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