Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Cheese and pancakes

Today was another successful (although hectic) day in Amsterdam.

I started out the day by going to a cheese tasting class. It was held at the one place left in The Netherlands that ages their cheeses in the old fashioned way. The first step though was getting to the class. There was a tram leaving from my hotel that only took 10 minutes as the class was just a mile away. Unfortunately, just in front of the tram was a broken down truck that a crew was attempting to fix right there. As you can guess, the tram had a sign in it saying "sorry." I walked to the next station to find that the next tram was also stopped in order to not back up more traffic. And so was the next one. Suddenly, I had very little time to walk the mile. There was even road construction in my path. Luckily, I made it just two minutes after the start time and before the teacher started.

We learned about six cheeses and tried them with red wine, white wine, and port. It was very interesting to spend so much time learning about each cheese. We talked about how they were made, how long each was aged, the color, the smell, and most importantly, the flavor. We then compared the tastes when eating the cheese with the various wines.

Directly behind me was an over achieving English couple and behind them were their two teenage children. I picture that these parents always sat in the front row during grade school. I also suspect that they don't drink often as adults, as their alcohol tolerance appeared to be quite low. Each time the teacher asked a question, they shouted out the answer first. The more they drank, the more excited and louder they became. They may be the first people I've met who possibly like cheese more than me. I often thought about how embarrassed their poor children must feel about mom and dad getting drunk and loud in the cheese tasting class. Either way, I learned a lot and got another certificate. Ha. They are very big on certificates here I suppose.

Next, I went to the Anne Frank House. I waited in the freezing cold for an hour to see it and it was really worth every minute. The house where Anne Frank and her family hid is located in the middle of Amsterdam. Visitors can walk through the house, read about the history, and see videos of the survivors. I read Anne Frank's diary in school as a child, and it's amazing to see the house in person. They even had real copies of her diary there to view. The best part was a video of her father describing when he found the diaries, his hesitance to read them, and then the process he went through to publish them.

At the very end of the tour, they had something I didn't expect. Videos were playing about some of today's current issues. The first was people who deny the Holocaust. In many countries, denying they it happened is illegal. I didn't realize it, but there are currently videos on YouTube that deny the Holocaust. In other countries, these videos would be banned, but in the US, it's considered part of free speech. The museum was making a statement regarding their negative feelings toward this.

The other thing in the video that I wasn't expecting was with regards to gay marriage. It seemed to be geared at the US, although I'm not sure. Maybe the timing was just right. It was really a statement on separating a religious groups views from the basic rights of people. Although it surprised me to see it there, I can see how it fit nicely into the overall message of the museum.

After all this sadness, it was time for something happier. I headed to a place called Pancakes! to try Dutch pancakes. The waitress seated me with a couple who was about my age (because the seating was limited). I introduced myself and the woman said her name was Alex. Her husband never said his name and chose not to look at me throughout the meal. The couple quietly had a conversation together and never spoke to me during the meal. It was the most I have ever felt like a 3rd wheel in my life... Or at least for a while. When we paid, I asked Alex where they were visiting from. She said England and then immediately said, "you're American, aren't you?" Well, gold star for Alex. She's the first person to guess my nationality (and most certainly the least friendly). Anyway, the food was good. :-)

On the way back to my hotel, I stopped by a Ben & Jerry's for a little taste of home. They had my favorite flavor, Cherry Garcia, and the place was decorated much like the stores in the US (and the one we had in college at RPI).

After getting back to my hotel, that's when the real chaos started. I procured a box for $10 at a bookstore nearby (it only took 4 days to locate it!). Then I called to schedule a FedEx pickup. It took two calls because I didn't have my account number handy the first time. Next, I had to print three copies of a shipping label. There is no way to print from my iPad, so I had to rent the hotel computer for about $7.50 per 15 minutes of use, plus copies. Needless to say, this wasn't cheap. Eventually, I got it done. All I need is a little tape for the box. Hopefully, the front desk can scrape some together before FedEx gets here tomorrow. On the bright side, it's going to lighten my backpack by about 10 pounds!

Situations like this one make me so happy to live in Memphis, where people are friendly and everything is so easy-- and so darn cheap!

Time to sleep. Big day tomorrow. Stay tuned.

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