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Vienna and Amsterdam: the Last Days

The night train from Vienna to Amsterdam was a new and great experience. My only exposure to that kind of life came from movies like Murder on the Orient Express. It made train travel seem mysterious and romantic. The reality wasn’t all that romantic or mysterious, but it was pleasant and I slept well. I really like train travel better than renting a car and driving. I sometimes sleep well while I’m driving. It worries Lynn a lot.

I enjoyed both Amsterdam and Vienna, but they are very different. Vienna, for instance has the world’s largest collection of gall and kidney stones while Amsterdam has the Marijuana Museum. Within three blocks of our hotel in Vienna there were three car dealerships: Ferrari, Maserati, and Lamborghini with beautiful examples of their wares in the showroom window. In Amsterdam within three blocks of our hotel was the red light district with examples of its wares displayed in the windows. In Vienna there were coffee shops that serve outstanding Viennese coffee. In Amsterdam there are coffee shops that sell marijuana. All of this is true.

The first time I was in Amsterdam several years ago, I was out walking and happened upon the red light district by accident—I didn’t even know there was one at that time. I kept noticing all these rather ample women sitting in front of the big picture windows in their underwear. I was shocked and assumed they had forgotten to draw the blinds. This was more than 30 years ago when I was really naive. I somewhat more sophisticated now. This time I walked back to the same part of town on purpose. The women were still there and were still quite large. Really Reubenesque. I suspect it was not really the very same women, but they looked the same as I remembered them from before.

If you like a hit of marijuana with your coffee then Amsterdam is the place to go. There are a bunch of coffee shops that sell marijuana to go along with your (optional) coffee. I didn’t try it even for the cultural experience. I may be one of the few people my age who has never even tried marijuana. I thought I might like it and I really don’t need another hobby.

On Christmas Day we went to the Vincent van Gogh Museum. It was great. It not only had stuff by van Gogh, but also works from many of the people who influenced or were influenced by van Gogh or Vincent as he signed his paintings. For much of his adult life, van Gogh was certifiably crazy. He spent some time in a mental institution and when he was not institutionalized he did weird things like cutting off a chunk of his ear. He died young and broke. Now his paintings sell for millions. I wanted one to go over the fireplace, but Lynn wouldn’t let me have it. Since she had all the credit cards, I couldn’t argue.

On the same day we also went to the Rijksmuseum, which is about 2 blocks from the van Gogh museum. It is the largest museum in the Netherlands and houses nearly 1,000,000 objects in its collection. It has paintings such as Rembrandt’s Night Watch, which is the centerpiece of the collection. It has 19 other Rembrandt painting as well as a great collection of the 17th century Dutch Masters. Do you remember Dutch Master cigars? Well the original painting that was copied for the Dutch Master’s cigar box was right there on the wall.

In addition to the paintings, they have collections of silver, delftware, dollhouses, ship models, carpets, and some peculiar Asian art that I didn’t understand. It reminded me of some stuff I saw in the red light district. It was very mysterious. The museum is huge and we saw only a small percentage of it. We saw enough that by the end of the day I was more interested in sitting on one of the many benches than walking around to see more stuff. About dark, i.e., mid afternoon, we hopped back on a streetcar and went home to our hotel.

Christmas dinner that night was another cultural experience. We went to Long Pura, a marvelous Indonesian restaurant just a few blocks from our hotel. After the museum experience, we thought we should increase or knowledge of things Asian. They had a special Christmas dinner that went on and on for about 3 hours. Without going into great detail, the dinner involved 3 different wines and 12 courses. They just kept bringing stuff; as a result of which I was really stuffed by the time we finished.

As we were waddling back to our hotel, I suggested to Lynn that, for the cultural experience, we might want to walk back through the red light district because I had never been there after dark. I thought they might change the window dressing at night—maybe display something a bit more petite. Lynn firmly vetoed the idea and we went straight home.

(You might think that just because Lynn has the power of veto and makes a number of family decisions that she rules the roost. Nothing could be further from the truth. I make all the big decisions, like what should be our policy toward Iraq and North Korea, and she makes the small decisions like where we should live, where we should go on vacation, how much money we should spend, etc. It’s a good division of labor.)

The next morning it’s back to the airport and home. At the airport we checked in early and as a reward airport security hand checked our 869 pounds of luggage. I think the security folks have a certain quota of hand checking to do each day and the sooner they get it over with the sooner they can sit back and relax. On the homeward bound trip we had to go through Newark, New Jersey, which I try to avoid at all cost. This time it was unavoidable and it turned out to be not so bad. We had been upgraded to first class for the Newark to Houston leg, so the home stretch was at least comfortable.

Our friends Jack and Bettie met us at Bush Intercontinental Airport and delivered us to our front door.

I hope to stay home for a while and rest up from the ordeal of travel. In fact, I plan to stay home for a long time or until Lynn tells me it’s time to go again.s