One Month in Europe
05.01.04 - 05.03.04 The Road From The Roses (Part One)
It’s been kind of a rough weekend. Chopper and I started off out of Phoenix on Friday evening, arriving in Louisville on Saturday morning at 12:30AM. We managed to get a few hours of sleep, dreaming about horseys before we headed off to the Derby at 6:45AM, the annual Delta Force dash to our traditional spot in turn three for the derby. It was raining pretty hard when we arrived, and we quickly set up a little “tarp sandwich” in attempt to keep some dry space. After an hour of so, the skies lightened, and the rain subsided. The infield was still pretty swampy, but at least we were not getting poured on.

The infield at the Derby was everything it always is, only muddier. Since I was taking it easy on the Mint Juleps this year, I really noticed all of the wasted rednecks and scantily clad women, who jostle around the infield, seemingly oblivious to the fact that there are actually horse races going on. The experience is definitely a little bit softer after your 6th or 7th julep. The decreased julep consumption also improved my handicapping (a bit). Although I started off with my customary losing ways, I did manage to hit my first-ever Trifecta, a feat that netted me $95. Aaron also broke out of his o-for-every-derby-I-have-been-to slump by hitting the tri a couple of races later. And although I was not around to see it, I can only imagine the insanity that surrounded Wally’s $500 Trifecta win on the Derby itself. That kid is going to be smiling for weeks about that one.

I had to leave the Derby at about 3PM to catch my flight to Amsterdam, where I had to be at work on Monday. I arrived at the airport, dropped off the car, checked in, and pulled up a Knob Creek at the bar just in time to see the skies open up over Churchill Downs on TV. Although everyone looked like they were having a grand old time in the infield, splashing in puddles and swimming in standing water, it occurred to me that it might have actually worked out well that I had to leave early. I was already going to be muddy, sweaty and stinking for my 7 hour flight to Amsterdam. At least I was not going to be wet. Although my flight was delayed, I still missed watching the Run for the Roses by about 10 minutes. Chopper had to relay the results to me by cell phone.

After about 3 hours of sleep on Friday night, 6 hours of standing in the rain, mud, and bourbon soaked infield, and 8 hours on a plane, I was feeling pretty rough around the edges on Sunday morning when I arrived in Amsterdam. I am not totally sure, but it’s a good bet that I smelled something like a port-o-let that had been run over by a bourbon truck. Fortunately there was no one sitting next to me on the plane.

Fortunately my arrival into Amsterdam went smoothly. I picked up the car, navigated rather easily to the hotel, and was able to get a room despite the fact that the Honeywell Amsterdam office had inadvertently cancelled my reservation. I then managed to unpack, shower, and stumble into bed for a few hours sleep. I still feel like I have been camping out in a dumpster for the last couple of days, but I am hoping everything feels a little better in the morning.
05.03.04 - 05.07.04 - Amsterdam (Part Two)
Starting to get into the swing of things over here. After waking up at midnight on my second night, and barely sleeping the first, I followed my Dad’s advice, and went for the time-tested, can’t fail sleep aid – pound a bunch of beers and hit the rack. Bingo. That did the trick, and now I am on schedule.

I have not been able to do much exploring yet. Took a nice Drive on Monday looking for a market. I found a lot of cool little towns, horses, sheep, boats, even the windmills you see on the postcards. Oh yes, and I found a market, where I picked up the staples – Cheese, Salami, Wine and Heineken. Boo Yes!

The work aspect of the trip is going fairly well. We have a participant from a nice selection of Countries - one each from Portugal, Sweden, the UK, Slovakia, Abu Dhabi, Belgium, and Poland. I chauffeur a few of them to work in the morning, we run through the class material, then we head into Amsterdam on the train at night for dinner. Getting a nice flavor for a few of the restaurants in Amsterdam, but the late nights are also a bit rough. Fortunately the schedule over here is a bit relaxed, so we don’t actually start class until 9:00.

This weekend will be the super-exploration of Amsterdam and beyond. I will hit all the museums I was not able to wake up early enough to hit the last time here. Maybe I will try to get into the casino that we were not dressed well enough to get in last time. “Gentlemen, gentlemen, gentlemen… You can’t come in here looking like that.”
05.08.04 - Amsterdam (Part Three)
Saturday I had planned on assaulting the Museums in Amsterdam. Unfortunately I was so beat from a week of work and staying out until all hours dining in Amsterdam that I slept for nearly 12 hours on Friday night and did not wake up until 11AM… I figured I could still catch the train in and engage in a Reinhold Messner-esque attempt on the Van Gogh, Stedelijk, and Rijksmuseum, hitting each solo, in rapid succession, and without the aid of bottled oxygen. This too proved to be a pipe dream, when I arrived and found out the Stedelijk and Rijksmuseum were closed for renovation. I spent about an hour touring the Van Gogh, and then moved on to the Heineken Brouwerej for a quick tour and a couple of Heinekens.

So what has two thumbs and gets wasted on the Heineken Brewery Tour? This guy. When you buy your tickets for the “Heineken Experience,” they come with 3 vouchers on them for 3 free beers at 2 different bars along the tour. So when silly people let their vouchers fall out of their pockets, or leave them on the floor what am I supposed to do, not pick them up? At first I was thinking 3 beers for 7.50 wasn’t bad. That’s just a bit more than they would cost in a café. By the end of my scavenger hunt, I had netted 7 beers. 7 beers for 7.50? You can’t beat that with a stick! And the bartenders at Heineken have such a great time, that they don’t notice how many times you come up, or maybe they just don’t care. I eventually staggered out of Heineken and headed north.

I spent the rest of the day sitting in various squares drinking more beer. I first visited our favorite little square at the intersection of Spui and Nieuwezijos, and sat at the Luxembourg café watching all of the people and the trams chug around the corner. After stopping for a sandwich, and then a falafel, I headed down to Leidsplein, which although is not my favorite, I thought I would visit for old times sake. I had another drink there watching more passers by, and then grabbed a Grolsh for the road and headed off toward the metro. A little Irish pub caught my eye, so I had to grab a Guinness there before taking the train home at about 21:00…
05.09.04 - Quick Tour of the Netherlands (Part Four)
I managed to wake up on time on Sunday, and I hit the open road early to explore some of the other Dutch towns. I first headed to Haarlem, which on Sunday at 9AM was a ghost town. The beautiful little town was just waking up. I parked by one of the Canals, and poked around a bit. Did a nice tour of the city with a few nice pictures, and then moved on.

After Haarlem, I headed to the seaside town of Zandvoort for a little gander at the North Sea. It was a bit chilly for a swim, but despite the cold water temp and Jellyfishes, I waded around for a bit. Again pictures, and move on.

I then drove through Heemstede, which reminded me of Hampstead in London, (same name even), where I lived for a few years growing up. Nice little town within a short trip to Amsterdam.

No time for stopping, and then I drove through Den Haag. I had planned on stopping, but it looked pretty much like any other big city, so I kept moving on. A quick scan of the map, and I decided to roll into Gouda for lunch.

I parked the car again just outside the center of Gouda and sauntered into town for a bite to eat. It was still a bit early on a Sunday afternoon, and things were still pretty quiet. Check another dutch town of the list.

Following the advice of my boss, who actually used to live in Heemstede, I stopped in Muiden on the way back to take look at the castle, and check out all the boats. Muiden is on the inland coast of Holland, with nice access for Sail boats. The town was starting to fill with boaters stopping for a drink at one of the cafes, and I decided to skip the long line to get into the castle and just poke around a bit instead. Just before the old camera battery died, I got some nice shots of the castle, and then headed back to the hotel, to pack up my stuff for tomorrows journey to Frankfurt.
05.10.04 - How fast will a Volkswagen Golf Really Go? (Part Five)
Well, the 1.6L VW Golf redlines at about 5700 RPM. I hit Germany at about 5400 RPM, or about 175, 180 KM/h. The poor Golf screams like a little girl above 5000, so despite my best efforts, I was not going to be able to keep up with the BMW’s and Audis passing me at 220 KM/h. Still, 100 mph is better than having to drive like a normal sucker back on the US interstate.

My tour of Germany was a quick trip. I blasted in on Monday, did 3 days of classes, ate some schnitzel, and blasted back out in order to meet Goose and Bear in London of Friday morning. Unfortunately I did not experience much more of Germany than the autobahn, but for that alone it was worth the trip. Germany and Italy rank as my number one and two places on the earth to drive. In Germany, there is no speed limit, and everyone pretty much drives as fast as their car will go. In Italy, there is a speed limit, and everyone pretty much drives as fast as their car will go. Italy gains a few extra points for things like being able to pass on the shoulder or the on ramp, curb, etc, but loses points for having the worst signage of any place I have ever been. Both places end up big winners because THE LEFT LANE IS USED FOR PASSING ONLY. Oh man that is beautiful.
05.14.04 - Goose and Bear Come to London (Part Six)
05.17.04 - Manchester England, England (Part Seven)
05.21.04 - Madrid (Part Eight)
Chopper met me in Madrid for our anniversary, and we got the good flavor of the town. We hit a couple of museums, the flea market, and did the bullfight on Sunday. Also, in typical MDG fashion, we happened to arrive in Madrid just in time for the Prince's Wedding to Laetizia Ortiz. Quick update on the Monarchy in Spain - King Juan Carlos and Queen Sophia, have one son – Felipe - the one who got married (obviously). So the next royal wedding in Spain will be sometime in about 30 years. I just tend to stumble into these things. At any rate, despite the fact that it rained all day on Saturday, the Spaniards were all gathered in the streets (Madrid was packed to the gunnels) to watch the wedding on giant screens set up in many of the Plazas, and to watch the subsequent parade-like journey of the newlyweds to the Basilica d”Atocha for Laetizia to deposit her bouquet. Chopper and I watched the wedding on TV, then stepped outside to watch the Prince & Princess roll by in their bulletproof Roller on the way to the Basilica.

So, let’s get to this bullfight.

The last time I saw an animal die in front of me, save a bunch of fish, was over 15 years ago at the Camel Market in Cairo, when a couple of fellows slit the throat of the young goat I had been playing with a couple of minutes before. They then let the goat lie in the dust as it bled out. The goat of course, was bound for lunch, but its unceremonious death was still shocking to me at age 12. Compared to the helpless goat, the bulls seem quite noble and courageous. They are still staring the matador down, even as they gasp their last breath and collapse into a bloodied, 1200 pound, heap somewhere in the sand (or mud - it was raining) of the Plaza de Toros de las Ventas. The graphic and brutal nature of this even is a bit startling. It does help a bit to remember just how stupid these animals are, some knowledge I gained "herding" cattle on the western slope of Colorado in the early nineties. Still, despite the relative lack of intelligence possessed by these creatures, it astounds me how the matador can be 6 inches from the bull, and it will not charge until the matador shakes the muleta, and then only charge at the muleta. While I had to admire the matadors for standing mere inches from getting gored, I have to admit that during the playing of the bull I was thinking to myself: "Yeah, you're so bad - why don't you try that with a grizzly bear you p-ssy!"

Indeed, the process of murdering these bulls is carefully controlled, and definitely hinges on the Picadores allowing the bull to charge their heavily padded horses while they jam their steel-tipped lances into the bull's shoulder muscles. Apparently, back in the day, the horses were not padded, which suggests that the Picadores might have actually needed to show some acumen riding their horses in order to not get them killed. As it is now, the horse wears a huge suit of body armor and is blindfolded. The bull charges into the horse, who just stands there trying to maintain its balance, oblivious to the fact that a 1200 pound behemoth wearing a really pointy hat is trying to kill it. It strikes me that the Picadors might as well ride motorcycles.

At any rate, despite some shortcomings, the Corrida de Toros was definitely an interesting experience, and hints of a time when there was no PC (Either the personal computer kind, or the political correctness).

While in Madrid, we also went out for Tapas of course, and had an early anniversary dinner at one of Madrid's more celebrated restaurants, Zalacain. Food very excellent, service very excellent (like the Carnegie Club), Merritt very sweaty. (Must leave jacket and tie on).

Chopper has now left, and I am waiting out the last few days in a hotel on the outskirts of Madrid. 2 days of class left, and of Friday I will begin the long journey home. First back to Amsterdam via London, and then back to Phoenix the following day via Atlanta.
© Merritt Digby Gile, 1995-2004