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Saturday, November 7, 2015

GAWA Day #52: Amsterdam is Still Astonishing

The MS Espirit docked right close to the main train station in Amsterdam.  Today, the Rijksmuseum, tomorrow, on to the Sheraton at Schipol Airport, then back to the USA.  

I first visited this city with my Hawaii Natural Energy Institute crew in 1988, when we had attended a hydrogen conference in Moscow, flew to East Germany, and drove to Amsterdam.  This was before the Fall of the Berlin Wall, and we were three times stopped by the East German police for a series of dumb moves.

Since then, I've come through Amsterdam on several occasions.  My most memorable must be in 2010 when Chile suffered an 8.8 moment magnitude earthquake and the Huffington Post asked me to report on:


What I did not say in that article was that at the time I got the e-mail seeking my input, I had bought my first magic truffle from a Smart Shop, placed a bit of it in a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon and sipped it.  I later that wine, or any foodstuff, neutralizes any effect.  However, maybe something magic happened anyway, for publication of that HuffPo sent the most number of readers to this blog site, ever, till today.

Here is one of my postings from three years ago:


To the right, not Rome, but my blue bar pigeon saying a final goodbye at a church in Amsterdam.

Our Tauck tour first went to the Rijksmuseum, which underwent a decade-long total make-over and re-opened in 2013.  Everything looks new, and our guide indicated that it would take a month to view the 8000 objects d'art and another ten years to to make a dent in the million pieces they have in inventory. Well, that is only if we spent so much time on a very few pieces of late 17th century art the guide focused on so that we could finish with Rembrandt van Rign's The Night Watch, said to be the fourth most famous painting, next to the Mona Lisa, The Last Supper and the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  Yes, he had a last name.

The Night Watch is almost 9 feet by 14 1/2 feet, not as large as da Vinci's The Last Supper, at 15 feet by 29 feet.  Michelangelo's is larger, but consists of nine panels.  The Night Watch is the newest, having been painted in 1642, whereas the others were created in a decade-long period around 1500.

Why is this painting so valued?  There have been three acts of vandalism:
  • 1911:  a man slashed it with a knife
  • 1975:  an unemployed school teacher (he committed suicide a year later) used a bread knife to to make several cuts, it took four years to restore, and the damage can still be seen
  • 1990:  acid was sprayed onto the painting, but only the varnish layer was affected.
You would think with all that history the painting would be better protected:


For the longest time this painting was thought to be a night scene, but in 1940 the dark varnish was removed, and here is what it now looks like:


They must now have a super varnish covering the masterpiece.  It was explained to me by our guide above the full story, so if you're interested, click on this.  


We then went on to a boat to have lunch and tour of the canals (40 radial and concentric with 400 bridges).


If you look closely, there are five bridges. Also a real windmill:


This is the type of ship that explored the world, including establishing New Amsterdam in the early 1600s, my next stop, now known as New York.

This is eye, a film museum in the harbor:


Our luncheon boat also passed by the Pulitzer, where I've stayed three times:


I later walked around for a while and noticed The Jolly Joker, a coffeeshop.


So I went in and ordered one medium joint for 4.5 euros, about $5, half the price of three years ago when I was last here.  Again, though, the effect was like drinking slightly less than an ounce of scotch, almost nothing.

Disappointed, it began to rain, so I hurried back to our ship, which tonight featured a classical trio--violin, cello and guitar--La Strada.


I asked their violinist at the end why they did not play even one Dutch popular masterpiece or tune.  Her response was there is none.  Surely enough, I went to my computer and learned that Avond by Boudewijn de Groot was the #1 Dutch hit of all time.  Never before heard of it.  But, aha, I went to another source and found the top Dutch song to ever become popular around the world, a 1969 tune, Venus by Shocking Blue.  The song reached #1 on Billboard in 1970, and, if I ever bothered to make up my personal list, I would include it in my top 100.  They disbanded in 1974.  No comeback, for Mariska Veres passed away in 2006.  I wonder if La Strada would deign to this level?

We had our final dinner and joined the same two I met the first night, plus Eula.  Here, Lareene from New Jersey and Lesley from Australia:


The leis were made by my 15 Craigside neighbor Charlotte, who said, something to the effect of good luck with these.

I had two salads, Caesar plus arugula:


I've had a bit each of red and white wines for each dinner on this ship.  Next came the best dish on this river cruise, and, perhaps whole trip, a foie gras topping a saffron truffle risotto, adorned with basil, white onion slices and arugula:


Thank you Chef Siegfried!  We had been communicating by e-mail about this special request and he has been informing me that he could not find any black nor white truffles.  So he ended up using truffle oil.  Thus, my quest for the ultimate risotto has not yet been attained.  Maybe I'll do this myself when I return to Honolulu.  White truffles from Alba can be purchased from Amazon at $136 for half an ounce, including shipping.  I bought a small box of saffron from Istanbul, and I should be able to find some frozen foie gras from the Foodland on Beretania and figure out how to make risotto.

The evening ended with the smallest souffle I've ever seen, with cappuccino:


Tomorrow, my final review of Tauck's European River Cruise.  The grossest new piece of information I learned?  Perhaps that royalty in the Shonebrunn Palace only washed their feet once/week.  They were afraid of water, and never took a bath nor washed their clothes.  Can you imagine the smell of that palace if you got invited for dinner?  And Maria Theresa is my choice as the greatest female of all time.  If this was the high end of society, what about the villages?

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When it rains it pours, quoted from a Morton Salt container.  Yemen, after suffering through Tropical Cyclone Chapala, is now faced with Tropical Cyclone Megh, probably around Tuesday:


No hurricane strength storm in their recorded history, then a week later, #2.

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