I jotted our daily activities down in a little notebook during our vacation so I could remember the details once we got back, so here’s an expanded version of that. Originally I was just going to keep it very brief, but sometimes I just type whatever comes to mind and it gets a little long-winded. So if you find this stuff boring (like one visitor said in my Guestbook after reading about last year’s Kauai vacation), then feel free to skip it! This is much longer than the Kauai notes and it’s only the first part, so you have fair warning…
Note: full photo galleries of the entire vacation are online.
8/31 – Buh-Bye USA / Cabby Fart / Airports
Took a taxi to the airport in the wee hours of the morning. At one point the taxi driver suddenly cracked his window without saying a word, and an instant later I smelled something so hideous I almost couldn’t breathe. The smell was stifling, somewhere between a maggoty rotting carcass and fresh ostrich barf. It was a fart that could cost someone a tip…but I think we gave him one anyway. I don’t know what that guy had been eating but I was damn glad to get outta that taxi!
Had a 6-hour flight to Newark, NJ for the first leg of the journey (the movie they showed was “She’s the Man,” truly a painful experience), with a 3-hour wait before our flight to Frankfurt. Was easy to tell we were on the east coast because of all the high-strung people walking at top speed, talking and shouting and gesturing furiously. Had lunchies at the Garden State Diner, good food with 50’s kitsch. They had every kind of soda and beer on the menu, but the waitron gave me a deer-in-headlights look when I asked for iced tea. Hmmm, I guess iced tea isn’t on the menu there… Later we stood in line for ½ hour waiting to get our passports stamped while 99% of the other passengers boarded the plane. At the last possible minute they waved the rest of us aboard without checking our passports. What was that all about? Then we sat on the plane for another hour going nowhere while they cleared the runway of other flights. During the flight I slept a little, watched a few TV shows on the fancy personal TV attached to my chair. I chose to watch movies on my Nintendo DS Lite and iPod. (God, what would I do without my gadgets?) We were in an exit row so there was lots of legroom, nice. Woke up very groggy and found myself being served breakfast, but in my sleepy-eyed confusion my arm jumped up and knocked the tray onto the floor. Oops. Got myself another tray and all was well…
Critter’s dad picked us up at the airport and, after a lot of wandering, found the car. I began to realize that a lot of firsts were happening: first passport (or need for one), first visit to a foreign country (off this continent anyway), first drive on the Autobahn, first time sampling certain foods, first time immersion in a non-English environment, etc. Yeah, I’ve led a pretty sheltered life in some ways. I’ve certainly had a lot of great firsts with Christopher, and I owe this whole experience to him. He was very excited to be in Germany again, and throughout the trip I could tell he was having a fantastic time. It was great to see this other side of his history and family, and see some of his favorite places and areas he grew up in. I have a better understanding of his background after meeting his family and seeing what he had to leave behind when he had to come to the States to live.
9/2 – Meet the Family / Vineyard Walk / Nena Concert
(Written 9/3 on the train to Amsterdam) We both slept 12 hours and really needed it! Critter’s Oma heated up some lasagna from the night before which we had for lunch, totally yummy. The family is so nice and welcoming, despite the language barrier. My German started coming back to me as I listened to Critter talk with his Oma and others, though it was a little difficult not being able to talk as much as I wanted and participate in all the chatter. His Oma is so sweet, setting out breads, cheeses, spreads, meats, and coffee every morning we were there. She made sure we were fed and happy, which we certainly were.
Both of us felt the need to do some walking so we took a long but fun hike through the hills and vineyards around Wackernheim [9 photos]. Tons of flowers and swarms of grasshoppers. I don’t think I’ve seen a grasshopper since moving out of AZ years ago, strange. Got some great pics, was so quiet & restful out there. Saw an old Roman aquaduct & natural spring [photo], protected by a small shack…Oma said she used to get water out of there when she was a little girl (she’s 80 now).
Critter’s dad (a.k.a. Aqua) rented a car and we drove to Schwalmstadt for a Nena concert. Stopped in Marburg [photos] to eat and kill some time, had my first Döner kebab which was deee-lish. Walked around Marburg a bit, hiked up to the castle, took some pics and enjoyed the view out over town. Got back in the car and headed to Schwalmstadt, which was a hell of a drive out into nowhere. Luckily we kept seeing Nena signs here and there, leading us on. Upon reaching the outdoor venue’s gate, I had to hand over my camera because photography “wasn’t allowed.” I signed a form and gave the camera to a nice girl at the gate, and that was that. Well, as it turned out, I was the ONLY person in that crowd who wasn’t taking pictures! WTF? People everywhere had cameras, snapping happily away, some even taking video. I was SO pissed about that. Weren’t they patted down at the gate like me? Jesus.
Anyway, first we had to sit through two agonizing hours of hellish shitmusic by some band of tools called Revolverhead. It was so bad that it put me in a really foul mood, ’cause I hate being prisoner to such mindless, vile music. I actually felt violated. After enduring that, we waited another hour before finally getting to see Nena take the stage. It was a fantastic show — she was in great form and still sounds the same as she did way back when. The crowd sang along to all the songs (some rather drunkenly). Towards the end of the show she began to play “99 Luftballons” and I turned to Critter and said, “Do you know how surreal it is to see Nena singing this song that I used to love when I was a teenager? And even being in Germany for it??” It was awesome, and that crowd ate it up. Critter bought a Nena hoodie for around €60 which looks very nice, and then we got out of there. Got my camera back too. The drive back was scary, with Aqua driving like mad at full speed, but he got us back alive and intact. Whew! (He was actually a good sport for driving all that way while putting up with all our razzing about his driving.) We went right to bed and slept like logs.
9/3 – Arrival in Amsterdam / Baba / Red Light District
Aqua drove us to the trains station today. Before we left, I was standing out in the street while Critter said goodbye to Oma and some other folks. I was looking up the street when I felt someone smack me on the shoulder. I turned around, and didn’t see anybody. Then I looked down and saw Oma, who wanted to tell me goodbye too. She’s got a great sense of humor…I told her goodbye in my retarded German, and she told me to have a fun time and a safe trip. Sweet little lady.
We took the high-speed I.C.E. train to Amsterdam, stopping at several cities along the way. Was a very smooth & pleasant ride, about 4 hours’ worth. Not at all noisy & jerky like American trains I’ve been on. Saw lots of interesting scenery — houses, factories, industrial areas, train stations, wide-open fields, rolling hills, and tons of colorful graffiti. Lots of cows began to appear once we got into the Netherlands. Walked from the Amsterdam train station to our hotel, only a few blocks. The hotel room was more like a shoebox, but it overlooked some restaurants and hash bars in that touristy little area. We unpacked a bit, then ventured out to explore a bit and get some dinner.
What an amazing city, swarming with people from all over the world, most of them riding bikes. Zillions of shops, restaurants, cafes, hash bars, and canals. Many interesting buildings to gawk at. It’s also apparent within five minutes of arriving in Amsterdam that everyone seemed to be skinnier and younger prettier than us. We felt like the oldest and fattest ones in town! Maybe if we rode our bikes everywhere we’d be thinner and more fit, too. And speaking of fatness, the first thing we wanted to do was get something to eat, and Critter remembered an Indian restaurant he had been to years earlier which was still in the same location. It was some of the best Indian food I’ve ever had!! It was freshly-made, not pre-cooked and kept hot on a stove for hours. It was also a tad pricey (cost us about €40 in the end) but the taste and quality made up for it. Unfortunately it had some unpleasant “after effects” for one of us…I won’t say who. 🙂
After that heavy but deee-licious dinner we walked around for hours, just looking around. Stopped in at Baba, a cool little coffee shop with a giant Ganesha statue on the back wall. Picked up a couple of space cakes but we only ate half, since they seemed to contain a lot more stuff than we were used to. Turned out we were wrong, and we shoulda eaten them whole. Oh well.
Got some late-night pizza, then strolled thru the Red Light District. Watched the nearly-nekkid chicks as they tried to lure men into their rooms, basking in the glow of blacklights and the traditional red lights which lit up their wall-sized windows. It was interesting to watch…they tapped their windows at us, but of course there wasn’t a chance in hell of that going anywhere. 🙂 I noticed a lot of businessmen poking their heads into the doorways, probably discussing rates. The curtains were drawn when a sale was made and the goods were being delivered. Was a little strange to see so many people strolling by, obviously just there for a kick (like us). Some of the women looked bored, others looked ready for action. Later I found out that even though prostitution is legal in Amsterdam now, there’s still a stigma against it and these women often have trouble doing things like simply opening a checking account. It’s a shame, really, because there are far worse things one could do to a man than what these ladies do.
Crashed back at the hotel later, watched some really bad T.V. out of boredom. Critter didn’t sleep well since the pillows were literally like rocks.
9/4 – Erotic Museum / Canal Tour / Madonna Concert
Spent most of the day exploring more of the city. Took a half-hour boat ride through the canals [20 photos], was a bit cheesy but it gave us a great view of all the interesting buildings with their fancy facades, etc. Only cost us €7, too.
Stepping off the boat, we noticed the Erotic Museum [5 photos] across the street, and thought, “Why not?” It was only €3 to get in. It was interesting exploring erotic art and pornography through the ages…people tend to think of “dirty pictures” as a 20th century thing, thanks to all the filters we have in place, but this museum had porn photos from the 1800s, as well as countless carvings, engravings, paintings, statues, and other stuff stretching back thousands of years. So we spent about an hour immersed in boobs and bush, with maybe a little cock thrown in for good measure, but we noticed that this vast, multi-story museum had dedicated only one quarter of one wall to gay erotica. We saw some old sex photos taken in back in the 50’s, the same ones many of us have seen at one time or another, and a couple of paintings. Oh, and something by Tom of Finland, which made us roll our eyes. Yawn. But the museum as a whole was worth a visit, and it was more than just titillation…they actually went into a lot of history, along with the cheap thrills.
Coming out of the museum we found a great internet cafe to check our email and bank balances in, then stopped by Baba again for some brownies. They were BIG brownies, too, guaranteed to knock us for a loop. This is how we wanted to experience Madonna: in outer space!
Off to the train station, Madonna-bound! There was mass confusion there as hoardes of people tried to figure out how to use Amsterdam’s bizarre ticket machines. It was funny seeing all these obvious Madonna fans bunched up around the ticket machines having intense discussions. Luckily a ticket-guy was there to help us figure out what we were doing. As people bought tickets, he asked where they were from and was amazed at how far people were traveling to see this show. The people in front of us were from Sweden…others were from Brazil. Finally we got on a crowded, stinky train headed for the soccer stadium. We munched our brownies after getting off the train, then headed for the gates.
After some walking around trying to find the right gate, we eventually made it inside. We were both sweating like pigs, so we left our seats in search of water. Critter tried to buy some water at a snack stand and we were told that we had to pay with credits from a vending machine behind us. I swear, Europe is obsessed with tokens and credits and tickets and tokens. So Critter marched over and shelled out €10 for a card with some credits on it. It was actually pretty cool, specially designed for the Madonna show. Finally we got our water and headed back to our seats. Luckily we were late enough to miss the opening act, and the show started not long after.
As for the show, we were both simply stunned. Madonna puts on one hell of a good show, and her crew of musicians and dancers were just as amazing. I’m crappy at reviewing concerts, but you can see a shitload of photos on Madonnalicious…just scroll down to the Amsterdam bits. Also check YouTube for some (often crappy) fan videos. The sets, the music, the lights, the video, the choreography…it was all incredibly well-done, a true spectacle. At one point during a song’s finale (I think it was “I Love New York”), when she was rockin’ out on her guitar and every light was strobing maniacally and the music was screeching and slamming us at full throttle for a full 2-3 minutes nonstop, I actually felt like I was gonna board the Starship Madonna and leave the planet. But maybe that was just the brownie talking. 🙂
I’ve also never seen so many people in one place in all my life! 80,000 was one count I heard, but Critter wonders if it was more like 100,000 judging by the ticket sales. And so many of them were from all over the world. At one point she pointed out that yes, such a diverse crowd can gather closely and not kill each other. And those fans were having a fucking ball. Lots of people were dressed up in verious Madonna-flavored outfits, and everyone in that place was dancing & singing along…it was kinda surreal. Not at all like the passive sort of audience you see here in the Pacific Northwest — those folks in Europe enjoy the hell out of their concerts, ohhh yeah.
After the show we shuffled out and spent about an hour being jammed into a mishmash of tired, smelly, happy fans as people tried to board the subway to get back into town. The area was filled with hundreds of people talking in every language imaginable (except perhaps for Esperanto). Somehow we managed to get out of there still clutching three t-shirts and a tour book. Wow, what an experience. While walking back to our hotel we passed a group of girls singing “Cotton-Eye Joe” and dancing a jig in the middle of the sidewalk. We weren’t sure if they were drunk or not, but it was an oddball ending to a great night. Finally we got back to the hotel, porking out on snacks before taking a shower and hitting the sack, happy and stoned and horny sleepy. Ahem.
9/5 – Credit Card Panic / The Hague / Critter & Shoogle’s Freaky-Deaky Truffle Trip to Spaceworldland
Had breakfast at the “Irish pub” on the street beneath our hotel, was some good stuff. Walked to the train station with the intent to travel to The Hague [15 photos] and visit the M.C. Escher museum [photo], which sounded really cool, until…I realized I had left my credit card at the pub! So we hopped on a bus and rushed back there, got my card back, and then rushed back over the train station again. Unfortunately this took about 20 minutes. When we finally reached the museum after a longish walk through The Hague, we discovered it was going to close in 5 minutes. Dammit! Oh well. The Hague is a pretty place, from what I saw. After arriving back in Amsterdam we stopped by the Homomonument [4 photos] for some pictures, walked by Anne Frank’s House, and headed back in the direction of the hotel.
On our way back to the hotel we passed a mushroom shop, and I really wanted to check it out. The shop was amazing inside, the walls made up to be kind of melty and morphy, almost like going inside a giant old tree or something. Very cool. They had every kind of mind-altering drug you’d ever want, and the mushrooms were all laid out in a case with little cards detailing what kind of trip you’d get out of each type. Some were high on visual effects and energy, others were low on those but had a bigger “brain high”, and others were a mix of other things. After talking with the clerk on what we were looking for, he recommended “philosophers stones”, or psilocybin truffles. So I bought us each 13 grams of those. He fetched them out of a refrigerated case, which is where the others were kept — it’s only legal to sell fresh shrooms in Amsterdam, not dried ones. They sorta looked like walnuts. We stopped by New York Pizza for dinner (probably the best damn pizza in the city — piping hot and huge slices), and then went back to the hotel and took a nap before taking our journey.
The truffles were kind of nasty to eat — crunchy like walnuts, but tasting kinda like…well, fungus. I ate some smoked almonds at the same time, which masked the taste completely, but Critter could taste ’em no matter what. Then we decided to take a walk and enjoy whatever happened, knowing the trip would start far sooner than what a brownie would bring. 15-20 minutes later we began to feel something begin to happen. Everything became funny, and we were giggling at the stupidest things as if there was some gigantic joke going on that only we knew about. Oh, it was fun…but after a while I began to suspect that we looked like typical Amsterdam tourists: fucked up, giggling, and walking really really really fast trying to look inconspicuous. I nearly got run over by a bicylclist ’cause I forgot about those damn bike lanes they use.
We stopped and enjoyed the city lights glittering on the canal water, skirted the Red Light District (but didn’t go in due to the seedy-looking folks hanging around), and roamed the empty shopping corridors where models on fashion posters actually turned their heads to watch as we walked by (to my mind, at least). Finally we ended up back at Dam Square. We sat down on a bench several hundred feet from the Royal Palace [3 photos], and watched for several minutes as the windows on the palace moved and breathed and swayed. The ground between us and the palace seemed to stretch and contract. I was entranced! Then I noticed something strange: one moment I was staring in awe at the palace and how it seemed to be alive, and looking around the rest of the plaza everything seemed so crystalline and interesting. Then I “downshifted” and realized we were sitting on a dirty stone bench late at night in the plaza, which was filthy and crawling with icky-looking people. That’s when I decided it was time to move on, but not before asking Critter, “Does the palace look like it’s closer than it was before?” I swear the damn thing moved.
Walking, walking, walking… Eventually the buildings around our hotel started to look very Vegas-like to me, with their multi-colored spotlights. It all started to look kind of artificial and tacky to me. Anyway it seemed like we had walked for two hours, but by the time we finally got back to the hotel room we saw that less than an hour had passed. Time warp! Good thing we got back to the room when we did, though, because we both hit another level at that point. We both began to see “stuff”…but Critter wanted to take a cold shower first, ’cause we were burning up and sweating like pigs. So we turned out the lights and took a cold shower, with only the light from the street coming into the room. It was almost totally dark in the shower but we could still see a tiny bit, but we could see many more things in our heads. I saw things I can hardly describe, but those of you who have had a similar experience know exactly what I mean… (This is where I begin to sound like a loon, by the way.) I was seeing geometric patterns flowing all over everything, a mix of Egyptian, Greek, and Escher styles (think “Stargate” and “Tron” styles morphed together, with Dalí’s melty, liquid style thrown in). It was flowing and shifting over every surface, lighting up in neon green and blue. We spent a while in the shower marveling at all this, then decided to get out and see what else was in store.
We kicked back on the bed and just looked around, the only light in the room coming from outside. The curtains were dancing and gyrating gently, almost as if they were alive or liquid. I was entranced. Blue lights traced everything else, and when I closed my eyes I saw fantastic geometric landscapes, fractal scenes, and endless views of moving figures, shapes, and lights as real as if I had my eyes open. It was all crystal-clear, better than the best CGI animation. Critter went to the bathroom at one point and was in there for several minutes…when he came out, he was really excited. “You need to go in there! Just sit in the dark and stare off into space. You won’t believe it!” Uh, OK. So I went into the bathroom and shut the door, then sat down on the toilet in complete darkness. WOW. My brain opened up, showing me Giger-like things, neon-outlined shapes (black except for the outlines) and Escher-esque geometric scenes which morphed from one to the next, and shifting patterns which had a vaguely Egyptian feel to them. Roman columns were rising and falling… At one point my mind seemed to be flying through the blueprints for a vast machine of some sort, in full 3-D. My mouth was hanging open in awe, I was completely dumbfounded. What is all that stuff, where does it comes from? Was it purely chemical? I almost felt as if I was being shown something, but I didn’t understand what it was. Then I had the realization that if I could draw what I was seeing, it would look a lot like the stuff Escher and Dalí produced, and a lot of things about their artwork suddenly made sense. The whole experience was like being inside their paintings, so surreal and beautiful, but also alien in a way.
Eventually I left The Chamber (the name I gave it while inside) and joined Critter back on the bed. We talked, laughed, described things we were seeing, felt completely comfortable and happy. His face was morphing in the dim light, and his body looked like it was inside a “cocoon” of lights and shifting patterns. So strange and interesting. Eventually he went back into The Chamber for another round, and I decided to turn on the desk lamp to see what was going on. Everything looked OK, until I looked down at the paper bag that the mushrooms had come in. Leaning in closely I could see the surface of the bag moving and breathing, and shapes started to form. A dancing Shiva, some clouds, little people figures. I was ENTHRALLED. Suddenly I snapped out of it and said to myself, “Jesus, I’m standing here staring at a paper bag.” Then I let it go and deicded to just be silly and enjoy it, which is really the point of it all, isn’t it??
Then I looked at the wall and discovered a whole new area of amusement! The walls were painted in that style where they sponge-dab the paint on, whatever it’s called. Well, this paintjob was now swirling and shifting in fractal patterns, as if it was still liquid. Multiple layers of color and shapes were flowing and swirling behind each other. I must have looked like a dork, sitting on the bed with my face right up to the wall like that! Critter came out of The Chamber and asked what I was doing. I said, “Look at the walls!” He didn’t see it. “Look, it’s moving! You don’t see that???” He really didn’t. So he sat down on the bed, and a few minutes later he gasped, “OH WOW, THE WALLS!!” He was so excited. We both were like children, marveling at the shapes and colors dancing on the walls, and even on the carpet.
It was so amazingly beautiful, and we both laughed at how silly it all was. Here we were in Amsterdam, holed up in our hotel room staring at the walls and drapes. But it was just fine, we were happy to just enjoy being where we were. I honestly have never seen anything so fascinating in my life. At one point I went back into The Chamber for a few minutes, and I could hear him out on the bed gasping and saying, “Ohhh, look at that! And that one, wow!!” It was so cute. 🙂 Eventually we decided it was time to get to sleep, but when I closed my eyes I was still seeing things…I saw millions of multicolored bubbles swirling in fractal patterns, and vast landscapes made of gears and wheels. So very strange. Eventually we fell asleep and no doubt had bizarre deams, though I don’t remember them.
It makes me ask the question millions have asked already: how can anyone create a law to ban something that opens you up to such beauty (even if it’s all in your head)? When used responsibly, like anything else you put into your body, it’s completely harmless and maybe even beneficial. But no, we’re being saved from ourselves by these idiotic laws that keep people from experiencing this. If it grows out of the earth, it’s “bad.” But if it’s man-made and can be heavily taxed and controlled, it’s just fine with Uncle Sam…drinkers and smokers can rejoice. Fuck that. Amsterdam’s laws are right on target: hard drugs like cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, etc. are illegal. Naturally-occurring things like marijuana, mushrooms, etc. are tolerated and demystified. When will this country move out of the Dark Ages and realize that the “war on drugs” is a complete sham? (By the way, I’ve felt this way about drugs for many years…this experience only reinforces it.)
Anyway, when going through my photos from Amsterdam the other day, I noticed that the last one I took was of the truffles. I guess nothing seemed worth photographing after that!
9/6 – Back to Earth / Leaving Amsterdam / Oma’s Birthday
We were both very very tired this morning, maybe only 3 hours of sleep. I felt sort of empty, like I had no emotion left. Probably an after-effect of the trip, used up all my seratonin. Forgot to bring some 5-HTP with me, drat… It would have helped level things out, I think. We mechanically packed up our stuff and left the hotel, stopping at a little eatery to get some pizza bread and coffee for breakfast/lunch. I had planned on doing some souvenir shopping before leaving Amsterdam, to get some little goodies and maybe a shirt or two, but I had zero intention of bothering with it after the truffle trip. I think that was the ultimate souvenir, something nobody else could see but would be stuck in my mind forever. I didn’t sleep much on the train, it was too hot and noisy. Amsterdam is such a humid place, yet nobody there seem to notice. They bundle up like it’s wintertime, I don’t get it. Maybe they don’t sweat?
Tons of Critter’s family greeted us when we got back to Oma’s house. It was very noisy, with lots of loud talking and small children shrieking and running around. Not the best environment for my recuperating brain! But it was Oma’s 80th birthday, and people from all over Wackernheim were stopping by to wish her a happy birthday. Her little house was filled with flowers and champagne and wine. Even the town mayor stopped by to say hello, and bring her a big bouquet of flowers. Later we had dinner at the Wackernheimer Hof… I had chicken cordon bleu, schnitzel-style. Absolutely delicious! Oh my god, I snarfed it down like it was my first meal in weeks. We finally got to bed around 10:00, and slept in late.
9/7 – Mainz / Schnitzel Nacht
Got up around noon, ate some breakfast that Oma had laid out for us. Watched as the neighborhood kids played with Critter’s niece Hanna. His sister Bianka was there with her husband Allen and daughter Lorelei, and we all wanted to get out of the house, so we headed to Mainz for a little shopping. Stopped at a Saturn store, looking for music and DVDS…I picked up the German version of “Spirited Away”, which features Nina Hagen as the voice of the villain Yubaba.
For dinner we went back to the Wackernheimer Hof for Schnitzel Nacht, meaning all schnitzel dishes were half off. I had the zweibel (onion) schnitzel, and it was quite tasty. Later we used Adreas’ laptop to get caught up on some emails and check travel times to Ulm, then headed to bed.