Amsterdam


Alice and me at her home in Amsterdam, 1991

I recently came across a box full of my travel diaries, including one with an account of a visit to my best friend, Alice, at her home in Amsterdam in 1991. It is shocking to think that this was 30 years ago. On the other hand, it’s delightful to know that we are still best friends and email each other pretty much every day. In fact, an email notification from her just flashed across my screen as I typed this.

So hop in the time machine and let’s go to Amsterdam, circa 1991!

March 22, 1991

I arrived at Gatwick at 11:10 and thought that I would have a lot of time to kill until the 12:15 boarding time [those were the days!], but by the time I had lined up for a boarding pass, passport control, and security, I had about 10 minutes to wait.

It was worthwhile getting a window seat, because I got to see a lot of England as we flew over – an impossible green divided by roads, hedges, and rivers – the Channel, and some of the Dutch coast and brilliantly blooming tulip fields. Met by Alice at the airport and we were so happy to see each other that we held hands all the way to the train station.

Alice and Claudie’s house is close to the central station in the old (that’s what the “O.Z.” stands for in their address) part of Amsterdam. It is also in the heart of the famous Red Light District, so I got a good view of the girls sitting in the windows.

The house’s foundation is from 1490, but the part where Alice and Claudie live is only from the 18th century. There are heavy wooden beams and many windows. Because of the height of the houses and the narrowness of the staircases, each house has a tall, wide window in front with a hook for a pulley, to lift furniture in and out of the house.

Alice and I went to the famous flower market and bought 40 beautiful tulips for about $9, lipstick pink at the ends and white near the stem. We went for dinner at a local bar and then drank and walked our way through downtown, a real walk on the wild side. We stayed up talking until 2 am. We are so very glad to see each other again!

March 23, 1991

Alice and I spent the day shopping and window shopping. We bought dinner ingredients and for the first time in our long friendship, we made dinner together. Alice was always so unapologetically undomestic when we were younger that it was odd to see her cook. [Now we are constantly exchanging recipes and she is an amazing cook and one of the top restaurant reviewers on London’s Zomato.] We made pasta with pesto and Thai beef salad.

Amsterdam is like a toy town, with narrow streets, sidewalks that are mere suggestions, tall, narrow buildings leaning at odd angles due to extreme age, canals everywhere.

March 24, 1991

Time to head back to London. At about 6:30, Alice suggested we check to see if my flight was on time. It was; I wasn’t. I was convinced for some reason that my flight was at 8:45 pm when it was actually at 7:45 pm. Panic!

We rushed to Central Station and caught the train for Schiphol [The name of the airport; it means “ship’s hold”. The airport is below sea level, at about the level of a sailing ship’s hold.]. Thankful for Dutch efficiency; imagine being in that situation in Italy!

So I did make my plane. I went through the “nothing to declare” line at Gatwick and was stopped. This guy looked through everything. He looked inside each blossom of my light up tulips, shredded a tampon, and noticed that my coat lining had been resewn (by Margaret [my stepmother], mending a tear in my coat before I left), asked where I stayed, how I met Alice, and examined my ticket. It was a really embarrassing experience and I actually felt guilty.

Margaret and Dad think it was because I was coming alone with just a carry on back from a weekend in the drug capital of Europe, but it was hard not to take it personally. I guess it’s all part of the experience.

A YEAR AGO: Weekend cooking.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Jessica became a teenager. It happens to the best of us. Still can’t believe she is now 18!

TEN YEARS AGO: An update on the kitties.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: A little culinary showing off.

TWENTY YEARS AGO: Sunday morning coffee on the roof deck of my building in San Francisco, overlooking the Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge.

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