My Photo
Location: Minneapolis, MN

Dempsey is a Golden Retriever puppy who is in training to become a Helping Paws service dog for an individual with a physical disability. He lives with his parents Doreen and Paul, and Bailey the cat. None has ever trained a puppy before. These are their adventures. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are strictly those of the blog author. The contents of this blog have not been reviewed or approved by Helping Paws, Inc.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Hey guys, we found a fort!

The last time we went to Amsterdam, the tulips weren’t in bloom yet, but you can’t go to Holland and not see tulips. We had to schedule another trip north.

First, we headed to Germany and decided to stop overnight in a little town in Belgium called Namur. As we approached the town, we saw a huge fortress at the top of the hill looking down on the river. We had happened on the Citadelle, an underground fort/castle constructed in the middle ages. Although it wasn’t in our plans, what guy can resist a fort? Off we went for the underground tour. The fort was fairly sophisticated, with a concrete-like mixture on the walls and ceilings to make the lodgings gas-proof but with vents in each sleeping chamber to allow air to circulate. It was, not surprisingly, cold and damp inside and I can’t imagine staying there much more than the few hours the tour required.

Another equally curious spectacle we encountered in Namur was a casino in our hotel. We were told we could enter free of charge since we were guests -- so others have to pay to give their money away? Apparently, gambling is very serious business in tiny little towns. We had to sign in, show our passports and drivers’ licenses, state our occupations (in my case, explain my occupation), provide our addresses and have our photos taken. As we were going through this initiation, we noticed a sign forbidding certain persons to enter, this included magistrates, notaries, and police. Hmmm…we had already come this far so, slightly alarmed, we forged ahead, signed the form anyway and finally received a slip of paper with a UPC code . This code was ceremoniously scanned by another person as we entered the casino. The entire process took exactly twice as long as it took me to blow through €20 once we were allowed in.

In Cologne, we visited the largest cathedral in Europe, with one of the world’s grumpiest priests. It was pouring rain and a lot of tourists came in dripping wet to escape the torrents. The priest was wandering around in a period-looking ensemble with a small cask for donations attached to a string around his neck. I had just read an article about how Wal-Mart was failing in Germany in part due to its ignorance about local culture; one thing I recalled was the Germans did not like strangers to touch their things. I suggested Paul might just hand our donation to him. The priest pointed and sort of growled at Paul to put it in the cask. Sadly, it did not sound like our euro coins were joining many others in there. We can’t blame him for being crabby. We saw a sign the new German Pope would be visiting the church Saturday. I hope that cheers him up.

The next day we visited the Anne Frank museum in Amsterdam. The museum is housed in the canal house factory and annex where the Frank family lived for nearly two years during the German occupation. It was interesting to see the actual rooms and to get a sense of the space where they lived. As Anne said in her diary, it is surprising how large the canal houses actually are – they appear tiny from the street. The museum is poignant, as would be expected, but Paul and I both would have liked a little more history and more details relating excerpts in the diary to the time period. It felt as if it was designed to move people through quickly. The Dutch are very efficient.

We spent the remainder of the afternoon touring Amsterdam like the locals – on bikes. The city is beautiful and bikes gave us the chance to cover a lot of it quickly. The best part was the number of cycle paths that are found everywhere. Cycling is so much more fun when cars are in the minority. We saw people smoking, dialing cell phones, and the ultimate balancing act, a mother with three children – two in a large wooden crate in front and one in a baby seat on the back. Not sure I would risk that with all the canals encircling the city, but I have a bad record of clumsy accidents. We never saw a single crash - or even a near miss - while we were there.