Sunday, August 9, 2009

We do not sell hash brownies here, we are simple Dutch bakery! Now put your clothes back on, white boy!

Well, so, Matt covered the basics, in his Matt way. I'm going to retread some of the same ground, partially to add in some shading, and partially because he totally didn't talk about some of my favorite things.

After the madness of the train mishap(s), we got to Binsfeld, a tiny "town" (no town center as far as I saw), and got to stay in a house. It was so nice to have our own space for a little while, a nice bed with good pillows, and a real shower! I really liked meeting two of Matt's old friends, and hearing some stories about their heydays, or whatever, before I was around and Matt was kind of some other guy. Of course, there was a seven-month-old baby, which added an extra element; I thoroughly enjoyed watching Jason walk around the Renaissance Faire with this babe like sprawled out in utter relaxation across his forearm... like a cat. I played more video games in those three days than I think I have in the five years before it, but it didn't matter, because I got good enough that I could have a conversation, whack Matt's digital character with my digital character, and play some sports with things seriously called a Wiimote and a wand. Whaa!?

I was very.... disconcerted, I guess, by visiting Luxembourg again. I haven't been back since I studied there in fall 2005, and a lot can change in that amount of time (duh), but it was so, so odd to see things that I had in my memory, perfectly frozen, and then come face to face with what they are today. It threw me off. For instance, Vianden, where we went to the castle, was the first place my intro-to-Lux tour went to, and we passed the very place I had my first beer (yeah, I know), a pale half-pint of Boefferding. And we were walking and I just stopped and said, "Oh my God... I was THERE before." It was just like being in an alternate reality. So that was just amazing to have the chance to do.

Then there was Amsterdam. I'm not going to have a disclaimer, because really, how many times can you go over the rules on drugs and sex in Amsterdam? I found that part fascinating, but really, I just loved the atmosphere of the city. Matt mentioned that the city's really just completely embraced tourism, and I wanted to talk more about that than how surreal the coffee shops are and the neon lights in the windows and all of the ridiculously dumb American teenagers. There are places in America where the only real money-maker is tourism, because they've put all of their effort into making their place a Destination, and that's just pretty cool. Consider, for instance, Wall-Drug. All the way out there, just for a drug store with a soda fountain? But I went, everyone I know who's been within 200 miles of it has gone. But in Amsterdam, tourism is good business--very, very good business--but it's not even close to their ONLY business. And in spite of that, they believe that business is good, and they're practical and money-oriented (or so our so-on-something Dubliner city tour guide said; I'm not 100% comfortable with such a bizarre assessment of a city's character, it's so... crass to just say that). So they have this thing where everyone knows what's going on but it's not official (like Israel having nuclear bombs), it's been ingrained into the legal system over the last decade, the locals don't really partake, they can totally overcharge and underprovide quality for tourists because they're all basically one-time customers, and I admire the practicality. All the same, there's absolutely nothing mercenary about the city or the people there; on the contrary, the city is relaxed (except for the odd rabid biker) and it was so great to just walk around and watch everyone from all over the world just going about their lives. And that pesto was just terrific!

As for culture. The Sex Museum was just a very weird idea to begin with and it didn't actually have any information in it, per se, though it did have lots of giggling girls. The Rembrandthuis museum was kind of funny, because there were only Rembrandt's etchings ibecause they were doing a special exhibit on one of his contemporaries, Lievens, who was fine. Then I went into the Rijksmuseum, the national museum, but there was a security check and Matt might not have made it, so he hung in a nearby park. I only took an hour--the damn thing's under construction, only a 1/3 still view-able--but I just super-absorbed all of it. I generally don't like Dutch / German art, finding it coolly precise and sometimes lacking a warmth or heart that I can easily sense, but this was the cream of the crop, and I just wrote and wrote the names of the artists I saw and the pieces I particularly enjoyed on the map, including, of course, three of the four Johannes Vermeer the Rijksmuseum houses. Oh, and then there was the Artis, the zoo, and a planetarium and a aquarium that ony Matt went into, a big cool place with lots of South American and African creatures I've never seen before, so many tiny cute things. Soooo sooo many pictures!

Still, by the time we were getting to the train station to leave, I was just ready. Not that I felt the need to escape Amsterdam, but it takes a lot out of you, experiencing so much and that disjointed sense of time that Matt mentioned doesn't help. We were both tired and so tired that we just admitted it to each other, too tired to worry that the other one would be disappointed. With that in mind, we headed towards Bruges to have a taste of that sweet, enchanted village. I was there before and I still dream about the hot chocolate and [Belgian--do I need to include that, since Bruges is in Belgium?] waffle with fresh fruit (strawberries, blueberries and raspberry) and whipped cream. But in Antwerp, where we had to change trains, we stopped for a second. I admired the gorgeous train station and I thought, I'm tired and I've seen Bruges and I don't even care about having another of those dreamy waffles. Then I felt guilty when I mentioned to Matt that we could just stay in Antwerp for the night, then carry on to Charleroi, near the airport, the next day. I said I'd go, I told him I'd promised him the Belgian waffle and the adorable town, but I told him that I was tired. He agreed, though he's never going to let me forget that I "deprived him" of a Belgian waffle, like he'll never get the chance to have one ever again.

Antwerp was a little depressed, and it didn't feel that comfortable. That's strange because we stayed right next to the main train station on what's obviously a main city square, and that area, of all places, shouldn't feel depressed at all. So... a bit shady. But the hotel, a Radisson Blu, was so wonderful; king-sized bed, full breakfast, unlimited movies (best thing we watched: Bolt), a shower with enough room to shave your legs. Luxurious, in a word.

The next morning, we popped on a train to Charleroi, and braved a death cab--the guy kept stalling out and then just calmly turning the car back on--for five minutes to our hotel. It was lame compared to Antwerp and the town was entirely under construction, it seemed, but we had this amazing risotto dinner.

My risotto paragraph: In the middle was the risotto itself, a mushroom risotto with beef stock and some tiny parmesan flakes melted into it, and if there were onions or garlic pieces in it, I couldn't taste them or feel them individually, a great plus. There was a nice sprig of parsley on the top, a pop of color that was delightful, even though I didn't eat it. Then, like nice flower petals up on the wide rim of the bowl, the tops hanging over the edge, was triangles of parmesan, hard and looking kind of cracked like old-fashioned pottery glaze. There. Matt said my risotto deserved a paragraph, and there it is. I just have to add that it was a little salty for my taste, but I think that was just because of the mushrooms, and I'm not always the biggest lover of them.

The flight today was smooth, but whatever, it was damn early and Matt almost didn't make it through the last security check. Oh holy hell, how hard is it to streamline these things? First, mandatory online check-in. Then check-in at the gates. Then visa check. Then security check. Then a whole Duty-Free section with no warning that THERE WAS ANOTHER CHECK. So I bop over to use the WC while Matt nabbed coffee and I see there's another line. Okay, fine. I hop in it, and then like a thousand people hopped in behind me, so I had to stand on the far side looking through the glass and twist my fingers and wait for him to get through. He did, obviously, but it was IRRRITAAATING. So, fine, now we're here and that's lovely.

Tomorrow: HOME!

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