A Day with the Monkeys

Tiny Kinda Cute

I was told of a zoo where every convict was a primate. Since then the story has grown roots in my memory and when we contemplated a trip to the Netherlands, I immediately thought of spending an afternoon with those of my order. I was probably as excited as a kid in a candy store when our last day in the Netherlands was dedicated to getting to Apenheul (Ape Hill) and perhaps taking a picture or two.

We were up and about early in the morning to get out to the train station. We picked up a couple of strippenkaarts so we could save some money on the local transportation in the country. You can use the strippenkaarts with 15 slots a peice anywhere in the country. It makes it pretty easy to plan out transit on the other end when you don't have to worry about the payment.

The return trip, on the Inter-City train, cost a total of 47€ a body, with a transfer in Amsfoort. The trip was not as long as it felt, but soon we were in the station seeking out the number three bus to take us to the Hill of Apes. We saw a building that was labeled as the Canadian Club as the bus toured us around the city, and later research shows there is a large number of Canadian veterans that have settled in Apeldoorn. We were so busy checking out the little town, that we watched as the zoo zipped past us on the bus. We ended up disembarking much past our scheduled stop. It have us a nice chance to have a nice stroll in rural Holland. We wandered past some nice comfortable homes. Before we were able to access the front gate.

After a bit of a walk through some greenspace, we came to where we were equipped with our monkey proof gear. Each guest is required to put everything in their pockets, their food and 'anything of value' into a canvas bag with a monkey proof clasp. I guess the little buggers are quite good at taking things and exchanging them with the trainers for more food. The gentleman at the gate detailed us in how we should behave because the inmates walk free within the walls. We entered their world.

We first saw some ringtails. They didn't seem to care too much about us as we walked through their land. We meandered through fuzzy red things and hair black things taking in quite an environment and some funny poses. The cutest, of course, are the little babies, and we were given quite a treat seeing the chimpanzees get fed.

We heard the drums start when we started down the path, and the chimps went wild. They ran out of their house and started gathering on the play area in front of the viewing area. They didn't clamor for space, but took up their places and waited for their food. Soon a trainer was throwing various fruits over the wall, and the mayhem started. Most of it was what one would usually see watching animals that are kept get fed, but it was cute to watch the youngest member try to get away from his mother and have a nice little snack.

During our visit to the zoo, we did get a little rain shower but we still stayed until the zoo closed. On the way out I spotted the first acorn I have ever seen in my life. With that note, we slowly rode back to Amsterdam. It was pretty late on in the evening when we got back to Ingrid's and we immediately set upon packing for the next leg in our adventure. The next day was shaping up to be a big one including travel to another country, setting up camp and watching an international rugby test.

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Red by Night

Estate

Once the sun had set, a photographic pack was assembled, and we headed out into the night of Amsterdam. As soon as we got off the train, we entertained some photography of local monuments and some abstract buildings before we wandered into the Red Light District.

The barricades that can be found guarding walkways from automobiles have a ring of red lights so there can be no mistake in where you are going. The district is a completely different animal during the night that what can be seen (and photographed) during the day. I was very careful to be a distance from anything of interest, and to never shoot directly into one of the red lined windows. There was an entourage of large men standing at a very casual attention to make sure that sort of thing didn't happen. They didn't seem to mind me shooting down the canal, and the long exposures let me indulge in some very colourful people watching.

The canal was lined with viewing windows lined in red light. Inside attractive, scantily clad women would try to grab your eye, and offer deals in fantasy. The rooms they occupied were very small, but each sported a bed and some way over covering the window once the victim was inside. We watched for a transaction to happen, and weren't disappointed. Most of the crowd were laughing tourists, ogling and mocking whatever they saw, but there were a couple people that you could tell were there for all the wrong reasons.

After we had our fill of the Red Light District we headed back to The Grasshopper to waste some time. We indulged in over priced beers and watched as the dazed patrons danced to the music. We decided that our night tour of Amsterdam was not yet complete, and we let the last Tram to Ingrid's pull away at 12:30. Once our fate was sealed in our walk home we meandered about, repeatedly waiting for the rain to stop so I could take some more photos. The perseverance in trying to get the shot was rewarded with a beautiful reflection photograph.

On the walk home, I couldn't help but notice that large canals did not have any railing on their edge. The contrast between the dense collection of bikes, and the openness of the water was hard to miss, but I did take note. Never in North America would you see a sidewalk paralleled by a meter drop into water. Like, My Lord, some idiot might fall in and sue somebody, we have to think of the safety of the public, we have to be: scared. We discussed the contrast in mindsets as we continued our walk. In Amsterdam it is more of a personal responsibility that you don't put yourself in harm's way. People need to ensure that they don't walk under people hoisting stuff into a building from the street, or walk into lengths of unprotected canal. One feels that there is less lawsuits over hot coffee, lost pants and confusing people into what's healthy. It's refreshing to know that there is a place on earth where sanity still reigns. We bantered on about such things until we returned to our little dry spot in Amsterdam some time after three in the morning.

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First Full Day in Europe

So Many Bikes

Morning came a lot quicker than I felt it should have. As soon as we were jostled from our sleep, I found that one of my eyes had a problem staying open. It knew the body should still be unconscious despite what my brain was telling it. I grabbed up my shaving kit, and went into the shower to wash off. The tiny stall didn't take that much getting used to, but a squeegee upon completion was required to ensure that others using the toilet wouldn't track water all over the apartment. I pried open my bag and retired my smelly clothes and started pulling out a fresh set.

It was at this point I realized I forgot to pack any pants. I remember pulling them out, and folding them into a pile. I also remember taking them and placing them in the pile of stuff I was going to stuff into my pack, but I can't remember the critical part of actually putting them inside the bag. It was little comfort that sitting on the bed back in Calgary were a couple pairs of pants and a pair of shorts. Plans were altered so that the shopping we planned to do would happen first thing after breakfast.

We sat to a breakfast of croissants with nice old cheese followed by a casual coffee. As soon as we were fed, we took the Tram to the Central Station, and had a bit of a walk about. We saw several small shops and bars, as well as a small market. Ingrid explained to us that a lot of pubs and cafes in Amsterdam have a resident cat that lives in the establishment. It was one of the small things that was pointed out to us, that you notice much more once you've been made aware. All sorts of small trivia was revealed to us. We discovered that blue license plates are only found on taxis, not that we needed the ability to find them, they cost 37€ per kilometer. We were also told that every building in Amsterdam has a gable with a hook on it over the tallest window. Since the hallways and stairways are so narrow, the only way one can moved into their apartment is to use a pulley on the hook and hoist everything up the front of the house.

We wandered about the red light district, and saw a sliver of how liberal Amsterdam is. We then looped back and caught a Canal tour where, for over an hour, we were exposed to some narrow canals and many of the sights. The expansive canal network as well as the narrow bridges and thick canal locks made me realize that the city had it's roots in defense. It would be very hard to invade a place like Amsterdam from either land or sea, and a few men could defend it against a much larger force.

After touring about for a while, I realized that living in Calgary has messed up my sense of scale on city maps. Amsterdam is a dense city, and you can cover a good deal of it quickly on foot. We worked our way into a shopping district so I could get some new jeans, which didn't take me very long at all. We had a nice meal at a pizzeria, and on our way back to the apartment we came across a casino. The place was quite a contrast to a North American casino, I would almost call it an arcade. There was no smoking, drinking or live dealers. The entire place was all electronic machines from the poker tables to the roulette tables. I couldn't even begin to fathom how much money you would make if you didn't need to hire any staff.

Back at Ingrid's apartment we planned out the next few days, being sure to include night photographic adventures, catching up with relatives, sight seeing and a visit to the zoo. Some plans were also made to allow me to purchase a second pair of European pants.

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The Very Beginning

Airports Suck

The day had finally arrived, and it was time to embark across the ocean and start a two week vacation in Europe. Mike was kind enough to drive us to the airport, at a time we thought would be early enough. We arrived, confronted with the longest line in which I've stood in quite some time. Not that it mattered, as everyone got the same, designed by a midget with no arms, seat that Air Transat is known for, and given the chance to do it over again, I'd pay the extra money to ride on something where I can make it 30 minutes without being rammed by a cart.

The line was processed rather quickly, and surprisingly there were no problems at security. Once we were clear we searched for some hot food, but had to settle for some convenience sandwiches, and a cold pint before we boarded the plane.

I managed to sleep through most of the three movies and food services, but it was definitely a tight flight in the middle seat. Most of the flight my faced pressed into the seat in front of me, as there was no way my broad shoulders were going to share the back rests with the other two gentlemen. We had a non-verbal agreement, every once in a while I would lean back and they would both slump forward for a while. We all knew that there was nothing any one of us could do about our situation, but work together to make it as comfortable as possible. Everyone on the plane clapped when the pilot brought us down onto the tarmac. I wasn't sure why, as I'm pretty sure landing the plane is in his job description, but perhaps he did an exceptionally good job while I was sleeping. As soon as we had our luggage and were through passport control, Sonja's aunt Ingrid was there to pick us up.

We stopped at a lounge and picked up a couple of Heinekens. Time between beers: 10 hours 52 minutes and 51 seconds. We were told that a proper Dutch beer has two fingers of head, and if the beer is given to you without the required head, you can return it for a fresh one.

We jumped from train to tram and ended up at Ingrid's apartment just off of Waalstraat (Wall Street) on Ijselstraat. Her 'typical' Amsterdam apartment was a tight 47 meters square (just a smidgen over 500), with the balcony included in that space. There definitely isn't a lot of junk in that size of a space. The stove doubles as a countertop and shelf, the fridge is a typical size to find under a Canadian bar, a single sink in the whole apartment and a toilet stall that doubles as a shower stall all worked together to get all the needs into the small space. Pendo was a bit wary of us, not that it mattered, all we really wanted was a shower and a bed. Afterall, tomorrow we were exploring Amsterdam

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Sooner Than I Think

RWC1

Sonja and I have been planning a trip to Europe for some time, and things are really coming together. A while ago we received our train passes, and we've tested the camping gear. Just recently, the whole idea of the trip hit home, and became grounded when our Rugby World Cup tickets showed up.

The RWC has been the anchor behind the trip from it's inception. I wanted to go four years ago, but never pulled it together, and this time it's going to be different. I didn't cough up the dough to see a tier 1 match, although I did sacrifice enough to get in two matches while I'm overseas.

I knew I needed to see our boys in action; though, they are by no means rugby powerhouses. Give the choice of seeing them loose to Australia (0-5), Wales (1-7) or Fiji (2-5), I figured I'd take in the battle against Japan (8-9). Fiji will also be a good game, and we may steal it from them, but it was on the wrong side of the Chunnel to fit into our schedule. The second game in our lineup is between Italy and Portugal, and we chose it through a combination of cheapness and timing.

I'm starting to realize that it's only two weeks away until we leave. I'm sure the long weekend, a meeting of the photographic society, a couple of dinner meet-up and catch-up will make the time remaining zip.

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