Amsterdam: Drag Queen Day & Buttocks Day

The day started off with Van Gogh but after we accidentally stumbled upon a street party in De Jordaan, the Drag Queens rules the day. So here’s one of them, just to start us off. She’s telling that guy to get off her stage or she’ll but a stiletto where the sun don’t shine.

Now we can get back to Vincent.

Amsterdam has an amazing 3-floor Van Gogh museum – it is curated chronologically, so the first floor is his early works & its interesting to ‘watch’ as he learns to master perspective. There are also exhibits with medical scans of his paintings that show how he’d paint over paintings that he didn’t satisfy him. Amother room is dedicated to painting he did in the asylum after he had a few psychotic episodes & cut his own ear off. The biggest ‘draws’ are Sunflowers and Almond Branch but my new favorite is Thundercloud.

The Almond Branch is Natasja’s favorite, but I had never seen it! The deep color of the blue/purple background is perfect with the delicate pink almond blossoms. The walls of the museum were brightly painted to compliment the paintings. The only way this museum could have been improved is if they also had Starry Night; but I guess we have to leave something for the New York City tourists! We weren’t the only ones who thought so- there was a block-long line @ 10:30am! Luckily, our museum passes let us go in a separate line & we hardly waited at all! Below are my nominations for Tackiest & Least Sensitive museum gift.

Natasja & I head to her yoga-friend’s flat to celebrate their guru’s birthday & on the way we stopped at the Blue Tea House (Blauwe Theehuis) in Vondelpark. It was built in 1937, looks like 3 saucers stacked on top of each other and is the best spot for a latte on a sunny afternoon. Vondelpark is a main thruway for bikers, pigeons, joggers and tourists so it has a Central Park vibe to it.

A short walk later & we arrive at Ommurti’s building. We ring the doorbell but instead of hearing the buzz that indicates the door has unlocked- we heard a clank & a metallic chain sliding in a metal pipe… Hmmm. Opening the door I see our hostess at the top of a skinny staircase, 2 flights- straight up! She has just yanked a handle mounted on the wall that pulls a chain connected to the lock on the door. Beats walking down those stairs just to let us in!

There are 4 of us gathered for a ‘Satsang’- chanting & meditation dedicated to Guru Sivananda’s birthday. It is laid-back and joyful. Susan plays the harmonium and Ommurti & Natasja take turns leading mantras. Then Susan shares a few paragraphs from some of Sivanada’s teachings. The funniest one talks about shaking hands with the shrubs. Gurus don’t always take themselves so seriously.

We have tea & vegan snacks, then head out to explore De Jordaan. As we cross over a canal we hear Aretha Franklin blaring in the distance. Aretha = Party, so we head for the music. It turns out that a bar next to the Tulip Museum is celebrating their 85th anniversary with a block party! There is a stage and a pair of Drag Queens, lip-syncing. Then, people get called up onstage to sing… Some of them can, and some- not so much. It’s a lot like Karaoke. One of the folks with a good voice- Henny Lester- had a 1-Hit wonder in the 70’s about life being a carousel. Luckily, it’s pretty catch in Dutch since it was the only tape she had with her, she sang it twice. It was odd, hearing her old/smokey voice singing over top of her spritely 1972 voice.

There was also a cheese show/ museum next door & they were furnishing all the snacks! We ate a whole meals worth of cheese; wrapped, cubed or spread, with meat or bread. During a particularly awful performance we went inside to check out the cheese museum. It was more of a display but there was a Dutch milkmaid costume to wear & a Dutch Boy to pose in photos with you. Darn right, we did that!

Back outside, everyone is taking photos of some famous Dutch guy who is totally winning karaoke and really enjoying himself. Walter Cruse, I think. Anyhow- there was dancing, singing & general merriment.

We were totally entertained by the drag queens & by their following of dancing gays and neighborhoods grannies. Everyone was having such a good time- PLUS they had a penny- squishing machine! It was totally epic and we kept staying for one more song/ costume change. Yuri, the little Dutch boy took a liking to Natasja & I and kept bringing us cheese platters. Eventually we got so full of cheese and sing-a-longs that we just called it a night and went home. But there are videos…

The next day was Monday & Natasja had to work @ 2pm. In the morning we headed to the Rijks museum. It is insanely large and we only saw a few exibits. One was full of butts- some carved, some sculpted, some painted. We also saw the newly opened hall of murals and halls full,of colonizing-era artifacts. The wing with Rembrandt & his contemporaries was the last thing we saw before we had to head out. Rembrandt painted lots of Old Dutch guys with ruffled collars & Pom-poms on their shoes. And least we forget that we were in Amsterdam, there were lots of tulips/windmills.

The coolest ‘curated’ aspect of the Rijks Museum are the laminated explanation cards. They come in multiple languages and point out the most salient features of the most visited paintings. This card for this swan (painted in 1650 by a guy named ‘Jan’) points out the angry dog in the shadows of the lower left, indicates ”poop” under the swan and labels the single feather floating down from under the wing, ‘Pfff’. Love it.

We had to keep to our schedule so that we could have famous Dutch apple pie before Natasja left for work. It’s made in a springform pan, with a full butter crust on top, bottom & sides. The inside is more solid & the insides don’t slide out in a slippery-apple-cinnomany pile like an American apple pie. It was perfection.

Natasja dropped me off @ the Anne Frank House but my museum card didn’t let me jump the line unless I had a reservation. 😦 30+ minutes later, I was shuffling my way through the secret passageway behind the bookcase! Just like I had read about in school!

It was interesting to walk through the house- they didn’t refurnish it, preferring to leave it empty to force tourists to imagine what was gone. The video interviews from Anne’s classmates & friends were touching. They described her as, “A normal girl… A bit bossy- but everyone liked Anne!”

She had asked her father to keep her diary in his suitcase every night, but never to look in it. He didn’t look in it until after he walked home from the concentration camp (it took 3 months) & then he sat @ the train station for another month until he heard that all of his family had died. Then, finally – he worked to get Anne’s diary published like she’d hoped. She had heard a call over the radio for written accounts of the war that were being collected by the Dutch and she had re-written most her diary to prepare it to send in to the contest.

In the video interview with Otto Frank he says that he was surprised by all the ‘feelings’ Anne had (about herself, boys, the war) that she never shared with him, even though they were very close. He said, “Parents never really know their children as well as they suppose.” There was a murmur of agreement from the crowd. Then we saw the famous red & white plaid diary Anne had received for her 13th birthday. At the end of the tour is a gorgeous cafe, overlooking the row houses along the canal. I sat there, thinking about all the small stories that make up a life and watched the rain.


Amsterdam: The Never-ending Day & Bitterballen Day

Natasja & I are a good pair – we always have to be 'doing something'. Therefore, I haven't sat down to write this post because… we just don't sit down! ( See ironic photo of us sitting & being photobombed, below)

Natasja has done 3 fantastic things to prepare for my arrival:

1- She bought me a Tram pass. 2- She borrowed her friend's museum pass that gets me in free! 3- She RENOVATED the attic/ laundry room into a bedroom!!! (Ok- that wasn't JUST for me.) She also has a kitty who reminds me of my kitty, Sula! That is Nina in the basket. What a sweetheart!

I arrived Friday & Natasja met me @ the airport! It's so nice to see a familiar face @ baggage claim! Then she whisked me home (via tram) and let me get settled & freshened up after my flight. (I'd swear that the seats get smaller every hour!). Then we had a 8 minute walk to the Museumplein where there are 3+ spectacular museums & a concert hall. The Rijks museum has been in constant renovation for 10 yrs but opened earlier this year. The 'I AMsterdam' artwork out front is a crowd pleaser, those huge tinfoil sculptures… Not so much.

We decided to head to the Modern Art Museum – which ALSO had just finished a renovation (which looks like a huge bathtub.) The photos below; Natasja heading into the Stedelijk- the bottom of the 'bath tub is in the top left corner. I'm pleased that we don't look like the walking dead since I had 2 hrs sleep on the plane the night before & Natasja had finished her shift @ the ER at 8am that morning, the picked me up @ the airport! It was the never-ending day.

(On lower-right: Mondrian). After the museum we headed home to make dinner, from the ingredients we had purchased @ Albert Heijn (a grocery store with hamsters on their ads who 'gather the savings' for you! Adorable!). Natasja made STAMPPOT- which is mashed potatoes with stuff stirred in, arugula/Parmesan cheese/nutmeg. We ate it with little fake meat pieces b/c Natasja has been a vegetarian since her trip to the Ashram in India. Om.) Then, we slept like rocks until morning.

Each day ended up having a theme that just arose organically from our daily adventures. Day 1= The day we can't go to sleep, Day 2= Bitterballen Day, Day of the Drag Queens, Buttocks Day… Etc. We were just calling it like we saw it.

The next Am, we went to yoga class, taught by an adorable American named, Susan. She played the harmonium, chanted for us, gave us Celestial Seasoning tea AND complimented my tri-pod headstand. Plus she gave great hugs, so I knew we'd get along famously. We stopped back home to change & grab lunch. Natasja let me try her 'dessert' sandwich – JIF peanut butter with chocolate sprinkles. She assured me it was very Dutch & very tasty. For snack she promised to find me a Bitterballen, a fried ball of beef & mushrooms that is crunchy on the outside and gooey in the middle- a real Dutch food! But first, off to THE PALACE!

The palace is huge & spectacular- with a free audio tour, all for $13US. Napolean's brother was in charge for a while & lived in the palace. All the Royals after France left were introduced from the balcony, Which have mostly been Queens with interesting names.. Willamina, Beatrix and now King Alexander-Willhelm. The sculptures inside were detailed & intense- especially in the justice-related rooms with lots of serpents & skulls. Every inch was covered with carvings- the floor is inlaid with a huge world map. Let me tell you, all that Michigan coastline really threw off the royal topographer!

From 'The Dam Square' (the river used to to through the center of town to transport goods) we hopped a $12US canal tour. There was only a Cap't, 50 tourists and a recording, repeated in multiple languages. Next time I'll spring for the tour with a real guide telling you stories about the 7 bridges & cool churches (see above). Afterwards we popped over to 'De Waag' or weigh house. It was finished in 1665' is the oldest building in Amsterdam. It lies on the square of the New Market area – a huge center for goods to be purchased. We wanted to purchase some Bitterballen! We had struck out at the fast food shop where there are tiny heated cupboards that you open and pull your snack out. They are like old school vending machines that cover a wall.

Here is a postcard I bought that shows them full of 'Delfts blauw'- the distinct blue- glazed pottery the Netherlands is famous for.


In De Waag there is a restaurant where we finally found the most Dutch foods! On the plate above,you'll see a soft cheese, bright yellow pickled onions (Amsterdamse uitjes), spicy mustard, fried cheese sticks, and BITTERBALLEN! Next to them is liver bologna, which tasted lovely with the mustard. Finally! I ate like a Dutchie! De Waag is not just famous for its Bitterbollen – it is also a place where REMBRANT PAINTED! It is fairly amazing to have had snacks in the same building where a super famous artist hung out and painted!

That night we had gelato- my favorite flavor had been Straciatella. But that night I discovered Arianna… Which is Straciatella with nougat! Love! Then, I proceeded to drip it all over myself and Natasja said, “I can't be going with you, anywhere!” Which is the Dutch version of ” I can't take you anywhere!” It's just a small world, right?

The next day we go to see VAN GOGH! But we'll save that for the next post.