Saturday, September 18, 2010


You know the Scrooge (not the colonel) McDuck? Now that the family has departed I feel a bit like him - sitting on this beautiful pile of treasure (the Amsterdam) in a selfish and loathsome manner - hated for my greed and ridiculous accent. Fortunately I was able to share my vast good fortunes with Martin and Heather, who have been friends since, well, since 1642:

So what kind of amazing things does one share with two savvy San Franciscans who have been friends for 368 years?

Breakfast at the market!

Mafia Sunglasses!

The dogs of Haarlem:

The Dinosaurs of Haarlem:

The Clank Analyser of Haarlem:

Picture-taking opportunities of Haarlem:

The fantastically awesome luggage store of Haarlem:

The ??? plant from the Artis Royal Botanical Garden (I've heard it occasionally ingests visitors whole):

More of the Gardens:

Now - the fact that I was able to allow my friends to see some of the awesomeness that is the Netherlands was payment enough (made me feel less Scroogy) - but Martin and Heather were kind enough to take me out to what had to be about the best restaurant meal I've had anywhere in Europe.

De Kas is a restaurant in a greenhouse in a park on the East side of the city. It was awfully cool watching them pulling sprigs of basil off of the plants in the greenhouse, and putting them into our food...

If you like the food like I do - man - mmm - just look - lekker.

Everything you just saw there? I ate it. All of it. Even the (Scrooge Mc) Duck.

PS: Martin and Heather have some marvelous photos from their trip here.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Bikes

Take a look at this picture. Look again. Focus on the texture above the canal there. You see? Click the picture.

You see the bikes along the gate? Listen to me. There are more bikes in Amsterdam than there are cars in Los Angeles. If you put all the bikes in amsterdam in a straight line, it would reach from Grenell, Iowa to the planet Neptune. It's as if Amsterdam was a special place where bikes had their own separate evolutionary paths as the dominant species and they now occupy almost every imaginable transportation niche.

I do not exaggerate when I say that the biking culture is one of the things I will miss the most about this remarkable city. The bikes here are generally not thought of as a means for exercise and most Dutch would think it moronic to wear special shoes or clothes for biking (although some do dress-up for fitness and ride high-end road bikes). The bikes are sturdy and heavy, and although they often look like they're about to fall apart, they seem to keep going forever like tractors - as a matter of fact I saw an elderly woman yesterday riding a bike that was almost 60 years old.

Take a look at the bike parking garage at Centraal Station:

Four stories of bike parking and the place is still always completely overflowing.

And like any parking lot - one is occasionally is forced to cruise around like a shark, hoping for someone to come get their bike and leave an open spot.

You see them in every imaginable color:

Every shape:

Every hauling capacity:

They occupy every category of transportation that one would recognize in America.

There's the pickup-truck style heavy-equipment transport bike, the equivalent of the one point I saw a mother with two kids in the front of her bike and she was pulling snacks out of her jacket and placing them into the kids mouths. I didn't have time to pull my camera out when I saw her but I just went outside and within a minute I saw this father, who didn't seem overjoyed to be photographed.

One will often see them sitting derelict.

And it's common to see brilliant customizations and paint jobs.

Blue bikes and pink backpacks:


Family of five...

Sully & Karina at the Amsterdam historical museum.

The racks on the back of the bikes are quite sturdy and had no problem holding our kids - and I frequently see "bike dates" where adults balance, usually side-sattle, on the back of the bikes as they pedal around.

An interesting chapter in Dutch bike history occurred during the war. At the time the occupying Nazis confiscated as many of the Dutch bikes as they could. The remaining bikes became a symbol of the resistance. The bikes one sees today continue to be modeled after those that were stolen, both for their practicality and as a reminder. When the Netherlands plays Germany in football, one can often see banners reading: "Grandma, I found your bike!"

This is the traditional Dutch bike design:

With that in mind, one would think that stealing a bike in Amsterdam would put one on the level of a loathsome bike-stealing Nazi scumbag and that nobody would ever consider such a vile, despicable and historic crime. There is unfortunately a strong case of selective memory on this issue - as there are annually more bikes stolen in Amsterdam than there are bikes in Amsterdam. What that means is if your bike isn't stolen once in a year, it will be stolen twice in a year. I have unfortunately had some sad experience in this area. My first bike, which I loved, was stolen one night when I secured it to a lamp post instead of the metal supports that apparently go down 18 feet. I'll miss that bike. She was a beauty.

My second experience with the dastardly soulless parasites was, in a way, more hurtful. Almost all of the bikes in Amsterdam have a second lock that goes around the rear wheel.

This is meant to apparently frustrate the sub-human thieving slime buckets as the bike is essentially useless when the lock is activated. There is a key that sits in the side of the lock and it can only be removed when the lock is activated.

I almost never used this lock as I had seen that a determined satan-worshiping thief will steal the bike whether the back wheel is locked or not. But someone thought it would be entertaining to lock my back wheel and throw the key into the canal (I presume they threw it into the canal - anyone heartless enough to do such a thing wouldn't have the moral sense not to pollute). This made me not only late for Church, but also mad as hell.

Another problem was that I didn't have access to any of the tools that I might normally use to destroy the lock - as I didn't bring any of them (there is a weight-limit with the baggage you can take over nowdays). But I am not one to shy away from a challenge - so I went into the basement and found the tools I could and set about looking to rip, smash, break and in any other way destroy the stupid lock that now immobilized my only method of transportation.

This coincided with the visit of my friends Martin and Heather - and both Martin and I wailed heavily upon the cursed lock with anything and everything we could find, including drill bits and cookware. We didn't have a wrench - so the torque necessary for shredding metal was generated by the combination of raw, bruit strength screwdrivers and a hammer. After many hours of twisting, pulling, insults some motivational speaking, and €3.75 on a set of alan wrenches, I was able to wrest my bike from the demonic device's maw.

This meant the the wheel now spun freely. But there was a new problem. Obliterating the lock had required moving the bike into several unnatural and varied positions which had now unmoored the chain. Seems like a small problem but look at this chain-guard:

The chain was entirely enclosed in plastic and it seemed as though the plastic was attached in a way that would be difficult to reassemble if I were to break it. It took another hour of coaxing, prying and tugging to get the chain back onto it's sprockets. But I am a colossal warrior for righteous awesomeness and I will destroy any and all sad and perverted dorkwads who dare to mess with my two-wheeled, human-powered, zero-emissions, heavy, sturdy and wonderful method of transportation in this ridiculously wonderful city.

The strong and weathered hands of a champion.

It can be difficult to find your bike in large parking areas so I keep this little orange wormy guy from the World Cup tied to my handle bar, kind of like the ribbon people tie around their luggage.

Here's a clip a made while on my way to work along Prinsengracht. Bike thieves notwithstanding it is hard to express how much I will miss the biking in this place that, even without my family, feels like home.