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Post Nine - Amsterdam to Hamburg

Red-light DistrictRed-light District

When most Americans think of Amsterdam they usually think of three things: museums, prostitutes and pot. That's a shame because Amsterdam is a unique city full of canals, old tilting buildings, a thriving café scene and great beer. Of the tourists who flock here in the summer, there seem to be two types - the classic older visitors (perhaps as part of a tour) and the young backpackers. The older visitors see the museums and Anne Frank's house, crowd the cafes, and usually take a gawking walk through the red light district. It may be the oldest profession in the world, but to most travelers the blatant display of women offering their bodies for sale is probably more foreign than anything else they'll see in Europe. I certainly walked through.

The young backpackers, in addition to seeing the major sites, are also eager to try out the famous Coffee Shops where pot is available. For people used to a clandestine smoke after procuring their product illegally, openly buying and consuming it in a café probably feels pretty bizarre. Unfortunately, the presence of the Coffee Shops and the tourists that frequent them also attract more serious drug users and dealers. Heroin is quite a problem in Amsterdam and residents need several locks for their bikes to keep them from being stolen to score another fix.

Does legalizing pot and prostitution simply allow the government to tax and regulate an activity that is going to occur anyway or does it serve to condone and encourage self-destructive behavior? I don't know. -- Scott

Karen AfloatKaren Afloat

One afternoon while we were in Amsterdam, a friend of David and Michelle, Jeff, took us out in his boat for a canal cruise. It was a small boat and as we drank our potent Belgium beers we dodged the many huge tourist ferries that prowl the waterways. This is a cool shot of Karen taken while we were on the water. -- Scott


This piece of jewelry in Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum is a particularly fine example of Art Nouveau craftsmanship. Isn't the detail here amazing? -- Karen


On our way up to Scandinavia we stopped in Hamburg to visit some friends. Tanja and Matthias live in big old house in a leafy suburb on the outskirts of the city. We've known Matthias for almost a decade and it was great to finally meet his significant other, Tanja. Having been away from Seattle for so long, it was nice to see a familiar face and talk about old times.

One night, after grilling steaks in the back yard, Matthias brought out some Cohiba cigars he got in Cuba. As we watched the sky slowly darken, we smoked our cigars, drank our beers, and talked into the night. -- Scott


This is the Jackie O. shot of Tanja, Matthias' significant other, looking fashionably windswept while navigating the Autobahn in a convertible. Driving on the Autobahn is always an experience, especially with a good, solid German driving machine, and Scott explains in the next photo. -- Karen

The AutobahnThe Autobahn

Because they make some of the finest automobiles in the world it's no surprise that Germans seem to have a special relationship with their cars. Issues related to traffic and driving seem to be the most important news broadcast on the radio. In fact, most car radios come with a feature that increases the volume during a traffic update (pausing the CD player if necessary). Traffic lights turn from red to red and yellow to green simulating the start of a race. And the favorite national sports figure is Michael Schumacher, the world champion formula one driver for Ferrari.

Driving on the Autobahn is pretty exciting. For one, speeds are in kilometers so it seems pretty fast when you look down and notice you are doing 140. Of course, away from towns there is no formal speed limit. The left lane is reserved for passing and you need to be aware when you are using it. The speck in the rear view mirror can quickly turn into a Porsche riding your butt. Driving on the autobahn one Sunday (when trucks are banned), Matthias showed us what life was like in the fast lane. -- Scott

"Like a Rhinestone Beetle..."

Now that's a Bug! This is the millionth Beetle to roll off of Volkswagen production lines, and in an apparent moment of whimsy, they decided to dress it up in gold and rhinestones, a la Liberace, or Elton John circa 1978. We saw this at the Autostadt, the Volkswagen plant-cum-museum in Wolfsburg, Germany. Among other highlights: John Lennon's white Super Beetle that appears on the cover of Abbey Road, an array of obscenely expensive machines with names like Bugatti, Lamborghini, and Bentley, and (my favorite) a little green Mini with white racing stripes. -- Karen

Oh my god, it's full of cars...Oh my god, it's full of cars...

While we were visiting Tanja's parents (who graciously hosted us like family), Tanja and Matthias took us to see Autostadt. Located next to the main Volkswagen plant in Wolfsburg, Autostadt is like a Disneyland and Nike-town rolled into one. But the focus is about cars - Volkswagen cars to be exact. There is a huge pavilion detailing the company's history and then different pavilions devoted to each of the brands Volkswagen owns (including Seat, Bentley, Audi, Skoda and Lamborghini). There was even a separate building devoted to the utility Volkswagens - including the Camper Van!

Visiting Autostadt with all the gleaming automobiles makes you want to rush out and buy a brand new car. Of course, that's the point. To make this clear, there are two buildings in the center of the complex loaded with cars (via a central elevator). They almost look like giant vending machines. When customers come to Wolfsburg for a 'factory delivery' of their new car, it comes down out of the tower and is presented to them in a fancy showroom. Talk about customer satisfaction... -- Scott


This is Bierte, a friend since our college years who we visited in Hamburg. Believe it or not, this woman gave birth just 12 days before this picture was taken, and she looked as fit and fabulous and she appears here. To see the young 'un, take a look at the next picture. -- Karen

The Medina... and Family

And this is Hanns with Emily and little Jakob, in a moment of familial repose. -- Karen

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Copyright 2001
Scott & Karen Semyan