. It was definitely more colorful and interesting than I find at home (of course). The thing that did give me pause was all the middle-aged and older guys sitting in cafes at midday. Apparently a high unemployment rate. I couldn’t find a cafe that I felt comfortable in so I bailed and went to McDonald’s. Which was beautifully appointed, of course. I sat near the bathrooms…er, toilets…and since I could figure out from the drawings which was which, but other people had trouble, I’d point when they looked at me in confusion. That’s me, the ba–toilet coordinator.

Went over to the church and took pictures of the gorgeous stained glass, then paid to get into the area where the kings of France are buried/their monuments are. Going down into the really old crypt was absolutely amazing. I was disappointed that the original Suger-era Jesse Tree window had been removed for restoration and was replaced with a transparent photo, but I’m glad they’re saving it.

I spent a couple of hours there and really could have stayed all day. I will have to come back (maybe when the Jesse Tree window is fixed).

S and I had taken the bus to dinner the other night, so now I felt confident in using my transit ticket for same. I saw there was a bus to the nearby metro stations and I decided I didn’t want to walk it, so I waited for the next one. While I was waiting, a guy struck up a conversation with me. He’s a security guard at the Bastille opera house, and wanted to have dinner with me. You know, I’m not sure how I feel about these guys (four now) hitting on me in Paris. At home, they’d be weird and creepy — people just don’t do that. And none of them are the kind of geeky guys I generally find cute, but none of them were awful. Still, I always say no. At least this time I did it about 90% in French. So there’s that.

I took the metro to the zoo that is Les Halles and went to the mall where my beloved mecca, Fnac, is. I bought some books and could have, of course, bought more. But I read French so slowly that it would be silly to do so. I got a couple of books of photographs of old Paris — that’s the sort of thing I like to curl up on the couch with at home.

Afterwards I went back to Monoprix to grab a couple more of the elusive lipstick, and some food for Friday morning, and then I came back to the hotel and crashed.

At this point I must stop because it’s 2 AM and I have to be up around 7:30. I will finish up my last day when I get home tomorrow, or Sunday!

Prague to Paris

Got up this morning and checked out of the palatial hotel. I left my bags, found the Mucha Museum — and I’m glad I didn’t find it first thing Wednesday because I’d have bought a lot of highly breakable glassware there. Then I had one last pastry (a Prague cake) at my little place, got my bags and rolled over the square to the meeting place for the shuttle. They sent the same guy, which was cool.

I couldn’t check in online last night or on the kiosk this morning, but it turned out okay. I had bought another Europe Business Class ticket but somehow it turned up Economy. Whatever — it was only a ninety-minute flight and the Czech Air guy let me check my two bags a la Business Class. I had a bit of a time finding the gate; Ruzyne is a little stripped-down and I was a little tired. But it all worked out fine. I actually dozed off on the flight, which happens approximately never except briefly on long-haul flights. Weird.

Got off the plane, got my bags, got a taxi. I gave the address in French and we got here!

…here being a more run-down place than I’d anticipated and MY ROOM FACES AN AIRSHAFT. Now that sucks. I’m a person who wants her windows open 24/7 and I sleep with two fans on in my room at home all the time. Sigh.. I realize I’m spoiled by the splendor of the Grand Hotel Praha and I’m fine with down-at-heel… I just want air! So tomorrow I will ask if there is another room. There probably won’t be but I can ask, eh?

The one good thing about it is that it has a hot pot, tea bags, and sugar. I actually travel with tea bags and sugar so I am all set. I had a shower in the tiny bathroom (it’s like the bathroom I had the first time here in 01, where I couldn’t actually bend over in the shower because I was  too tall — this time I shaved my legs by standing in the bathroom and sticking my legs one by one into the shower) and then had tea. Even airless little rooms seem nicer after a shower and tea.

At least tomorrow it should be lovely out, as things are after a good rain. Yay! It’s rained every time I’ve been to Paris; maybe that’s a sign. 🙂

Now I’m sitting in my airless little room listening to the rain and getting organized. I’m having lunch at my friend S’s place in the 20th (really close — we passed her intersection in the taxi) on Tuesday, with another friend E, then E is going to run some errands and S and I are going to go the post office. She’s going to mail some of my heavy stuff to me so I don’t have to schlep it; I’d brought a padded envelope for just that thing, so I was packing it up.

I might try to call it a night. The do-not-disturb sign says Ne pas deranger svp. Je regarde Canal+  Maybe I will curl up and watch me some Canal+.

 

More Prague

So yeah! Friday I slept a bit late (I fight that every day, whether I’m in Oakland, Amsterdam, Prague or Paris) and then I walked over to the Charles Bridge. I went kind of wrong at first, but figured it out, turned around, and found it. It’s not far, it’s just that the streets are hardly gridlike.

The bridge has huge towers at either side but the bridge itself is pretty human-sized. I took some pictures of the statues and wandered among the vendors. There are the usual caricaturists and some odd things, but also lots of beautiful jewelry and art. I bought some earrings and a couple pieces of quirky art (one of which is a present so it’s a secret for now).

I got over into Mala Strana on the other side of the bridge, and found a spot to eat. I had some chicken and roast potatoes with some Czech wine. It was all delicious but the service was slooooow even by European standards so I gave up on the thought of hiking up the hill to the Castle, and just went down the street to Our Lady of Victory to see the real Infant of Prague.

It was easy to find, and it’s in a very nondescript-from-the-outside church. Of course, on the inside it’s exuberantly beautiful, with many side altars (and the familiar Our Lady of Guadalupe in one of them). The Infant of Prague is halfway down the nave on the right side. He’s up pretty high, encased in glass, and quite small (as you’d expect an infant to be). He was in blue. Unlike many churches in Europe, there was water in the holy water font, so I actually blessed myself; there were even people praying, another oddity in European churches. I sat there for awhile, contemplating the little statue.

Behind the altar is a little museum with beautiful altar implements and a selection of antique and gorgeous outfits for the Infant. I went into the shop — funnily, they didn’t really have the nicest statues I’ve ever seen. I got a little wax figurine and a small booklet, just since I’d come so far. The exit walks you through the sacristy, where the was a (Franciscan, I think – no, Carmelite) fully habited sister working.

Then I walked back to “my” side of the bridge; on the way I made my only-once-in-a-lifetime wish  — we shall see. Then I went to find the Agnes of Bohemia convent that now holds the medieval collection. This is the hardest-to-find museum IN THE WORLD. I say this having only been to… let’s see … ten countries in my life, counting Scotland and Wales separately. I am still sure it’s true. It’s probably about a 12-minute walk from here but it took me something like 45 minutes. I finally did, through perseverance, luck, stubbornness, and the Streetwise Prague map. I wandered around, and was sad that there was no book about the collection — though I took quite a few pictures.

I was supposed to go to the opera that night, but I was way across town, didn’t feel like schlepping uphill on Wenceslas Square and sitting there for a few hours, so I didn’t. I wandered around this area, bought some jewelry (garnets and amber are the thing here — every block has several jewelry stores, with the aforementioned acres of garnets and amber in the windows) and some other things, then came back to my hotel. I hit the pastry shop/cafe again (they now know I will want black tea with whatever I order) and then came up watched French TV — a long program about the relatives of celebrities. I got all caught up in the one about Philippe Candoloro’s wife. I even understood some of the language, which was cool.

This morning I had my sister call me because I wanted to get up early enough to go up to the castle. It had been raining, so I laid around a bit until I heard more noise outside. I got up, had an unusual morning shower, and went over to the Cafe Kafka, which was started after his time, but still. I had some coffee and OJ and then walked over the bridge again. Some more cool stuff may have found its way into my bag. I had a quick bite at a restaurant and then I hiked up the hill.

It’s not a long walk, but it’s quite steep. Thankfully, of course, it’s also gorgeous and picturesque. I could never buy everything here I’d like to — I don’t have enough money, enough luggage, or enough room at home. But from the beautiful to the cute to the quirky, this city is overflowing with things I would love to have around me.

The view from the hill is lovely. I asked an older German man if he’d take my picture, then walked up into the courtyard and bought a ticket. I had a ticket for several places but the place is so big that I only went into St. Vitus Cathedral — the Mucha windows!! — then St. George’s and the Golden Lane. I had such a feeling of unreality in the Golden Lane. While a lot of Prague seems almost unreal, because it’s so beautiful, the streets are so narrow, and things keep going/stay open so late, this is truly unreal. The tininess of the dwellings is amazing. I went into the one where Kafka once lived, and a couple of others. They make my apartment look like the Louvre. Even my hotel room is significantly bigger.

I wanted to go the Mucha Museum, but by the time I got back here what I really wanted to do was rest. I stopped by St. Nicholas church and bought a ticket for the 8 PM concert, then came back here, started packing up, charging things, etc. I walked across the square for the concert a little early, which was good, because they let us in early and people PACKED in. The older French couple next to me gave me more elbow room than a lot of people got, thankfully.

There was Beethoven, Bach, Dvorak (of course), and, funnily enough, the Jean-Joseph Mouret music from Masterpiece Theatre. The acoustics were fabulous and I wish I’d gone to a concert every night I was here. Also, the cellist of the Consortium Pragense Orchestra is a cutie, at least by my quirky standards. His profile looked like a younger, Slavic Zach Braff. Full-on, not so much, but man! I could definitely date a string musician… just sayin’.

Afterwards I grabbed a few small souvenirs for work folks and then went in search of dinner. Saturday night, of course, means crowds, but I finally found a place I could sit and had some risotto and wine. A couple sat down by me — an American guy and his Czech girlfriend. They made up after a fight, decided they’d never break up (she said, “we’ll die next to each other”), discussed where he wants his kids raised (Europe) and his opinions of the Czechs (mixed), went on to whether the American system works, the old world v. the new, and the last bit I heard (by getting a second glass of wine) was about whether or not artists represent the common person.

I came back here and got my daily pastry from Cafe Mozart (I wanted to try as many different, unfamiliar to me, ones as I could) — but after they served me I realized I’d left my bag from Blue Praha at the restaurant. I ran (yes) back through the square and they had it for me. Came back and had my tea and stracciatella cake.

And now I’m just about packed and ready for bed. Air France/Czech Air won’t let me check in for tomorrow’s flight ahead of time, so I hope all is well. I called Air France and they basically said they think it’s because it’s Czech Air, although I could check in online for the KLM/CA flight here. Having said that, I couldn’t automatically get my boarding pass at Schiphol and had to talk to an agent, so maybe it’s the same deal. I am fairly confident I will get to Paris tomorrow. Fairly.

The astronomical clock has just prodded me by telling me it’s 12:15 AM, so I’d better shower and call it a night.

The End of Amsterdam, the Beginning of Prague

On Tuesday night in Amsterdam, I did something I’d never done before. I’d come back from my day with A, and I was hungry. I was hungry and exasperated at myself enough to put my shoes back on and walk around the corner to Rembrandtplein, walk into a cafe, order a sandwich and a Strongbow and eat dinner after dark in public alone. And then I had a coffee and an amaretto. I ROCK.

Then I packed up and tried to sleep. Of course, when I must sleep I can’t, but I still managed to haul my reluctant ass out of bed at 6 and go out into the lobby to check out. The bar/cafe didn’t open til 7, but the reception desk clerk offered to get me coffee from their machine in the back. I just decided to go to the airport a little early. I had a wonderful cab driver and we chatted all the way out to Schiphol. There was some kerfuffle getting checked in because although it was a KLM flight it was operated by Czech Air. And then security decided to go through every square inch of my purse, but they were nice and I was early, so… whatever.

I got a croissant, OJ and coffee and sat down to wait. I could have bought just about anything for myself, my family, my friends, or my apartment at that airport, though.

I was in the first very aisle of the plane.  THUMBS UP FOR EUROPE BUSINESS CLASS. We got a snack on real china — two little crustless sandwiches and a tiny chocolate/fruit tart. I sat next to a Canadian-turned-American who was going to the Czech Republic to play in an over-40 hockey tournament for the US.  He insisted on putting my carryon up in the overhead bin for me. Canadians! Love ‘em.

Landed, got luggage, found my ex-pat driver, and talked US politics all the way to the hotel. I said I was glad to be out of the country for a couple of weeks so I could limit my election-year annoyance. He’s from California so he says he doesn’t really have to vote because it’s a blue state. He dropped me off at the end of Parizska Street and pointed at my hotel across the way.

Dragged my luggage across huge cobblestones, found the place, had to haul them up a couple of steps and into an elevator since reception is on their-first-our-second floor. My room wasn’t ready yet but they took my luggage, gave me the opera ticket that was waiting for me, as well as some coupons and whatnot and I went on my way.

I walked out — when the hotel advertises that they’re across from the Astronomical Clock, they are not kidding. It’s directly opposite their front door. It’s also really low to the ground, which is both a good thing and surprising. I wandered around, briefly considered having lunch at the oddly quiet Hard Rock Cafe and then went over to a different place, where I had a lovely lunch and coffee.

Around 4 I met L, another knitter, and we went off to the drugstore so I could get something I’d forgotten, and then she took me to a cafe she likes. You enter through an oval double door and it’s a rabbit warren inside; the walls and ceilings slope and curve and it’s like walking through an intensified version of Pagano’s in Alameda. We had iced tea, coffee, and later mint tea, and she had a broth and meatball thing, and the bill was less than eleven dollars.

I got back here around 10:30, took a bath in my latest long bathtub (I am sure there will not be one in Paris) and went to bed; I had to get up early for my trip to Terezin this morning.

I managed to get up at 8:30 and walk down Parizska Street, past every luxury brand store you can name, to the Intercontinental (which must have been built during the Communist era because ugh). Eventually the lady from the tour company showed up and I paid her, and then the other couple on the tour came, and we met our guide.

Our guide was this man. It was a really amazing tour, not only because he’d been imprisoned there (and is around 91 but still going!), but because the place itself is surreal. It looks and feels sort of like a back lot in Hollywood must. People live there again — there are stores and cafes, and windows with satellite dishes and stuff — but not very many, and many buildings are either closed or given over to museums. So the streets are half-deserted and most of the people who are there are tourists or field trips — a group of German kids and their teacher stopped and listened to Pavel while he was talking to us, and then the teacher and Pavel spoke in German to each other a bit. The teacher shook and clasped his hand.

We saw the Danish synagogue, and a museum where they recreated what the Terezin barracks looked like. He showed us the barracks he had been in, and took us to the cemetery and the crematorium, which was quite small, but apparently worked 24/7. There were four standalone ovens, and it was chilling.

Afterwards, we went out to the Small Fortress where political prisoners had originally been imprisoned and then later Jews as well. The solitary confinement cell where Gavrilo Princip was held is there, right inside the door of its building, and Pavel showed us where he’d been chained to the wall.

It of course also has an Arbeit Mach Frei sign, and is grim and battered on the inside — on the outside it’s brick with a huge moat. All of the fortification of the town and the fortress remind me of Vincennes.

Pavel told us how he had been trained quickly to be a teacher when all the Jewish kids in Prague had to go to a Jewish school and there weren’t enough teachers. Because of this, he got assignments to teach in the camps, including at Birkenau, and he credits this with his staying alive.

He sold signed copies of his memoir and I bought one. I started reading it when I got back, even though I know the outline of his story. Also, seeing pictures of this elderly man as a baby and a young man was interesting.

One thing that was a little awkward perhaps was that the other two people on the tour were a Jewish-American couple, and I know that neither they nor Pavel could quite tell if I were Jewish too, but they didn’t want to ask. I don’t look at all Jewish, but you never know, and I didn’t want to say, “OK, I admit it, I’m Catholic,” so it was interesting. The husband pointed out other Jewish Prague sites to me and asked me about the line at the Anne Frank House — and of course I had actually just been — so I think they are just left wondering.

I suppose it could be seen as weird that a Gentile is so interested in this stuff. But history fascinates me, Europe fascinates me, and for some reason I find this era particularly interesting. For one thing, there is some really engaging literature from the time and since I love to read history, I’ve just learned more about that time than a lot of other eras.

I bought an iced tea at the fortress but had had nothing else all day, so when I got back I had a late lunch right away. I’ve eaten twice now on the square and I suppose I shouldn’t because it’s overpriced but it’s yummy and it’s right there! Prague is under hard-liquor prohibition right now so of course all I want is a liqueur after dinner, but oh well, I’ll be in Paris in a couple of days. (She says snottily.) I did have a delicious Lambrusco with dinner.

Then I came upstairs, dropped off my stuff, put my wallet into a smaller purse and walked. I found Wenceslas Square (complete with two Starbucks, one on each side of the street — there’s also one on the ground floor of this building/block) and then the Opera House for tomorrow night. I gazed at the acres of garnets in the many jewelry shop windows, bought a Coke and a bottle of water, contemplated going to a Black Light show but might do that Saturday night instead, came up for a bit, went back down and did a little shopping. Some gifts, some selfish. The one problem I have here is that the ATMs give 1000 and 2000 crown notes, and from my bank at home I have 200 and 500 crown notes, and nobody wants to give change! (And you will need it, because it takes some doing to spend a thousand crowns.) They will, but first they want much smaller stuff. I spent 309 crowns somewhere and the lady didn’t like my 500 crown bill. (It worked out.)

When I decided to call it a night, I went to the cafe on the ground floor here and had an opera cake — it had lots of nuts on top and some gooey layers — and a cup of tea. I am getting something from them tomorrow and Saturday and on Sunday morning before I leave, because their pastries are works of art.

And now I’m in for the evening, charging my rechargeables and contemplating another bath. I realized I was off a day in my head, thinking I had an extra day here, so I need to get a move on tomorrow. I want to go over the Charles Bridge to the church with the actual Infant of Prague, and then up to Prague Castle before the opera at 7. Saturday I want to go to Agnes of Bohemia Convent where they have medieval art, and maybe something else. Sunday I have to meet my shuttle across the square at 2:15, so I will have a little time in the morning. We shall see!

Most of the Rest of Amsterdam

Boy am I tired!

Yesterday I got up early and went the long-but-simple way to the Anne Frank House. Stress LONG. (OK, longer than it would have been otherwise.) Being a non-morning person, having had no breakfast or caffeine, and walking at a brisk-for-me pace was unfun. I sat a couple of times and then got worried I wouldn’t make it on time. I did, just a few minutes early.

I went to the English introduction and it really wasn’t necessary, having read the diary and other things, but it was nice to sit for a half hour!

The museum itself is quite small. And dark — they have kept the windows covered as they would have been during hiding. The staircase into the offices alone was narrow and steep. For some reason, I had not pictured the bookcase that covered the entrance to the back house being on a landing all by itself, I don’t know why. And then you have to climb up into the doorway. Other staircases are more like ladders.

The rooms are tiny, just tiny, for the number of people they had to hold and the length of time those people were in there, especially without being able to see out. I know I would have been a wreck with claustrophobia.

It’s fascinating — really sad, but fascinating. We of course read the diaries several times through school, and unexpurgated version was in my very first Amazon order in 1996. That’s good in that I knew enough to not have to refresh my memory, but bad because I had a scene all set in my head, and it was not at all like that. Or maybe not bad, but it made for a heady experience as I had to readjust my mental picture almost totally.

After that I walked across town to the Van Gogh. Since I’d been over in that area earlier, I had an idea of where to go, and I made it in one piece! There was a longish line but it was fine. I was bummed my favorite painting, the print of which I have in the bathroom at home, isn’t there; I hadn’t checked to see where it’s held. But there were others, and it was interesting. The large picture at the end with his and his brother’s graves side-by-side in France gave me chills, for some reason. Very sad.

I had walked through the line of food stalls on my way over, and on the way back got a sandwich and sat down at the table along the Museumplein…and watched the Muslim anti-American demonstration. I didn’t actually realize at first what it was, although I knew the embassy was over there. Then I saw a woman in niqab (striding along with a man and talking vigorously with her gloved hands), and realized some of the crowd was veiled as well. And that the reason I couldn’t read the signs wasn’t that they were too small or in Dutch, but in Arabic. I’d never actually seen an anti-American demonstration before. Watched and listened for awhile although I was too far away to really hear anything, took a picture with my kickass zoom, then ambled on my in-this-instance-I’m-Canadian-thanks way.

Walking back I watched a lot of young Dutch people and wondered what I’d have been like if I’d grown up someplace like this. (Thinner, for sure. But otherwise, I mean.)

Later in the evening I walked around my neighborhood taking pictures with the lights reflecting on the Amstel; found the cafe for knit night, and looked into bars and restaurants. I was thinking about how a couple, or a single man, can waltz into a bar, but there’s something a little odd about a lone woman doing it, at least in a place she’s unknown. I will do it here at the hotel but not out in the world. I do think that when I’m older and I’m an eccentric old woman I can and will do it, though.

Monday I slept late — I was really beat, and decided that being exhausted was not going to do me any good. I went and sat out in the lobby and the lovely woman at the bar asked me if I wanted a latte. OH YES PLEASE. And it was lovely. As in France and probably everywhere else in continental Europe, it comes with a butter cookie (well, in France they’re spice cookies). She was very sweet, had a lovely smile and merry eyes,  and I got the impression she’s someone I would like to know in real life.

Then I walked up to Dam Square, because I was told to by several people. I have to confess that sometimes big squares are not my favorite things (awesome, since I’m staying on one in Prague!). I really prefer winding small streets and alleys. However, the palace is pretty, as is the neighboring church, and there’s a big Dutch department store I may or may not have gone into and used my chip-and-PIN card for for the first time to buy a fuchsia handbag from their store line. Maybe.

I retraced some of my steps and went to the Our Lord in the Attic museum. It’s a Catholic church built across three attic spaces in a canal house, back in the day when Catholicism was illegal to practice in Amsterdam. In reality, the authorities turned a blind eye as long as you were discreet, and the owner of the houses was a respected and well-to-do businessman. It’s undergoing renovation so not everything was there, but it was sort of a Winchester Mystery House-esque thing, with lots of small winding stairways and a church the size of, say, a smallish restaurant but beautiful appointments . They have repainted it the purple it was when it last functioned as a church, in the 19th century. The pictures of it in the guidebook I bought are pre-restoration so are still yellow, but you can see some things that aren’t there right now. It was fun to climb down the original 17th-century steps from the living room in the living quarters. These folks had to be nimble.

Also, this was a rich man’s house and it was still cramped. Granted, they had to be quite a lot shorter than the average person now, since the box beds that are still there would be too short for me to sleep in. Still not a big house, especially squeezing in a church and a resident priest!

After that I had to skedaddle back (just along the edge of the red light district) because C was going to meet me at my hotel to go to dinner before the Stitch & Bitch. I got myself refreshed and then waited out in the lobby for her. We walked over to a beautiful little restaurant across the river in the university district, where I had wine, risotto, strawberry tiramisu and coffee and a wonderful discussion. She used to work on merchant ships as a young woman, has two kids in their twenties, one of whom has Down Syndrome, went to college as a mature student and has an MA in Religious Studies. She works as a secretary for the university now. Then we wandered over to Cafe de Jaren for knit night. My other online friend A showed up… knitting lace socks and drinking wine, which boggled my mind. Everyone else there but C was an ex-pat. A is Australian and everyone else is American. One guy, a Korean (I think) American  is a professor; A’s Kiwi husband got a job here (and they just bought a house); everyone else seems to have married a Dutch person. I must confess I sat there a little wistful and depressed because I will never live in Europe. But hey, at least I’m here, and all other things being equal I will come back again. And at least I get to say “I’m from San Francisco,” which has a certain cachet. (OK, I’m not really from there, but close, and people know it. I do work there!)

Everyone else’s knitting far, far surpassed mine. One woman is going back to America to teach at knitting things this fall. Rarefied atmosphere!

Afterwards A and C walked me back to my hotel, around 10.30. And then I accidentally got caught up in a subtitled Italian movie and was up til three AM. What the hell?! A had given me her phone number to call her the next day if I wanted to do something, as she’s not working right now. So I made myself go to sleep, I think sometime before four!

When I came to around nine, it was raining. That put the kibosh on my possible canal boat tour and I turned over and went back to sleep til eleven. Then I called A, got dressed, got online and checked in for my flight to Prague tomorrow, and had coffee from my lovely bartending lady. And I feel so grownup just charging them to my room. You’d think I was an adult or something.

A showed up, had some coffee with me, and we showed off our cat photos (she’s not having any kids either). Then we walked through the flower market and the Delft shop, where I didn’t buy anything even though I really could have, but it’s expensive and I don’t know if it would have made the journey home. Then we went to the Christmas shop, where I did buy some things (so did she, but she kept telling herself she could come back). We had lunch, went to a yarn shop (staffed by an American), then went and had a cocktail and walked back here in the rain. She went off to grocery shop and make dinner. I’m drying out and will shortly go out to the lobby to get online and maybe get something to eat/drink.

I wish I had a couple extra days, but if I come back there’s things I don’t need to do again so I’d have time for other stuff. I do wish I’d done a canal tour, gone to the Jewish quarter (it’s literally right around the corner and over a bridge from here) and gone inside some churches. But it will be here! I do kinda wish I’d bought some Delft or had tulip bulbs sent home (they’re my favorite flower), but that’s life. I still have two other cities to hit!

I have to leave the hotel at 7 tomorrow morning. O.o I will have to get up at work time, 6.20. My flight is at 9:30 and Schiphol is HUGE. In fact, it’s an actual destination itself.  They even have facilities for you to get married there, and there’s a massive mall. So there will be some navigating. I checked in but am picking up my boarding pass at the airport so I want to build in some time, and I’d rather sit with coffee and await my flight than run.

I have found I just hate leaving anywhere. Before I left I was like, “I don’t wanna go, I want to stay home with the cats and read in my cushy safe home.” Now I’m like, “I don’t want to leave Amsterdam! I like it here!” Also, Prague is an unknown. But once I get going it will be good.

Off to the lobby….

First Day in Amsterdam

End the of the first day in Amsterdam. I’m having an early night because I have to be at the Anne Frank House at 9:45 tomorrow, it’s across town, and I got up a little after ten this morning. Ha.

Lots of walking. I went round the corner and walked up til I hit Prisengracht — at the other end of which, interestingly, is Anne Frank’s house… but though Google maps says it’s a 25-minute walk I want to give myself an hour — and then tried to find the Rijksmuseum. Yeah, that didn’t go so well at first.

I realized I hadn’t eaten in probably 12 hours, so I went into a bagel place and got OJ, a latte, and a goat cheese bagel. The latter was *not* what I was expecting — it had honey and walnuts on it, so was sweet. I ate it anyway; it’s not like it was bad, just not what I had wanted. Sort of a pb&j experience when you’re expecting only peanut butter. Then went off again, got further lost, and then found some signs.

Bad signs. Or, I should say, insufficient signs.

Finally, though, I sat at the end of a walkway that dead-ended at a canal and had me in the shade, and mused over my map. I decided to try one last thing, and it worked. Yay, Rijksmuseum!

…of course, Dutch masters are not actually my favorite. But I figured while I was here and all.

I’d have gone to the Van Gogh afterwards except I was tired and hungry and thirsty again. I went to a cafe nearby (and I could have gotten a discount if I’d shown my museum ticket, but I don’t even do that sort of thing at home!) and had a sandwich.

But wait, to revert to yesterday first.

Yesterday. Long day. My plane was a half hour late leaving San Francisco but we still got to Paris on time. The seats in premium economy are quite awesome (though it was still envy-making to pass through Business), and we got a pack with an eyeshade and socks in it. The food was okay and I could have drunk copiously all the way there.

I did notice, which jives with some things I’ve read, that the stewardess asked the French man next to me if he wanted to start with an aperitif. Me, no. She also offered him a digestif. I think I’m going to ask for both on my way home, damnit!

But the food was not spectacular and the service was actually less attentive than Swiss. However, I don’t want to fly Swiss again because I don’t want to have to go through Zurich every time I go somewhere. Anyway.

So I can’t quite decide if the money was worth it for the seat. I had about six inches of clearance of my knees, which was lovely, and the seats were slightly wider and — most importantly for us big people  — had solid sides, so I couldn’t possibly push over into my neighbor’s seat. It seems to me that would solve a lot of the problems people have with fat people flying.

We’ll see what the return flight is like.

Apparently this was a Boeing and not an AirBus but it still had a lot of overhead clearance, which I appreciate. I hate the claustrophobic feeling of low ceilings. Also, it was the first flight I’ve ever — ever — been on that was cool. The French guy on the other, non-aperitif side, who was young and works in San Francisco, was wrapped up in his shirt, sweatshirt, shirt around his neck and the blanket. I, in my light top, skirt, and Birkentstocks, was reveling in being comfortable!

It took me til mid-flight to realize we had headsets hanging next to our seats. I’m so used to people either using their own or getting the cheapy ones from the airline and having to plug them in in the seat, which I can’t see/reach because my body is right up against it. So I watched the movie the woman in the row ahead of me was watching, because it was subtitled. Once I figured the headset thing out I watched an NCIS rerun I’d seen before, then listened to some odd French folk music. Then I actually slept for about three hours, which never happens!

Also, the bag I took as my purse was not a good idea. Too big and non-squishable, in my way. I will pack that on the way home and take just my carryon and my small purse.

So we get to Paris. I finally have entered the EU in France so I finally have a French stamp on my passport though I’ve been there three times now (I suppose I should only count this trip as my third time altogether, although I say I’ve been in Switzerland just by virtue of passing through Zurich, so I could say four!). My luggage is there. Awesome.

THEN OH THEN.

I schlep. Find I’m in the wrong terminal. Make my way to the correct terminal. I can’t find the place to check in for my flight — later I figured it out, but that was after I’d been pointed in the right direction (at the other end of the terminal). I check in and decide to check both bags. Go through security, where the woman wants to go through my stuff manually and I understood her. So that was cool.

I got a macchiato at the Illy stand. It’s funny that I use Illy to make my coffee at home, and it’s just normal; I get it at Nob Hill, nowhere fancy. I can’t decide if that makes me cool, upgrades American cool a little, or makes Illy boring. (I think I shall go with the first.)

I also got a citronnade and later a Coke, and I quickly found the nearest bathroom (down an elevator, which led solely to the bathrooms) and visited thrice before my plane. I get thirsty when I’m hot, and schlepping had made me hot.

At this point I realize with horror that if they should lose my carryon, it’s got my camera and my meds in it and I am fucked.

We boarded the plane; “Europe Business Class” is simply business class, but on an aircraft like a Southwest plane. There was no comfort difference, but there was an adorable male flight attendant and a dinner consisting of a salad with smoked salmon (which I sadly don’t like, so ate around), hot rolls, whatever kind of drink you wanted, and a lemon mousse with fruit coulis. There was a little box with salt and pepper in an hourglass-like container and a tiny jug of lemon olive oil. I didn’t use those so brought them with me. (The guys back in coach, behind the “we’re much cooler than you are” curtain, just got drinks.)

Before we got to that, though, we were delayed twenty minutes because of luggage issues.

Luggage issues!!

Happily, we landed in Amsterdam and I walked the forty-five miles through Schiphol to the baggage area and they were both there! Traveling either premium economy or business has gotten me  the priority tag, so both times they were among the first off the plane. We’ll see how it goes in Prague on Wednesday. But I will not be checking my camera or meds again.

I saw the signs for the train into town, but I’d been up nearly forever and just wanted a shower and a bed. I took a taxi — big black Mercedes, nice — and it was forty euros but worth it. It began to rain a little, but not much. He dropped me off, I checked in and… found the tiniest room evar. That would be fine but for two things: I can’t open the window more than a tiny sliver (possibly because I’m on the ground floor) and my view is of a) the frosted lower portion of my window and b) a wall. Yes, I face a tiny alley and two buildings right up against this one. THAT SUCKS. I like to hang out in my room sometimes and just watch the world out the window. But no. I guess I will just be spending most of my time outside… which is good, but still!

The tub, though, is very long and deep and I had a bath and a shower and watched some mysterious-to-me Dutch TV and went to sleep. (I am taking advantage of the tub to have hot soaks every night with salts to soothe my muscles; I am pretty sure I won’t have one in Paris and probably not in Prague either.)

Some reflections from today:

  • So tired of being almost monolingual. My French is better than any other non-English language, but I read better than I speak and I tend to freeze up when in live situations, so even stuff I know doesn’t come out. (I actually told a guy last year, in English, that I was an American. That is so not hard to say in French.) I realize when you speak a sort of “minor” language in terms of worldwide speakers, you need to learn a second (at least) and that second one is likely to be English. In fact, if your native language isn’t English, it’s still likely you learnt it so you have a common language with more people. When I checked in last night, the French women ahead of me spoke in English to the Dutch clerk, who spoke English back. The girls at the bagel shop? English. The person at the counter at the Rijksmuseum? Flawless, almost accentless English.
  • Yes, the Dutch walk like all Europeans and have the bike thing going… and I wish to God I had a lifestyle like that, but here’s the thing: To go from my subway station to work, I’m walking through a crappy, ugly stretch of Market Street, beseiged by five or six homeless people, stepping over urine, etc. etc. Because GOD FORBID WE HAVE A WELFARE STATE. But even if we did, and even if Market were clean and fresh and happy, it’s still ugly (at my end anyway) and dull, not lined with beautiful buildings and canals and bridges and flowers everywhere. Nor is the downtown office-building-laden part of every European city, either. (Although I bet you every euro in my purse there are not homeless  on every corner.) So let’s revert to where I live. Even the pretty side of my neighborhood…is not that pretty. Piedmont Avenue is crazy with panhandlers, is down-at-heel at one end and although it has European-narrow sidewalks it’s just not the same. I can walk over there, certainly. But no further — not on a bike either. There is no place to go run errands within a reasonable biking distance. I can’t bike to work. I can’t bike to the big store (it’s up a huge hill and it’s crap, which is why I drive eight miles to Nob Hill.) If I still lived in Alameda, I could do it. Possibly other places too. But not where I live and work. Or, if I did it, it would be really highly unenjoyable. That’s why I cave and take the Muni metro from the BART station.

And that’s about it for now. I should go to bed shortly so I get up on time tomorrow!

Funny, Innit?

I make lists and plot and plan months ahead of trips, but so much stuff can only be done at the last minute(ish), and just when I get to that point is when I most want to curl up with a cat and a book rather than run to the store, refine the packing, do the last load of laundry, get my nails done, whatever.

I have one more full day (mostly of work) and then Thursday til I leave for the airport around 2, and I still have a list of stuff to do. I really should take the day before and the day after a trip off, and I would if I didn’t want to waste precious vacation days!

I was decadent this evening and got a pizza for dinner when I went to pick up my mail. I sat there and ate it reading, then went and got some cat food and came home to futz with the packing.  I organized my flight and hotel confirmations and made tentative day-by-day sketches of what to do — I’m much more certain of what to do when in Paris, but I will figure it out in Amsterdam and Prague as well. I wish I had one extra day in each city, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles, eh?

But for now it’s nearly midnight and my hair is pretty much dry so I am going to go crash. At least the work projects I was dreading having to slog through before vacation are done, so tomorrow should be relatively calm. Knock wood.

Ghosts

I had a dream last night that my ex-husband came to visit me at home. It’s not where I live now, but a small house that seemed rather rural, with much lovely greenery around. He had brought our (non-existent) cat to visit me; a big hulking grey beauty whom I had apparently not wanted him to take. And I really wanted him to leave the kitty with me.

Unlike many dreams, where you know a figure just is a particular person even though they may not look like them, he looked like himself. He had his tattoos, plus some new ones I figured were in honor of his kid(s). He also wore a really wide, really thick white gold wedding band on his right, rather than his left, hand. I’ve actually seen his second wedding ring (from afar) and while it does looks like it’s white gold it’s an average size and worn on his left hand.

We chatted and he told me he’d been acting in plays, and wanted to know if I wanted to see a DVD of one. I said no, because I tend to cringe too much watching or listening to people I know do things like that (which is kind of true, sometimes). A dog appeared in the window next to us and I ran outside to catch it and return it to its owner; when I came back he was leaving with the cat and I ran to him to beg him not to. Except for some reason I didn’t dare ask outright. (Hmm. I guess this is kind of transparent, no?)

There was some interlude with a long busy street (possibly brought on by my looking last night at the Street View of the route between my Prague hotel and the opera house, which has Wenceslas Square in between, besides the opera house itself being on a busy boulevard), and something with a very lovely dark-haired woman à la Betty Page, who was I suppose his second wife.

It was not at all a bad dream, except for wanting my cat back (in real life “our” cat was my cat, whom I’d had since college, and obviously he stayed with me). But I am sick unto death of him having space in my head. It’s not his fault, it’s mine, but it drives me bonkers and I would like to evict him. I think there are several reasons his memory is lodged in my brain (besides the normal and obvious fact that we were, you know, married, and lived together for almost six years):

  • I pass through his subway station twice each day on the way to work and back. I’ve seen him there once, I could see him there again, and I am always aware of it. I could only see him in the evening because he doesn’t come from my direction so would not be on my train, and if I see him it would be on the East Bay bound platform waiting while my train went through. I still know which station is his regardless of time of day though.
  • Many things just stopped when we split up — I didn’t travel (except for a lovely solo weekend in Portland and the horrific Hawaii camping trip with the person referenced later in this list), I didn’t go to baseball or hockey games, things like that. I retreated into my kind-of-broke-and-very-homebody life. Which is fine in a way but means that gaps opened up that didn’t get filled. And therefore many things reference “When my ex-husband and I…” because I haven’t done/seen/whatever’d the thing in question since then. I am learning to just say “When I” even if I did it with him, unless it’s germane to the story (ie, our wedding or something).
  • I have had a couple of quasi-boyfriends and several, well, lovers, since we split, but nothing truly serious. (Although I did actually, stupidly, kind of want to marry the wackier of the two QBs — oh my God does he have gorgeous green eyes and some, er, talents. Anyway.) So I have not had in-jokes or pet names or any of the intimacies of  a real relationship since then. That’s a gap that hasn’t and won’t be filled.
  • A few anniversary-worthy things happened while we were married (for instance, Princess Diana died the month of our wedding; 9/11 happened six months or so before we split up) and therefore when they’re in the news… yeah.
  • He and I designed my favorite tattoo — the one on my ankle I can see all the time.
  • Stuff like that.

These things are being mitigated somewhat by the fact that I got my inheritance and I have a much better-paying job, so I can for instance travel again. It’s so nice that the last time I was in France was not with him! And I am trying to kickstart myself out of being quite such a homebody, but it’s hard. As I wrote elsewhere yesterday:

I sit all day, but I’m with people all day too, and I have a simple but loud-and-crowded commute, and when I get home to my blissfully quiet and only cat-inhabited apartment, I just want to sit and read, maybe knit. So suddenly then it’s bedtime and I may have gotten some great reading in but… nothing else. And on the weekends I’ve been known to not leave the house at all, which actually makes me feel a little weird, but dear God the inertia.

But seriously, I’m 45 years old and I only have so much time left. I’m not 19 with my whole life ahead of me (and 19 was no picnic so there’s that). I know I’m an introvert and I need quiet downtime to read and relax, more so than extroverted bubbly folks. But damn, I need some balance for many reasons — one of which is that if I experience more stuff now, the unhappy past (or even the was-happy-then-is-bittersweet-now past) will have a smaller percentage of the overall storage space in my brain.

Which is one reason I bought the Prague opera ticket in the first place. Usually when I travel alone I retreat to my hotel for a picnic dinner and I stay in at night. But I want to go to some of the church concerts there — and the Dvorak Festival is on while I’m there, and I like his music a lot, so will see what I can find — and I haven’t been to an opera in 23 years. (With a boyfriend in college. Standing room at the SF Opera. I do not recommend standing through an opera.)

So there.

Also, Food, Part II

The pain d’épices is meh. It’s okay, but a little chewier than I had anticipated, and not spicy enough for my liking. Of course, I’m a die-hard cinnamon fanatic (I usually quadruple whatever a recipe calls for), so that may be why. It’s edible, but I am disappointed. It was a very easy recipe, though, so I think I will just tinker with it. (Maybe quadruple the cinnamon?)

ARRRRRRRRRRGH

I have determined that I cannot watch movies or TV while knitting. I will screw up anything except garter flat or stockinette in the round. I am about to start my third try of a SIMPLE, SIMPLE, SIMPLE scarf that I have inexplicably screwed up twice now.

I don’t even know how I manage to do it.

What’s more, I don’t even know what I did. I go to tink back, and I end up with weird unfixable loops hanging there. I wish to God I had a knitting guru in real life, so I could put it aside at the “weird unfixable loop” stage and take it to her or him and say, “What did I do and how can I fix it?”

I suppose the next time, I take some pictures and put them on Ravelry.

It’s true, oh so true, that I am not at all good with my hands and that any knitting project that I have completed successfully has been the result of brute force/ironclad concentration/the fact that it was something that didn’t need to fit. And yet I keep on trying, which is either admirable or fucking crazy.