Monthly Archives: June 2014

Braking in Amsterdam

IMG_0357We got back from Amsterdam the other night. Vacation over. We had such a wonderful and interesting time…loved the city, its canals, its houses, its houseboats, its cyclists…(In the first photo, you can see the floating…well, at one time it was…flower market, on the right.)

We walked everywhere. And when we got super tired, we hopped on a tram, if possible. If not, we’d rest for a while, then keep walking. But, I admit, walking and walking and walking got to be a bit tiring…IMG_0064

And so, after watching almost every single inhabitant of Amsterdam whiz around on bicycles (I mean, they are EVERYWHERE…there are even traffic lights for bikes, see photos), and figuring it would be easier and faster for us to get from place to place on a bike, we decided we’d follow suit. Two days after we arrived, we rented a couple of bikes at our hotel…but it was not meant to be…

We went outside the hotel to unlock our bikes and get on our way. Stefano got his bike ready before I had done fiddling with mine, walked it over to me and asked: “Hey, does your bike have any brakes? Mine doesn’t.” IMG_0084Sure enough, there were no brake levers on my handlebars. 

I later learned that most Amsterdam bikes work on the brake PEDAL system. That is, if you want to brake, you have to back pedal.

IMG_0044Now, since Stefano and I have always used the hand-braking system, we weren’t about to begin braking with our FEET for the first time in our lives in a city chock full of canals. I could just picture one of us or, horror, both of us sailing straight into a canal. Splash! Nope, forget it.

So we never rode a bike in Amsterdam. Not on this trip, anyway. However, I would like to add a note of appreciation for all Dutch cyclists. From that moment on I watched and admired HOW they braked. IMG_0999Hats off!

IMG_0595By the way, we could have rented what I consider to be a “normal” bike with handlebar brakes. But in the end we decided against it. Main reason: Stefano wouldn’t have had his camera handy at all times, and by the time he’d manage to stop the bike and whip his camera out of his backpack, any photo op would have probably vanished. Biking and taking good photos don’t really go together.IMG_0425

And so we walked. And walked and walked. Judging from the map that tracked our photo-taking, we walked along every single canal in Amsterdam, on both sides, from Singel to Amstel, and all the canals in between (Princengracht, Herengracht and Keisersgracht are the main ones, plus all the minor ones, too!) from start to end…and often back again several times.

IMG_1005We were in Amsterdam on the day (Monday June 23) of the Holland-Chile soccer match (is anybody else watching the World Cup?). I really REALLY wanted to watch the game in one of Amsterdam’s big squares, surrounded by Dutch fans…so we went to Rembrandtplein. The square was packed with orange-clad fans both inside and outside the bars, most of which had TV screens. At the beginning of the second half of the game, Stefano and I finally managed to find a couple of seats outside a bar…and had a decent view of the rest of the game. I was very excited, and my camera was turned on and ready to shoot.

IMG_1013After Holland scored its first goal, all the Dutch fans around us jumped to their feet, clapping and cheering. I took a few photographs, but they didn’t come out as well as I would have wished, as you can see. And then, toward the end of the game, the Dutch team scored its second goal. Well, let me tell you, the square went absolutely wild with joy–everyone was jumping up and down…lots of clapping and cheering and hugging. So exciting. And glorious. And, for us, a historic moment (= our first time watching a game in a public square…). IMG_0710

And just as I was ready to take my exciting, glorious, historic photos, a message appeared on my camera screen:

“Change the battery pack.”

AGGGGHHHHHH!!!

So I didn’t even get ONE lousy photo. Not one. By the time I’d changed the blooming battery, things had quieted down.

This would never have happened to Art Wolfe… 😉

IMG_1056But then, later on, on our way back to the hotel, we heard loud and joyous singing as we approached one of the main canals. And there was my photo opportunity: a boat filled with young Dutch fans waving their arms and singing their hearts out. :-)

We did all the touristy things in Amsterdam. Taking advantage of our three-day “I amsterdam card,” we visited many museums (Goya, Rembrant’s house, the National Museum (not for free, but there was a 25% discount), the Amsterdam Tulip museum, the houseboat museum, the Museum Van Loon, Our Lord in the Attic, and…oh a few others… IMG_0098

Of course, we also visited the Anne Frank House, which  however is not part of the “I amsterdam” deal. Word of advice: try to get online tickets for the Anne Frank House, or you might end up spending 1.5-2 hours in a queue, like we did. IMG_0889By the time we saw the seemingly endless queue and  thought of buying tickets online, there were none left…even for the following day. So we stayed in line. It was worth it, though, of course.

That’s about it. I can’t think of anything else at the moment…

Bellissima Amsterdam!!!

Back in Italy…and off again…

I can’t believe that I’ve been back home with Stefano and our kitties since June 5 and haven’t written a post, not even a tiny post about…ANYTHING AT ALL!!! Well, a lot has been going on, and I’ve also been trying to get back into a normal routine = almost impossible right now, as you will see in a minute…

Let’s jump right in. The day after I got back to Florence (I left Cape Cod on Wednesday, June 4, arriving in Florence the following day), I found out that my Mom had been taken to Cape Cod hospital. To make a very long story short, she had sustained a new vertebral fracture (= spinal compression fracture–she suffers from osteoporosis, you see)…incredibly, unbearably painful.

The pain had begun, in fact, a couple of days before I left for Italy. Odd thing: it wasn’t located in her back, but in her rib cage area, and her main symptoms, as far as I could tell, were occasional but very painful spasms. And she couldn’t take deep breaths. Thinking that she might have bruised or even fractured a rib, I insisted on taking her to the emergency room, but she refused. And let me tell ya, when my Mom refuses to do something, she is impossible to deal with. The adjective “stubborn” doesn’t even cover it. However, since she was still moving around in the house, we all let her be stubborn…and I left for Italy as planned…

By Friday, however, the pain had gotten so intense that she finally agreed to go to the hospital. And that’s where they found the new compression fracture.

She spent several days at Cape Cod Hospital, where, after a few days, she had kyphoplasty (= basically, a procedure designed to lessen or even eliminate pain caused by compression fractures and also prevent them from worsening…a very common procedure for myeloma patients, by the way, and that’s how I knew all about it = a fact that impressed Mom’s doctor, whom I spoke with by phone, in fact…), which gradually diminished her pain to a semi-tolerable level. She is still in a certain amount of pain, unfortunately…but it’s certainly not like it was before…

A few days after the kyphoplasty procedure, just as the hospital was getting ready to discharge her and send her off to the same rehab center where my Dad spent three weeks after his stroke, a nurse noticed that Mom’s left leg was swollen and purple. And that is how they discovered she had a blood clot. So they kept her in the hospital a few more days…Sheesh!!!

The good news is that she is now in the rehab center and will probably go home soon. Boyohboy, though, it’s been really tough to be so far away from my parents. I felt and feel completely helpless…unable to do anything but speak by phone with my parents and their caregiver and, of course, with my sister, who is in Arizona. Such a drag.

In spite of all the worry, though, life goes on. It has to. I’m working, of course, though I still haven’t caught up with my backlog, sigh…I’ve met up with a number of close friends…And Stefano and I are about to take off on a couple of trips that we’d planned (and paid for!) months ago.

Our first trip will be to Amsterdam, a city that neither of us has visited before. We’re leaving tomorrow, actually, and will be gone until next Tuesday (Stefano’s cousin, and the cousin’s girlfriend, will be moving in with and taking care of our cats). Like many other Florentines, we’re taking advantage of the fact that next Tuesday is a holiday here in Florence: it’s the city’s patron saint’s birthday…St. John the Baptist, to be precise. This gives us a four-day holiday…perfect for visiting a European city (if you live in Europe, that is! 😉 ).

(Fascinating fact: did you know that Amsterdam has MORE canals than Venice? I’d have never guessed! And no, no way, I’m not going to count them! 😉 )

And then, in early July, Stefano and I are flying to the UK to meet up with our fabulous British friend Paul (whom we met via my blog several years ago, in fact). The three of us are going together to Skokholm island (Wales, UK) for four full days, mainly to see our beloved puffins. (We won’t, er, mention the fact that Italy beat England 2-0 last week in the 2014 FIFA World Cup… 😉 ).

Then Stefano and I are flying back to the States to visit my parents in early August…

So, as you can see, I’ve got a lot on my plate right now.

I would like to add that, since I returned to Italy, I’ve answered as many blog reader queries as possible, but please don’t be too upset with me if I haven’t gotten to yours…yet. Just to give you an idea, when I got home I found 2400 unread messages in my inbox. No kidding. True, I’d already read many of them while I was in the U.S., but there were still quite a few that I hope to have the time to read at some point soon = this will be a slow process, though. As you can imagine, right now I have to give priority to my own (paid!) work AND, of course!!!, to the messages I get from my family.

If you have an urgent query, though, try writing to me again, or contact me on Facebook. But not until next week, after we get back from Amsterdam. Thanks!

Please note that if your question has already been answered somewhere in the blog, or if it is an impossible-for-me-to-answer question, I might not answer it at all. Try using the “Search” box option…it’s so handy that I use it myself!

Finally, let me mention that I really REALLY appreciate the kind comments I’ve received in this period. I probably won’t get to answering those, either, due to lack of time, but I wanted you to know that they make me feel so much better. So thanks and double thanks for taking the time to write comments and/or send me private messages. Much appreciated! :-)

Okay…that’s it. Take care, everyone!!! Ciao…or rather, tot ziens!!! See you next week! :-)