Amsterdam… or Austin? Decisions. Decisions.


I’ve spent the past week or so trying to figure out why I had a dream (albeit nightmare) that I was in the 80’s rock band Whitesnake’s “Still of the Night” music video. Yeah… got some great Facebook responses over that one, and NO… I was not rolling around on the hood of a Jaguar. That was actually the “Here I Go Again” video. BUT… I was shirtless – sportin’ a leather vest and a pair of acid washed Guess jeans. It wasn’t until today, the 2nd birthday of our son Jordan, that I realized exactly why.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands - May 2007

As the 7 of you who actually read this blog know… I’m a real fan of looking back at where I’ve been, so I can see where I’m going. During my Senior Class Presidential speech at graduation, I said “Remember the past. Look to the future. But always live in the present.” In Fall 2001, exactly 10 years ago, I knew where I had been, the present sucked (just had 9/11, my grandad died, and I was unemployed); therefore, the future wasn’t looking too bright either. I’m not going to bore you with my woe is me story; but, let’s just say I found myself overseas in Europe looking for jobs in London and Amsterdam. So how does a Texan wind up in Amsterdam? Good question.

I amsterdam

Kind of funny how the whole Amsterdam thing came up. In 1994, I was given the most spectacular college graduation gift ever from my college friend Andy’s father. 4 Tickets to World Cup 1994 Quarter Finals in Dallas, Texas. For those of you who are also fans of football (aka soccer), you will recall that the legendary match was The Netherlands vs Brazil. Two of the most loyal and passionate football fan bases in the WORLD. Yes, I said WORLD. There we were… sitting at the half field line, singing with the Dutch, drumming and doing the Samba with the Brazilians, pinching each other to see “is this real?”. It was at that point that I made the lifelong rewarding decision that I would become a GlobeTrekker, so I could travel the world and meet people like THIS! Given the opportunity, I knew that I MUST visit their perspective countries of The Netherlands and Brazil before my life on this planet reaches its conclusion.

Canal Boats outside Centraal Station - Amsterdam

Opportunity #1. It was 1999 and I was in London on business. My British counterpart Biggin said “Hey mate! You’ve got some time before you head back. Let’s go to Amsterdam!”. Sounded fantastic to me! That was before we met up for a “few” pints down in SOHO/West End with our crazy Irish counterpart – Rory Kelly (how’s that for an Irish name?). “To hell ya arrrr! Ya comin’ back with me tar Dublin! It’s World Rugby Championship lads!”. His words… not mine. Needless to say, we never made it to Amsterdam; however, Dublin was… EPIC! I’ll never forget that journey; but, I’ll save that mayhem story for another episode.

vacant tables in the Leidseplein - Amsterdam

Opportunity #2 pleasantly presented itself just 2 years later in December 2001. So there I was, with an appetite for travel, staying with my 1st cousin Roger and his family in Northampton, England. From time to time, I would visit other cousins and family members in Leicester, Brighton, Derby, and London; but, after being in England for about a month, I had the chance to visit my Aunt’s husband’s brother-in-law in The Netherlands. How’s that for a stretch down the family tree? A tall, blonde-haired, blue-eyed Dutchman named Tomas. I think I was closer related to my FedEx driver than I was to Tom; but, family is family, and my cousin Roger and I were up for the “challenge”. Boarding the EasyJet flight out of Luton, one of my dream trips was about to be fulfilled. But, could I live there? That was the question. We found ourselves lodging in humbled circumstances at a 2 Star rated hotel just off the Leidseplein. In the words of my cousin Rog, it was “well dodgy”. Let me tell you something… I’m by no means pompous; but, unless I’m staying in the countryside, a national park, the mountains, or camping… there better be at least 3-4 Stars for a city hotel. Especially in Europe. Doesn’t really matter, because our room basically held our suitcases. The rest of the time… we were out and about.

Bicycles. Bicycles. Bicycles. Dam Square - Amsterdam 2007
What year was this bike made? 1946? Amsterdam 2007

My 2001 memories of The Netherlands… Bicycles. Bicycles. Bicycles. And then more bicycles. Good GOD those people can ride a bike! Pants. Skirt. Evening gown. Spandex. Doesn’t matter. They’ll just hop on and ride. And why are the bikes from circa 1946 post WWII? Not going to knock their preferred mode of transportation, because that’s the reason they’re all fit and healthy.

Clog Making @ Zaanse Schans - The Netherlands

I also recall watching a clog making demonstration in Zaanse Schans. Typically, not my cup of tea, and there would be nothing spectacular about this excursion, except in this particular situation… there was a Japanese tour bus that unloaded in front of us which added to the humor of the afternoon. Picture this… You have a Dutchman making clogs, while a Japanese tour guide translates Dutch into Japanese, and all the while, Tomas was translating Dutch into English for me and Roger. By the way, Tomas made up about 95% of the stuff he told us, because there’s no way clog making should be that funny. This was all before Tomas decided it would be a good idea to touch a smelly and nasty billy goat at Zaanse Schans windmills. Thus acquiring the nickname “Goat Boy”. Is it even possible for something to be smelly without being nasty? Nope? Didn’t think so.

Zaanse Schans Windmills - May 2007
Zaanse Schans - working windmills

Oh Lord, and what would an Austin GlobeTrekker blog be without me complaining about the weather? News flash… it’s colder than Christmas in The Netherlands in December. That didn’t help my probability for moving to Amsterdam. Sure, it’s better than the Texas heat; but, this is also why I don’t live in Chicago. The Winter man! the Winter! It’s just TOO cold.

Prinsengracht - Amsterdam, The Netherlands - May 2007

Self-proclaimed observation. I’m always embarrassed how few languages I know when I travel overseas. I know errrr… ONE. Pathetic I know; but, I always try to learn a few phrases. Plus, I’m a firm believer that a kind heart, friendly tone, and pleasant smile will get you quite far in a foreign land. Just watch The Amazing Race and you’ll see I’m spot on. Although, I was disturbingly surprised after asking for help to locate a cup of coffee only to be directed to a “coffee house”. Let’s just say two words and leave it at that… The Bulldog. Yeah… that wasn’t the kind of coffee I was looking for. I was thinking more like Folger’s, Starbuck’s, or a dirty NYC diner cup of joe served by a waitress named Mary Jane from West Virginia trying to get her life together in the big city. Well… “Mary Jane” was with us at The Bulldog alright. I must say though… I met some of the best people in the world that night. Three tall beautiful blonde girls from Iceland, some wicked cool girls from England, a couple of outrageously funny Scottish guys, 2 crazy ass football players from Baltimore, Maryland USA and me. Huh? Yeah, that was weird. Didn’t matter. We were living and loving life to it’s fullest! As my friend Stef recently posted on Facebook “Life is short, and it’s up to you to make it sweet” ~ Sadie Delaney. Good times. Goes down as one of the all-time greatest nights of partying. EVER.

Heinekin anyone? Amsterdam 2007
Amsterdam @ night

Before I get too boisterous about my partying prowess… It was after 3am, and I found myself being cursed by the Icelandic beauties as I threw in the towel, jumped in a cab, and told them I couldn’t go dancing with them at a local Amsterdam club. My cabbie was a kind and well-spoken gentleman from Turkey. “Where to my friend?”. And then it happened. I blanked out! All I could remember was that my hotel was on something straat. He bellowed a hearty laugh and said “My friend… ‘straat’ is like in English… errrr… the word ‘road'”. We drove around for hours in hope that I would remember the hotel name, an address, the location, something. We talked about his country of Turkey, and how he was there working to eventually bring his family over to Amsterdam. We also talked about 9/11, America, Europe, people, cultures, religions, life, everything. Sunrise, and I saw the movie theater across the street from our 2 Star hotel. The cab ride cost me 50 Euros or so for over 3 hours of drive time around the city of Amsterdam. A bargain in my book for an evening well spent, and inevitably, the night that I made the conscious decision it was time for me to return to America. More specifically, to live in Austin, Texas. 10 years later and here I am blogging about it. If you want to see a great representation of Austin, Texas and why I love this city so much, then please check out the photography of my friend Peter Tsai @SuperTsai in Austin Photo Book.

Austin Photo Book - photography by Peter Tsai

Sometimes I wonder “What IF… I had moved to Amsterdam? Or even London? What would my life have been like?”. Life isn’t made out of “What If’s”. As the great Jedi Master Yoda once said… “do or do not there is no try”. Yeah, I just referenced Star Wars. Now where was I? Oh yes. Life isn’t made of “What If’s”. For example, my childhood friend Josh (aka JR) is moving to Montana to become a fly fishing guide. That’s where JR belongs! In a river bed with a fly reel in his hands, soaking up God’s great landscape in Big Sky Country. How cool is that?

Graffiti or Art? Amsterdam 2007

It’s like my good friend Brooke (from Sweetwater, Texas).  She made the conscious decision (many years ago I might add) to move to New York City. Recently, she was here in Austin on business, and had the opportunity to combine it with a little pleasure by hanging with us – her friends. Effortless fun. As much as I’d LOVE for her to move back to Texas… she’s a New Yorker now. I’m proud of her. Happy for her. She’s exactly where she’s supposed to be. Look for an upcoming guest blog entry from Brooke on Austin GlobeTrekker soon – she’s in Iceland right now. Oh, to be a fly on the wall for THAT trip! Looking forward to hearing the adventures of the Wolfpack in Iceland. You can check out Brooke’s hysterical tales of life in New York (and beyond) on her blog  – Costly Sunglasses.

Amsterdam row house - May 2007
Amsterdam 2007. Yes... more bicycles.
Now comes the irony. May 2007. My wife(Anna) has a business trip to Amsterdam. It was during our 1st year anniversary (May 15), and she was 5 months pregnant with our first son – Cameron. I knew I could only go for 3-4 days; but, the opportunity to celebrate our anniversary together in one of my favorite cities in the world presented itself, so I was on that airplane as fast as possible. Landing at Schiphol Airport, I took the 15min train ride into Amsterdam and walked out of Centraal Station with a sense of comfort and fond memories. I walked across the street to our 4 Star lodging (Victoria Hotel) and began to tell my wife the stories of my visit in 2001.
Amsterdam, The Netherlands - May 2007

The tours of Amsterdam in 2007 were a lot different than in 2001. Sure, we checked out The Red Light District. Just one of those tourist things you have to do. But, just like Sixth Street doesn’t define Austin, Texas, neither does The Red Light District define Amsterdam. If you should find yourself heading to The Netherlands, be sure to check out Zaanse Schans for the windmills, clog museum, cheese factory, as well as touring the beautiful villages and authenticity of the Dutch Countryside. Had some of the best fish of my entire life in the fishing village of Volendam.

Drunken Sailors? Volendam, The Netherlands 2007

If you’re staying in Amsterdam, don’t be afraid to be a tourist and take a “Hop On Hop Off” canal ride around Amsterdam, witness the historical courage of Anne Frank at Anne Frank Museum, see the Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum, take in Dam Square, experience The Flower Market, and eat the best pancakes in the world at The Pancake Bakery on Prinsengracht 191. YES, I said best in the world. No joke.

Anne Frank Museum - Amsterdam 2007
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam - May 2007

And if you happen to be walking around Amsterdam on a quiet Sunday morning… make it a goal to find the Begijnhof – the only inner court in Amsterdam founded during the Middle Ages (1346). Definitely a calming and moving place. One more thing… take an afternoon or early evening stroll, and have a drink (or meal) in the really cool neighborhood of Jordaan.  Notice any similarities? Hmmm… Jordan. Jordaan. Coincidence? Me thinks not.

Begijnhof - Amsterdam 2007
Amsterdam 2007 - Begijnhof founded in 1346

As I mentioned at the beginning of the blog, I’ve spent the past week or so trying to figure out why I was in a Whitesnake video; but, it wasn’t until today, the 2nd birthday of our son Jordan, that I realized exactly why. The ever-looming answer… because that’s not where I was supposed to be. God provides the map. Use it. Or don’t. But, one way or another… you’ve got to make a decision. Right here. Right now. THIS is where I’m supposed to be. That was my decision. Austin, Texas with my wife (Anna), my boys (Cameron – 4, and Jordan – 2). You’ve just gotta find your place in this world. Literally. Mine is right here in Austin, Texas… For now. Travel well my friends! CHEERS!

watch out for that tram! Amsterdam 2007

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Feliz Navidad. Jackson Hole. Movember. Huh?


Saturday, Movember 12th at approximately 7:06am I was rudely awakened by the somewhat annoying yet joyful sound of my 4yr old singing “Feliz Navidad”. My first thought was… “WOW! my 4yr old not only speaks Spanish… he sings it too! bien hecho a mi hijo!”. My 2nd and less impressive thought… “It’s Movember 12th! Can we PLEASE get through Thanksgiving first?”. My 3rd and utterly random mind-boggling contemplation… “Who invented liquid soap and why?”.

Entrance to Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming USA

In case you’re curious… William Shepphard first patented liquid soap on August 22, 1865. In 1980, the Minnetonka Corporation introduced the first modern liquid soap called SOFT SOAP brand liquid soap. Minnetonka cornered the liquid soap market by buying up the entire supply of the plastic pumps needed for the liquid soap dispensers. In 1987, the Colgate Company acquired the liquid soap business from Minnetonka. Good God! That’s some Alex Tribec share on a first date only if you don’t want a 2nd date type Jeopardy knowledge right there folks! All nice and free from our friends at About.com.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming USA

Watching my 4yr old’s excitement as he recited Jose Feliciano in Spanglish (that’s part Spanish… part English – he’s FOUR), I came to the inevitable conclusion that like it or not… Christmas is only 6 weeks away, and will be here before we know it. Thanksgiving; however, is only 2 weeks away from us stuffing our faces with turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, and pie pie pie and more pie. Celebrated on the fourth Thursday in Movember, it’s been an annual tradition since 1863. Unless you live in Malawi, Czech Republic, Bhutan, or England. Then, it’s just Thursday, Movember 24th.

I look forward to Thanksgiving every year, because it truly is an opportunity to reflect on everything I am thankful for in my life. My wife, kids, family, friends, health (well… sorta), roof over my head, and a nice job. No, this blog is not my job. Just an opportunity to bore the 7 of you who actually read my blog to death with my MUREMindless Useless Random Entertainment.

Elk Ranch Flats - Wyoming, USA

My friends… What would an Austin GlobeTrekker blog be without me complaining about my favorite subject… the WEATHER? I know we survived an insufferable 80+ days over 100F in 2011 for one of the hottest summers EVER here in Texas; BUT… it was 82F in Austin, Texas today. I think that’s my #1 problem with preparing my mind for The Holidays. It’s hard to think of Thanksgiving, turkey, Christmas trees, mistletoe, hot chocolate by the fireplace, and Frosty the Snowman when it’s 82F outside in Movember.

cross country skiing anyone? Mount Moran - Teton Range

Where are the seasons? Northeast USA. Iceland. Switzerland. Bavarian Alps. That’s where. Not here in Texas! I think that’s why we try to take vacations to cooler locations. Because we know for a fact that we will get plenty of heat in Texas to last us for the majority of the calendar year. Plus, it’s nice to go somewhere that has seasons.

The JACKSON HOLE Project - view from Cunningham's Cabin - May 2008
Oxbow Bend - Grand Teton National Park, WY USA
Willow Flats - May 2011 - Wyoming, USA

Which leads me to today. I was listening to someone discuss the three main subatomic particles of an atom and the positions of these particles within the atom and what electric charge they carry, when I found myself drifting out of the conversation to May 2008. In reality, it was just the girl at the Starbucks asking me “whip… or no whip?”; but, she might as well have been talking Physics, because in my mind… I was in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

South Jenny Lake - Grand Teton National Park, WY USA
Jenny Lake - Grand Teton National Park, WY USA

It was already heating up in Austin, Texas. Surprise surprise, so May 11-17, 2008 my wife Anna and I decided to take a much needed vacation to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, U.S.A. We utilized the trip to celebrate our 2nd year anniversary (May 15th). Granted, we wholeheartedly thrive on visiting foreign lands, learning about the history of various places, and enjoy engulfing ourselves within different cultures; but, since we’ve traveled all over the world, we thought… Why not stay on U.S. soil and travel within our own country for once?

Buffalo Crossing! Gross Ventre Road - Jackson Hole, WY
Eagle at Oxbow Bend - Grand Teton National Park, WY
What you lookin' at Willis?
Moose on Moose Wilson Road - Grand Teton National Park
SLOW DOWN! Wildlife on Road

We honestly did not know what to expect from our trip to Wyoming; however, we read in “1,000 Places to See Before You Die” that Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park are a MUST SEE in the United States. I am happy to report that we were definitely not disappointed. Seasons my friends! SEASONS! Winter Spring Summer Fall!

Old Faithful Geyser - Yellowstone National Park, WY USA
Cascade Canyon - Grand Tetons - May 2008
Grand Teton - May 2008 - Wyoming, USA

If the great outdoors, nature, wild life, pristine clean fresh air, mountains and beautiful rivers aren’t your kinda thing… then this is NOT the place for you. Even though in mid-May, I’m not sure it was supposed to be snowing 6-12 inches of fresh snow, Wyoming was an absolute delight for us. A spectacular experience we like to call… the JACKSON HOLE project.

 

Since it’s now Movember, it’s not too difficult to think back to our time in Jackson Hole and find yourself in the Christmas spirit. What’s wrong with my spell check? Why do I keep typing Movember instead of November? Who invented liquid soap and why? What IS Movember? Allow me to jump on my soapbox. See… it all comes back to William Shepphard again!

Movember 2011 - JCooke (aka Austin GlobeTrekker) http://mobro.co/heycameron

Movember (the month formerly known as November) is a moustache growing charity event held during November each year that raises funds and awareness for men’s health in the US and around the world. With their Mo’s, these men raise vital funds and awareness for men’s health, specifically prostate cancer and other cancers that affect men. We are proud to join the battle against cancer by growing Mo’s in support of “changing the face of men’s health”. Right now, I’m rockin’ a killa MO, so… PLEASE support my crazy ass MO growin’ efforts by making a DONATION at http://mobro.co/heycameron. You can also check my progress throughout the month of Movember on the Team Hey Cameron! Mo’ Page.

Austin GlobeTrekker - Wyoming USA - May 2008

Still not convinced? Here’s some MO info. Get it? MO info. Ha! Ha! Ha! Ok, that’s enough. But seriously…

The Movember Effect: Awareness & Education, Survivorship, Research
The funds raised in the US support prostate cancer and other cancers that affect men. The funds raised are directed to programs run directly by Movember and our men’s health partners, the Prostate Cancer Foundation and LIVESTRONG, the Lance Armstrong Foundation. Together, the three channels work together to ensure that Movember funds are supporting a broad range of innovative, world-class programs in line with our strategic goals in the areas of awareness and education, survivorship and research.

For more information on the programs we are funding please visit the following:
Prostate Cancer Foundation
LIVESTRONG, The Lance Armstrong Foundation
Awareness & Education
Global Action Plan

Feliz Navidad and Happy Thanksgiving my friends! CHEERS!

Sunset @ Antelope Flats - Jackson Hole, WY USA

 TRAVEL | EXPLORE | DREAM | DISCOVER