Dogs and Cats Living Together Since 1968

Month: July 2010 (page 1 of 2)

The European Tour

Another funny quote from Chuck Culpepper’s Bloody Confused!. This one is about about an English football song that starts, “We’re all going on a European Tour.” Culpepper says:

But I wanted this European tour thing. It sounded fun, especially to an American, to whom a European tour often means jetting across the water, tearing through as many countries as possible, talking too loud on metros, complaining about a paucity of ice, making a general nuisance of oneself, and then returning home to settle into a life of quiet desperation.


I ended up watching more of the World Cup than I had ever watched before. I guess I am part of the World Cup soccer bandwagon because I have signed up for an English Premier League fantasy team. Will this be a passing fancy, as was my 2-3 year dance with fantasy hockey? Or will it be more long-lasting? We shall see. Fortunately, ESPN3 might start broadcasting a few EPL games which means I can watch them on the internet.

But in the space of a few weeks I’ve gone from a thimbleful of knowledge about the EPL to a full pint. I thought a good book to get started with might be Bloody Confused! by Chuck Culpepper and I was right. It’s a great overview for someone who does not know much about the EPL. The only other book I’ve read about English football was Among the Thugs by Bill Buford, which was very interesting but is as I understand it somewhat outdated.

But let me give you one quote from Chuck Culpepper to help explain why English football excites me. Culpepper was a jaded American sportswriter who went to England hoping to rediscover his love of sports. Here’s one passage from early in the book:

As Match of the Day played, I committed blasphemy and paid only scant attention to the twelve-inch Digix TV in the basement guest room.

Suddenly, though, I heard the great crowd noise blaring from the set. The noise was so clearly unleashed by what happened shockingly in the draining seconds of Portsmouth versus Manchester City gave me goose bumps even through a screen in Camden, and even though I knew nada about either squad except that Portsmouth wore blue and played on brown sod at Chelsea. Why bother with sport? Here’s the number-one answer: because you might hear this kind of noise. It might swim in your ear canals and rustle your soul and electrify your skin and maybe even prolong your life.

For myself, following sport is largely about the hunt for that noise.

You can find the play he’s talking about here. Culpepper has a point, no?

Holland Redux, Part I

I am subtitling this blog entry, “How Many Egg and Ham Sandwiches Can One Person Eat?” The Dutch like their eggs and ham.

I went back to Holland toward the end of April to visit Courtney. My last trip was all about seeing the first string tourist sites. (See Holland in February for my last trip.) This trip was less touristy. I did see some second string tourist sites on the days Courtney was working — more on those later. I missed most of the tulips. But I was there for Queen’s Day!

First I helped Courtney move into her new apartment thanks to one packed taxi — too packed for us, we rode our bikes — and one disgruntled taxi driver. My favorite pic of Courtney at the new apartment, out on her balcony:


She doesn’t normally drink champagne from the bottle. Or does she? Nah, that was a prop I pushed on her.

Courtney’s new apartment is awesome, two levels with a huge living room on the top floor of the building. The living room is great for entertaining and the master bedroom is cavernous. Not too shabby expat living.

My only real complaint is about the showerhead. The showerhead in her old place, The Apartment of a Thousand Doors, was incredible: high-flow and luxurious. The showerhead in her new place reminds me of the trickle of a delicate waterfall feeding a secluded jungle pool. Cool, right? I’m sure that’s what the engineers had in mind. They overlooked one thing: the highlight of that jungle scene is the jungle — not the trickle. The trickle contraption:


We explored Courtney’s neighborhood, the highlight being her small local square that featured several restaurants with tons of outside seating. It was only later that we discovered the mother lode, an Albert Heijn just down the street. When your primary mode of transportation is a bicycle, a big supermarket within walking distance is a major score.

Move done, we rode our bikes to Delft, Vermeer’s hometown. Here we are in front of the old town hall:

I nearly broke my twenty year streak of not seeing tombs inside churches but alas, the church was closed. See ya next time, William of Orange!

Then Courtney went back to work and my first tourist stop was to revisit Hotel Hartenstein in Oosterbeek (near Arnhem). On my first trip, Courtney and I only had time for a cursory look at the museum. I needed to really study it and say hello to my old friend Sherm:


In my search for second string tourist sites, I came across Kasteel de Haar, which is located outside Utrecht. It was quite a saga to get there and back, involving two trams, two trains and four bus routes. The bus was the craziest part. From the Utrecht central station, I needed to take one bus (call it the 15) to a second bus (call it the 29). I waited forever for the 15 as every other bus line came by twice. Finally the 15 arrived and I got on.

I asked the driver, just double-checking, “Does this bus take me to the 29.”

He said, “Yes, just stay on the bus.”

Okay, wasn’t entirely sure what that meant but I climbed on board. We drove a zig-zag path all over Utrecht and not the pretty part of Utrecht. Except that we passed some really cool architecture plopped down basically in big dirt fields. (One thing that struck me during this visit was how interesting Dutch architecture is. The country is an architecture student’s paradise.) I was puzzling over the hermit architecture when we crossed a highway and drove through this auto dealership warehouse area. I was starting to worry I was going to end up in the middle of effing nowhere. Soon the driver pulled into a bus loop on the edge of a residential neighborhood and stopped the bus. I was confused. Then the bus driver got up, gathered all his stuff, and left the bus without looking at me. I was really confused. He disappeared into a small building by the loop. I sat there for a few minutes thinking, “WTF?”

Looking out the window, I saw some bus stops on the nearby street. I got out of the bus and went to the building to see if I could talk to the bus driver. He was not in the part of the building where a ticket window of sorts was located. He had disappeared into a ten foot by twenty foot building. I decided to walk over to the street and sure enough, they were bus stops for the 29. I tried to figure out which direction I wanted to go in (not at all clear at this point) and then cursed my bad luck. The 29 came every hour and I had just missed it.

I sat down on the bench and settled in for a long wait. Then I saw my friend the bus driver exit the building, climb back on the bus and start her up. He pulled out of the loop and was headed toward the bus stop across the street. His new bus number? 29.


I ran across the street and got there just ahead of the bus. He smiled as if to say, “I told you so.” Yeah, but you did not tell me the bus changes line numbers!

The 29 took me to the vicinity of Kasteel de Haar. It was about a mile walk from the bus stop to the Kasteel along some fields. When it came into view, it looked cool:


Nice gatehouse:


I wanted to take a tour but the only tour was in Dutch. I was handed a two-page English language document that helped me make some sense of things as we walked around. Fortunately, there was an American nurse on the tour who spoke Dutch and she helped out us English speakers. The funniest part of the tour was that the Dutch tourists asked no questions. Zero! On tour full of Americans, this would have been inconceivable. Americans are inveterate question askers, most of them inane, like, “How many toilets does the Castle have?” American tourist sites are so accustomed to inane questions they provide answers to a wide variety of random questions on fact sheet handouts. We are an inquisitive people, which I suppose can be a good thing. The castle from the front:


Just as the tour ended, we saw an English language tour starting up. What!? Couldn’t the Dutch tour guide have mentioned the English tour was starting in an hour when she told us she would not be speaking any English once her tour started? Oh well. Now I have a reason to go back. My token artistic shot of the day:


The castle itself was a late 19th/early 20th century reconstruction of the ruins of a castle dating to the 12th century so I don’t think you could call it authentic exactly. But it was fun and had some interesting features. The castle is owned by a wealthy family (descended from nobility it seems) and the family still spends one month per year there along with occasional famous and fabulous friends. Maybe Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder will be guests this year? Or perhaps another castle has already booked them.

At one point in the tour, the guide invited my fellow tourists and I to check out some book to see if we were related to the noble family of owners (a huge family dating to the 12th century). A gasp of excitement surged through the crowd. At that moment, I got the distinct impression the Dutch are deeply hooked on their royals and the remnants of aristocracy.

My next day trip was to Rotterdam. Saw the maritime museum, which was a bit of a letdown except for one cool ship that had defended Holland’s borders in the 19th century and never fired a shot in anger. I love me some ships.

There was some great art in Rotterdam:



It reminded me of Seattle, more specifically that Seattle rule saying 1% of every public construction project must be allocated to art. (Or something like that.) I wonder if the Dutch have a similar policy? More likely, art is such a part of the Dutch way of life they don’t need a policy gimmick to bring it to life.

By the time I went to Rotterdam, Courtney’s friends began arriving for Queen’s Day, a Dutch national holiday akin to our 4th of July. More on Queen’s Day in Part II.

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