The Grand Journey. The Final Part–In Amsterdam, No Apostrophes Are Needed

DSCN1866The Grand Journey is coming to an end. And what a better place to do it than in my adopted hometown of Amsterdam. My first time here was in 1980. Worldkid was on a vagabond wandering of a lifetime that lasted over a year. But these days, coming to Amsterdam is my time to see family and friends. And that’s precisely what I did.DSCN1765

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My brother-in-law, Jan, has the same disease that I do. He has a boat. So on most visits, I get to see this old Dutch port as many mariners from the past saw Amsterdam—from the water. Jan just bought a 1970s-style America powerboat called an Invader. And that is exactly what we do. We penetrate the back canals of the red light district, steam through the Amstel River and eventually enter Oud Zuid (Old South) known for its art deco Amsterdam School of architecture from the 1930s.

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But during much of the visit we hang out at my other brother-in-law’s house near the Amstel. Otto has a lovely garden behind that is often frequented by wild parakeets. We barbeque one night on the terrace, eat salmon another night, and dine on Hettie’s Dutch dish of endive and potatoes.DSC02174 DSC02170 DSC02179

raamsteeg-leftWe also get to see our “adopted” Dutch daughter, Lisette. She spent time on Bonaire doing marine biology a few years back and became a good friend as well as an eager deckhand aboard my sailboat, Kontentu. She is now pursuing a master’s degree in oceanography and has a nice biologist boyfriend named Bram. We invited them for drinks at our old pub, the Gollum. We have been going there for over thirty years. But that is not very long. The Gollum’s building dates back to the 1600s.DSCN1792

We also visit the Rijksmuseum. This is the fine art jewel of the Netherlands holding treasures from all the Dutch Masters including Rembrandt’s famous 1642 painting, The Nightwatch.   The museum just completed a ten-year restoration last year. This was our first chance to see the transformation.DSC02201 DSC02206 DSC02226

Zatte_detail-389x260On the last day here, we join Jan’s wife, Paula, for a parting drink. We gather outside a small café for a late afternoon beer. Actually, we are having a Zatte from the tap, a full-bodied, blond beer made in the Belgium style by the local brewery, ‘t IJ. As we review our African adventures with Paula, I watch an artist across the way paint a wall sign for a jazz club. He crafts the message, Please Dont Tell as part of the art. The young man stands back to view what he has just painted and proceeds to work on other parts of the mural. Hmmm. Does DSCN1872he not know that Dont needs an apostrophe? Perhaps his grammatical English is not that polished. This is a commissioned piece. The guy makes his living doing this. By the time I’m drinking my second Zatte, Dont has not been changed. I walk across the alley to the artist. “Excuse me, I’ve been watching you paint for the past half hour and I noticed that Dont doesn’t have an apostrophe.” “Yeah, that’s right,” responds the young man. “I just thought that the ruined the flow of the piece.” “So you do know that grammatically that it is incorrect.” Oh, yeah.” “I just wanted to make sure before your boss saw it,” I say with true concern. “No problem,” says the artist. “Is there anything else you see that might not be right?” I laugh at his openness to criticism. “No. You are doing just fine.”DSCN1871

I retreat back to my half finished Zatte. I have traveled over two continents to find one of the universal truths of life. In Amsterdam, no apostrophes are needed. With that in mind, I decide that The Grand Journey is complete. It is time to fly home to the island.

 

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The Grand Journey. Part 10-A Quirky English Town Stuck in Time

DSC02135This was my first visit to Brighton, a seaside town along the English Channel. I had heard quite a lot about it before arriving. During the 19th century, it was a get-away playground for the rich and famous. Dukes, princes and wealthy industrialist caroused here. The Grand Hotel and stately mansions still flank the Victorian seafront.DSC02123 DSC02124

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Most notable is the Royal Pavilion, a retreat for the Prince of Wales, who later became King George IV. The prince hired designer Henry Holland and later  John Nash to build the outlandish Hindu-Gothic monument. While George frolicked here as a young man, the city of Brighton eventually bought the pavilion in the 1850s. During WWI it served as a hospital for Indian and British soldiers coming back from the front. Later it became a tourist attraction. It was also the site for the first legal gay marriage in the UK in 2014.DSC02130

Then there is the landmark, Brighton Palace Pier. This amusement park of a dock stretches over 1700 feet out into the Channel. It houses game arcades, fast food stands and fairground attractions. It is a fine place to see the English attempt to enjoy a stony beach with frigid water or watch the world’s most aggressive seagulls eat tourist scraps.DSC02125 DSC02126 DSC02136 DSC02143 DSC02137 DSC02142

DSCN1750I also wandered The Lanes, twisting alleyways from 18th century Brighton. I could not help but think I was back in the 1960s. Incense and pot smoke wafted through the warm afternoon air. Music stores sold only LPs, many 30-40 years old and had walls covered with posters promoting past concerts of The Who, Jimmy Hendrix and the Kinks among others. Even the street wall murals reminded me of Pearl Alley in 1960s Columbus rather than a British seaside town.DSC02147 DSC02148 DSC02149

After Africa, Brighton was striking. I was back in the modern western world but decidedly one stuck in another era. It was slightly disconcerting. Had I flicked the wrong switch in the time/travel machine? DSC02120I lodged at an apartment at the new Brighton Marina, but then would spend the day walking through memory lanes. One evening as a waitress approached our table of eight, she greeted me as if I was one of her regular customers. I politely mentioned that I never had been there before. She was more than slightly embarrassed. I should have just said hello and, “Give me the usual.”  Brighton was a bizarre mix of space and time, ice cream and ale, fish and chips. Plus Italian food from the waitress who thought she knew me. It was time to head back to London.DSC02139

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The Grand Journey. Part 9-The Last Waltz in Africa

DSCN1704DSC02093I am on the last day of the overland safari and our guide, Haimbodi “Hofni” Holni, greets the group as he always does regardless to time of day, “Good Morning!” Hofni is the perfect road mate—continually upbeat, a gigantic curiosity for the world and a genuine interest in people. As usual, mix a group of a dozen strangers  together for a eight-day road trip and all does not blend well like whirled peas. There is always one that tries to spoil the casserole. But in spite of an alcoholic loudmouth who tried to seize control, Hofni kept the ship upright for the 600 miles from Victoria Falls to Jo-burg and a 500-mile round trip Jo-burg-Kruger National Park trek. I treasured every day that we ran together.

DSC02058Our truck, Pavarotti, now growls westbound under the control of Dennis, a Jo-burg driver who I talk to often during our road stops about the oppressive days of apartheid in South Africa. We are headed to the Great Escarpment, a prominent geological formation rising over 10,000 feet, 3000 meters. It is also known as Drakensberg in Afrikaans, or Dragon Mountains, due to its steep sided blocks and soaring pinnacles. This is what 20 million years of massive geological uplifting can do…DSC02034

DSC02057The first stop is God’s Window, an overlook that plunges 2300 feet/700 meters. On a clear day GW boasts a view eastward to the Lebombo Mountains on the South Africa/ Mozambique border. Today, however, the haze is thick and I turn my attention to an eco-niche rain forest behind that is surrounded by arid mountains. My Japanese friend from Pavarotti, Yokari, relishes in this verdant green landscape. It must remind her of her distant homeland.DSC02097 DSC02043 DSC02045

DSC02066Next up is Bourke’s Luck Potholes named after a local prospector, Tom Bourke, who predicted that gold was here. Unfortunately for Tom, he never found any at this spot. Other gold seekers found a seam located just a short distance to the south of Bourke’s claim. All he ended up with was the name of this place. It is a beautiful confluence of two rivers, the Treur and Blyde, and it marks the start of the 20 mile/33km-long gorge called the Blyde River Canyon known as the largest ‘green canyon’ in the world due to its lush subtropical foliage. The geology here is impressive. Plunge pools, potholes and giant kettles are craved out of the sandstone as the river snakes its way west.DSC02078DSC02065 DSC02083 DSC02068 DSC02062 DSC02096

 

Hofni declares the last stop at the Three Rondavels, spectacular peaks that resemble the traditional beehive-shaped huts that still can be seen throughout the South African landscape. But these rondavels tower nearly 3000 feet/700 meters above the surrounding countryside. A local motorcycle gang hangs out here. So do a few young tourists tempting gravity and rock stability on an outcrop a lifetime away from the bottom of the Blyde River Canyon, one of the larger canyons on the planet.DSC02100DSC02102DSC02101Before I know it, Pavarotti is back in the flatlands on a four-lane highway speeding toward Jo-burg, a city of 11 million souls. A red dot of a sun disappears into the city’s smog as we approach. My African odyssey has ended.DSC02105

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