Viking Rhine River Cruise – Part 1 Three Daze in Amsterdam

by Bob Sparrow

amsterdam     It’s raining as we (“we” is wife Linda and me along with long-time friends and traveling companions, Mark & Kathy Johnson) arrive and complete the stringent requirements for passage into the wild and crazy city of Amsterdam, which consists of a stamp on the passport and a pat down to insure you have enough Euros to enjoy all that this ‘Venice of the North’ has to offer.  Actually there aren’t enough Euros to enjoy ALL that this city has to offer, but we enjoyed the pat down.  The rain doesn’t dampen our spirits, which have been buoyed by a sampling of that famous Amsterdam spirit – Heineken beer.  OK, perhaps more than a sampling, but we were just trying to be good guests and help erase that ‘ugly American’ image.

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Lines around the block we avoided

  Our train from the airport arrived at busy Central Station, which sits at the north end of town and right next to the busy ‘Red Light District’, but since we’d just come from the ‘Red Eye District’ – our 7½-hour overnight flight from Chicago – we thought we should be a little more rested before we tackle ‘the meat’ of the city, so to speak.

  First stop is the Ann Frank House. As instructed, we got there early to avoid the lines to get in that extend around the block.  Reading ‘The Diary of Ann Frank’ before going will enhance your experience, but the tour through their living quarters does an excellent job of telling this amazing story.  I can’t imagine doing this in the heat of summer, as the rooms are small and the stairways are narrow, so being herded through the house shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of tourists in need of a shower could alter the experience significantly.

van gogh

Don’t look for this in the Van Gogh Museum

     It’s a short walk along a canal from the Ann Frank House to the Van Gogh Museum.  Van Gogh was many things – hard to understand as an artist, hard to categorize as a post-impressionist painter, hard to understand his relationship with Gauguin and hard of hearing – what with that cutting off of the ear incident and all.  The museum is great, but don’t go there expecting to see one of Van Gogh’s most famous paintings, Starry Night, as it is owned by the Museum Of Modern Art in New York.  You couldn’t even buy a replica of that painting, as all rights are owned by MOMA.  I almost got thrown out of the place for even mentioning the painting.

  It was another short walk from there to the Heineken Brewery – where the highlight of the tour is at the end – not only is it over, but that’s where you get to drink a few Heineken beers, which we could have done at home.  The low-light of the tour was a Disney-like ‘ride’ where you are an imaginary grain of barley or a hop or some yeast or something and they put you through the beer brewing process.  We might have been better off and certainly many Euros ahead if we’d just gone to a café next door and ordered a Heineken.

Red Light

Sorry, no photos were allowed

  The ‘Red Light District’ made up for it.  All this time I thought Las Vegas was the ‘Disneyland for adults’.  Goodbye Vegas, hello Amsterdam.  Prostitution is not only legal, but also quite uniquely advertised.  We walked down the street and there in store window after store window are attractive young ladies dressed rather scantily just standing there ‘selling there wears’.  I did feel a journalistic obligation to stop and interview a few of these working girls, but Linda failed to see the literary value in that pursuit.  Between shop windows there might be a drug store – no, not the kind of drug store we’re used to, but a place to buy a sampling of various cannabis leaves, without a doctor’s prescription.  The reality is that you really don’t have to buy it, just walk down the street and inhale deeply.

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A couple of not-so-famous Dutch painters

I know we did some other things over that three day period, like canal rides, other museum visits, visits to great restaurants and bars, but it’s all a little foggy right now, perhaps I was inhaling too deeply as I wandered through Amsterdam.

Next post: Viking River Cruise – Part 2   Rollin’ on the River

Childbirth, Kidney Stones and Amsterdam

by Bob Sparrow

photo (2)     Sometimes my travels take me to exotic places; sometimes my travels take me on introspective journeys, but last Friday morning at around 2:00 a.m. my travels took me to the emergency room at St. Joseph’s Hospital with the on-set of a kidney stone.  It was my third, so I’ve become quite knowledgeable about them and familiar with the associated pain, which has become the subject of some debate.

It has been said that the pain of a kidney stone is similar to the pain of childbirth.  Having never given birth, I wouldn’t know and my personal experience has told me that some stones are more painful than others.  Obviously women would be the only ones who would be able to give us an objective perspective on this subject, but do they?  Surely some do, but it’s easy to see how they might stretch the truth a bit when they’re in there pushing and breathing and sweating and yelling while the father-to-be is out in the waiting room waiting to hand out cigars.

So to settle the question once and for all of which is more painful child birth or kidney stones, an extensive survey of both men and women was conducted.  OK, it wasn’t really that ‘extensive’, it was really just a simple question to each gender.  Because many of the male survey participants had never had a kidney stone the survey equated the pain of a stone to the pain of being kicked in the river cruiseballs.  Survey participants were asked the following questions:

To the women: Knowing the pain of childbirth, would you have another child?  Only 3% answered ‘No’.

To the men: Knowing the pain of being kicked in the balls, would you like to be kicked in the balls again?  100% answered ‘No’.

There you have it – statistics don’t lie.

So how does this all tie into my up-coming river cruise down the Rhine?  It doesn’t, but hey cut me a little slack here; I’ve just been kicked in the balls.

van gogh     Prior to boarding the Viking Jarl, we’ll be spending three days in Amsterdam and I understand, according to our itinerary, we will be:

– Touring Ann’s House of Franks (I love hot dogs)

– Goghing in a van to see a starry night (I hope it has a moon roof)

– Drinking Heineken cheese beer (Leave it to the Dutch to combine beer and Cheetos)wind mills

I’m just excited to sees the famous Wind Tunnels and a field filled with Two Lips.

OK my medication is starting to wear off – I’ll be fine.