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Northern California & Oregon to Seattle by train

March 4, 2017 Saturday – Amtrak Coast Starlight train from northern California through Oregon to Seattle

Sign: Union Pacific Railway: Chemult, Oregon. Elev 4,764 ft

Sign: Union Pacific Railway: Chemult, Oregon. Elev 4,764 ft

There is no rush to get up this morning, since our arrival in Seattle is scheduled for 8:12PM this evening. I get up around 7:30AM and then go for breakfast a bit later. We make a quick stop in Klamath Falls at 9:15AM – Upper Klamath Lake still has some ice on the surface as the train winds its way around the shoreline.

There is some light snow falling as we stop in Chemult, Oregon at 10:40AM – the same spot it was snowing on the way down. Needless to say, there is still quite a bit of snow on the ground in this high elevation area. The train stops to pick up some passengers and then starts the descent through the pine forest. As the Sun comes out, it’s beautiful country, but I’m glad to be inside with my slippers on.

At 11:23AM we are at Cascade Summit, the highest point on the railroad as it crosses the Cascade Mountains at an elevation of 4,852 feet or 1,479 metres. There is lots of snow on the side of the tracks and on the trees, and it’s lightly snowing as we enter the summit tunnel. The snow gets deeper as we descend, and the train becomes very quiet as it goes through the deep snow. By my count, there are 18 tunnels in this stretch of track.

After leaving Albany, the rain starts falling. There is lots of primary industry in this area, especially lumber mills. The train is running about a half hour late, not that it matters to me. We pass by Willamette Falls and Abernethy Island as the train runs down the shoreline of the Willamette River towards Portland. My sleeping car is pretty quiet after leaving Portland, so obviously a lot of people got off here. Portland has a big and busy rail yard. Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe both operate out of this yard.

As we leave Portland, Oregon and cross the Columbia River into Vancouver, Washington, the conductor announces that we will be delayed because of a swing span being opened and having several freight trains waiting ahead of us. In the mean time, they are serving an early dinner starting at 5PM. I send a Facebook message with a virtual wave to my friends who live in Scappoose, across the Columbia River from where I am on the train north of Portland (in Washington State).

After a short stop, the train engineer really barrels out of Tacoma station, obviously wanting to make time to the Seattle King Street station and the end of the line. We were about 35 minutes late earlier in the day, and I don’t think he gained or lost much time despite several delays mainly caused by freight traffic. It is sprinkling a bit of rain as I head out of the Seattle King Street train station after our arrival, walking the six blocks to my hotel, the Best Western at Pioneer Square. It is an older hotel, but well-run, and very convenient to the train station.

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California coast by train from LA

March 3, 2017 Friday – north along the California coast by Amtrak Coast Starlight train from Los Angeles

Main waiting area in LA's Union Station

Main waiting area in LA’s Union Station

It’s a good thing I set my alarm last night for 4:00AM after leaving Tucson, because the train arrives in LA an hour early at 4:30AM Pacific Time. My car attendant predicted an early arrival, and he was right. I ask him to reconfigure my Roomette back to seating for the last hour. He gives me a light breakfast in a bag, which is very much appreciated, since the dining car won’t be open this morning.

After our arrival in LA’s Union Station, I schlepp my bags through the tunnel system under the tracks to the station. The Metropolitan Lounge for business class and sleeper ticket holders doesn’t open until 5AM, so I grab a cappuccino from the Starbucks in the station and kill time in the main waiting room. It’s a zoo in there, with all sorts of weird people, even in the area reserved for Coach ticket holders. I’m glad to get out of there!

Tables, chairs, loungers and a bookcase in the Metropolitan Lounge, LA's Union Station

The Metropolitan Lounge, LA’s Union Station

I have several hours to kill, since my train to Seattle doesn’t depart until 10:10AM. The Metropolitan Lounge has all sorts of snacks and beverages available at no charge. I take the opportunity to clean up in the bathroom, since it’s so much easier than when I’m being pitched around on a train. There is free Wi-fi, so I entertain myself, despite its slowness. When it is time to board, a Red Cap porter takes us to the train in a motorized cart.

As the train leaves Los Angeles behind, we see the light industrial side of the city and pass by Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, where some passengers board. The train stops a couple of times along the way for track work and oncoming trains, and goes slow through many areas. There are lots of fields with crops as we pass through Oxnard and Camarillo, with lots of workers in the fields.. As we hug the California coastline starting in Ventura, we pass along beautiful shorelines and beaches near Carpinteria, and sand dunes and estuaries by Vandenberg Airfield. I lucked out since my Roomette is on the side of the train with the coastal view, so I can sit comfortably shooting photos and video as the scenery flies by.

California Coast by train from JoeTourist InfoSystems on Vimeo.

I have lunch in the dining car while we are going through the Santa Barbara area. We arrive at Pismo Beach by 2:30PM, where the train turns inland, leaving the scenic California coastline. transitioning into huge tracts of range land.

We change engineers and conductors in San Luis Obispo, so I take the opportunity to have a shower while the train is stopped. I’m signed up for the 6PM dinner sitting, ordering the special roasted chicken breast with baked potato and veggies. We stop in San Jose at 8:30PM for 10 minutes, and then roll out of the station and sit around until 9:05PM waiting for another train to pass before we get going again. I notice there are lots of old motorhomes with people living in them parked along the tracks in this area. No doubt living in San Jose is very expensive, so if you are a normal wage-earner, living in a decent home isn’t easy. We arrive in Oakland at 10:00PM for a stop. As we leave the station, it is time for bed. The train has a lot of distance to cover before our scheduled arrival in Seattle tomorrow evening.

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Tucson to Los Angeles by train

March 2, 2017 Thursday – Leave Tucson, AZ aboard Amtrak’s Sunset Limited train to Los Angeles, CA, USA

I arrive at the Amtrak station in downtown Tucson a bit after 5PM and check in at the wicket. The man tells me the train is running a bit ahead of schedule, so I will be able to board early (whatever that means). I’m glad the waiting room is air conditioned, since the Sun is pretty intense this afternoon.

JoeTourist: Tucson &emdash; Old Centralized Traffic Control Board displayed in the waiting roomMaynard’s Market is next door to the Amtrak waiting room, and they also run a restaurant that is quite popular. I can smell the food, but I’m really not hungry after my late lunch. The other end of the terminal has a couple of shops and a railway museum, including a steam engine under cover and statues of Wyatt Earp and Doc Halliday. There is an old centralized control station, which was used to control the trains in the area.

People watching in the waiting room is entertaining: a guy is wearing a zipped-up parka and talking loudly to himself; a young, gay, black guy floats into the room hugging his pillow; an intense guy stares at everyone who enters but doesn’t say a word; and an obese young woman loudly talks non-stop to her skinny friend about her life trials for all to hear. One guy approaches me to look up on my iPhone where the Greyhound station is, since he wants to get to Roanoke, Virginia by bus. He mumbles about taking a taxi since it is too far to walk, but I later see him board my train. By 6PM some regular folks finally start to show up!

The train arrives at 7:45PM and after a few people get off, I board my sleeping car and find my Roomette. My car attendant made an 8PM dinner reservation for me before I even boarded the train, which is great service and very welcome, since I really didn’t expect to have dinner onboard. The train leaves a bit early at 8:20PM and last call for dinner ends up happening while we are still in the station. After dinner my car attendant makes my bed so I can settle in for the night. We stop in Maricopa just after 10PM to pick up passengers, and then it is quiet time aboard my sleeping car. Despite being on the north side of the train, I see the crescent Moon from my Roomette window. I’m relaxed and ready for bed.

We are scheduled to arrive at 5:35AM Pacific Time in Los Angeles, so I set my alarm on my iPhone for 4:00AM Mountain time to give me some time to prepare to detrain in LA.

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Los Angeles to Tucson by train

Feb 18, 2017 Saturday – Los Angeles to Tucson by Amtrak’s Sunset Limited train

Rainbow over the desert as we approach Tucson train station

Rainbow over the desert as we approach Tucson train station

After a good sleep overnight from Los Angeles, I’m up early and sit down for breakfast shortly after the dining car opens at 6:30AM. My new friend Jim joins me, so we talk about our upcoming plans over coffee, scrambled eggs and croissants. Jim is having grits, and assures me they taste great providing they are seasoned with salt and pepper – but I pass on them! The train is running late, so we have plenty of time before our projected arrival around 10:15AM. Outside there is desert scrub and a few cactus, and the mountains behind. We see a vertical rainbow to the north as the Sun rises over the mountains to the south.

It’s a cloudy day here in the desert. As we approach Maricopa, Arizona (near Phoenix) it is raining lightly. There is a crew change here before we leave for Tucson, my final stop for this train trip. This morning, the conductor says our delays last night when leaving Los Angeles were caused by staying clear of freight trains and there were also some weather-related delays, whatever that means.

The train pulls into Tucson station at 10:15AM – the end of my train trip.

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Seattle to Los Angeles by train

Feb 16, 2017 Thursday – Seattle to Sacramento by train

I wake up at 6:30AM this morning, having had a good sleep at the hotel. I go down for some breakfast and the essential coffee. It is then time to leave for the train station. There are patches of blue sky and no rain, so instead of taking a taxi, I slowly walk the six blocks, pulling my big bag on wheels.

Looking into my Roomette aboard the Seattle to Sacramento Coast Starlight

Looking into my Roomette aboard the Seattle to Sacramento Coast Starlight

The King Street Union Station in Seattle is beautiful inside, with marble walls and classic high ceilings. The old-style wooden high-backed bench seats hearken back to previous eras. I go to the ticket booth to check-in and the agent explains that if I need stuff out of my big bag, then I will have to take it aboard with me instead of checking it through to LA. Next time, I will know to take a smaller bag, since there is no assistance with bag handling when boarding the train.

This is certainly slow travel, since our check-in consists of showing our tickets to the agent, and then they hand write a paper ticket with our car number and room number on it. No ticket scans and no security checks. The Homeland Security Police presence inside the station bring me back to the current reality, although they appear to be pretty bored, having little to do.

9:30AM – Leave Seattle, WA. There is a Sounder commuter train unloading passengers on the opposite track to ours as we leave. It’s so refreshing to see rail transport being actively used here in Washington State, unlike Vancouver Island, where rail transport is being neglected.

Tacoma Narrows bridge at sunset

Tacoma Narrows bridge at sunset

10:30AM – Tacoma, WA – we stop to board a few passengers before leaving for the most scenic stretch along the Puget Sound to Olympia. The Roomette on the opposite side of the isle is being used by George, our car attendant, so I scoot over there to shoot video and photos, since he said he doesn’t mind. We also briefly stop in Olympia to take on a few more passengers, and then the train goes inland through rural areas.

12:00 Noon – Centralia, WA – we stop for a few minutes to detrain some passengers, and then carry on our way. Lunch is served in the dining car in three seatings: 12:00, 12:30 and 13:00. I skip the first seating, since there is a rush of passengers. The rivers in this area are muddy and swollen with the rain and snow we recently had over the last month or so.

12:20PM – Longview-Kelso, WA – The rain starts as we travel south, crossing rivers and streams with the I-5 freeway beside us. I’m so happy to not be driving…just sitting here in my Roomette with my slippers on, fully relaxed as I watch the drivers on the freeway drive through the rain. I go to the dining car at 12:30PM and have turkey medallions – a very nice hot lunch!

1:50PM – Portland, OR – We stop in Portland for about a half hour, where passengers get on and off. It is also where passengers can get off to stretch their legs, get some fresh air, and to have a smoke (outside the terminal). I stay onboard, since it is raining quite hard.

I receive a voicemail from Amtrak stating that I should get off at Sacramento to be transferred to LA to connect with my train to Tucson, since they are expecting delays further down the track to LA. They have refunded a portion of my ticket in compensation. I check with my car attendant, and he can’t see why that is necessary since the train isn’t currently running late. He suggests I check with the next conductor before arriving in Sacramento, but I should be prepared to get off the train in Sacramento at 6:35AM.

Red barn and green field at sunset near Tangent, Oreon

Red barn and green field at sunset near Tangent, Oregon

3:50PM – Salem, OR – Quick stop. Willamette University Bearcats female football players practicing. Lots of farming is going on in the Willamette Valley between Salem and Albany.

4:35PM – Albany, OR – Quick stop. Big rail yard.

The conductor comes by to find out what I was told about getting off in Sacramento. He confirms there is flooding near Chico, California, which will slow the train down, and there is also track work being done on the California coast section, so the train will likely be quite late. He confirms I should get off in Sacramento, and tells me I will be on a bus from Sacramento to Stockton, then a fast train from Stockton to Bakersfield, and finally another bus from Bakersfield to LA, driving down the Central Valley. I will arrive in LA at 4:15PM, and my train to Tucson leaves at 10PM.

6:10PM I go for dinner at the second seating, I am seated with a couple who boarded in Tacoma. They are heading to LA and then getting on a cruise ship in San Pedro, the Port of Los Angeles, for a short 6 day cruise down the coast of Mexico.

8:00PM – It’s pitch black outside, but I see quite a bit of snow flashing by and snowflakes falling outside the window. We haven’t had cellular reception for quite awhile, which is to be expected in this area, according to the conductor. The train has slowed down to perhaps 10-15 mph and now it has stopped. Our conductor announces that the train will stop because an outside sensor is detecting that something is dragging below the train. He goes outside to investigate – in the dark and snow, and with a serious drop in slope beside the roadbed. After 10 minutes the train starts moving again after he reports nothing found.

8:33PM – I thought the train has stopped again, but it’s just become very quiet riding through the snow.

9:05PM – Chemult, OR – more passengers board the train.

10PM – Time for bed…my first night aboard a train in my own Roomette.

Feb 17, 2017 Friday – Sacramento to Los Angeles by bus and train

Sacramento Valley Station in the rain

Sacramento Valley Station in the rain

My day starts early at 5AM when I wake up in my Roomette and look outside at the dark. The dining car doesn’t open before our arrival in Sacramento, so no breakfast for those of us de-traing here. I say goodbye to my cabin attendant and shlep my bags into the terminal. I check into the ticket booth, and am issued new Amtrak tickets for both today’s bus-train-bus segments, this evening’s train to Tucson, and my return trip back to Seattle. I sit with one of my fellow passengers, who tells me by his calculations our train averaged 43 mph from Seattle to Sacramento.

The Amtrak bus leaves the station an hour after our arrival and takes about an hour \to transfer us to the Stockton station. We wait an hour before boarding the San Joaquin commuter train to Bakersfield. The train leaves at 9:25AM and arrives in Bakersfield at 1:49PM. Along the way, we pass huge fields of almond trees in bloom, and even some orange bushes. The fields are either flooded or are so wet that there is no way they can be worked. The train slows because of high winds in the valley. I go to the snack bar on board and have a hot panini for lunch.

We then take another Amtrak bus from Bakersfield to Union Station in Los Angeles. This proves to be a real endurance contest, since it is raining so hard. The US Weather Service is sending out warnings to stay away from the areas we are driving through! This was supposed to be a 2 hour and 20 minute trip according to the ticket, but ends up taking over four hours. I find it to be very stressful, not only because of the extremely hazardous driving conditions. We are stopped at least twice from entering LA because of mud slides, washouts, or MVAs causing roads to be closed. Apparently, the major interstate freeway I-5 was closed in both directions today!

Traxx restaurant in LA's Union Station

Traxx restaurant in LA’s Union Station

I find the Metropolitan Lounge in Union Station; sit down to relax and have a coffee and snacks. I need some time to unwind a bit, and to recover from the stress of the last segment of our journey today. I leave my big bag in the lounge and have a nice dinner with a new friend I met on the train at the Traxx restaurant in the station.

I then return to the lounge, retrieve my bags, and get a red cap to take me to the train. They are ready to board passengers, so I quickly get settled into my Roomette. I have a shower before we depart the station, since it’s so much easier than when the train is rocking and rolling. Our cabin attendant tells me this train has no Wi-fi aboard, and the route the train takes means the cellular coverage cuts out as soon as the train clears the LA area.

10:00PM – The train leaves the station on time and slowly proceeds eastward through Los Angeles, but by 11:00PM it comes to a complete stop for about 15 minutes before proceeding slowly again. I have a feeling the operating staff are watching out for debris on the tracks, since this rainstorm has washed out many roads and gullies are full of mud and rocks. No doubt they are being careful to avoid derailment, because it is still raining, but just not as hard as this afternoon. The train starts and stops several times before I go to bed around 11:30PM.

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Arizona Astronomy in February 2017

Garry's observatory with 20" and 25" telescopes

Garry’s observatory with 20″ and 25″ telescopes

An astronomy buddy of mine who has a home in the rural desert grasslands in southern Arizona invited a few of us from the local astronomy group to come down for a week of observing under dark skies in February 2017. I quickly took him up on his generous offer, since not only does his place have very dark skies, it is also located in a high elevation area in southeastern Arizona. We also get to make use of his very well-equipped observatory at a site that typically has 330 clear days (and nights) per year.

Instead of flying to Phoenix or Tucson, I decided to take the Victoria Clipper catamaran from Victoria to Seattle, overnight in Seattle, and then take the Amtrak train all the way to Tucson. I have never taken an overnight trip on a train before – this trip will take two days with a change of trains in Los Angeles. I’m really looking forward to the experience of slower and gentler travel. I will have a Roomette both ways, so I will be treated like a VIP, having my own bed, small private room, and meals included.

Amtrak’s Coast Starlight from Seattle to Los Angeles has a reputation of being one of the more interesting and scenic train routes in the USA, especially when it travels along the coast north of LA during daylight hours. The Sunset Limited takes me from LA to Tucson and back, but this is mainly during the night, so not much scenery will be visible on this route, just sleeping!

Amtrack route from Seattle to Tucson via LA

Amtrack route from Seattle to Tucson via LA

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Penang, Malaysia

Feb 18, 2016 – Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

I was waitlisted on two shore excursions for today, but neither came up, so I’m on my own. I walk out of the cruise ship terminal, running the gauntlet of taxi drivers trying to get me to hire them. Instead, they piss me off, so I put my head down and keep walking past them all, intent on getting out onto the street and freedom. I encounter one last driver, parked by himself about a block away on one of the nearby streets. Cheah offers me a four hour tour for a bit less than the Holland America excursions I was considering. Initially I walk by him, but noting how hot and humid it is this morning (33°C and 85%), I realize that touring in an air conditioned car makes a lot of sense, so I agree to hire him for a customized tour. I’m glad to see the money go directly to the operator; I see the sights I’m interested in; and I can stay longer at a site or leave more quickly, as I wish.

Despite it being completely unplanned, I enjoy my day ashore. It works out wonderfully!

My customized tour of Penang

  • Map showing the location of my photos taken in Georgetown

    Map showing the location of my photos taken in Georgetown

    St. George’s Church – is a beautiful church, and it is apparently the oldest Anglican church in SE Asia.

  • Eastern & Oriental Hotel – this is a sister property to the famous Raffles hotel in Singapore, and is the classic old hotel from SE Asia’s colonial past. Cheah stops outside just long enough for me to pop inside and check out the lobby area. It is beautifully appointed.
  • Local street art – paintings and sculpture on outside walls along Lebuh Armenian street
  • Clan Jetties – a fascinating look at an old, established Chinese community where people still live today.
  • Kek Lok Si Temple – I must confess I didn’t walk up all of the 200 steps in this temple, preferring to take the small funicular train to the top (cost is 6 Ringets up and down, CD$2.25). There are still plenty of steps for me to tackle in the hot and humid weather! The huge bronze statue at the top is very impressive, and the Seven Tiered Pagoda is beautifully sited on the hillside. On the way down, there is an old Buddhist monk being helped to the main worship room, which contains a big golden buddha statue. The temples and courtyards are all decorated with Chinese lanterns for the Lunar New Year, which is being celebrated right now.
  • Penang Hill – Cheah drops me off at the bottom of the funicular tram, where I get in line to purchase a ticket. The line for the regular tickets (30 Ringets) seems to go on forever, so I decide to pay 60 Ringets (CD$22) to get an Advanced Boarding pass. With this pass, I get to bypass the huge lines (saving about an hour), have a quiet area to wait and have priority boarding on the trains, so I am seated before the throngs push and shove their way onto the train. Penang Hill is 2,750 feet above sea level, and has temples, restaurants, a museum, some residences, and even a police station located on top. Since the weather is clear, the views of the city of Georgetown and Malacca Strait are spectacular.
Map showing the photos I took in Penang

Map showing the photos I took in Penang


My driver: Cheah TH
+6011-3688 0532
+6010-389-6933
cheahth6296@gmail.com


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Open Air Museum in Arnhem

September 2, 2014 – Tuesday – Haarlem, Netherlands to Bacharach, Germany

We are delayed departing this morning because a couple are leaving the tour to return home because of a medical condition. We are now down to 24 in the group, since two people didn’t show up to start with. We finally get away from the hotel at 9AM. Sylvain is our driver. Our bus is huge, so anyone who wants his or her own pair of seats can have them. I end up taking 4 seats, so I can slide from side to side to stay on the shady side and take photos of whatever goes by! The bus has a restroom, however we are encouraged to use the facilities at rest stops whenever possible. The bus also is stocked with soft drinks, beer and wine in two fridges – we use a tally sheet on the honour system for our purchases at only €1.50 for each bottle. This is often cheaper than what is available at our rest stops, depending on the country we are in.

We cruise down the Autobahn, stopping once at a typical rest stop you would find along any expressway/freeway anywhere in the world. We pass Dutch farms with traditional barns and houses, and Utrecht, a modern city. It is fascinating to watch the countryside fly by us as we travel eastward.

We make a midday stop at the Open Air Museum at Arnhem, which reminds me very much of the Fort William historic site in Ontario, Canada (photos). We have a couple of hours to wander around this historic park, which showcases the cultural history of the Netherlands, complete with windmills, recreated old towns with historic displays of life in the Netherlands in the old days. We have an authentic Pannenkoeken (pancake) lunch, which is delicious but filling. Three types of Pannenkoeken are served: a multi-cheese pancake, a savoury onion and egg pancake, and an apple dessert pancake. A not-too-sweet apple syrup is available to garnish the dessert pancake, but the first two are normally eaten without further garnish.

I catch up on my journal and annotating photos while we travel along the excellent Autobahns in the Netherlands and Germany. As we travel down the Rhine Valley to our stop in Bacharach, the road narrows into a good two or four lane highway. There are lots of tunnels, and the views of the valley, vineyards on the steep slopes, and little towns along the way all fulfill my expectations of the “Rhineland” area of Germany.

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Amsterdam

September 1, 2014 – Monday – Amsterdam, Netherlands

Anne Frank statue

Anne Frank statue

We are out the door by 8:50AM for a full day of touring Amsterdam. We take the inter-city train from Haarlem to Amsterdam Centraal train station (takes about 10 minutes). Across the street from the train station, we catch a tram to the Anne Frank House and walk in ahead of the long line already forming. It is surprisingly emotional to actually see the hidden rooms where the two Jewish families hid from the Nazis during WWII. The rooms are devoid of furniture and there are no photos permitted inside, as per Otto Frank’s wishes. The stairways are narrow, and the rooms feel so small. As Anne wrote in her diary, having the windows shuttered was depressing, and it must have been a huge challenge to keep still during the day in order to make no noise that might be heard by the businesses operating below the hidden rooms.

Jennifer then takes us on a walking tour of Amsterdam. First stop is the Pink Triangle granite Homomonument in the canal, celebrating homosexual civil rights and freedoms. The Netherlands was one of the first countries to recognize gay and lesbian rights. Spinning around the main Dam square in the city, we see: the massive Neo-Gothic retail store Magna PlazaMadame Tussauds Wax Museum, the Nieuwe Kerk (leading art venue in the city), and the Royal Palace. Unfortunately, we don’t have time to explore Dam Square.

After a stop for a late lunch, we find our way back to the Rijks Museum for an escorted tour. I must endorse taking an escorted tour through this museum, since there is so much art history to appreciate. The guides are wonderful! The museum doesn’t just feature paintings by Rembrandt, Vermeer, and other Dutch masters; there is furniture, applied and Asian art, sculpture, fashion, ship models, weapons, and all sorts of artifacts illustrating Dutch history. Just to cap it off, I bump into friends from home in one of the galleries – what a surprise!

Two old canal houses fully restored

Two old canal houses fully restored

By the time we leave the museum some of us need some respite from all the walking and standing, so we stop for a mid-afternoon beer and wine break in one of the local bars across the street from the Heineken factory. Afterward, we see some fascinating glimpses of Amsterdam by taking a one hour canal boat cruise.

Our final walk of the day takes us to Amsterdam’s Red Light District for a quick glimpse at the girls displaying their wares. As a contrast, we also see the outside of the Oude Kerk (Old Church) located in the same district, before finally taking the inter-city train back to Haarlem and our hotel.

It has been a long day!

Amsterdam is obviously a prosperous city, since it has huge retail, government, and cultural sectors, and they all appear to be thriving. By all accounts, housing is exceedingly expensive in the city. Many people who work in the city must live elsewhere and commute by train. One thing is certain, most of them ride bicycles…there are huge bicycle parkades in the city, and they are everywhere you look.

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Haarlem

2014.08.31 – Sunday – Haarlem, The Netherlands

Fall colours along a canal with car, boat and bicycle parking in Haarlem

Fall colours along a canal with car, boat and bicycle parking in Haarlem

At breakfast this morning, I meet some of the tour group. I sleep on and off during the day (dealing with jet lag), and walk the city, exploring and photographing as I go. It is a beautiful autumn day, and this old city has some lovely trees showing their colours and old buildings both lining the canals. Since it is Sunday, there are services being held in the Grot Kerk church across the street from our hotel. Once the service is finished, I go inside and listen to the magnificent pipe organ being played, and take in the impressive stained glass windows and huge arched wooden ceiling inside the main sanctuary.

Café Colette next door to the hotel serves great cappuccino, so I sit outside and catch up on my travel journal and photos while sipping my coffee. The tour group meets at 4PM in the hotel, where our guide Jennifer describes the tour details and Rick Steves’ tour philosophy.

We then go as a group to the nearby De Lachende Javaan Indonesian restaurant for a traditional Indonesian ‘rijsttafel’ dinner. The food is wonderful and there are so many dishes, but the food is not as spicy as I remember how Indonesian food normally tastes. This is a good opportunity to meet some of the people on the tour, and start learning names.

From Wikipedia: The Indonesian rijsttafel (Dutch), a Dutch word that literally translates to “rice table”, is an elaborate meal adapted by the Dutch following the hidang presentation of Nasi Padang from the Padang region of West Sumatra. It consists of many (forty is not an unusual number) side dishes served in small portions, accompanied by rice prepared in several different ways.

Afterward, we go on a walking tour of Haarlem with local tour guide Yodi. She points out the plaques on many of the old buildings, which give clues to the business interests of the original owners, and highlights the history of this area. She talks about the tolerance for the Marijuana ‘coffee’ shops, and points out The Hiding Place – where the Ten Boom family hide Jews and others the Nazis wanted in their home.

September 1, 2014 – Monday – Haarlem & Amsterdam, Netherlands

We are out the door by 8:50AM this morning for a full day of touring Amsterdam. We take the inter-city train to Amsterdam and back again to Haarlem in the late evening (about 15 minutes each way). We return to our Haarlem hotel after 7PM, so after quickly cleaning up a bit, I join two couples for dinner at Café Colette restaurant next door to the hotel. I have a very nicely done rib eye steak, and the others also enjoy their meals. It is time to pack for our bus departure tomorrow for Germany.

When I travel, I often ask myself the question “Would you live here?” I have to say that living in the Netherlands would be very easy, especially in a small city such as Haarlem. The people are very friendly, virtually everyone speaks English, the country is prosperous and stable, and it is part of the European Union. The only downside to living here is that it is very expensive, and it rains a lot (average 133 days per year).