At present, sitting in the Twenty-third floor bar, Okura Hotel at 10:17 PM.

Of course, if you’re going to go to Amsterdam, you stay in a Japanese hotel. Daughter was thrilled at the prospect, since she's been studying Japanese in junior high for two years, and envisioned a staff with whom she could try out her skills.Alas: all Dutch, perfect English. Probably perfect Japanese as well; there is nothing more frighteningly multilingual than a high-end hotel European desk clerk. Give them pidgeon Klingon and they'll roll with it.

Remarkable room. It's right on the canal - and hey, that narrows it down, doesn't it? The hotel in Amsterdam by the canal.

The view from the room, taken a few minutes after the sky grew sullen and the gloom settled down like a wet rag:

We got settled; daughter took pictures for Instagram; wife unpacked the 386 things women always deploy on the counter. Everyone chatty and happy right up until the moment when the jetlag hammer fell simultaneously on everyone's heads. Out and gone and done, like a movie where they gas unsuspecting people in a conference room. Every European vacation starts that way. Euphoria and confusion and giddiness, deep sleep (you could fall asleep in the elevator on the way up to the 15th floor and get in some REM time before the doors dinged open) and then unconquerable consciousness clashing cymbals and tooting horns at 4 AM. Just awful, but there's nothing you can do. Novus modus tempus, the Romans called it. Of course back then it was Horse Lag.

Anyway: after we woke, what to do? You could wander up into Old Town for hashish and hookers, since they seem rather proud of both, or, if you’re being true to the "Old" part of "Old Town" and have sober Dutch virtues, you look for a meal before turning in to rest up for another day of rubbing guilders with tulip juice, or whatever they did before the switch flipped on the culture. We headed north up Fred Bols Street, partly because it headed into the city, and partly because the name was easily remembered. Other streets had names like Grossengoghfrankenstrasse or Einejjkelienlienstjestrasse and hence did not fit on the map.

First impression: somewhat dour, practical, cluttered, and teeming. You have to mind the cyclists, half of whom are on their cellphones as they drive along, and you must mind the silent trams that sweep around the corner with no warning. Cross against the light at your peril. If the locals are standing on the corner when there’s no traffic and the walk light is red, there’s a reason; they still remember Auntie Berjtie, who stepped out into the street and was swiftly made a boneless sack of jam when an electric tram whisked right.

I was looking for a McDonald's, actually. And what do you know:

Whew! Now: you are horrified, right? Don't be. It's something of a tradition: wake from the jetlag nap, head into town, find a McDonald's. Why? Coffee. Or rather a double espresso. It's perfectly fine, comes from a good machine, and it's not 6 Euros. There's no rigamarole involved, no finding a wobbly table at a sidewalk joint and waiting for service and spending twenty dollars. We didn't tarry at the McD, since it had a wide high rank of unwashed bodies and insufficiently mopped latrines. I stood outside, sipping the espresso, and tried to think:

What time is it? Really?

Back up a bit. We'd left Minneapolis at 7:30 PM on the nose, wheels up, thundering into the sky, steep bank, crazy climb, and up to 41,000 feet. Watched some TV, read a book, ate the ration of meretricious chicken, then began the sleep-jerk-wake-sleep cycle. This was hampered by the entertainment system on the seat back, which sprang to life if you brushed the remote. Every time I leaned to the left the light blared on GOOD MORNING WAKE UP. The remote also didn’t work very well; wouldn’t scroll right. The flight attendant said he knew how to fix it, and smacked it as hard as he could against the armrest.

Worked. For a while. Later it stopped working, so I did what the flight attendant suggested, and whacked it hard on the armrest. Horrorified my daughter. DAD! WHAT ARE YOU DOING? CALM DOWN! But it worked. For a while. I slept, but then it was light and someone was handing me a banana. You know how that goes. Bump and screech and down: Europe, 2 PM. Wife asks how we're getting into town, assuming I'd arranged something.

You know what? I hadn't. A few years ago I would have booked something weeks in advance and scanned the reservation and uploaded it to Evernote and put a printed copy with my documents along with a map of the airport, but now? Eh. We'll figure something out. Online I learned that the train was cheap, but dumped us far from our hotel, unless we wanted to tram it with our steamer trunks. Or the shuttle, which gave us a tour of every hotel downtown and probably ended up at our place last. Or a cab. After collecting our bags we tried to find the cab stand, which seemed more difficult than it should have been. After all, there's the sign: TAXI. There's the arrow. There's the line of people. Why am I suddenly investigating the shuttle schedule?

Because it's three in the fargin' morning by my body clock, that's why.

Just in case you're not confused enough by the shifting time of this entry, here's 47 seconds of stumbling around the airport and flying through the Amsterdam suburbs, ending with a bike path and a canal to indicate complete Amsterdamitude. While I was not in an early 70s art-rock / heavy-yodel mood, I've waited my entire semi-adult life to play Focus for something that involved me being in the place where it was born.

We now return you to the gripping narrative we've come to know as "walking north in search of dinner."

The architecture didn't impress me. Until it did:

Which I am certain served some civic function, and possibly had to do with Control of something or other. (LATER: nope. It's the Netherlands Trading Company building, now known as "The Basel" after its architect. Built from 1919 to 1926. Wikipedia sums up everything I felt about Dutch streets: it's on "the west side of the Vijzelstraat and extends from the Herengracht to the Keizersgracht." Couldn't have put it better myself. Unusual for its height, I gather; most of the buildings are four or five stories, since that's all the higher they could go. The soft ground - see, canals, above - meant deep pilings, and they could only support a few stories in the old days.)

The entrance is rather harrowing - those statues have seen things. Horrible things.

The stone-and-brickwork ought to be exuberant, but the overall mood is dark and ominous, and this makes it difficult to ignore.

Onward, northward, through the traffic circle, plodding ever onwards along a narrow sidewalk jammed with people heading home. Past a few cafes that offered things other than coffee; some louts and touts outside watching the passing parade, a fewwearing shirts that had marijuana leaves. It's like sitting outside a bar that serves good scotch and wearing a shirt adorned with a picture of peat. We found a Thai place - you know, when you're Dutchland, stay at a Japanese hotel and eat Thai, just to get the feel for the local culture - and daughter had a Bubble Tea for her birthday. In Amsterdam! Daddy's world traveller. Oh please, remember this. Please.

The table next to us: seven people all speaking Dutch at once until someone said "Phoenix," and then they switched to English, culminating in laughter, then back to Dutch. I said "Scottsdale" out loud just to see if anyone picked up on it, but it only earned me an elbow from Daughter. I was humiliating us by standing out. This would go on her record, even though we were in Europe. When she got to heaven the recording angel would say "I see your father spoke the word 'Scottsdale' in Amsterdam next to some people who had mentioned the city of Phoenix. You poor, poor child. Rest assured, no one judged you for it, but only felt a surge of sympathy and understanding for your trials. Here are affadavits from everyone who was in the cafe at the time."

She'll remember that, probably.


On the way back from the restaurant it started to rain so I hailed a cab. It pulls up and we get in and I tell the driver “Nice car.” Because it’s a BMW. You can eat off any surface. Driver has a tie. He nods his thanks.

“It’s just a car, Dad,” daughter says.

Oh Lord. Now I’m mortified. Driver turns around and smiles.

“Just a car,” he says.

“She doesn’t know what she’s talking about,” I say. He smiles.

As we drive I ask what’s the construction on the Frederick Bols. I had a suspicion; don't know what else it could be. It certainly made for an unattractive city:

“Metro,” he says.

“You have so many trams, why do you need a subway?”

He smiles. “Many people are asking that question.”

And now the day is done. Exhausted; time to head down to the room. Wife will be asleep. Daughter will be up - she had an espresso while wife and I came up here for a drink. She loves being up in the hotel room by herself, dancing to music on TV, instagramming friends in America, being happy on vacation.

She was born thirteen years ago today.

If I’d planned out the life I’d wanted her to have, it would be just like this. Really. Wouldn't have believed it if the day she was born someone said in thirteen years she’ll be a wonderful child and you’ll be staying in an Japanese Hotel where she can read the signs because she’s studying Japanese, and it’s your summer Europe trip. And everything else is fine. Wouldn’t have believed I could be that lucky.

Bone tired, head swimming from jetlag, looking out over the city with an expression of pretentious evaluation: here we go.


Tomorrow: the Museum and the weeping skull-cherubs.