On Boston and a couple of old shirts

A week ago today, without even thinking, I put on an old grey sweatshirt I’ve had since 1996 but have probably not worn for several years. It wasn’t until after hearing about the horror in Boston last Monday that I thought about the shirt I’d worn the night before. It was an inexpensive sweatshirt with the word “BOSTON” printed on it that I’d bought it as a souvenir of my trip to run the Boston Marathon 17 years ago. I got a chill when I realized I hadn’t even remembered that it was marathon weekend until I heard about the bombings the next afternoon.

Yesterday I wore a Twin Cities Marathon shirt to the health club, as I often do. A woman walking by me said, “good to see you guys wearing your shirts”. I looked around and two other people near me had marathon shirts on, too — but they were from other races. I wondered why a stranger would say she was glad to see the shirts. As I watched some of the endless reports about the tragedy on the TV screens while running on the treadmill, it dawned on me that she might have been referring to our shirts as a sign of support for the people at the Boston race.

As I chugged away on the treadmill — 17 years older, 20 pounds heavier and a LOT slower — memories of my big race day flooded back to me. I thought about the bus ride to the little town of Hopkinton, part of the enormous field of runners (almost 40,000) who ran that year to commemorate the 100th anniversary of this unique and historic event. I remembered the exhilaration of the start and the energy created by the river of thousands of runners flowing through the countryside and small towns on the first part of the course. I could picture the huge billboards with old black and white photos from the early races. But most of all, I remember the people, the spectators, all along the course. They were there to cheer on the runners, to be sure, but really they were there to cheer for the community — to cheer for themselves and for each other. There were bands, there were Patriots Day parties, there were kids up in trees, there were people wearing (and painted in) red, white and blue all along the way. All were cheerful, all were proud and all were glad to be part of this American spectacle.

I think an urban marathon is a community event in ways that no other sporting event can match. It’s about so much more than just the athletes. Think about it — you can walk up to the course at any point and (free of charge) literally touch everyone from a world-class runner down to a plodding 6-hour jogger. The race cuts right through neighborhoods and downtown streets — no need to drive to a suburban stadium or buy an expensive ticket at a downtown arena.

Over the past week, the people of Boston have shown what they’re made of. They’ve shown the rest of us how to handle unthinkable tragedy — just like New Town has recently, just like New York City did in 2001, just like Oklahoma City before that, and just like other communities who have suffered severe trauma. None of us know for sure how we will react when and if it’s our turn, but this week we can take strength from watching and listening to the people of Boston. Because they are strong and resilient — even defiant — we believe that we can be, too.

The bombers chose a big event, an important event, an event with easy access, to spread their particular brand of terror. What they didn’t realize is that they chose an event in a city that will not shrink in fear and ultimately will be stronger, not weaker because of their actions. My deepest sympathy to those directly affected last Monday and my thanks to the people of Boston for what you’ve taught us.

I’m wearing my BOSTON sweatshirt as I type this and I’m going to be wearing it a lot for a while. It’s an honor to have had the chance to be a miniscule part of the history of this great event and great city.


Coalwood is in my heart today

Life has its turning points. The little town of Coalwood, West Virginia represents a big one for me. It was after visiting the October Sky Festival there in 2005 that I decided to make a documentary film about the town. Who knows why. I had no experience as a filmmaker, no camera, no concept of all that it takes to video a video production of that scale.

In October of 2009, after a half-dozen more trips to Coalwood and four years of learning a few skills, a dream came true as I was able to go back to Coalwood and hand-deliver a DVD of “Welcome to Coalwood” to each of the people who had appeared in the film or helped me make it and personally thank them for welcoming me into their homes and letting me into their lives.

That 2009 trip was emotional for me, as some of the people were getting on in years and others had experienced major life changes. I’ll never forget the heartfelt thanks and hugs I received from these wonderful people just because I took an interest in them and their little town. It didn’t matter to them that the film wasn’t the highest-quality production or that it was made by a beginner.

Homer Hickam had put Coalwood on the map a decade earlier with his wonderful memoir, Rocket Boys, which was made into the movie October Sky. My project covered some of the same ground, but in a different way — by finding people from the old days who were still around to tell the history of the town as they remembered it.

My biggest initial motivation for attempting to make the film was to preserve on video some of the older people that I’d met. In fact, when I drove down there with my daughter Emily in the summer of 2006 to do my first shooting, I really didn’t know what I was doing — but I felt a sense of urgency to record some of them before it was too late.

Red Carroll (2006)

I’m glad I did. Since I’ve made the film, several wonderful Coalwood residents who were “stars” in my film, including Red Carroll, Gene Turpin and Fred Beavers have died. Katie Jones has since move away, as has Janice McClure.

Eugene Turpin (2006)

"Miss Katie" Jones and Emily Date (2006)

Bill & Reba Bolt / Jim and Carol DeHaven (2006)

The Company Store, one of the two most import existing buildings in town, was torn down just as I was finishing the film, dealing a crushing blow to any historic preservation effort.

It’s really hard to explain to some people why that little, falling-down town grabbed me, but the fact is, it did. I’ve given up trying to explain it. It’s like trying to explain why you fell in love.

I’m a big believer in the importance of place. We all have places that we are emotionally connected to. For most of us those places are not famous or well-known, but they have meaning to us and represent something deeply important in our lives.

Coalwood is one of my special places. It changed my life.

The October Sky Festival is today. I should be there and regret that I’m not.

To the people of Coalwood: I’ll be thinking about you all day today. Thank you for what you’ve given me.

I’ve missed two October Sky Festivals in a row. I can only hope that there will be another one next year.

Red Carroll talks with a group of Minneapolis teachers on the steps of the Clubhouse (Oct 2008)

If you’d like to see some of my other Coalwood-related posts, here are the links:

Big Creek High School: A missed opportunity for historic preservation

Coalwood on my Mind

Memories of Red Carroll

“Owe my soul to the company store” — some like it that way.

A nice afternoon on the Wisconsin side of Lake Pepin

We took a little drive yesterday down the Wisconsin side of Lake Pepin, which begins just over the bridge from Red Wing, Minnesota, about an hour southeast of the Twin Cities. Inspired by Emily and Kyle’s stories of trips to the “Pizza Farm” and a nice article in the Minneapolis StarTribune by Rick Nelson, we felt it was time to take a few hours to stop and visit a few places we had previously only sped past on trips to somewhere else.

Lake Pepin is either a long lake or a wide part of the Mississippi River, depending on how you look at it. But at about 2-3 miles across and 20 miles long, it has the look and feel of a big lake surrounded by wooded hills and rocky bluffs.

The railroad hugs the shoreline on the east side of Lake Pepin (photo by Steve Date)

Large sailboats and speedboats mix with barge traffic.

View from the marina in Pepin, Wisconsin. People on the bench watching sailboats and barges go past. (photo by Steve Date)

The towns of Maiden Rock, Stockholm and Pepin are all cute little villages full of tourists in the summer.

Stockholm is a tiny town with lots of charm (photo by Steve Date)

Stockholm (pop. 97 according to the sign) has some fine, old buildings (photo by Steve Date)

Pepin’s claim to fame is as the the birthplace of Laura Ingalls Wilder. It has a couple of hot dining spots, some gift shops, art galleries, specialty stores, and a fairly large marina.

The Pickle Factory bar and restaurant on the waterfront in Pepin is popular with motorcylers of all ages (photo by Steve Date)

We ate at the Harbor View Cafe, a wonderful, cozy place. It’s a well-known restaurant around these parts and is always packed on summer evenings.

The Harbor View Cafe in Pepin (darker blue building in center) is a great place to eat (photo by Steve Date)

Since we were there for an early lunch, we were able to get a seat right away. Our waitress told us that not only does the menu change daily, but “with each shift”. In fact, there are no printed food menus, only the handwritten chalkboard on the wall. Don’t expect the usual burgers and sandwiches. This is the full meal deal — soup, salad, meat and potatoes and lots of fish dishes. The prices are a little above average, but it’s worth it. The food is great.

After lunch, we drove up out of the river valley at Stockholm to the Maiden Rock Winery and Cidery which we had known about from an interesting article a couple of months ago in Heavy Table

Maiden Rock Winery and Cidery near Stockholm, WI (photo by Steve Date)

It’s a fun place to sample wine, cider and walk around among the apple trees on the orchard’s hilltop location.

Stroll through the orchards (photo by Steve Date)

Medaille d'Or apples. Not sure how they taste, but apparently they make good cider. (photo by Steve Date)

We had to do one more thing before heading home. Eat pie. The only question was where to do it.

We narrowed the choices down to two: The Homemade Cafe in Pepin (great photo in StarTribune) and the Stockholm Pie Company in Stockholm have both gotten rave reviews. We settled on Stockholm, mainly because that’s where we were when we decided to eat pie. We tried the chocolate pie and the triple berry. They were both wonderful.

The woman who sat at the table we had just vacated looks like she doesn't want to be photographed eating pie. (photo by Steve Date)

It was a very nice afternoon in some beautiful places. But the best part is that we left some stones unturned — the Pizza Farm (more about that in a future post), Amish furniture, and of course stopping in next time to see Julie and Alice at the Homemade Cafe to see how their pies measure up.

We’ll be back soon.

Off my butt, on my bike, and out in the country

One of my long-time goals has been to get around the state of Minnesota more and see smaller towns and rural areas. I haven’t done very well with that that until recently.

Two things have helped to get me in my car and on my bike to travel around more.
1. My daughter Emily moved to Rochester a year ago after being away for quite a few years.
2. MinnPost included me in a grant from the Bremer Foundation to do reporting about young people in rural Minnesota.

Last week I was able to use both of those justifications to go to the southern part of the state. Mrs. D and I met Emily at her house and then we drove about 30 miles farther to Fountain, which is one of the trailheads for the Root River bike trail.

The trail begins in open fields

The trail starts on the edge of town and goes through some rolling farmland before descending into the Root River Valley.

Even though the sun was shining, the trail was very wet after a hard rain during the night. We immediately had brown water spots all over our backs.

Mrs. D and Emily

The scenery is beautiful — green and lush. Because it was a weekday, there wasn’t a lot of other bike traffic.

After winding 11 miles through the forested valley, we emerged in Lanesboro, a small town that looks like a small town should.

Everybody seems to love Lanesboro and it appears from time to time on “best towns” lists. Recently it was featured on Yahoo Travel’s “Prettiest Towns”.


The trail was closed for bridge repair a couple of miles later, so we turned around a little earlier than planned and headed back.

After stopping to do a little window-shopping on the way back through Lanesboro, we had still managed a nice 26 miles by the time we returned to Fountain.

The total length of the trail is 42 miles from Fountain to Houston. Go here for more info and a great map. Plus there’s an 18-mile spur trail called the Harmony-Preston trail that heads southward from about half-way between Fountain and Lanesboro. I think next time I’ll start in Lanesboro and do a 62-mile round-trip to Houston and back.

It’s a great ride, no matter what part of the trail you’re on.

After we returned to Rochester and had lunch, I took off for Owatonna to shoot some video for MinnPost. It was a great day and I might never have done it without my two new reasons for getting off my butt and on the road.

Better headers

This is either going to be the lamest post ever, or a little fun. You’ll be the judge, of course.

When I first started using this blog template called “Twenty-Ten”, I didn’t like the skinniness of the header. But I liked the idea of putting a photo at the top of the home page and even better — changing the header to go with the subject of the current post.

“Twenty-Ten’s” aspect ratio is 940 x 198 — not exactly common dimensions for photos. It took me a long time to get used to finding photos that could be cropped that way and look decent. But over the year that I’ve been doing the blog, I’ve not only come to accept it, but actually have begun to like images that display well in the long, skinny format. In fact, it’s gotten to the point where I look for it when I shoot — not all the time, of course — but I’m always trying to be aware of a shot that lends itself to this kind of frame.

On my recent trip to Europe, (HA! — you thought I was done with that, didn’t you!) I shot many photos with “blog header” in mind. Some of them worked out OK, and many didn’t. Here are a bunch, in no particular order and with no descriptions, from The Netherlands and Belgium — just for shits and giggles, lame post or not.

Too early to tiptoe through tulips – but still a great bike ride

(This is the last of a series of 5 posts about my spring break trip to Belgium and the Netherlands. To start with the first post in the series, go here)

When we first started planning this trip, at the top of the must-do list was “biking though the tulip fields”. But when we started figuring out when the dates of my break were, we realized that late March would probably be a little early for tulips. We were right, but it wasn’t early by too much. Even though we weren’t able to see the fields in full bloom, we did get an early glimpse of color.

We intentionally saved Amsterdam for the end of the trip to give the flowers an extra week – and we saved the bike ride until the last full day before coming home. It was a cool, sunny day, and it would have still been great even if there hadn’t been ANY flowers. There’s an amazing system of bike paths and dedicated lanes all over the flower-growing area to the southwest of Amsterdam and it was a joy just to be out riding around the countryside.

Looks like Holland! The train enters Haarlem. (photo by Steve Date)

We took the train from the Amsterdam Central Station to Haarlem, which is only about 10 miles away. It’s a short walk into the city center from the train station. Haarlem is a beautiful small city and is a great place for a quick break from Amsterdam. But we were mostly using it as a jumping-off point for a bike ride, so we just walked around a bit and then headed out. It was a quiet Sunday morning – nothing open until later in the day.

Quiet Sunday morning in Haarlem. (photo by Steve Date)

Renting bikes at the Haarlem train station was easy and cheap – €6.50 for the whole day, and they’re open until midnight! One slight drawback was that they only had single-speed backpedal-brake models. Not a big deal for us, but it might be for you.

Armed with nothing more than a comically undetailed map in a guidebook, we headed out of town in a generally southerly direction, hoping to find one of the two roads shown on the map. The “plan” was to see some flower fields in bloom and make it down to a place called the Keukenhof, which is basically a big flower park near the city of Lisse. Since everything in the Netherlands seems easy to do (compared to most other European countries) we weren’t too worried about find our way. We had all day and were up for heading out into the unknown nederland.

Not long after we got out of town, we starting seeing fields of daffodils and other early-bloomers.

Just south of Haarlem (photo by Steve Date)

Much to my delight, the Dutch have made it simple for morons without a map to bike all over the place without getting lost. The system of trails and bike lanes in this area is truly amazing. There are numbered signs with maps on them that seem to be spaced exactly as far apart as you need them to be. The road and path surfaces are smooth, lanes wide and traffic light (at least on a Sunday). Some of the bike baths go through wooded areas, past cattle and sheep farms, small towns, residential areas, as well as the bulb fields. Here are a few pictures to illustrate the types of things you’ll see as you wander around.

We stopped at the Keukenhof, looked around at the gift shop for a minute and decided not to go in. At a hefty €12 or €13, we decided to do on the next trip. It had only been open for the season for a few days, so it wouldn’t be in full bloom, plus we were enjoying the scenery so much, we just wanted to keep biking.

A mile or so from the Keukenhof is Lisse, a quiet, pleasant town where we decided to find a place to each lunch. We stopped at an unassuming little Italian restaurant called Ristorante Piccolo that was just opening up for the day. They had a couple of tables outside. A French-speaking group of four took one and we took the other. The very friendly owners (possibly husband and wife) apologized because the oven was not hot enough for pizza yet. They brought us some bread and tasty spreads, and because we had to wait, followed a few minutes later by some bruschetta and another apology.

This place doesn't look like anything special from the outside, but it really was. (photo by Steve Date)

Sitting in the 60-degree sun, having some good food — pretty nice. By the way, the pizza was great, too. Just one of those places you stumble on that make you glad you took this trip.

Keep apologizing! - the pizzas can wait.

Stomachs full, it was back on the road. We decided to go a few kilometers farther south, to a town called Sassenheim, just north of Leiden, before heading back toward Haarlem. Here are a few more photos from that part of the ride.

I’m not sure if it comes through in the photos, but it was great — beautiful day, beautiful scenery, beautiful people (the people we met, not us).

Time for a quick jaunt over to the ocean before we return the bikes in Haarlem? Sure, let’s give it a shot.

The path takes us past some dunes and a nice looking golf course called the Kennemer Golf and Country Club.

Soon we were at the sea shore, a place called Zandwoort. It seemed kind of strange to suddenly be at a beach resort area. I’ll bet it’s pretty nice in the summer.

We were getting tired and had a few miles to get back to Haarlem, so we didn’t stay long at the beach. There are some great residential neighborhoods between Haarlem and the ocean. Seems like the ideal place to live if you have money and want to live outside, but near Amsterdam.

Just ouside Haarlem. No reason for the photo other than I really like the building. Reminds me of a radio we had when I was a kid.

The sun was going down when we got back to our place. I really didn’t want to go home the next day. That’s the sign of a successful vacation, I guess.

For many more photos from the trip, go to my Flickr collection from the whole trip here.

To see the 5 spring break posts in order, go to the first one on April 3 here.

(All photos by Steve Date)

Home again in Amsterdam. The last rays of sun hit our room just above the Cotton Club in the center of the picture.

P.S. One more photo — as we were flying out the next morning, we went over some of the area we had biked. You can see the beach town of Zandwoort, the golf course in the upper left, and some of the grass-covered dunes between Haarlem and the ocean.

“That’s different.” – A Minnesotan visits Amsterdam

(This is the 4th in a series of 5 posts about my spring break trip to Belgium and the Netherlands)

A case could be made for Amsterdam representing either the best of civilization or the worst. For me, it’s unique city of contrasts, irony, and possibly the best people-watching I’ve ever seen.

After 3 days in European dreamland (see previous post) and a leisurely 3+ hour ride through some beautiful farm country, the first steps out of the Amsterdam Central Train Station are a shock to the senses.

The first thing you notice (and probably my most lasting image) is bikes, bikes, everywhere.

The central train station is in the background. Watch out before you step into the bike lane. (photo by Steve Date)

This is Biketown. Sure there is some car traffic, but you barely notice it as you walk through the city. Bicycles dominate the scene to an extent that I hadn’t imagined.

They are constantly whizzing past you in every direction. Toddlers to old fogies, business people, hipsters, families, tourists, locals, are all on bikes, and nobody — N-O-B-O-D-Y — wears a helmet.

Apparently wearing a bike helmet is one of the few things that's against the law in Amsterdam. (photo by Steve Date)

Kids often double- and triple-up on parents' bikes. (photo by Steve Date)

After our usual getting-lost-a-bit walk from the train station we found the Nieuwmarkt square, which is where the B&B we’d booked was located. When the nondescript door to the place was locked, there was a moment of mild concern — but only a moment. “Hello, Steve and Sandy?”, asked the young man who had just trotted across the square. “I’m Daniel. I didn’t know when you were coming, so this is good timing”.

Daniel is the owner of the “Inn Old Amsterdam” bed and breakfast. We’d booked it after a lot of searching on the internet. For some reason that nobody seemed to understand, many hotels were fully booked for the dates we’d be there. The photos of this place on the website looked nice and it got some good reviews — and they HAD a room available for the 4 nights we needed — so we took it.

Daniel led us up a steep, narrow staircase to our room. He looked to be in his mid to late 20s. Like everyone of his generation Amsterdam, he spoke English better than most Americans do. Daniel was friendly, helpful and informative. Like the city itself, the room was beautiful, but had an edge to it.

Our room at the Inn Old Amsterdam (photo by Steve Date)

The edge was that it was located over a bar on a busy square. I loved the view and the noise of the bar below didn’t keep me awake, but Mrs. D had some trouble sleeping because of the voices from below. I liked standing in the window, watching and photographing the scene below.

Nieuwmarkt from our window (photo by Steve Date)

Our room provided a great vantage point for visual eavesdropping on the sidewalk seating of the bar below (photo by Steve Date)

Amsterdam fans out from the area near the train station. It takes its structure from a series of roughly concentric canals. The layout seems logical and systematic on a map, but in reality it’s tricky to find places because few streets go straight for very long. The “spoke” or “radius” streets are pretty direct, but of course they get farther apart from each other the farther from the center you go.

The streets follow concentric rings of canals.

Because it’s so flat, Amsterdam is very walkable. But as I said, bicycles dominate the traffic. Residents and tourists alike fill the bike lanes with wheels. You don’t see a lot of expensive racing-type bikes. What most people ride is either single-speed or beat-up geared bikes, often painted bright colors and adorned with plastic flowers.





But for the time being, we’re walking. So let’s head out and see some of the famous, infamous, and otherwise interesting sights of this capital of all that’s good and bad about civilization.

Might as well dive right in and hit the Red Light District. It’s just a few blocks from our B&B. We didn’t spend a lot of time in the “RLD”, but we did walk around a bit, and I have to say it seemed pretty tame to me. Most people walking around are couples or groups of either young men or young women. I saw fewer drunk or high people than you would on an average U.S. college campus on any given weekend. The vast majority are just there for the same thing I was — to gawk at the whole scene. Apparently the RLD is actually one of the safest parts of the city, because of the many cops and bouncer-types around.

You're not supposed to take pictures of "the girls". I guess it's in bad taste or something.

There seemed to be very few actual customers. The window ladies were expressionless, for the most part — almost mechanical. Maybe it was the weird, red lighting, I don’t know, but they seemed like like ordinary-looking women with mannequin-skin, wearing lots of make-up and dressed in bikinis. It’s clear that it’s nothing more than a hum-drum job for them. We walked by one window where one of the prostitutes was sitting on a stool eating a Subway sandwich — working through her dinner break, I guess.

Variety is the spice of life. For an eerie experience, see the potato exhibit photo in my previous post about Bruges (photo by Steve Date)

In one of the brothels, a young man was trying to enter as another guy was leaving. The lady of the window was arguing with him, trying to close the door and asking him to not come in. She kept saying “no blacks”. After a couple of minutes he gave up. Wow, a racist prostitute. I lost all respect for her.

If I were walking through this area with children, I think the store window displays would be much harder to explain than women standing around in swimsuits. Here’s one shop that seemed to have a wider variety of the same basic product for sale than all the others.

Yes, you can also buy pot there.
Yes, you smell it from time to time as you’re walking around.
No, it’s not a big deal and no, you don’t notice a lot of people acting stoned.

OK, so now that we’re higher than a kite and have had our fill of prostitutes and marital aids, let’s switch gears a bit. How about some antique hunting to calm down that libido?

We found some great antique stores, markets and an antique shopping mall.

One of the rooms in a great antique mall (photo by Steve Date)

We got interested in Delft tiles. One shop had thousands for sale. They were salvaged from old houses — very old houses. We bought a couple of tiles, one from 1650 and the other from 1675. They have great pictures painted on them and they travel well in a suitcase — good souvenirs. If I was rich, I’d do a whole wall in my house with them.

Delft tiles date back to the early 1600s. (photo by Steve Date)

Amsterdam has some great museums.

We went to the Rijksmuseum, which has a lot of Rembrandt paintings, a few by Vermeer (including the iconic milk maid) and the other Dutch masters. It’s housed in a beautiful, old building. But I have to say I was a little surprised that the museum only uses a small portion of the building, and is actually not a huge collection. Still worth seeing, though.

The Van Gogh Museum is great. They have the biggest collection of his paintings in the world and while there are works by some of his contemporaries and influences, the focus is on Vincent. There was also a temporary exhibit about Picasso while we were there. This museum is a must-see.

"Crows in Wheatfield" poster outside the Van Gogh Museum. These tourists are in a lot better mood than Vincent was when he painted it. (photo by Steve Date)

The Anne Frank House is another must-see on any tourist’s itinerary, but one I chose to not-see. I walked by it a couple of times but the line was discouragingly long and people were talking about a several-hour wait. I didn’t buy tickets online ahead of time like I should have and didn’t want to wait around that long. You have to save some things for the next trip, right?

Amsterdam must have been quite a place during the late 60’s and early 70’s, where it was the epicenter of the counter-culture in Europe. There are a few remnants of the old hippie days, but the city has moved on. Let’s face it, young people today might smoke a little pot or tie some flowers to the basket of their brightly painted bike, but those who remember the real deal are getting on in age.

But a few old people (my age) are still around from the heyday. We met some (and some a little younger) at a little bar called the Cafe de Gaeper.

Cafe de Gaeper was our version of "Cheers" (photo by Steve Date)

What pubs are to Great Britain, “Brown Cafes” are to Amsterdam. The names derives from the dark-colored wood often used in interiors, stained even darker by years of smoking. We stumbled into one of these our first night and liked it so much we ate there again a couple of days later. The food is burgers, sandwiches, and fries. The atmosphere is a friendly, VERY casual mix of mostly locals and a few tourists. It’s a European version of the “Cheers” TV show.

Cafe de Gaeper was our little glimpse into local life in Amsterdam. On our first visit, there was a dog sitting on a bar stool, looking ready to order. The half-dozen people at the bar, as well as the bar-tender and the people at another table all knew each other and it was obvious they came there all the time. I ordered fish and chips. They were delicious, and at €8.50 a relative steal. While we were eating, two young ladies came in and began talking to a man sitting at the bar. They knew each other, too. One of the women said to the guy, “Hey, I’m wearing the underwear you gave me on my birthday a year ago, remember?” With that, she turned her back to him, dropped her jeans to her knees and reminded him in a memorable way. It was all very innocent, friendly, not-drunk, and funny. Then she sat down for a beer. The dog curled up on the stool next to her.

I love that place.

This is the kind of place I want in my neighborhood - dogs on barstools. (photo by Steve Date)

The city of Amsterdam was fascinating, but the crowds and frenetic pace of the street get to you a little after a couple of days. The most enjoyable thing we did during our 4-night stay there was on the last full day of our trip, when we took the train to Haarlem and rented bikes for the day. My last post in this series will be about our day of biking through the flower bulb fields and to the sea coast. Look for it in a few days.

As usual, I have posted enough photos about Amsterdam on Flickr to bore anyone to sleep. But if you’d like to see more pictures, go to my Amsterdam Flickr set here.

Here are a few more random shots. See you soon in Haarlem!

Some of the old buildings seem to be on the verge of falling over (photo by Steve Date)

Mom's birthday, maybe? (photo by Steve Date)

Typical Amsterdamer of a certain age. (photo by Steve Date)