Saturday, December 28, 2013

More pics with tiny stories

One of the best things about pictures is the stories they prompt, but here are very short ones, often one sentence. Let me say again that nearly all the photos were taken by Mark. He has a simple pocket camera and doesn't use Photoshop. He just has a good eye. 

Cannot say I really understand the French penchant for subduing trees and forcing their conformity.

We went to the museum of the City of Paris. This vase stands about 4 feet tall and commemorates the 1934 Paris Olympics.

   Happened across this wee shop in a courtyard that sells old copies of newspapers, but as it says on the door, it fancies itself both a shop and a museum of the press. 

Quaint was everywhere in the small towns of Germany.

Destination weddings have become very fashionable among the Japanese. It was a very cold day for this petite couple at Heidelburg Castle, an oft chosen location.

Shutter holders in Heidelburg.

The castle and the gypsy caravan. The huge migration of the Romany people into the more prosperous parts of Europe is one of the unintended consequences of the EU and it is very controversial. I also see this photo as something of a metaphor for what is happening at home as the income gap and the decline of the middle class increases.

We had more good weather than we expected. Red skies at night.

Marksburg Castle

One of Cologne's not famous churches at dusk. 

The Museum of Applied Arts in Cologne was quite wonderful and covered nearly a millennium of objects. We noticed that nearly all items from the 20th century were donated by one man. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013


Some final words on Amsterdam. 

It's a city of great juxtaposition where, for instance, you might have a corner gambling casino next to an apartment building next to a law office, next to the motorcycle shop, which we noted while waiting for a tram.

Even more startling, at least to me, is the prostitutes on the right, the cities oldest church on the left and down where the people are walking is a day care center.

Amsterdam is a city on built on a human scale and, because of the canals, a city whose center has changed little for centuries. It is a very easy city to walk, very compact with many streets too narrow for cars. An easy city to bike, of course.

 I read that 78% of Amsterdamers have bikes. No one wears a helmet and their fatality count is usually 5-6 per year, which means the death per kilometer pedaled is tiny. Bikes get their own lanes everywhere, which no doubt helps tremendously, but the bike lanes constantly cross streets and sidewalks. And the riders must contend with clueless and careless tourists who walk in the bike lane.

But for those who cannot walk or ride a bike, there are micro cars that are allowed to drive in the bike lane and park of the sidewalk. Just roll your wheelchair in the back and go. 

We easily located the place we stayed for two weeks long ago. It has changed names, gotten new paint and doubtless remodeled inside, but the building was still there and it was still a cheap hotel. Mark set the camera on a car and set the timer.  A man walking by asked why and I explained that we had stayed here in 1979.

"Ah yes." He smiled. "Where the erotica began. But why are you still together?" He laughed and strode away.

(It is coincidence that the address is Singel 69, and the post in the foreground is to keep cars off the sidewalk. The triple X has nothing to do with the city's famed openness, but is directly taken from the Amsterdam Coat of Arms and is seen on all city buildings, vehicles and uniforms. The three Xs are called St. Andrews Crosses.)

We met no one who didn't speak English, but that may not be true countrywide. We noted that much of their TV programming is British or American with Dutch subtitles. We also noted that two of our 22 channels showed darts on the evenings we tuned in. 

The written Dutch has so many words that are similar to English or words we got from them. Like koekje. (The J is silent). And their word for police is politie, which looks a lot like polite. Seemed very appropriate. We saw few police in Amsterdam and rarely heard sirens. In Paris, there were sirens constantly and police, armed and armored, were a common sight. Once, several vanloads pulled over near us and a bunch of officers jumped out and began walking in several directions and then one ended up pulling out a paper map over which they consulted. Despite their badass attire, it was comical.

Trivia answer-  Amsterdam hosted the 1928 Olympics, which were the first to allow women and the first to have a big torch. The torch and stadium are still there. 

And now some photos from the Amsterdam Festival of Lights. Not your traditional Christmas look.

Notes from and photos of Dutch Jews just before the Nazis removed them, projected on a wall. 

    This bed floated in the canal outside our window.

Festival of lamps in front of City Hall, which many locals call Shitty Hall because they don't 
appreciate the modern architecture. 


Steeple Chase

I have mentioned my favorite church in a previous post. Now, the bigger picture.

We visited many churches. What struck us is:

Churches in France are in worse condition that others we saw.
They were all Catholic and they were often run down and felt dank. 
The price to light a candle was between 2 and 10 Euros. There were constant signs and plenty of opportunities to buy and light.

In Switzerland and Germany the churches were in excellent shape and asking for a donation of .50 Euros with smaller, less frequent signs. The lighting was good and the places seemed warm, not only in temperature but in life.

The big churches of Amsterdam were often no longer churches, having become simply tourist attractions or museums, and thus charged admission. 

Don't get me wrong- I don't begrudge any church that lets in tourists trying to recoup some money for their hospitality. I'm not a candle lighter, but I never left a church with dropping some euros in the box. (We scorn freeloaders.)

The Cologne Cathedral is so ornate and so filthy from years and years of air pollution it just seemed depressing. It was the most French of the German churches in that it was dark and dank. Another tourist told me that the cathedral cannot be cleaned because the stone is so soft that power washing would only hasten the disintegration. 

This is how Mark Twain saw one church in his visit to Europe:

"The great altar of the cathedral and also three or four minor ones are a perfect mass of gilt gimcracks and gingerbread. And they have a swarm of rusty, dusty, battered apostles standing around the filagree work, some on one leg and some with one eye out but a gamey look in the other, and some with two or three fingers gone, and some with not enough nose left to blow--all of them crippled and discouraged, and fitter subjects for the hospital than the cathedral."

(Think of all the famous people who have also visited places like Notre Dame, in whose footsteps we all walk. It's like Andy Warhol said - I drink Coke, you drink Coke, Elizabeth Taylor drinks Coke.) 

Many of the German churches had modern insides. This is the result of needing to be rebuilt after the war and they sensibly did not attempt a replica. In some cases, the rebuilding continued into the 1980s and vastly remodeled the interior to contemporary standards.

(The glass here small squares, giving it a pixilated look.)

And below, this window in Heidelbug commemorates the bombing of Hiroshima.

Other times churches changed their look because they began as Catholic and became Protestant. Post Luther.

In Strasbourg, they went back and forth between Germany and France, Protestant and Catholic so often they became inured, I think, as Strasburg was the first city in Europe to call for a European Union; that was 1950. Imagine, while still surrounded by war rubble they asked for unity.

But back to the churches.

What continues to astound me is that these behemoths were built in an age we think of as primitive. It often took a dozen or more generations to complete. People starved, died young, were slain for being witches and heretics, bled people to cure their diseases and buried their children at an alarming rate and yet all resources went into palace building. 

I am glad to be able to visit and marvel at the artistry. I am glad that most people no longer see the point. 

(Like so many things, the photos don't capture the grandeur, but illustrate we must. 

Note the Porta Can behind Notre Dame de Paris.  Rare was the grand church that was not also a construction site. It can't be easy maintains something 300, 500, 800 years old.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Derde Zondag van de Advent

We have seen many impressive churches in Europe but I think I have found my favorite:
 Sint Nicolaaskerk in Amsterdam.

Facing the Central Train Station, just north of the Red Light District and "coffee shops" east and west, St. Nick retains its beauty amid the detritus of modern Amsterdam. Fittingly,  the walls are covered in wonderful paintings and gorgeous tiles. The stations of the cross are each huge scenes of about 10x15 feet painted onto the wall and the painter, Jan Dunselman, labored on them for 40 years.

St. Nicholas is the patron saint of seafarers and the fate of this city has always been tied to the sea. 

Tonight we attended vespers there. The 11 monks and priests came up the main aisle in their plain white robes and chanted, in Latin, the evening prayer. It was lovely.

Stuff we didn't buy



These are Russian meteorite chunks, they claim. They are also trying to sell moon rocks, which is illegal in this part of the Solar System.  (Paris)

    A shoe you can't refuse. (Strasbourg, France...which has been part of Germany off and on several times during the last couple of centuries, incidentally.)
    All creatures, great and small. (Germany)

    Did he really say "I am a jelly donut?" 

   Watch bands, scissors, CDs and tubes. (Amsterdam)


   Was tempted by the MJ/RIP sox. (Amsterdam)

    The spray paint comes without tips. We don't know if that is the law or if connoisseurs simply prefer 
     their own.  (Amsterdam)
   Das Racist!

   There is so much wrong with this we don't know where to begin.