Amsterdam – August 2009

When Visited

  • August 28-30, 2009

Getting Around

We stopped and visited Amsterdam in August 2009 on our way to our lengthy vacation in Greece.  We utilized a travel technique which I have explained more in depth in my blog post – All Things Travel > Travel Trips – General. That travel tip involves breaking up a flight itinerary so that you can spend more time at what would ordinarily be just a stopover of a few hours.  In this case, our flight to Athens stopped in Amsterdam for a few hours, prior to continuing on to Athens.  We got off the plane in Amsterdam, stayed there for two nights and parts of three days, and then continued on to Athens on that same connecting flight to Athens.  The only thing different is that we took that same flight … but three days later.

While we normally opt to use a local rental car for transportation while visiting a new city, in this case, we took an airport hotel shuttle to a Holiday Inn near Schipol airport.  We then got on the local light rail at a nearby station and took that into town during the time that we were there.  That worked out very well and I recommend that as an option if any of my readers decide to visit Amsterdam.

Although my wife and I took this trip almost eight years ago, my clear memory of this visit, beyond the famous canals, was the immense proliferation of bicycles that we saw.  The picture at the top of this blog is a pretty good example of this and I also have a few others among the pictures that are out on Photobucket.com.

While in Amsterdam, we took an interesting cruise on their version of the typical Hop On/Hop Off bus that you will find in most other major cities.  However, in Amsterdam’s case, it was a boat – the Canal Bus – that traveled among the various canals.

While we did not visit some of the more typical tourist sites, like the Anne Frank House, the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum, we did visit one of the lesser known (and less costly) museums.

Since we were never personally inclined to sample any of their “wares”, we also chose not to visit any of the numerous marijuana houses, nor did we visit any establishments along the very famous Red Light district.

Amsterdam Mary Jane Window Display

We also recommend stopping at one of the many downtown street side restaurants and sampling local cuisine and local brews … as we most certainly did.

If you have visited Amsterdam, especially if you have visited more recently than we did, and have any impressions you would like to share, please do.  If you have never visited, I recommend a visit, even if only for a few days.

Picture Location on the Internet – Photobucket.com

Pictures from Amsterdam …

http://s937.photobucket.com/user/rwkoehler/slideshow/Amsterdam?sort=4 

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004 – Little Room for Optimism – an editorial

As I turn 65, my faith in the innate goodness and intelligence of the American people is at an all-time low.  I wrote in my initial editorial about how I could see quite a number of silver linings in our current political situation.  As I write this, less than three months later, that tepid optimism I shared then has been beaten down more and more with each passing day.

The results in last night’s Montana special election to replace their single, statewide member of US Congress can only be described as monumentally depressing – not just because of a single race in Montana but more so because of what it says about the total lack of response to Trump and to the Republican agenda.

Now maybe it is just yet too early, and people who voted for Trump are still just defiantly saying “I could not possibly have been that wrong”.  Maybe, scandal or not, when next year’s election comes around, they will finally, reluctantly admit that this experiment may have been borne out of a fatalistic optimism that anything at all is better than the status quo.  But they put their trust in very likely the single worst individual to ever be entrusted with their faith.

The extremely troubling thing about the Montana results is that Republican gerrymandering played absolutely no role in that result.  If nothing else, that clearly should tell Democrats that while gerrymandering is indeed a monumental issue to overcome, you can’t just continue to say that is the main reason why people are not voting … if not for Democrats, at the very least against Republicans.

You look at the state map of Montana showing how people voted and it is mind-boggling – very much like the U.S. map after the last election.  Yeah, Democrats make a big deal about how Hillary won 3 million more votes than Trump, but just look at the damn map.  The country is almost completely red with just pockets of blue almost exclusively in metropolitan areas.

I can understand, though certainly not agree, with how the majority of the wealthy and the privileged can justify being part of a movement that says “I earned (or inherited) what I have, so damned if I will subsidize anyone or anything else that does not specifically benefit me, or will I ever pay anything at all to make this country or our world a better place for future generations.”  But for such an entire swath of our country, who are obviously neither wealthy nor privileged, to think that is better for them … how is that even possible?

Gianforte in Montana couldn’t even beat the Democrat for Governor when the state voted for Trump by more than 20 points in 2016.  Yet he still wins the statewide race for U.S. Congress even after all of the things we have seen in the past four months, and it is obvious he will likely be yet another rubber stamp for Trump.  Again, I’m sure Rob Quist will be blamed for being a poor candidate for the Democrats, and I don’t totally disagree.  He struck me as a Willie Nelson wannabe who carried some personal baggage and no elected experience, although in current political environment, you would have thought that should have been a plus.

But given what has transpired in the past four months, simple logic should have dictated that virtually anyone running against Gianforte would have been elected if for no other reason than to not give Trump another rubber stamp for the most incomprehensively cruel, misguided agenda ever put forth to the American people.

Thank God that Trump has not yet been able to push through much of anything that he has wanted and also that he has reversed position on so many of the pathetic things that he shamelessly bait and switched his voters with in the election.

The temptation is to think that this all has only been about Trump and the huge mistake that it was to elect him to any office, much less the Presidency.  Therefore, many people cling to the hope that if he is removed from office then somehow everything will have to get better.  His supreme arrogance, gross stupidity and utter narcissism, in addition to his obvious admiration for authoritarianism, should make his not lasting a full term, much less being reelected, almost a no-brainer.  But that is no sure thing by any means.

Even if he is removed, that does not change the fact that the United States is now almost a completely red nation.  Rather than falling back on smugly rationalizing for having recently lost two elections where the Democrat won the popular vote but lost the electoral college, not just Democrats, but the entire country should try and figure out why 85% or more of the physical U.S. still votes predominently Republican even when the Republican agenda should not represent the views of a large portion of rural America, much less well more than half of them.

Those silver linings I spoke of now look much more like the pipe dreams of a madman in the wilderness.  This is the least optimistic I have been since November 8th.

Aruba – Not our cup of tea

When Visited

  • A week during mid-February 2016

Impressions

This was the furthest south we had ever traveled – Aruba being located just off of the northwest coast of Venezuela. It also had always had a bit of an exotic feel to it so we looked forward to our visit.  However, in retrospect, as far as the type of location that Deborah and I look for in a vacation destination, Aruba was generally disappointing.

Now if you just look at the pictures without commentary, you may get a bit different impression from what I just stated.  But then again, isn’t that what pictures are for – to capture the best of what you experience and see?  However, the reality was quite a bit different.

First the good.

We flew to the capital city of Aruba – Oranjestad – from Albuquerque via Houston.  The flight is surprisingly quick considering that we flew almost all the way to South America.  Thanks to my many travels in business, we flew Southwest Airlines and Deborah flew along with me for free.  The fact that Southwest flies directly into Aruba made this a much more convenient trip for us as well.

We stayed, as we most often do while on vacation, in a rental unit we found on VRBO (Vacation Rental by Owner – AirBNB before there was an AirBNB).  While certainly not one of the nicest units we have stayed in, it was pleasant enough and the two owners, from Canada I believe, were quite nice.  Their dog, Zarra, was also very friendly.

There was an excellent beach bar – the Bugaloe – which we visited on a couple of occasions.  During one of those visits, the staff did quite a nice job of karaoke for the patrons.  We also met a nice young couple.

One of the few other activities we enjoyed was a short boat trip to visit the site of a wrecked ship, which we were able to make out, through murky water, from the glass portals on the lower deck of the ship.

I’m afraid that about does it for the positives, which ought to tell you something.

Now, the not so good

Primarily, we found the country/island to be frankly pretty boring.  It is VERY flat.  One of the things that we particularly like to do when we visit somewhere is to sight see.  Interesting terrain, whether it be mountains, or at least some variations in elevation, always helps.  Well there is just about none on this island.

We joked that two of the main sights that you see mentioned in most “Things to Do in Aruba” lists, are the California Lighthouse and the Alto Vista Chapel.  We made a point to see both and they were, to say the least, underwhelming.  Granted, the scaffolding all around the California Lighthouse did not improve the “experience”.  However, it is simply a basic lighthouse, in a fairly boring setting.  The Alto Vista Chapel is very small, and cute, but La Sagrada Familia it is not.  Ok, I’ll grant you that comparison is more than a bit harsh, but even with limited expectations, it was nothing special.

Our VRBO unit was located about 6-7 miles northwest of the capitol of Oranjestad and the airport.  We drove into town a couple of times but it was very congested for such a small island.  We did not find any activities in town that were particularly of interest.

There is a national park, so to speak – Airikok – which we did drive to, but it did not seem worth the fee to visit so we just stopped at the main visitor center.  We also drove to the southeastern tip of the island – the city of San Nicholas.  That city is notable mostly for the large, and rather unseemly oil derricks.

Now, there certainly did appear to be some very nice resorts along the southern beaches – in particular Renaissance Beach where we found that Bugaloe beach bar.  There is the Stellaris Casino attached to the Aruba Marriott if you are into that sort of thing.  But even if that’s what you are into, it seems to me that there are plenty of Caribbean island destinations that offer that plus at least a few other things to occupy your time while away from the beach.

So, without dwelling further, suffice it to say that this island is not on our list of the few places that we would ever want to go back and see again.  We would rather take our chances seeing some place new.

Picture Locations on the Internet – Photobucket.com

http://s937.photobucket.com/user/rwkoehler/slideshow/Aruba%20-%20February%202016?sort=9

Tips when Using Photobucket

  • The previous links will take you directly to a slideshow of pictures and collages, related to the locations, which reside on the internet on the Photobucket.com website.
  • Once the slideshow begins, the display begins showing slides at a Medium speed.
    • Slow displays each slide for 10 seconds
    • Medium displays each slide for 6 seconds
    • Fast displays each slide for 3 seconds
  • To change the display speed, click on the word SlowMedium or Fast at the bottom right of the Photobucket screen.
  • To non-display the bottom toolbar, and thereby maximize the picture on your screen, click on the  Photobucket icon   icon at the bottom right of the Photobucket screen.
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003 – Get a Pair – An editorial

So where do we stand right now?

Senate Republicans’ own self-interests will have to soon get them to stop just blindly following/excusing/ignoring Trump just because he is nominally a Republican.

I deliberately wrote “Senate” Republicans because “House” Republicans are a totally different animal.  Coming from their hugely gerrymandered, often small districts, if they are truly representing their constituents, there are still enough pro-Trump voters out there in their districts that I don’t see House Republicans changing their tune any time soon.

Even with a vastly activated anti-Trump, mostly Democratic base, unseating those representatives will be a monumental task.  Just look at the Atlanta race to replace Tom Price’s seat as a good example.  Democrat newcomer Jon Ossoff is still running a significant uphill battle.  Granted, he almost got the necessary 50% in the initial vote, but now he is up against it in the runoff as the Republicans consolidate against him.

Remember, Tom Price won that Atlanta seat by 23 points in 2016 and that has been the closest anyone had come to beating him since he first won election in 2004 when he ran “unopposed”!  So even if turnout is great, and Ossoff does very well, he could still lose by 10 points.

There are a lot of other House races around the country that will be equally tough for the Democrats to take, notwithstanding having the vote for TrumpCare to hold over the head of most of their Republican opponents.

Senate Republicans, on the other hand, represent their entire states, many of which were either won by Hillary or were won by Trump by very small margins.

Most Senate Republicans couldn’t stand Trump during their primaries but, once he won, they have simply held their nose … and their tongues (but decidedly NOT their votes) … and gone along hoping he could advance at least part of their agenda.  The main thing they wanted was to complete the monumental Constitutional theft of the Supreme Court seat that should have gone to Merrick Garland – about as close to a centrist nominee that a Democratic President would ever have nominated.  Well, they certainly got their conservative dream fulfilled with Neil Gorsuch.

But now that they have guaranteed a right-leaning Supreme Court for another however many years, on top of the 30+ years they have had it since Reagan, you would at least think that Republicans would now feel less allegiance to Trump.  As far as furthering other items on their legislative agenda, such as healthcare “destruction” (Reform? Really?), they can’t really blame Trump for their failure on that so backing him won’t either hurt or help in that regard.

As the Duluth Trading Company Buck Naked jeans’ slogan goes, the Republicans need to “get a pair”. It was ultimately a few Republican Senators who stood up for the country and put Constitutional interests ahead of party during the Watergate time of Richard Nixon.  It took Republican Senators Barry Goldwater and Hugh Scott finally going to Nixon to get him to realize that resignation was the only honorable way out of his predicament.

If this ever does get to that point with Trump, however, don’t count on him to do the honorable thing.  As despicable as much of Nixon’s behavior was, he ultimately put the country’s best interests ahead of his own by not forcing the impeachment proceedings to continue to their inevitable conclusion.  Faced with that same choice, what do you think?  Would Trump ever put country … or anything else … ahead of his own self-interests?

Even if the opposition party is in control of the House and Senate, censure or impeachment is ultimately up to the party of the President – the Republicans.  So even if the Democrats do regain the House or Senate in 2018, taking action against Trump will still rely upon at least some Republicans getting … or growing … a pair.

Geta pair 2

Impressions of Italy – 2014

When Visited

  • Oct 12-Nov 16, 2014

Related Posts

  • Amalfi and Pompeii
  • Florence and Modena
  • Orvieto and Civita
  • Rome
  • Rome – Angels & Demons
  • Tuscany Coast-Pisa-Cinque Terre
  • Venice and Padova

Unexpected Pleasures or Off-the-Beaten-Path Sights

  • Secret Keyhole, Rome. Include jpg of map I created to show location and pictures of the Secret Keyhole.
  • Balsamic Vinegar factory, Modena
  • Venice in the morning and evening light
  • Civita – like something out of Lord of the Rings
  • Walking the stairs to the top of St. Peter’s in the Vatican
  • The Cinque Terra (Five Lands aka the Italian Riviera)
  • Our hillside villa in Furore on the Amalfi peninsula

Impressions of Italy

First, let me say that I was keeping the list of the goods and bads about this trip as we were travelling and my overall impression would not have changed, even if what took place on the last day of the trip had not happened.  However, that final farewell to Rome simply cemented my overall, generally middle-of-the-road impression of Italy – lots of good but a bit too much bad as well.

On our very last Metro ride in Rome, on the last day of five weeks in Italy, I was very professionally pick-pocketed getting on the Metro.  I only briefly saw the teenage girl who created the distraction in front of me.  Deborah said that she believes it was what looked like a mother and small child behind me who must have done the actual theft.  The utter feeling of violation is almost unspeakable.  In retrospect, it was however an extremely fitting kick in the genitals as a fond goodbye to Italy.

The Good and the Not so Good of the trip

The Good

  • Our general impressions of London where we stopped for three days on our way to Rome.
    • There was some frustration with being able to find some things but we were able to see a number of interesting things and feel that we made good use of our two full days there.  I think Deborah’s favorite may have been taking a ride on the London Eye Ferris wheel.  My highlight was finding the Alfred Hitchcock statue on the site of his first film studio which is still in operation.
    • Please see the posts on Travel > Europe > Great Britain > London.
  • Art and the Duomo in Florence.
    • Michelangelo’s David  is certainly the highlight, although the rest of the Galleria della Accademia is pretty nondescript.  The Uffizi was just OK, even with our guided tour.  The Doumo, particularly the Brunelleschi dome, was very impressive.  Although our favorite of the various basilicas we saw throughout Italy, besides St Peter’s of course, may have been the duomo in the little hilltop town of Orvieto.  There was even a chocolate festival while we were there.
  • Venice architecture and layout.
    • Totally unique and very interesting. Our decision to take the train into Venice from Padova and stay overnight at a hotel in Venice was a very good one.  It allowed us to see Venice not only in the late afternoon and evening, but also in the morning sun as well.
  • Our tour of a balsamic vinegar factory in Modena.
    • We have learned to love the extra taste added by using real balsamic vinegar in many different kinds of cooking/eating. We bought some “traditionnale” balsamic vinegar to take back home with us.  I can’t wait to try adding a few drops to my steaks which have been marinated and then grilled with the “David Hable steak marinade”.
  • Spaghetti dinner in Florence with a very pleasant waiter.
    • One of the very few non-ripoff sit down eating experiences we had other than the nice folks who ran a little restaurant just down the street from our apartment outside of Rome. They were very nice and the prices were very reasonable … comparatively.
  • The mountain top towns of Orvieto and Civita – very unexpected gems.
  • Our VRBO apartment/home locations in Orvieto, Tuscany and Furore.
    • Furore was spectacular in the hillside setting of our beautiful villa overlooking the sea … and at just 85 Euro per night for the five nights.
    • Our little apartment in the ancient, hilltop village of Orvieto was an unexpected pleasure. It was recently renovated and beautifully updated.  For pictures of the apartment, view the Orvieto and Civita folder on Photobucket.com.
  • All of our VRBO hosts, except for Florence – Furore in particular.
  • Rome
    • Hop on/Hop off bus tour where I was able to identify at least a few interesting things, and manage to find my way around the city, including finding and enjoying seeing both the Piazza Navona and the Pantheon at night.
    • Visiting St Peter’s and the Vatican Museum, although the Museum tour was way overpriced and Deborah was not able to join me.
    • Finding the “secret keyhole” location on a beautiful, late afternoon day with almost a perfect sun and sky for pictures.
    • Climbing the stairs to the top of St Peter’s dome.
    • Mixing in pictures and videos on my camera for both my Hop On/Hop Off day and also my Vatican tour so Deborah could experience them with me.
    • Finding most of the Dan Brown Angels and Demons locations.  For pictures, view the Rome – Angels & Demons folder on Photobucket.com.
  • Arrangements in general.
    • Our flights went well and were on schedule, both leaving and returning. Our GPS worked very well in Italy and allowed me to drive over 2500 km (1550 miles) of basically uneventful roads.  The Italian super highway system is very good, though certainly on the expensive side.  We found all of our VRBO locations with relatively little difficulty.  It’s amazing that GPS provides so much detail all over Italy, even in a tiny hilltop village like Orvieto.
  • Rental car.
    • Even though I worried about it for most of the trip, Hertz did not try to nail us for the inevitable scratches that we got from driving on so many of the incredibly narrow stradas (streets), particularly in cities like Padova and Orvieto. Meanwhile, the overall decision to use a rental car for all of our trip prior to Rome (but not IN Rome) turned out to be a good one.

The Not so Good, and often the just plain Bad

  • International phone.
    • Initially purchased in London and was told that I would just have to purchase an Italian SIM card to use in Italy. Told in Italy that I not only had to get Italian SIM card but also spend a minimum of 72Euro for 50 minutes of time, even to make local Italian calls.  I was never even able to determine the number of my own phone and it did not come up on caller ID with anyone I called.
  • 100 pound taxi ride from London Heathrow to hotel 25 miles away, but still outside of London.
    • What a joke. Plus, I found out when we got to the hotel that there was a local taxi right next door to the hotel that took us back to the airport for 45Euro.  I had asked the hotel about this ahead of time, and never heard back a thing from them before we arrived.
  • Arriving at Fiumicino airport customs in Italy.
    • Very long, slow line and we encountered some very disrespectful Serbians who just jumped ahead of the line.
  • Our VRBO apartment in Florence.
    • The apartment was just old – not quaint at all. It had a very smelly bathroom and the host was by far the most unresponsive of all the places at which we stayed in Italy.  Fortunately, this was the single exception to all of the other wonderful VRBO locations where we stayed while in Italy.
  • Rome overall.
    • It was dirty, confusing, and as I say elsewhere, has a horrible public transportation system, and many of the sites were just not that special. We had planned on going into the Coliseum but it looks so bad from the outside that we were turned off from even doing that.
  • Italian drivers
    • Tailgating ALL the time both in cities and on highways. I’m not talking just Rome either, because I turned in the rental car when we got to our VRBO outside of Rome and did not drive a car at all in Rome.
  • The percentage of Italians who are just real jerks compared with visits and vacations I have made to other countries.
    • I will say that the vast majority of Italians we encountered were nice, and the jerks were certainly the notable exceptions. But there were more of those exceptions on this trip than probably all of my other trips outside the US combined.  This is particularly true of those in the service industry – i.e. waiters and public transportation employees.  As a group, they just don’t seem to give a damn.
  • Rome’s public transportation system.
    • This is related to the previous item. Rome’s, and also the public transportation system in the little town we stayed in outside of Rome, are a total disgrace.  It is extremely inconsistent and just plain confusing.  It is especially a disgrace when compared to transportation systems in Paris, Washington DC, London and even New York City.  Rome is one of the major cities of the world and their transportation system just plain sucks the big one.
  • Grafitti ALL over Rome.
    • Most widespread I’ve seen anywhere, except only for parts of Athens, Greece. Graffiti is everywhere and with the city being generally dirty anyway, it does not leave a good impression at all.
  • Public restrooms all over Italy.
    • Many charged anywhere from .50 to 1 Euro and regardless of whether free or not, many (most) were disgusting. Most often the free ones were even better than the pay ones – but they almost all were various stages of bad.
  • Rip off restaurants with cover charges, overcharging for things, and getting things not ordered supposedly because of misunderstanding of the language.
    • This included being fully charged for three separate trips to a “buffet” table at a restaurant in the Chianti region. Smiling the entire time, the waiter had no trouble explaining the difference in what an Italian “buffet” is … but only after I had made my return trips.  Lest you think that it probably served me right having gotten three plates, first, the plates were small.  Then my second plate was to try different things since the items on the first plate were mostly bad.  The third “plate” had only a few new potatoes on it because that was one of the few things I liked.
  • Pompeii ruins – somewhat disappointing.
    • Not like Greek ruins that are often spectacular. This was just a normal city that happened to be destroyed and then unearthed.  So when they unearthed it, it was still just a normal, unremarkable city.
  • I had back problems that basically wasted 2 days of our stay while on the Amalfi coast.
    • Fortunately, I suppose, those also happened to be two of the worst days for weather during our entire trip.
  • Inability (or just plain unwillingness) of many Italians to try and understand (or appreciate) my attempts at their language when even the smallest of pronunciations was off.
    • To put it in perspective, if I was in Milwaukee and a foreigner asked me where “muck won AH go” was, I would certainly know where “muck WAHN a go” is, and I would tell them, instead of just giving them a blank stare.  This is in stark contrast to what I experienced in other countries, particularly France and Greece.  France gets the bad rap for this type of thing, but Italy has it all over France when it comes to the way non-locals are treated, in my opinion.
  • Very annoying street vendors – all over Italy, but particularly in Rome.
    • Even in Pisa, there were many, many of whom appeared to be Kenyans, or at least east Africans. Besides being so annoying, how do those people ever make any money at all selling the general garbage that they do?
  • Being pick-pocketed on the last day in Rome.

Overall impression .

I was happy to see all of the historic Italian art and architecture, particularly in Venice and Florence.  We did also meet some very nice people, and stayed in a few really nice places, especially Furore and Orvieto.  But overall, the trip was mildly disappointing.  I would expect that any trip would have its share of both good and bad experiences.  On this trip, however, there was just a higher percentage of bad experiences than I have had in any of my previous vacations outside of the United States.  I have no desire to return to Italy and our experiences there have even soured me a bit on making any more trips outside of North America in the future, particularly since I have now already seen places like the UK, Paris and Greece.