I really only have one more quick story to share with y'all. It's about my coffee shop experience in A-Town. You should be aware that in Amsterdam coffee shops are where you can buy and smoke marijuana legally and cafes are where you actually buy the coffee. You see both everywhere and each time it's difficult to wrap your head around the fact that pot is just not a big deal here.
So, I am in Amsterdam, so of course I have to check out what all the hub-bub is about. We have lunch at The Grasshopper in the center of town, right next to one of the canals. It is gorgeous outside. We grab a couple chairs out on the patio, order some beers and burgers and sit back to enjoy the people watching. Now you should know there is one of these famous coffee shops in the basement of this restaurant. So, everyone besides us is also enjoying the weather but, instead of having a burger, they are rolling up joints and smoking them. Thank goodness for sunglasses 'cause I was a checkin' everyone out.
We finish up lunch and decide to head downstairs. I have way too many questions about how this all works to just get up from lunch and walk away. We definitely had a bright red, blinking sign across our foreheads screaming "Tourist!". With my eyes ready to bulge out of their sockets, I realize I don't even know what to say to the...I guess you would call him...the bartender...Um, yeah. What do I say? Hi, I grew up in South Dakota and this whole pot being legal thing just blows my mind. Tell me how this works?
Thankfully he helped us out and asked us if we wanted to see the menu. HA. THE MENU! I love it. Well, of course I would like to see THE MENU.
The bartender tells us to go over to the wall and push the big, red button. Huh? Push the button? What happens? The walls part and a secret pot room appears?
So, here I am...a little nervous to push the red button...but, I do. The wall above the button all of a sudden lights up and the menu appears. You let go of the button and the menu disappears. How cool is that? The menu is comprised of two sections, "weed and hash" and a small subsection for "space cakes".
Josh and I both look at each other and ask..."What the hell is the difference?"
Josh asks the bartender, "I have a stupid question. What is the difference between hash and weed?"
And the best part of this experience is the answer we got from the bartender.
Picture a guy who's eyes are completely glazed over and has a perma-grin from ear to ear. He starts giggling and tells us...
"So, weed gets you high, but it also can make you tired. And, hash doesn't make you as tired. Don't get me wrong. I mean, you still get high, but you just don't get so tired. Both will get you high."
We still have questions whether all of this is really legal. What is with the button then? Why do they have to hide THE MENU? It still felt a little secretive and naughty. So, with that I end our coffee shop education post. Who wants a space cake?
Anywhere there is space for a bicycle, you will find one. Everyone rides a bike here. Whether you are out for a Sunday ride through the park, on your way to work in your suit and tie, bar hopping from happy hour to happy hour, or just making your normal round of errands, you will see people cruising through town on their bikes. It is like nothing I have seen before. There are even bikes rigged up with a cart in the front to throw maybe your groceries in or even a couple kids...your choice.
Everyone says that you have to rent a bike when you visit Amsterdam. I would have to agree, but dorks like us that have to take pictures every five seconds...probably not the best mode of transportation. So, we walked...and walked...and walked some more.
First stop on our second day was to find Pancakes! Amsterdam. The place is adorable. Nestled in on a quaint, little street. A hole in the wall restaurant with a couple tables out front and the same inside. We stuck our head in to see if there was space, but of course every seat was taken. The waitress just told us to try again later. Huh? Can't I put my name on a list or just wait outside for someone to leave? Too funny. So, of course we hovered like vultures until a spot opened up outside.
The food! I almost cried when I had my first bite of dutch pancakes stuffed with raisins and sliced apples and a little berry sauce on the side. Is this what heaven is like? Needless to say, we came back the next day before our 8 hour drive back to Zurich to fuel up on the "American Pancakes" we missed the day before. Three fluffy pancakes, drenched in just the right amount of syrup, with crispy bacon on top. I think I just drooled a little. Oops. So good...
Full and happy, we toddled over to the Anne Frank House. This was also a must-see on my list and it was worth the wait in line. It's of course crazy packed with people, but I thought we took our time and didn't feel pressured to just keep moving. It has been a long time since I read her diary, Anne Frank - The Diary of a Young Girl and I had forgotten a lot of her story. We were both surprised by the size of the apartment they lived in. I could have sworn it was just a living room/kitchen where all eight of them lived. It was a surprise to find out it was actually two-stories of the four-story building (with the store on the bottom two floors). I had forgotten about the secret bookcase that hid the entrance to the apartment. The dark curtains lining the windows to hide their bodies from the outside. And, the amazing part to me was the people that risked their lives to save the Frank family. They didn't even think twice. Remembering that Anne and her family were discovered and shipped off to Auschwitz. Where Anne died one month before the camps were brought down and Otto Frank (Anne's dad) was the only survivor. Blows me away. Blows me away that this could have even happened.
Besides her story being overly emotional for me, just to looking around the room, seeing a room full of people remembering, teaching their children...taking the steps needed to make sure this never happens again...and the woman in front of me who had to keep stepping away from the crowds, crying into her tissue...all so surreal. Had she been in a concentration camp? Had her family? I was very touched and so happy to have shared this experience with my husband and now all of you.
One more post coming. I just couldn't bare to tack it on to my memories of the Anne Frank House. Instead, I ask you to take a couple minutes and remember what happened during that time in history and promise yourself...you will never forget.
We wake up in the morning to city that we have only barely seen in the dark. How much can you see anything when you are dodging bikers left and right cruising through the streets like in a game of Frogger, listening intently to the navigation system like your life depends on it, wondering if your tiny car can even fit through these ridiculously small streets, and it's midnight. Even with all that, I immediately get out of the car (once we found a parking spot - YIKES - and found out how much it cost to park - DOUBLE YIKES) and I turn to Josh and say, "I could live here". It just had this very cool, hipster, sort-of San Francisco vibe.
We get an early start and head out to Keukenhof Gardens hoping to beat some of the tourist madness, as well as, skip out on paying for parking during the day. Let me just tell you that it cost 45 Euros (60 bucks) a day to park in the city center. No joke. And, the parking machines are a nightmare to deal with. I think it may be the first thing I have seen in Europe that doesn't accept cash and it might be the first thing that I actually wanted to just pay in cash. Horrible user-experience (a little nerd speak for ya!).
We spent the first half of the day busily taking pictures of flowers (if you haven't figured that out yet) and the second half on a bike pedaling through the fields surrounding the gardens. You must rent a bike if you plan a trip here. Must. Must. Must. We picked up a map for the shorter route, maybe 10-15km, but of course we got maybe 2km in and Josh already was done with the map and venturing out in his own direction. This is very usual. It would have been strange if we had stuck to the map.
Every flower was so vibrant. And, the number of flowers...ridiculous! We rode from one field to the next, stopping and taking pictures the whole way through. It was a perfect Peterthal day.
That night we trekked through the city. We ate at one of the top recommended restaurants in Amsterdam, De Witte Uyl. Stellar service. Adorable place and probably something major foodies would enjoy. I just don't think my taste buds are grown up enough. I try to like the beef tartar, the foie gras. These buds still just go for a good rack of ribs or some queso.
And, for a little entertainment, straight from Amsterdam, where else would we go? The Red Light District, of course. Where to even start with this explanation? It wasn't really what we were expecting. There were definitely red lights and definitely hookers standing behind glass lining the street. But, maybe I had this idea of more like a brothel. It would be like window shopping, which it kind of is, but each girl was actually in her own room. They stand behind glass doors, where they either were pointing at their next prey or chatting away on their cell phones annoyed that they have to be at work just like the rest of us. I guess more like the rest of you since I am sittin' hausfrau here. In each room there looked to be a small bed with a beach towel of their choosing and a small sink off to the side. The guys would just walk up to whichever door and the girl would just let them in. Strange to see. And, instead of hanging a towel on the doorknob, they would pull these heavy, dark curtains over the door and that's how you knew it was occupied.
This wasn't the only time we got a glance at the RLD. The next day we got to see some of the day workers. Ouch. Let's just say there was a big difference between those that worked during the day and those that worked at night. And, depending on where you were located on the main drag or off in one of the alleyways, there were definite differences in the "level of talent". It was sad. A lot of these girls from the night before were so young and my guess is probably primarily from Eastern Europe. They come here looking for a better life, and maybe this is better...I don't know.
There was no partaking in any of this fun. We didn't even hit up one of the theaters for the live sex shows, or even the live animal show. Don't ask me. This is advertised.
I think at this point, we need to take a break. My Bubi (grandmother), who is a loyal Peterthal.com reader -- Love you, Bubs -- probably is grasping her heart trying to hold on to that image of her innocent grand-daughter who could do no wrong.
Still more to come. This is a story about Amsterdam, and I haven't even gotten to the coffeeshops.
Fields and fields of color. We rented bikes and rode through the most amazing fields of flowers surrounding Keukenhof Gardens. I have never seen anything quite like it and probably won't again. I don't think I blinked the whole day.
Quick blurb: This is where the famous tulip fields are located. It is only open from mid-March to mid-May and is a definite must see. I don't need to say much. The pictures speak a thousand words. For the next 30 days, the Peterthals are bringing you a flower picture a day. If for no reason more than to just make you smile.
Can't say I have ever had a volcano cause a change in my travel plans before. Only the normal annoyances, like when you are about to depart on your honeymoon trip to Bora Bora and the first leg of the flight gets delayed by three hours making you miss your connection on the only airline flying to Tahiti for the next three days. You find this out only after sprinting through LAX for about a mile to another terminal with 15 lbs of carry on luggage hanging off your shoulders. Yea, this volcanic ash easily beats your most annoying travel story. Let me catch you up to speed on how our weekend played out.
We wake up early, early Friday morning to check the KLM website to see if the Amsterdam airport is still closed from the night before. They only update this page maybe three times a day, which is the first annoyance. You worry that you aren't going to have enough time to make it to the airport if for some fluke your flight actually gets to take off. Our flight is supposed to leave at 12:30pm. Here is the update KLM posts at 11am.
Ok. So, at least now we know now that no flights are departing or arriving into Amsterdam until 6pm at the earliest. This offers some sense of relief until you start to think about the hotel and the sweet discounted rate on your room that is non-refundable. Your mind starts to race trying to put possible alternative scenarios together. Do we just get a refund on our ticket? Do we try to exchange our tickets and go somewhere else in a couple weeks? Realize we only have one other possible weekend to hit up Amsterdam before tulip season is over at this point. Do we rent a car? Can we get a car? Can we even drive a car still? We haven't driven in Europe as of yet and haven't had a car for the last 10 months. It makes it a little more scary than taking a road trip back in the States. That elusive Autobahn...
We try calling KLM Switzerland to only be hung up on immediately. We call KLM USA. This time at least getting a message stating they can't take our call and then it hangs up. I email and of course get no response.
Screw it. I am not missing these tulips and this trip that we have been planning for months. Just rent a car, drop Stella off, and let's hit the open road. We somehow luck out and are able to make a car reservation online, still not believing a car will actually be available by the time we pick it up.
We make it to Hertz at the airport, walk right up, and start talking to an agent. I guess they gave our car away because Josh made the reservation for 2pm and now it is 3pm. Great. Again, our luck pulls through somehow and the guy tells us there is a car, we just need to wait for 30 mins. So, 30 mins turns into 45 mins, which turns into an hour. And, during this time the agent has come up to us asking our names again because he has "lost our paperwork". Really. After a little more than an hour of waiting, they tell us our car is ready. The last rental car in Zurich.
Next challenge is figuring out the navigation system. Sprechen Sie English, bitte? Insert DVD? What? Once we figure this feature out we are set. And, by the way, I love having a navigation system. We never would have made it to our hotel, weaving through the streets of Amsterdam, without it. Love it.
First road trip in Europe to commence! It's only seven and a half hours to Amsterdam. Just like driving from Fort Worth to Lawrence, right?
After following every sign to the very letter in Switzerland, we make our way across the border into Germany and the rush starts to set in. You see white signs with three, black, diagonal lines and cars zooming past you. I think we have hit the Autobahn! We topped out going about 160 km (100 mph) and there were cars going way faster than us. It was awesome. You have to double, maybe triple check your review mirror when passing because a car can look pretty far behind you, but when you pull out into that lane all of a sudden they are slamming on their brakes. It isn't scary at all. Maybe it even feels a little safer. People are more aware of their surroundings. Or, I just like going really fast.
Zoom, zoom, zoom...
Seven plus hours later and 65 euros to fill up the gas tank, we somehow find our hotel (thanks again to our navigation system we named "Mum" - she was British). Even in the dark the city looks amazing. Tiny stone streets, canals everywhere, bicycles upon bicycles lining the streets. We made the right decision on coming. The drama was worth it so far.
Isn't the waiting game the best? Hopefully you can sense my over-the-top exaggerated tone in that question. Today was supposed to be the day for us to venture over to Amsterdam. The weekend for us to see more tulips than our eyeballs could handle. The trip to try some nasty pickled herring and to stroll through the Red Light District. Walk along canal after canal. Eat a "special" muffin if we dared. But, our plans are put on hold for now. Thanks a lot, Eyjafjallajökull.
This is the second volcanic eruption in Iceland in the last month. The volcanic ash cloud has shut down airport after airport throughout Northern Europe. The Amsterdam airport is closed at least until 2pm today. So, we are patiently twiddling our thumbs for the next update from KLM.
Quick moment to vent, please. Don't you love calling a customer service line and getting a message that they are too busy to help you. Or, even better, when you call, it rings a couple times and then just hangs up on you. I guess you are supposed to draw the same conclusion.
Keep your fingers crossed for us. I need me some tulips!
...give me the news. I've got a bad case of loving you. Doo, doo, doo.
I may have completely lowered your expectations for quality health professionals here or at least made you doubt your first instinct when choosing a doctor. I need to tell you that they all aren't Dr. Losers. I feel it is my duty to pass along a very positive and uber necessary recommendation for any expat moving to the area.
We all need recommendations. This is how us Americans pick out our new hairstylist, massage therapist, personal trainer, doctor. The trusted referral. You may find it weird, but over here, Swissy's don't do it the same way. They even look at us a little weird when we ask for a recommendation. Who goes to the person just because they are around the corner from work? I may be generalizing a bit, but I feel it's pretty safe to say, especially when it comes to our health.
So, for those looking for a trusted referral. Check out Sihlcity Äerztezentrum. Not only me, but multiple friends are overly happy with their services. I don't think you can go wrong with one of their doctors, not that I know them all, but out of the handful I have either met or heard about, there are no complaints. You may be thinking...are you talking about the mall called Sihlcity? That would be right. I know. I had that funny look on my face to before I checked it out. How can a doctor's office in a MALL be anything good? Trust me.
It's super clean (not surprising). No disco balls like at Dr. Loser's office. Organized. They speak English even if they say "ein bisschen". You can get in when you need to and see a specialist quickly if need be. Plus, after your appointment you can pick up your meds from the Apotheke downstairs, run into Coop for groceries, even do a little shopping. A one-stop shop.
It might be the closest thing I have to a Super Target. Tear.
Do you automatically think of the movie "Billy Madison" when you look at the picture? Can you hear it?
Lunch Lady: Have some more sloppy joes. I made 'em extra sloppy for yous. I know how yous kids like 'em sloppy.
Billy Madison: Lady, you're scaring us.
And, the Lunch Lady opens up her mouth to smile and you just see those gray, crooked teeth with spit strings connecting the top row to the bottom. And, that laugh like she's been smoking non-stop for the past 50 years. Gross. And, then that scene makes me think of the creepy lady in "Kingpin".
Landlady: What is it about good sex that makes me have to crap? You really jarred something loose tiger.
Remember the look on her face? Dude.
Little bit of a tangent there, but I am bringing it all back. Last night, I put on my chef's hat and tried out another recipe with a little twist on an old favorite. Sloppy Joes. I wanted to pass along the recipe and let you know it is worth a try. The addition of onions, celery, green pepper, and mushrooms really make the difference and actually making the sauce instead of just busting out a trusty can of Manwich helps immensely.
Check out the recipe here. Let me know if you try it and what you think.
I swear I should be writing a handbook on how to keep a Hausfrau occupied. Bon appetit!
"Woop, woop, woop..." (long o sound, not like Arsenio Hall) and sounds of noisemakers like Purim graggers filled the streets this past Sunday as runners finished the 2010 Zurich Marathon. We just caught a quick glimpse on our way downtown. But just those few minutes got my heart pounding. My adrenaline racing. I can only imagine what it feels like to be this close to the finish line after running for the last four hours.
If this guy can do it, why can't I? Never say never.
I have to share. Just know we love all of our new foreign friends and that we are not laughing at you, but with you.
Sometimes I forget that not everyone over here gets our slang. So, long story, short...some friends of ours are trying to get a group together for an American-style football game. That in and of itself is pretty funny (more to come on that later). An email goes out inviting everyone to some pre-game bratwursts, tailgating, and then the game following. Simple, right?
Here is the response from our Austrian friend. Gotta love him.
"...had to ask google what tailgating could be (for the un-informed: a social event around the trunk of a car - which by the way includes two problems: who has a car and who has to drive afterwards?)."
Reminds me of the time we had to explain what camel-toe meant to our German friend. It definitely keeps life entertaining.
It's been a little bit since we've checked out a museum around town. I guess that's what happens when there is a drought of visitors coming every couple weeks. We met up with a couple expat friends yesterday at the Museum für Gestaltung (aka Museum of Design) to check out the Global Design and Paradise Switzerland exhibitions.
You have probably seen the "Paradies Schweiz" posters strung up all over town and if you haven't yet, you are sure to now. This exhibit was right up Josh's alley for sure. Old posters dating back to the early 1900's, ranging from travel centric to farm girls and safe sex. Lots of color. Vintage. Illustration-y. I am awesome at descriptions. Very cool collection.
Now, the Global Design exhibit is up for interpretation. The highlight for me was learning about the "One Laptop per Child" (OLPC) effort.
The OLPC's mission "...is to provide educational opportunities for the world's poorest children by giving each child a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop; and software tools and content designed for collaborative, joyful, self-empowered learning."
So, even though I didn't quite get the significance of the Yooji's sushi train setup or the IKEA living room floor model, I would still say I left feeling inspired. Two thumbs up for some culture. Still on the list is the Van Gogh, Cezanne, and Monet exhibit over at the Kunsthaus. Anyone been yet?
Busted out the ol' camera today for a nice Friday stroll through Zurich. Josh played teacher and helped me work on my macro and shutter speed skills. Enjoy a short slideshow of some of the first days of Spring.