Brewery Tour

What does 'Brew You Ride' even mean?

The sun was out on my last day in Amsterdam and Amsterdammers seized full advantage, filling the outside tables at neighborhood cafes for Sunday brunch. I had time to kill before my train at 6:40 pm. Although it no longer brews beer in Amsterdam Heineken provides a tour of its former brewery. This is a tedious hagiographic overview of the alleged multi-generational genius of the Heineken family at producing one of the simplest and oldest products on the planet. Apparently Heineken can be distinguished from other beer by a secret strain of yeast. Other than that, it is made with the same barley, hops and water common to most lagers. The tour costs 15 Euros and includes a ride of sorts where you stand on a juddering platform intended to simulate being in the brewing process. A mist of water is squirted on the riders whenever the word “water” is mentioned, reminiscent of the experience of sitting under a urinating pigeon in a Paris park. At the end of the tour you are entitled to two draft beers which can be consumed in the lounge area.

There was no opportunity to ask my burning question: How much do you pay if I discover a mouse in a bottle of Heineken?

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Københavns Hovedbanegård, København H

I got a four-person sleeper for the 14 hour trip to Copenhagen. I shared it with a pleasant newlywed couple from Melbourne, Australia. The train had the most do-nothing crew I’ve yet encountered. Although there were empty sleeper cabins in the railcar, they wouldn’t allow me to move so as to give the Aussie newlyweds a little privacy and in fact stuffed a fourth person in the cabin at Cologne. I had no trouble sleeping and was up before dawn, reading and drinking coffee in the dining car as the sun came up over Denmark.

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Van Gogh Museum

The Van Gogh Museum is an unimpressive building with a very impressive almond_blossomcollection of his work.  The Times notes that when built in 1973, it was expected to attract 60,000 visitors per year. By 1997 it was drawing a million and closed for a period for redesign and expansion.

The paintings I found engaging in person included “Apples” (1887), “Branches with Almond Blossom” (1890), “Wheatfield With Reaper” (1889), and “Wheatfield With Crows” (1890). Seen in person “Crows” feels like a suicide note, although the museum says it is unclear whether it was in fact Van Gogh’s last painting.

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Hampsterdam

The Thalys high speed train from Paris to Amsterdam was a quick and comfortable 3 1/2 hours. I bought a second class ticket and it was just fine, very smooth and astonishingly fast. I sat across from an Indian couple from Mumbai who were good conversationalists.P1010140 He said that a friend of his, upon learning that the man was taking his wife to Amsterdam, advised that the city charges “corkage” when a man brings his spouse to town. I was not familiar with the term so the joke sailed over my head but later, when I looked it up, realized that it was a pretty good one.

The train passed through Brussels and Rotterdam, neither of which look very appealing from the rail yard, but again few cities do. In China the peasants bring their ducks to the Shanghai Saturday market on trains and busses. In Brussels a young men in a business suit on his way to the market brought his Subway tuna sandwich aboard, loudly ate it, then spend the rest of the trip quacking into his cell phone.

In Amsterdam it didn’t take long to master the public transportation system ofP1010130 trains and light rail trams. I bought a two day pass at the Centraal Train Station for about 8 Euro that gives me unlimited travel on both systems. The population of Amsterdam is 750,000 and, compared with some of the other cities I’ve been to like Shanghai (pop. 14,460,000), Istanbul (11,220,000) and Paris (10,430,000), getting around is easily manageable.

They really do allow coffee houses to sell pot here and, walking past one, the unmistakable smell pours out the open doors. I was at the train station all of 5 minutes before I saw a young man burning one while waiting for a tram. The smell is reminiscent of the way Amsterdam’s other famous product, Heineken beer, smells and tastes when it has been on the shelf too long in its green bottles – skunky.

My hotel is called the Savoy and the room is smaller overall than my berth on theP1010120 Baltimore, and costs more on a per-day basis. The big television is mounted on the wall at the foot of the twin bed and swings out over the bed for viewing. There is a tram stop right outside though, the Cornelis Troostplein stop on the Number 25 tram line, which goes directly to the Centraal station in the heart of the City, and I’m not spending much time in the room anyway.

Amsterdam is not trying to be grand like Paris is, it goes instead for unpretentious and quirky. It doesn’t quite make it, as the City feels smug and a bit self-satisfied with its tired hippie airs. In the third season of the great HBO series The Wire, one of the police majors, without clearing it with his superiors, establishes a zone of a few blocks in Baltimore inP1010121 which the crack sellers can ply their trade without police interference, so long as they stay out of the other residential neighborhoods. If they stray outside the zone, they are pounced on by the cops. Several of the drug dealers mishear a reference to Amsterdam and its liberal drug laws as “Hampsterdam” and I found myself thinking about that as I was walking around this pretty little city.

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Leaving Paris

I’m going to miss my room at the Meliá Vendôme Hotel both because it is comfortable and gave me easy access to central Paris.

On a whim yesterday I went to the Musée de l’Assistance Publique, which traces P1010030the evolution of medical assistance in Paris from medieval times to the early 20th century. It is quirky, including a beautiful illuminated manuscript, old surgical instruments and medical gadgets, and paintings of the hospital wards over time.

I am booked on the train to Amsterdam leaving at 10:25 this morning. It is about a 3 1/2 hour trip.

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Final Full Day in Paris

My time in Paris was beginning to have the feel of a checklist. Louvre? CheckNotre Dame Catherdral. Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame? Check. The weather is spectacular and Spring is in the air so my best times have been spent just hanging out enjoying the public spaces and the public art. I haven’t experienced any of the alleged Parisian snobbery. To the contrary, everyone I have dealt with has been friendly and tolerant of the fact that I speak no French. If they were haughty though they’d have a right to be, since they live in the greatest city I’ve ever seen.

While I was standing at an intersection yesterday a young man came up from behind, ostentatiously reached down near my left foot and came up with a man’s gold wedding ring. He offered it to me but I declined. He wished me good luck and moved on. Afterward I tried to figure out how the scam would have proceeded had I expressed interest in the ring. I still don’t understand where it was going, maybe the plan was just to sell me a phony ring.Franklin Roosevelt Avenue, Paris

Notre Dame is a very serene place if you get there before the knucklehead crowd taking flash pictures of each other standing in front of the art and artifacts. Services were being held while I was there. I met an elderly French nun and passed a pleasant few minutes with her in the cathedral.

For years I have enjoyed the television coverage of the Tour de France. Champs Elysees cobblestonesThe images, taken from helicopters and motorcycles following the riders, present the French countryside in an appealing way. The race always ends in Paris on the Champs Elysees and today I had the pleasure of walking it from my Metro stop – Concorde – to the Arc de Triomphe. By the time the race gets to Paris its outcome is usually, but not always, already decided, and the ride is ceremonial for the overall winner. However there are still individual titles at stake and the sprinters put on a show. So it was fun to finally see the cobblestones on the Champs Elysees with which the riders must contend in completing the race.     French military hero

At the Arc de Triomphe there was a service for military veterans beside the tomb of the unknown warrior below the Arc. Elderly veterans placed wreaths at the memorial accompanied by a military band playing the “Marseillaise”and honor guards. This gentleman, obviously a highly decorated vet and the central guest of honor, was getting a kick out of posing with the young women who lined up to have their pictures taken with him.

I ate tonight at an Irish pub near the hotel. Guinness, mutton stew, and soda bread. Lately I’ve been regretting my decision not to travel to Rome. In the Irish pub I was again reminded that Joyce moved his young family there when he was 24, and took a job in a bank. In a letter to his long-suffering brother Stanislaus he wrote: “Rome reminds me of a man who lives by exhibiting to travellers his grandmother’s corpse.”

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Le Louvre

In order to avoid the problem with long museum lines I encountered in Florence, I went to Le Louvre (pronounced “blah bloov-ray”) before it opened at 9 am andDawn, Rue de Rivoli, Paris was glad I did as I had the exterior spaces largely to myself. Well, to myself and a few soldiers with machine guns but you get the idea.

My hotel is about a 10 minute walk from the museum, which I made in the new shoes I bought yesterday. By 11 am my dogs were barking. I took the Metro from the Concorde to the Rennes station yesterday to find a reasonable shoe store, even though the hotel, the Melia Vendome Boutique Hotel, is located near fashionable Parisian designer clothing stores. I wonder what would happen if I tried my newly acquired Turkish bargaining skills in one of those places.

The museum is open late on Wednesdays so I am splitting my day there. This morning I saw Italian paintings and sculpture, Greek, Roman and Etruscan antiquities, Detail from Braccesco’s L’Annonciationand other items in the Denon and Sully wings. I’ll go back late this afternoon for the Richelieu wing for the German, Flemish, Belgian and other Northern European paintings. The museum facilities are beautiful, carefully designed and maintained. I enjoyed seeing some works I recall from art history courses. In the Uffizi Gallery in Florence and at the Louvre you find that many artists painting the same subject matter, the Annunciation, the visit of the Magi, Venus reclining, the Crucifixion. I particularly liked Braccesco’s L’Annonciation. As seen in this detail, and in accordance with the biblical account, Mary is show to be alarmed by the appearance of the archangel Gabriel.

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