Here Comes Santa Claus/St. NicholasAfter breakfast we were going to take a tram to the Central Station and take the number twenty tram, which is a circle line. It makes a circle around the city and goes through other parts then the center of town. This would give us an overview of what the rest of the city looks like and then we could decide which museum to go to after that. We walked to the tram stop, which is in Rembrandtplein, a short walk from our hotel. We were standing there waiting for the tram for about ten minutes and none were to be seen of any route. There were people waiting at the tram stop across the street, so we did not have a clue what was happening. There an older gentleman stopped and asked if we were waiting for the tram. When we said we were, he said the trams were not running because St. Nicholas’s parade was today and the routes were blocked. This being a treat we did not expect, Ron went back for his video camera and we went down to the parade route. By noon, it had not started yet, so we continued to walk and watch the kids and families as they gathered along the barriers to see St. Nick. When we stopped, it was because of a few people pointing to a department store where three people in costumes and black face make-up were starting to climb down the side of the building. We did not know if this was a prank, a stunt, or part of the show. When they reached the bottom, they were within another barricade and children were deluging them for some reason. We walked farther down until we heard music start and decided we had better stay put or there will not be a clear view for pictures. I have to say that I have been to some really strange parades before, but this one really hits the highly unusual scale in a big way. Considering this was a Christmas parade, we are not sure of the significance of all of the groups that marched. Some could be attributed to cultural differences, but what does fifty people in cricket outfits have to do with anything? I have read Christmas customs from around the world and what I saw did not fit much of what I have read for Holland. Another group of marchers had bright colorful costumes on and on their heads, they had wigs that looked like four foot high cotton candy cones. Then the Alice in Wonderland group were dressed as huge playing cards and carrying staffs that were crowned with the corresponding symbol of their suit: hearts, diamonds, spades and clubs. What really threw us off from the very beginning, were the black-faced people who scaled the wall. They were then joined by hundreds of similarly dressed black-faced people who were running up and down the street throughout the parade. Even the people who looked like they may be of color were also black-faced, so that everyone looked identically black. Their costumes were different collars, but all identical otherwise. Each had one gold hoop earring, black gloves, black stockings, and an outfit that looked like a courtier of the middle ages. Each one of these people had bags of burlap filled with tiny cookies and candies. I noticed that many of the children had bags with them; some of them were plain and others had a Christmas theme. These black-faced people would go around and give a handful of cookies and candy to the children. The children kept calling out Pete, Pete and we were not sure if we were hearing them correctly or not. When a child caught the attention of one of these people, they would come over with yet more cookies and candy, like a Christmas Trick or Treat adventure. One of the floats was a large cannon with six black-faced people and lots of comedic behaviors, but at one point they filled the cannon with string confetti and small bags of something. Then they aimed the cannon at the crowd this way and that until they finally fired it and the children scrambled for the bags of goodies.Finally, St. Nicholas, who was a Bishop in Spain, made his appearance riding on a white horse. He was dressed in the red robes and mitre of a bishop and carrying a crosier. Of course the children went wild. A couple of children were chosen to ride with him for a few steps along the way and I was grateful to see that they were children of color. As his appearance was the end of the parade, an older woman standing next to me and with her family said something to me in Dutch. I responded with the sad fact that I could not understand her. Her daughter or daughter-in-law then asked if we understood who that was. She went on to explain that in Holland, the children do not have Santa Claus, but St. Nicholas. St. Nicholas was from a very rich family in Spain. When he became bishop, he decided to give all of his worldly possessions to the poor. He had a helper who we gathered was probably Moorish, thus black whose name was Peter. What Dutch children believe is that on St. Nicholas’s birthday, December 6th, St. Nicholas rides his white horse from roof top to roof top and his helper Black Pete carries his back down chimneys and places candies and other little goodies in the shoes of children who have set them out the night before. I asked her if Pete was similar to an elf and she emphatically said that he was a real person. This explained the black-faced people running around and why we see renditions of him in store and shop windows where there are Christmas sales starting.The streets are decorated for Christmas with lights similar to those seen in the States. They are strung from one side of a building across the street to the other side. The one difference here is that the canal bridges are also outlined in white lights. It is an impressive sight to stand on some streets and see bridge after bridge lit up in a row down a canal.From the joys of the Christmas season, I took Ron to the Sex Museum. Amsterdam has two, but this is the only one that I have visited before. If you are thinking that this is some sleazy place of degradation, you are far from correct. The museum shows all of the sexual artifacts that have been created and used from ancient history to the current. In addition, it also discusses sex symbolic people such as Marilyn Monroe and Rudolf Valentino. When I was teaching Human Sexual Behavior in the junior college for those twelve years, this was a great place to gather new information to make presentations more lively, now it was just an opportunity to expand Ron’s horizons. Since it is three complete floors and a couple of little mezzanines, it took us over two hours to go through thoroughly.Deciding on an early dinner, we had seen a Chinese restaurant called ‘The Culture of China’ that had an all you can eat in an hour buffet along with dim sum. We decided to try it out; the price was more than reasonable. All of the food had a very pleasant texture and even the sweet and sour pork was tender. Ron said that everything was delicious and full of flavor, however, the prize for the best Chinese food he has eaten still rests with the restaurant that Jean took us to in Manchester. It only took me twenty minutes to be filled, so they probably made a bit of money on me. Long before the hour was over, we were both finished and ready to go.Later that evening, we went to EasyEverything Internet café. You may remember me discussing this business while in London. I would love to own stock in this company, if Santa is listening. They are in fourteen cities and in many cities they have multiple locations. Each one has over two hundred computer monitors, keyboards, mouse and most with telephones. There is no hard drive, so you are not able to save work to a disk, upload or download information such as these chapters, but you can surf the net at a very cheap rate. Each location has a set fee, here it is 2.50 florins and the amount of time you get varies during the day. It depends on the time of day and the number of people using the facility at the time. The idea is brilliant. Most of the time you get over an hour of Internet time. The telephones are only the phone handles and are there for those who wish to make Internet calls or very cheap long distance calls. This is a great place for us to check out e-mail and respond to it, surf the web, and other utilitarian functions, but I am still dependent on Internet cafés that have a hard drive in order to send this out.Having completed that we decided to see if my other favorite bar still existed. It was in a different part of town and if this one no longer existed, I would be in major grief mode. These two bars were my favorite alternatives to the overwhelming cultural events that I partook of during the day on previous trips. The bar was alive and kicking. Really kicking, it was crowded and seating is at a minimum due to the limited space. After one beer, Ron was ready to move on to find somewhere else where we could sit and was not as noisy. One of the other bars that was on the same street was no longer there either. It was not one of my frequent hangouts, so I was not that disappointed. We found another bar that looked comfortable from the outside. Inside it was like a meeting place for octogenarians. This was quieter for sure, playing Dutch crooner music and soft American rock from the seventies. The bartender asked where we were from and was very friendly. I had asked him about the first bar we could not find and he said the owner had passed away, so it closed. The other one just went out of business. Though the bartender was sociable, the bar was not inspiring and will not become one of my new favorites.Well as promised, here are the semi-finalists in order of receiving them, except for the last one for obvious reasons, for the ‘Name Ryan’s Computer Contest’.Most are self explanatory, but one name came with such a lengthy and humorous explanation as to why it was a good name, I am including it at the end of the list. Please vote for two names and e-mail them to me within the next week for a prize from Amsterdam.Bambino – Since I carry it on my back all of the time.Papoose – Same reasonRovin’ Roger – To maintain the R theme of Ryan and RonDr. Feelgood – Since I have a doctorate and using my computer makes me feel good.Wilson – The name Tom Hanks gave his volleyball in the survivor movieFarmer and the Dell – Ron the farmer will be doing the novenaGet the Dell out of here – Cute play on wordsDell-icious – Ryan’s delicious writings come from it.Dell-irious – Ryan would be delirious without his computerLucky – See belowTop 10 Reasons why you should pick the name “LUCKY”. [drum roll please……..]#10 After all, this 2nd contest idea was born on the Lucky Leprechaun soil of the Emerald Isle;#9 Lucky Dell Intel is a perfect name.#8 It is Lucky that you have Lucky [e.g. travel arrangements, writing, banking sanity].#7 Plus, one always needs a Lucky Lady around.#6 Lucky is loyal and will never go out on Strike – unless you have no internet connection.#5 You always want Lucky by your side when you’ve got indoor travel days, sad travel days or just plain lazy travel days – GO to Lucky.#4 As Captain and Tenele use to sing, “Luck[y] . . . Luck[y] will keep us together” even though we are a million miles away. Lucky does keep you in-touch with friends and connected to the world.#3 Luck O’ The Irish is what you and Ron always have when it comes to traveling, why not keep it with you everywhere you go.#2 Lucky is a timeless name for “Man’s Best Friend” and since you can not have a pet when you are homeless, Lucky is your best friend.#1 When late for a train and your arms are filled with overstuffed luggage but no Lucky, you can always yell out to Ron, “Hey, you wanna get Lucky?” [punn intended!]I LOVE LUCKY.Send in two names, which means you could very well vote for your own if you don’t see two others you like better.Late breaking news: We went out at 9:00 pm to send this off and went from Internet café to Internet café because we could not remember where the café was that we were at the first day. There are so many little alleys with shops and stores with names that have forty letters in them and we did not pay enough attention. There are dozens of Internet café signs, but what we found was that many no longer have the service while others have outdated MACs and not PCs. We finally found the Betty Boop Internet Café where a drink was required in order to use the computer. I ordered a tea and set off upstairs begin e-mailing this segment. Then I realized that the computer did not have MS Word on it, the program that I use to type this. I need Word in order to open the file to transfer it to Yahoo to mail it. Thinking it may be on the computer, but without an icon, I checked My Computer to see if it was hiding under Program Files. Nada! Then I thought maybe, just maybe I could use WordPad to pull it up. Nope, WordPad would not recognize my disk. I tried another computer with the same results. When I asked the guy running the place, he had no idea what programs were on what computer, put said if I couldn’t find it, then surely he couldn’t either. He said he would talk to their systems person about acquiring it, but that did not help me tonight. Continuing on our crusade, we went to another café. They only had one computer with Word on it and someone was on it and another person was waiting for it. The guy on it was playing Chess, so I knew this was hopeless for tonight. When we finally found the café that we had been in the first day, it turns out that the only computer they have with Word on it is not working. This was terribly frustrating and I would have rethought getting the DSL line for our room, but afterward it dawned on me that my computer doesn’t have a DSL modem, therefore there is no where to plug in the DSL cable that have, so that is not the answer either.It is difficult to believe that a country as socially progressive as Holland is so behind the times technologically. The other problem I have had is finding a photo shop that can develop my film onto CD Rom. None of them here have the capability and the one that can do it has to send it out and it takes two weeks. In England, Scotland, and Ireland I was able to get it done in one to twenty-four hours for a less expensive cost than in the U.S. One of the people in a photo shop told me that there is not the demand here yet since not enough people have the equipment. This makes the purchase of a digital camera seem like a necessity. If they can’t do these things here, what less will we find in Hungary, Croatia, or Slovakia?Speaking of photos, I did add three more rolls of forty to the web album. To see them, go to: http://www.photopoint.com/ In the “Visit a Friend’s Album” you need to enter my other e-mail address: email@example.com The specific album for this trip is called ‘A Year in the Life’. To see the pictures clearer, when you find a picture you like, click on it and it will enlarge.