Thursday, November 19, 2009

Touch down, take off

I got home from my Italy and Holland holiday yesterday, and early tomorrow morning I leave again.  Before the working vacation gets underway, in the midst of laundry and repacking, I wanted to take a moment to talk about the birthday trip.

Milano was a much bigger city than I'd expected - the fifth-largest urban area in the E.U., as it turns out.  The Duomo, the only major sight we visited, is surrounded by tall buildings, restaurants, and shops.  A day wasn't nearly enough time to experience Milan properly, but I liked what I saw just fine.  I paid the equivalent of $16.75 for a pistachio milkshake in a fancy tearoom.  That's not something you get to do every day.  I couldn't read the full description; maybe it was made from the milk of Italian unicorns.

Amsterdam felt more manageable to me, though it's by no means a small town.  It was rainy on and off while we were there, but we still explored much of the city on foot.  I saw coffee shops, and shops that actually sold coffee.  The red light district.  The Oude Kerk, the flower market, Central Station, and many lovely old houses on the canals.  Our hotel was a block from the great Van Gogh museum.  I bought Christmas cards from the Rijksmuseum store.  We explored De Pijp - Albert Cuyp market and rijsttafel at Sari Citra.  And yes, I saw the Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet parade!  It was everything I'd hoped for and more. You haven't lived until you've seen little Dutch children in afro wigs and blackface, wearing colorful and festive elf outfits.

Whenever I told anyone in Amsterdam that I was headed to Eindhoven, they were genuinely puzzled.  "Why?  Do you have family there?"  Judging from their reactions, I didn't expect a perfectly nice city with plenty of shopping, cafes, an open market, and a carousel outside our hotel.  We didn't have time to do a lot in Eindhoven, but the Centrum seemed charming.  Hey, the carillon of the nearby old church played "Imagine."

Those were the cities.  Then there was the other part of my trip: the concerts.  Andrew Bird at Melkweg was a good show, though he seemed to be having some trouble focusing.  Many stops and starts because the timing was off, or he couldn't remember something.  The room was very boomy, which didn't help.  Andrew was solo, except for a couple of songs (including "Oh Sister") for which he brought out his solo female opener, Jesca Hoop, and a few songs for which Pat Sansone came out and played piano.  The only song Andrew played from Mysterious Production of Eggs was "The Happy Birthday Song."  Total shout-out, of course.  Right.

The Wilco shows were very good, too.  Paradiso in Amsterdam is a former church, and it was fun to see the band with a backdrop of stained glass windows.  The setlists of Amsterdam and Eindhoven complemented each other very well.  Jeff dedicating "Handshake Drugs" to Zwarte Piet at Paradiso made me laugh, as did the pandering Amsterdam lyrical references.  It was a treat to hear songs like "Cars Can't Escape" and "Wishful Thinking" in Eindhoven.  But for me, the biggest treat in Eindhoven was a totally surprising happy birthday singalong and song dedication.  Whether or not Jeff actually dreamed about killing me (lyrical reference!), it made for an even more memorable, special show.  Thank you, Wilco.        

Good music, new cities, and meeting up with friends halfway around the world.  I just knew this trip would be a great way to kick off my thirties.  On to California!  

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