#2 (final) Amsterdam, March 13, 2019

Dear Everybody,

Our vacation is now over and we have come home to piles of snow!

Last Saturday we again went to the Seafood Bar for lunch. This time I had a Plateau of Seafood—-about 10 kinds in all. Burt had Turbot, which really tasted awfully good, but I couldn’t resist having the ‘Plateau.’

 

We followed this with a concert at the Concertgebouw by the Netherlands Philharmonic. The program included a wonderful Bartok viola concerto. A Zimmerman Symphony included the big pipe organ, which was also great, finishing with some Beethoven for dessert! Our seats were in back of the orchestra, which was fun, as you really can’t see much of the players from down front.

Back to our apartment—-each day the maid comes to clean—-she even does the dishes in a tiny dishwasher. What a nice place to stay!

Some observations:

*Dutch women do not wear earrings and do not have pierced ears, for the most part. A     few women wear them, but they may be tourists.
*Amsterdam is very ‘organized’ and clean. People seem to be very earnest about using recycling receptacles.
*We have seen almost no obese people in Amsterdam. What must they think when they come to the USA?

We attended a Sunday morning concert by a choral group called Groot Omroepkoor—— sensational—-lots of modern stuff, all acapella
—-how can they do that??  Many of the singers had tiny tuning forks tied on their wrists.

Then there was a harpist, Lavinia Meijer, who played with the singers for one number, and then played Clair de Lune solo, which was lovely.

At noon, we partook of a brunch at the Concertgebouw, which included a lovely glass of Moet Chandon champagne; then a ‘lunch,’ which was rather ordinary, but the setting was fun.

 

 

 

 

As usual, we stopped in the supermarket on the way home. It, too, is located right in this vicinity.

That evening we heard David Fray play J. S. Bach’s “Goldberg Variations.” Unfortunately our seats were such that we never could see him well. The music was great, though.

And the next morning—-an upset tummy for me! I had to stay in all day, what a drag. Burt did go to the Van Gogh Museum, which he enjoyed.

The following day all was well, and we went to the Rijksmuseum. Of course we saw Rembrandt’s “Night Watch,” and many other of the Dutch Masters.

 

 

 

 

We even saw three small Van Goghs.

 

 

 

 

We had lunch at a Rijsttafel restaurant before walking home in a very cold wind. The weather has not been pleasant, but our activities were mostly indoors, with only small distances to walk. 

Amsterdam is a lovely city—-we really enjoyed it.

Carol 

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#1 Amsterdam, March 8, 2019

Dear Everybody,

Yes, here I am again, traveling to Amsterdam with my partner, Burt. This is just a little 10-day break from the winter. We left Minneapolis on Monday, March 4th, arriving in Amsterdam on Tuesday, March 5th. And we left the below-zero temps and another blizzard that is coming this weekend.

Arriving in Amsterdam, we got a taxi (Tesla car) to take us to Nova Apartments. We’re in a beautiful historic neighborhood with a lovely small apartment, very near to the three BIG museums (Stedelijk, Van Gogh, and Rijksmuseum) and the Concertgebouw, the premier concert venue of all of Europe. How lovely to go to a beautiful concert, walking just 4 minutes to and fro.

The apartment has a small kitchenette, living room and small bedroom and bath.

The kitchen just barely works
for Burt, although Netherlands cuisine isn’t as interesting for him to cook, compared with French or Italian.

We made a visit to the local supermarket, which is located next to and under the Stedelijk Museum, stocking up on snacks and things to cook. We also located a liquor store, buying some jenever, a substitute for gin. (I thought it fine, but Burt thought it tasted yeasty.)

Wednesday, Burt made a lovely pengasus fish dinner, with potatoes and tomato/ gorgonzola cheese salad. At 8:00 we walked four minutes to the Concertgebouw for a wonderful concert of Mahler’s 7th Symphony by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. I had booked seats on the internet a few weeks in advance. At the time it was almost sold out. Well, when we arrived we had the dumbest seats on opposite sides of the hall. Mine was the worst. It was a chair against the wall with me looking at a pillar and a five-foot stage. Looking up, I could barely see any of the musicians. Burt came over and, lovely person that he is, insisted on changing seats with me as his seat was somewhat better.

We had heard that the acoustics of this concert hall are outstanding; they REALLY are! This symphony included a mandolin, a guitar, and two harps. We could hear each part clearly, while it blended with the rest of the large orchestra. Hearing that Mahler Symphony was a thrill.

The next day we had a croissant and cappuccino in a nearby patisserie before going to the Stedelijk Museum. This is their modern art museum, and since this is the most liberal city in Europe, much of it was too far out for us.

 

 

 

There was a featured artist, though, called Raquel Van Haver, that had some outstanding paintings.

That evening we again were at the Concertgebouw, this time in the ‘small hall’ which isn’t very small, again with funny jump seats on the side of the regular aisle of seats. A patron told us that most people present had season tickets, which was why these were the only seats available on the internet a few weeks ago. Still we could see and hear very well——the Kopelman Quartet, made up of four older Russian men. It was a lovely program of Mozart, Kissin, and Tchaikowsky.

Interestingly, wine and soft drinks were provided for everybody at the intermission! 

The weather has been cool and misty, except for the first day when the sun shone all day. It really hasn’t interfered with our activities, as they’re pretty much all indoors. 

The bicycles in this city are amazing. There are bicycle lanes next to the pedestrian walks,
on which great numbers of bicycles and motor scooters whizz past. It certainly keeps the car traffic from being too dense, but one has to BEWARE when crossing at the corners, as they come fast. 

 

This morning we went to the Rijksmuseum to see a special presentation of all the Rembrandts in the museum, except the “Night Watch,” his most famous one. We will go back to see the rest of the Dutch Masters and the Night Watch on Tuesday, and we shall eat in their Michelin-stared restaurant, which reservation we confirmed today. The Rembrandts were wonderful and yes, I can see what special lighting he incorporated in his paintings.

 

 

 

From there we walked to The Fish Bar and had a fabulous lunch of Fin de Claire oysters, razor clams, and several other kinds of seafood. Burt introduced me to a new wine, called Rias Baixas. 

Home to rest and have some special herring for an evening supper. Burt claims that this is how the Dutch eat this herring!

 

 

 

We’re certainly enjoying Amsterdam! 

Carol 

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#3 Berlin, May 22, 1979

Having stayed five days with Gisela and Wolfgang, we now went to stay with Christa and Gunther, our other host couple. Gisela and Christa had met as our guests in Minnesota the year before, but the men had not met. We had a couple of social occasions together, all six of us, and we noticed that even on the second occasion, the men addressed each other using the other’s last name, for example, “Fischer,” apparently a custom in Germany.

One evening we had a social sponsored by Friendship Force which included our two host couples, as well as other Minnesota friends of ours who were staying with their host families.

Christa and Gunther also lived in an apartment house overlooking a lovely park.

Our first outing with them was to the local zoo in beautiful warm weather.

Another day we visited Spandau Citadel, a large fortress-type building where, nearby in a separate building, seven of the Nazi war criminals had been held. Only one remained imprisoned there now, Rudolf Hess, as the other six had been released or had died in prison.

 

 

 

 

 

The Reichstag Building, which formerly housed  their Parliament, was on our tour. This was the building that Hitler was accused of setting on fire during the war in order to blame Communists and grab power.

The following day we visited a Museum with a bust of Nefertiti, from Egypt. And then the beautiful Charlottenburg Palace with many beautiful rooms and gorgeous grounds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And soon it was time to fly back home, having made such lovely friends on “Friendship Force.”

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#2 Berlin, May 18, 1979

We went to East Berlin on the S-Bahn and immediately noticed the contrast with West Berlin. There were many buildings that had not been repaired since the damage in World War II, which ended 34 years ago.

Still, there were also restorations under way, as in the Berliner Dom.

There were long lines. Gisela and Wolfgang had very good friends that lived in East Berlin and they told them how difficult life is——-there is a long line for groceries, car batteries, and

everything of necessity.

Here is Alexanderplatz at the foot of the TV-tower (“Telespargel”),which is also called “The Needle.”

Here was a modern department store, which we entered. We were surprised to see that the merchandize was very limited, both in quantity, and quality. I observed a sea of brown women’s skirts—-all alike.

Still, there was the pretty Neptune Fountain, that people were enjoying.

Gisela’s childhood friend, Jutta and her husband, Alfred lived in a modern apartment building, which we visited. Their apartment was tiny by our standards, and Gisela said that their apartment was
somewhat superior to others since they were both school teachers, who get extra resources. Their son was a student in the police academy, and was not allowed to interact with Gisela and Wolfgang, so had to be absent when they visited.

Gisela said that many shortages persist in East Berlin and so when they come to visit their friends, Jutta and Alfred, they telephone ahead and ask what they should bring. Jutta and Alfred are very grateful when they bring scarce items such as toilet paper, coffee, sugar, etc.

Another outing took us to the Grunewald Hunting Castle and woods. What a pretty walk. Gisela’s father came with us. He had been in World War II and was taken prisoner in Leningrad. He was a prisoner for three years until the war’s end, when the Russians simply released all the prisoners and they had to walk home to Berlin.  Gisela had been six years old when he left for the war, and by the time he returned, she was 12 and didn’t recognize him. He was very ill, but the family nursed him back to health and now he is a rather healthy old man, actually one of the few men his age that we saw. Most had perished in the war.

Now he lives a block away from them in his own apartment, but comes to join them (and us) each day for his main meal at 1:00 PM. After dinner that day he got out his violin (he
plays in three orchestras) and it was my privilege to accompany him on the piano as he played some Schubert for us all. Our Minnesota friends, Judy and Jim Winsor, were also there.

Another day we visited the Emperor Wilhelm I Memorial Tower. From there we had a wonderful view of the city. Wolfgang pointed out a ‘hill’ in the distance that was formed from all the rubble from the bombed city. He related how the women of Berlin rebuilt the city (there were very few men that survived the war) and this hill was formed by what couldn’t be used for rebuilding.

 

 

 

 

 

We also had a view of the Brandenburg Gate.

Then they took us to Kreuzberg, a poor area peopled with Turks, who had come as guest  workers, invited by the West German government since so many men had been killed in the war, causing a shortage of workers.

At the end of the tour, we passed the Olympic Stadium, where in 1936 Jesse Owens excelled at
sprinting and the long jump, much to the consternation of Adolph Hitler, as Owens was an African-American and his four gold metals flew in the face of Hitler’s premise that ‘the Aryan Race’ was superior in every way.

We certainly enjoyed our tours around Berlin with our wonderful host-family.

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#1 Berlin, May 15, 1979

Burt and I flew to Berlin with Friendship Force in May, 1979. We had joined the year before, and had hosted three women from Berlin at our home in Minnesota. Two of the women invited us for a return visit in ’79.

Gisela Fischer, married to Wolfgang, met us at the airport and drove us to their apartment, where we met Wolfgang. When Gisela had visited us the year previous, and when asked about what stood out about her visit, she mentioned, “Ice cubes!” She was amazed at how much ice Americans used. So when we met Wolfgang, he immediately asked what we would like to drink. Since the weather was very warm, I asked for a glass of water. Wolfgang replied, “Carol, I have prepared ice cubes for you. How many do you want, one or two?” These ice cube trays were tiny from their under-the-counter refrigerator and each cube was about 1/4 inch! I said I’d have two, which he put into the glass of water and which, of course, promptly melted! A cultural learning on both sides!

The following day we met their children, Joerg, Martina and Lutz and all seven of us set out by bus to see Berlin.

One of the first landmarks we saw was the “Beerbrush,” a red building along our route.

Other landmarks were the city hall (Rathaus), and then as we reached their main street, Kurfurstendamm with it’s Memorial from World War II, the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church.

 

 

We stopped for lunch at a sidewalk cafe in the lovely warm May weather.

The following day we made another excursion by bus——Gisela and Wolfgang don’t have a car as it is very difficult for them to leave Berlin, given the political climate and the wall around Berlin. And, of course, in the city proper, it’s easier to take public transportation.

Gisela’s and Wolfgang’s apartment was only a block away from the Berlin Wall. Many people had been killed trying to cross the wall from East Berlin to gain their freedom in West Berlin.

We had lunch at the Wannsee, a lovely lake in Berlin. The ‘restaurant’ was a boat on the Wannsee, called “Moby Dick.!

We had many wonderful conversations with this family——bless them, they had all studied English and so could communicate with us. Breakfast was on their balcony in their apartment, leading to many lively conversations about their lives. These wonderful new friends seemed like very old friends right away!

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#6 (final) Siracusa, Sicily, Oct. 2, 2018

We finally had our market lunch today at the Salumeria. One has to put one’s name on ‘la lista’ as there is a long waiting line. We were seated quite quickly, though, and ordered two ‘boards,’ one of smoked fish and one of salumi. The food was wonderful and all the protein was augmented by veggies in various styles, along with a half-liter of wine.

These past two days have been pretty 
windy—-a Sirocco wind from Africa. It certainly cooled things off and also lowered the humidity a lot.  After lunch we walked around the island, looking at the high waves caused by the Sirocco. It was really quite wild and woolly and we did get showered a couple of times.

It’s amazing what a change that wind can make.  The next day all was back to normal with warm temperatures and no wind. We started the day slowly, doing chores and taking our time to proceed. Later we went to have a pomegranate juice, which they press fresh pomegranates to juice. It was very astringent and we were glad that we only shared one glass.

After that we made our morning trip through the market, buying things for the next two days. Oysters were on the list, which we bought. However, Burt, being a diabetic is not ‘allowed’ to eat raw oysters, but he had brought along his
 shucking tools so he made some for me. He also ate two oysters that were roasted in the oven. Our main course was tuna and eggplant.

Sunday we had a perfect weather day and started out with no particular destination in mind. We came upon a lovely ceramic shop (there are many) which we entered. We admired the beautiful large ceramic platters, but we resisted as both of our apartments are getting pretty full and Burt had already bought two. We did strike up a (sort of) conversation with the proprietor, in my butchered 
Italian and
 his few
 words of 
English. He 
invited us to 
go with him
 to have a 
coffee.
  Sebastiano 
locked up 
the store and 
we walked to 
the corner
 where he 
indicated we should 
enter with him. We had planned to have cappuccini anyway so we accepted his kind offer. He asked us where we were staying and when we told him that we stayed in an apartment, he said he was restoring one also and he would show it to us. When it was time to pay, he just made a gesture to the server, meaning “put it on my tab” and we walked about a block to his apartment. He said that next time we came to Siracusa, we should stay in his apartment.

Saying “Ciao” to Sebastiano and moving along to the shore, we stopped for a granita. This is a sherbet-like drink (or eat it with a spoon) that is a specialty of the area. Burt ordered a blood- orange granita which we shared while sitting in the MOST wonderful place on earth. The weather was perfect—-temperature, beautiful sunshine, no wind, sitting under wonderful trees with the lovely Mediterranean in front of us.

On the way back home to our apartment, we again admired the many gorgeous streets that make up Ortygia.

Then it was time to prepare pranso, which today included octopus. They’re not 
hard to
clean, 
which Burt 
did, and
 elaborately prepared three of them with special cooking.

Our last day in Siracusa was spent taking a bus to Noto, which is declared to be the prettiest baroque village in Italy. In 1693 there was an earthquake in Noto that destroyed the whole village. Reduced to rubble, the town fathers selected three architects to rebuild the village. Since they had a clean slate, they really let go—-the results are staggering.

We took a bus (an hour’s drive) to Noto from Siracusa. When we arrived, we followed the crowd up 
the Corso Immanuel to see the results of the 17th Century planning. It was colosal! At first we thought the first church that we came to was the Cathedral, but it turned out it was just an ‘also ran.’ The Real Cathedral was just down the street and was huge and beautiful! All the buildings were out of pretty beige stone; all of the Baroque period, built about 1700.

More palaces, more churches, more municipal buildings—-it went on for about six blocks. I’ll bet those architects had a ball doing this. Somebody had made flower petal pictures on the landing in front of the cathedral.  We came to one palazzo that had the most amazing struts under the balconies.

Finally we were worn out and needed gelato. The guide book said that the best gelato in all of Italy is in Noto. Burt got ‘Fruiti di Bosco’ (fruit of the forest) and I got Pistachio. And yes, it was awfully good!

The next day was going 
home day. We had arranged for Alberto,
 our landlady’s son, to 
drive us to the Catania
 Airport at 7:00 AM. He was right on time and got us to the airport earlier than we needed to be there——how nice!

 

 

On the way Alberto pointed out Mt. Etna, the volcano that goes off now and again on the island of Sicily. Since it was kind of shrouded in mist and
clouds, it reminded us of viewing Mt. Fuji in Japan last
 May.

We’re home now, and enjoying reviewing the great time we had on this wonderful trip.
Carol and Burt

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#5 Siracusa, Sicily, Sept. 28, 2018

Sundays we have pranso at the Antica Locanda. Not only do they have sublime food, but it’s such a local Sunday place to eat. We had Fish Soup and Pasta Nero di Seppia, along with a good white wine from Mt. Etna.

We even dressed up a bit! By now they know us, and the waitress that we have reaches for the camera to take our picture. She knows what we want!

On Monday we heard some commotion up by the Apollo Temple, so we walked up there tofind out what was going on. It turned out to be a young people’s demonstration. The sign says,” Hotel Institute Fights for their Rights.”

 

 

 

From there we headed to the market to buy fixings for pranso.  We bought Lambuche, which is mahi-mahi and we bought cleaned sardines, which Burt made into ‘stuffed sardines.’ That and a nice heirloom tomato salad with bread made us feel well fed. The wine was some frizzante white wine that they sell in the market that we like.

We spent much of the rest of the day watching Burt’s computer, looking at eight episodes of a series on Amazon Prime, called “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisley.”

On Tuesday, Sept. 25th we got an email from my sister, Jeanne, wishing us a “Happy Anniversary!” It was three years (!) since the day Burt and I met at the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra concert—-sitting next to each other. We had celebrated it the last two years, but it escaped our memory this year, so luckily Jeanne reminded us.

It worked out beautifully, though, as we had plans to go to Catania, by bus, that day to take in the Bellini opera, “Adelson e Salvini.” Bellini was born in Catania in 1801 and the city fathers have celebrated that by constructing a wonderful Opera Theatre, that is all red plush and gilt. It was inaugurated in 1910 with Bellini’s most famous opera, “Norma.”

We took a taxi from the bus depot to our hotel. Catania is very different from Siracusa——boodles of 19th Century elaborate buildings are everywhere. The hotel was well-located in centro.

We unpacked, then used the iPhone to direct us (by walking) to Da Antonio, a trattoria that got high marks in the Lonely Planet. I don’t know if something went wrong, or if it really was further than I thought, but it seemed to me we kind of walked in circles, but by asking directions about four times, we finallyfound it.

We had a lovely pranso
—-we did like the
 trattoria. We started 
with a beautiful bottle of
 white wine from the Mt.
Etna region along with a 
big platAnti-pasto at Da Antonioe of Sicilian 
antipasto, which we
shared. We followed 
that with one serving of 
pasta (huge!) which we
 shared. It was Orchette with Clams and Cream of Pumpkinorchiette
 with clams, in a cream of pumpkin sauce.

From there we went to the Bellini theatre to see if we could pick up our reserved tickets, but nothing was open yet. So on the way home, we stopped for gelato—actually Burt had granita, more of a sherbet, which is really popular here.

 

 

We dressed up a bit and returned to the Bellini for a 5:30 PM performance. The theatre was as we had hoped—-it seats 1200 people in the familiar horseshoe pattern with boxes going up four levels. There were very few tourists there—-mainly locals with gray hair, like at home. It wasn’t air- conditioned so was a bit warm, but many women had brought fans to use—-it helped when a woman seated in front of us fanned herself (and us!)

The orchestra was wonderful and the acoustics of the orchestra were outstanding. There was one aria duet with the tenor soloist and a trumpet that was just heart wrenching. It sounded as though the trumpet was right next to us. The chorus was very good; the soloists were good, but, of course, this isn’t the Met. There were no programs—-kind of a low-budget operation as one would expect——Catania is not a big city.

It was over by 8:30 PM—-we walked back to the hotel, having enjoyed our Anniversary Celebration!!

The next morning we had our nice croissant 
(pistachio) and cappuccini, then went to the market. It was HUGE and quite different from Siracusa—not nearly as much seafood, although I understand they have a separate fish market. Burt bought a rack of castrated lamb (small) and a slice of standing rib horse meat. We also bought a Pakistani mango, some carrots and some rosemary (hard to find here).

 

 

Then we took our luggage (one small suitcase and a carry bag) to the Bellini Museum. It
was in the house in which he was born and raised. There were pictures, statues, opera original scores, and his death mask! Also
five piano fortes used by his musical family.

Then a taxi to the bus depot, through the rain. We arrived at 10:30 but the bus schedules seem a little loose here—-there was supposed to be a bus at 10:30 but nothing happened.

We had return tickets that we had bought the day before on coming to Catania. The 11:00 bus finally arrived at 11:30 as it was pretty bad weather by then. I was first on the bus, giving my ticket to the driver. He said, “Oh, No! This is for yesterday!” You have to use your return ticket the day you buy it. “What do I have to do, buy another ticket? Can you sell me one?” “No, you’ll have to go (a block away) to the ticket office and buy one.” So Burt waited and would try to get the bus to wait (already late) while I ran down the street and across to the office. I quickly bought two more tickets and ran back, in the rain, and the bus had not left! Yay! We got on in time! Actually in spite of being a half hour late in arriving, the bus didn’t leave for several more minutes after I returned—schedules are LOOSE, as I noted.

When we arrived in Siracusa, we stopped on the way home at the grocery store. We bought several of bottles of different drinks, along with a bottle of olive oil and some other things. After we checked out, Burt opened our suitcase to put some of the bottles in—-the others went in the carry bag. When he went out the door, the bells rang—-apparently something wasn’t charged properly? The man came and looked it all over and said to go. Then when we went through the door again, nothing rang. I don’t know what that was all about.

Home (?—-well it seems like home after a month) at last. A successful outing.

Last night Burt and I walked to the puppet theatre, bought two tickets, and waited for the show to begin. The theatre had about 82 seats—-we were seated in a top corner where Burt had to crick his neck to keep from hitting the brick arch that went over his head. Still, we could certainly see well.

I’m having lots of 6th grade fun with their word for puppets, which is ‘pupi’ pronounced ‘poopy.’ The show was operatic in style with only Italian dialogue, but one could follow the story of a man in full armor trying to ‘get the girl.’ It involved lots of fighting, even cutting off somebody’s head! It lasted about 45 minutes—-
there were four puppeteers that took a bow after the show.

We walked home in the light, enjoying all the people who are out for their passeggiata.
The weather really turned the last few days. We’re having a sirocco wind from Africa. It
really cooled things off and dried things out! Our laundry dried in a few minutes, unlike earlier, when it was hot and very humid. I see it is forecast to go back to sunny and hot.

Yesterday for pranso Burt cooked the horse meat piece of standing rib that we bought in Catania. He cut it up and stewed it and we ate it over pasta. It was excellent, but I’m not sure one could ever tell the difference between it and grass-bed beef. It’s very lean.

We were planning to go to Noto today, but decided, instead to go on Monday, even though that’s our last day here. The forecast is for full sunshine then, and warm weather, unlike today, which is overcast and windy. I’ll get this out instead.

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