Week 8, part 3

This view of a hotel room ceiling is what we woke up to three times in Haarlem.

The northwest corner of Markt, Haarlem's central square.

A small stuffed dog stands watch from behind the headlight of a parked bicycle in Haarlem.

Obbie walks the streets of Haarlem.

On the train from Osnabruck to Amsterdam, we suffered from the same problem we've had with most German trains. Our non-smoking car was filled with smoke, since the smoking section was in the same car on the other side of a glass wall. Opening the window helped a little, but not enough to be worth putting up with the train noise from outside.

We were in Amsterdam on Tuesday night only long enough to change trains. Haarlem is a much smaller city (but not small by any means) about 15 minutes away by train, and trains seem to run back and forth every 10 minutes or so. We had reservations at a place called Joops InterCity Apartments, which was supposed to be a 10-minute walk from the train station.

Our hotel was 10 minutes away for people who know where they're going. We got directions (which were accurate, we were just confused), and headed off in that direction. We were told it was behind a big church that was on a marketplace. We found a small plaza and thought it was the marketplace. We saw a steeple toward the right, and thought it was the big church. We took a wrong turn and got lost. It took us about half an hour to find the office of our hotel.

Our room was in another building around the corner from the hotel office, and it was one of those typical "toilet and shower down the hall" kind of places. The room was big and comfortable if not overly fancy, and it cost the equivalent of about $40 per night, which didn't include breakfast this time. We flipped on the tv to discover that much of the programming on Dutch tv was in English with Dutch subtitles; in most other countries the native language was dubbed onto English-language programs. We were also treated to a few BBC channels, which was a nice diversion from CNN (All war, all the time).

This might be a nice time to expand a bit on European media. One of the first things we discovered is that - as sleazy as American networks can be - they're complete prudes when it comes to nudity. In the later evening we saw plenty of exposed flesh on broadcast tv, but it was unfortunately in the same titillating context that would fit right in on a network like, say, Fox. Most of the music on the radio is total crap, a breed of techno-pop put out by the likes of Brittney Spears and other "artists" who sound like they still have their thumbs in their mouths. We rarely went out of our way to listen to radio, but many places we ate at would have one playing in the background; and it seemed that everywhere we went, the same music was being played. We also discovered that the banter and blather of morning DJs is the same everywhere, and they sound the same in every language.

Our room was less than 100 meters from the "big church" we were told to look for. It was another one of those grand cathedrals in an expansive central square. At about ten after nine - about half an hour after we'd settled into our room - the church bells started ringing in a "ding-dong-dong" pattern. This sounded very nice for about the first two minutes, but it went on in the same repetitious three-note pattern for about half an hour. The sound never changed, but our perception of it went from quaint, to strange, to weird, to this-is-gonna-be-a-long-night-if-this-doesn't-stop. Fortunately, it stopped.

Many people come to Amsterdam for the coffeehouses, which are not to be confused with coffee shops. You go to a coffee shop for coffee, you go to a coffeehouse for something else. What most people don't know is that there are coffeehouses in many Dutch cities, and we noticed at least two in Haarlem. Establishments that sell cannabis are forbidden from selling alcohol, so there's a segregation between the drinkers and the smokers. We did not see any evidence of alcohol or hard drug addiction being any kind of a problem in Holland. We'd been told that dealers of harder drugs are dealt with harshly, and users are dealt with compassionately: treatment instead of jail. Late one night we were walking around our neighborhood in Haarlem, looking for a can of beer to take home with us. We couldn't find one.

The Dutch seem to know what the Americans need to learn: that compared to alcohol and tobacco, cannabis is a relatively harmless and benign substance from a public health and safety point-of-view; and that where cannabis is more widely tolerated and available, you divert people away from the more problematic and addictive drugs such as tobacco, alcohol, cocaine and opiates. But cannabis use encourages free thought, and THAT is the commodity that America's ruling class is trying to eradicate with its "war on drugs."

After two days on smokey and crowded trains we woke up on Wednesday with headaches and sniffles, and we felt the need for the kind of rest that pre-empted the idea of a day trip to Amsterdam. We decided to make this a day to walk around and look at Haarlem, which is a pretty nice town in its own right. What it became was a day for RoZ to release two months' worth of pent-up shopping urges. We spent almost two hours in one store alone, one that was filled with dresses made of her favorite materials in all shades of purple. Obbie was very patient, though he regretted not having had a chance to buy a newspaper before we went in there.

Looking through the windows while lying on the bed.

Church and state maintain a cozy relationship on one side of Markt.

Some detail of Haarlem building art.

A stuffed bear invites shoppers into a Haarlem gift shop.

Bicycles are a common sight in Europe's most livable cities.

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