Boston Birthday and more

Shirleyfest has three human components…enjoying visits from family and friends, engaging with new people I meet in my host city, and my solo time. I have lots of fun stories and photos from those first two categories, but first let me comment on the last.

A solo walk at daybreak across the Longfellow bridge allows me time for contemplation and reflection. Shirleyfest allows me the luxury of getting away from my home, to do list, and familiar surroundings to think about what is important to me. It allows me to have intimate moments with my own mind. I am challenged to figure out many new things, overcome obstacles and let my curiosity take me down many paths. All of this leads to personal transformation and growth. I am never the same person when I leave a city that I am when I open that door to my apartment. I learn lessons and I learn new things about myself.

A solo walk around MIT. Adding another chapter to my Tao of Shirleyfest

After Vermont, I was blessed with many friends and family coming to Boston to help me celebrate my birthday. Fortunately there is a very nice hotel, Liberty Hotel, a few minutes walk away and my visitors all chose that destination to stay ( it is a former prison so I don’t know what that says about my friends and family?) My friend Andy arrives and we take to the Charles River for some kayaking

We venture into a part of the river I had missed before— the Charles River Locks.

Now that we have the hang of being on the water, the next day we take the fast ferry to Provincetown.

A 90 minute ferry from Boston straight to the heart of P-town.

After a very nice lunch at Fanzini’s we stroll around the town which is charming. We ferry back and tonight have dinner at Mamma Maria in North Beach. Andy has to work the next day so I enjoy meeting a new neighbor, Mike, for lunch at Harvest in Cambridge.

That night my brother John, sister in law Virginia and sister MJ come into town and we all go to Wood Hill Pier 4 for a meal sourced from their large farm. It is a full moon out and life seems just right sitting outside with people I love.

Andy leaves but the rest of us walk all over Boston the next day. We see a group of ladies dressed in white at Boston Commons. Turns out to be a demonstration against Massachusetts law that has no age requirement for marriage.

We walk through so many neighborhoods today. Louisburg Square, North End, Charlestown. Laughter bounds.

Tonight my friends Dan and Sharon join us and we head to Petit Robert Bistro. It starts with a toast of pink champagne.

The evening was hilarious and the restaurant got into the fun…. sending us complimentary champagne and desserts. I think everyone could tell how happy we were.

Laura and Mallory arrive the next day fresh from Cape Cod.

Oh yes today is my birthday! We open gifts and have lunch at Tatte nearby before exploring the shops on Charles Street. That evening my friends Kent and Belinda join us all at 75 Chestnut where I have the best birthday dinner dinner a girl could want. Brother John got the entire restaurant to sing me happy birthday!


So it is a done deal, I’m officially a year older.

More exploring the next day and of course more eating. Tonight the gang walks to Legal Seafood on Long Wharf. The walk there is highlighted by a beautiful sunset.

That night we hang out under the moonlight and have after-dinner drinks at their hotel. Everyone but Sharon and Dan is leaving in the morning and it has been such fun having my gang here to celebrate with me.

Dan, Sharon and I first go out to the Kennedy Presidential Library. I have only been to one other of the 14 Presidential Libraries—LBJ’s in Austin. This one is beautiful and well done.

I am surprised by this map. are you?

Later we head to Cambridge to have dinner at little Donkey, a Spanish tapa style restaurant. We all love it. Then off to the Loeb Theatre to see Chasing Magic. It felt so odd to be back in the theatre. We had to show proof of vaccination and wear masks but it was worth it to finally see live theatre again.

Dan and Sharon leave for Charleston, SC and I have a solo day where first I go to Third Cliff Bakery owned by Meg, the wife of a friend of ours. Delicious!

Then I go to mass at the Cathedral.

A beautiful place and a great homily. The priest tells the story of a boy who is sitting in a low stool looking up at his mother embroidering and sees the underside of what she is working on. He is puzzled because it looks like lots of loose threads and knots, with no rhyme or reason. She then lifts him up to look at the work from the top down and he sees a beautiful orderly design and pattern. That story speaks to me in many ways.

The next day I take the train to Kingston, RI to visit my friend George. I am wowed by Rhode Island’s beauty. We have a fabulous lunch at George’s friend Nancy’s home.

Nancy shows me around her lovingly decorated 1776 home and gardens. George and I hang out at Witch Hill beach with his new dog, Gracie.

George takes me back to the train station for an easy hour ride back to Boston

So much has transpired this week! I’m back in my cozy place with these colorful dahlias from Nancy’s Rhode Island garden to remind me of all the beauty in the world.

Thanks for reading along!


A Boston State of Mind

If I told you I am on the oldest ship in the world still afloat would you know where I am? Hint: its nickname is Old Ironsides.

That’s right, the USS Constitution. Naval crew still serve aboard her. She is one of the six ships constructed after the United States gained independence from the British. Her greatest glory came in the war of 1812 where time after time she defeated the British and earned the nickname Old Ironsides because cannon fire from enemy ships seemed not to be able to penetrate her strong oak hull.

It is an easy walk through the North End to get here. I am surprised how touched I am to see the crew quarters, guns and facilities on the top and also the decks below. My Dad was a gunner in the Navy in WWII and I feel his presence as I walk around the ship and talk to the uniformed crew.

There are great views of Boston from here as well.

After leaving I take a detour to the Mapperium. This is a three story tall inside out stained glass globe that is bisected in the middle by a glass walkway. Once on the walkway I am inside the globe and it is fascinating to see the earth from this perspective. The Mapperium has not changed since 1935 so you can see Siam and a large USSR.

I head back as I am taking the train out to Lynnfield to meet Francie and Bill, long time friends of my neighbor Gale in California. I take the T as far as I can and then buy a ticket on the railroad for the remainder of the trip. I am so excited to see my new friend’s 1720 home. I am greeted by a quartet of wild turkeys on their property.

They have lovingly restored every inch of this gorgeous home and graciously give me both a lovely glass of Sancerre and a house tour. Afterwards we have a beautiful dinner before they drive me back to Boston

Today my friends, Vince and Jim, are arriving from Connecticut for an early birthday celebration, but first I meet Eileen, a friend of my California friend Lila, for a coffee at Tatte. She is so nice and we end up walking over to Louisburg square so she can show me the “purple” window panes on the oldest houses.

Jim and Vince come over from the Liberty Hotel and we go to two rooftop bars before finally deciding on drinks at Wood Hill Pier 4 .

Now we walk along the new dry dock section of the seaport to the wildly popular restaurant Chickadee. We basically order everything on the menu because we can’t decide…and it is all wonderful!

Champagne all round ends a fabulous evening with great friends.

And in case any of you missed it, you can copy this link into your browser to see my inept opening of that champagne

The next day my friends leave and I decide to go out to the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard, a 281 acre preserve in the heart of Boston. I am truly amazed at the scope of this beautiful place and walk for miles through the paths.

I even come across the set up for a marriage proposal.

All this walking makes me very hungry so I walk into the Jamaica Plain neighborhood to find El Oriental de Cuba reported to have the best Cubano sandwich in the entire city. Oh yes!

I meander home in a food coma but interestingly I am able to go out later to my local Bin 26 Enoteca. I intend to eat outside, but a car accident on the street makes it too crazy to do that so I move inside. I meet a great bartender, Ross and we discuss art and travel and , well given the accident out front, just how bad the drivers are in this area.

I better go home now as tomorrow I leave for Woodstock, Vermont. I’ll be posting about that soon. Hope you can join me on that trip!


Copenhagen: a sensory experience

It isn’t a Shirleyfest, but why not do a summary of one of the coolest cities in the world? Copenhagen tickled all my senses more easily than any city I’ve visited. Sights, sounds, smells, touch and taste…..oh my goodness…taste! It is also the happiest….Except for Wednesday night when at midnight Denmark lost in overtime to England in the UEFA EURO semi- finals. More on that later.

Saturday July 3, 2021

I leave on Friday and arrive Saturday via a 10 hour nonstop flight from SFO on SAS. Because I made my reservation so late, I can only get premium economy, but SAS lets you “bid” for an upgrade and fortunately they take my bid. Lie flat beds make the trip go fast and easy! Arriving in the morning, I quickly hop on the train below the airport into the city center and walk the few blocks from the central station to my beautiful design hotel, Nobis Copenhagen.

Nobis Hotel Copenhagen

At 7:30 am I know my room will not be ready, but DeJon at the front desk stores my luggage and I go off to explore Copenhagen. First stop- Sct. Peder’s Bageri where I get my first of what will be many delicious pastries. This one was a Kanel gnurrer.

There I meet a lovely family and we talked for an hour. The 5 year old, Oliver, teaches me the cheer I need for this soccer week-“ I am red,I am white, I am Denmark dynamite.” Over to the beautiful Nyhavn ( new harbor) where I decide to take one of the boat cruises around the Baltic Sea and the canals. So glad I do! I learn a lot and enjoy seeing Copenhagen from that perspective.


Now I get a text from the hotel that my room is ready. Again—it’s a design hotel so naturally my room is stylish! Later in the afternoon the front desk sends up a glass of wine.

Nobis Hotel Room
a nice gesture from the hotel

I get ready for my first dinner in Copenhagen. Fishmarket. Lovely local fish with peas and vegetables and I get to hear the roar of the crowd as Denmark beats Czech in the quarterfinals.


Home for a good night’s rest.My Apple Watch informs me I have walked 8.5 miles today after getting off my overnight flight.

Sunday, July 4, 2021

I see online that there is a 10:00 am walking tour starting at the Radhuspladsen ( Town Hall Square) so off I go. Our guide, Stuart, is an older gentleman married to a Dane. Our little group of 5 enjoy a wonderful walk around many of the famous sites, including the old and new palaces, stock exchange, parliament and the court house. Two of the people with me on the walking tour are from Salzburg and afterward we decide to go see the famous little mermaid statue together and we have a lovely time walking a bit more around town.

Little Mermaid

Leaving them, I want to try Cafe Ateiler September for lunch. I pick the special salad. Does not disappoint. The crowd in here is as cool as it gets too.

Cafe Ateiler September farmer salad
Cafe Ateiler September

Now I’m off to find the outdoor market, Torvehallerne. It is a bit like a small Naschmarket in Vienna. Beautifully curated produce and even more beautiful small restaurants on the fringe.

Torvehallerne Market
Market produce

But I read about a brew pub in the New York Times and I want to find it . Success! Brus. So many beers on tap. I choose. I drink.

Brus brewery

My friend is arriving tonight from Amsterdam, so I head back. Joining him at dinner at our hotel— great food and great design…and great wine. Then we set off around 11 pm to walk across the bridge and later around Tivoli— a very old amusement park that was the inspiration for Disneyland.

Tivoli Amusement Park

We realize it is the 4th of July and snap this picture to commemorate the occasion.Apple Watch says I walked 12.6 miles today.


Monday July 5, 2021

We plot out a super fun day starting with renting bikes to bike to the spiral Church of Our Savoir. We use the bike app Bycyklen which I had downloaded and added minutes to before I left home. Later we learn from a local that a preferable bike company is Donkey Republic. Smooth biking across the water. We climb and climb and one of us even squeezed up to that last bit. Great views of Copenhagen.

My rented bike
Church of Our Savoir
What a Climb!

Time to get our groove on. We hang out in Christiania, a 70’s style hippie commune. Nick drank the coffee and I just breathed in the aroma from all the people passing by.


We check out the opera house on our way to lunch at La Banchina, a combo swimming hole, organic wine bar, gourmet seafood restaurant. On the way we pass the site of Noma, the famous restaurant I’m heading to on Saturday.

Opera House
Swimming platform at La Banchina
Lunch at La Banchina
Passed by Noma on our walk

That night we head to Copenhagen’s meat packing district and dine at Pate Pate. 5 courses, lots of delicious wine and a stroll thru the beautiful Copenhagen night finishes off a glorious day. Walked 9.1 miles

Pate Pate

Tuesday July 6, 2021

Sadly my friend has to leave early. I decide to go over to Malmö, Sweden. I head to the train station and work out a very reasonable $35 round trip ticket across the famous Odense bridge/tunnel. It only took 35/minutes and now I’m in Sweden. A lovely lady at the info booth gives me a map and I head off. It’s a charming town with a cute old town where I have some street food for lunch. Then I head to the castle and the surrounding park.

Malmö, Sweden

The Turning Torso beckons me so I take the long walk there. Amazing architecture! I stop for a drink at the beach and then walk along the harbor.

Turning Torso

Back on the train I’m in Denmark again before dinner time. Actually time to go to the Glyptotek museum which is right next door to the Nobis. This is an old villa with an art collection built around the personal collection of Carl Jacobsen, the founder of Carlsberg Breweries. This may be one of my favorite museums ever.

Glypotek Museum

A food blog I read insist the pizza at Pizzeria la Fiorita is the best neighborhood place in Copenhagen. I walk out only to return for an umbrella as it is pouring. It is actually a nice walk in the warm rain. The place is hopping with locals getting pizza after pizza. The owner comes to talk to me in Italian where I’m understanding about every other word. It is delicious!

Pizzeria La Fiorita

A walk back thru the Kings garden, the new harbor and the winding streets. Walking 13.2 miles

King’s Garden

Wednesday July 7, 2021

It is game day! You cannot find anyone not decked out in red and white. I want to try the metro today. The Metro here is pristine. NYC take note.

Clean metro!

Also I heard of a bakery in the northern borough so I get a day ticket and head up really early. The famous bakery, Juno the Bakery, is closed for July break but since I am in Copenhagen there is always another bakery. I stop for the next “ I’ve lost count how many ” danishes at Bosses Bageri and a coffee at Cafe Efternolern.

Coffee shops everywhere!

I’m refreshed enough to go shopping on the longest shopping street in Europe, Strøget. I hit a couple of shops( and they hit my wallet) but it was so fun. Now I have a reservation for lunch at the Michelin guide restaurant Sankt Annæ. Oh my. They have been serving lunch only for over 180 years in the same location. I choose the most Danish lunch I can find on the menu: smoked salmon from FARO and creamed spinach. It comes with this Danish salted butter. Oh my again. I pair it with a crisp Sancerre wine and am enjoying a long lunch chatting with the friendly waiters and other patrons. I finish with a chocolate nut cake with raspberry and mango coulis. The waiter insist on bringing me one perfect Danish strawberry to try as well.

Sankt Annæ
FARO salmon
Happy me with a glass of Sancere
Chocolate Nut Cake
One perfect strawberry

I’m so full, so I decide to get on my bike and bike the half hour to the cemetery where Hans Christian Anderson is buried. My one and only bike mishap happens on this ride. I signal the American way that I am turning right. I collide with a biker behind me also turning right. Many many curse words later— by him not me— I come to understand that a right turn is signaled not with the left elbow bent up but with the right arm outstretched. We are all fine and I continue my ride. Beautiful peaceful oasis and people strolling like it’s a park. I bike home and get ready to go out for the big celebration.

Basically I just walk and observe. Happy people everywhere!

Semi final game is tonight against England

Noise and partying. I have a reservation at Popl a hamburger place started by a NOMA alum. Quite a treat especially paired with a Riesling.

Popl burger made with cattle that graze freely in the Wadden Sea National Park

I wander and wander among the crowd enjoying the festivity and getting a beer here and there with the joyful celebrants.


With the game tied 1-1 at 11 pm and going into overtime I head back.The streets are deserted as everyone is celebrating together.

Where is everyone?

I am just in my room when at midnight I hear the eerie quiet. Denmark has lost! Walking 12.3 miles today

Thursday July 8, 2021

I switch hotels today from the Nobis to the Sanders, as my fabulous friends who have been the catalyst for making this trip are arriving today and that is where they are staying. I say goodbye to the wonderful staff at the Nobis: Dora, Ishara, DeJon, Alexander and Diane. Arriving at the Sanders I find Asteroula at the front desk has upgraded me to a beautiful room and that the staff here are equally attentive and lovely.

Sanders bedroom

When my friends arrive we head to the Apollo Bar for a snack and to see the art exhibit showing there.

Arch at the Apollo Bar

Tonight we are dining at Joudnær, a Michelin two star restaurant owned by Eric Vildgaard and his wife Tina. The story of how Chef Eric went from gang enforcer to acclaimed chef has the makings of a dramatic movie. I urge you to read about his inspirational story. The end of the story is the love of his wife and the love of cooking brought this amazing restaurant to life and to us.

Chef Eric

It is an breathtaking 19 course dinner with the service as well choreographed as any ballet. The name of the restaurant translates to “down to earth” and it is a vegetable/seafood forward menu. I’ll let the dishes speak for themselves. After dinner we tour the kitchen which is as delightful as any dessert. Walking 11.7 miles today


Friday July 9, 2021

Great breakfast at the Sanders made even better by the delightful David in the cafe. Today we stroll down the shopping street stopping into the big Illum department store. An employee explains a process whereby they remove the moisture from fresh flowers and replace it with a preserving serum. She then arranges the flowers and the bouquets will last for years.

Onward we go to the meatpacking district where we see more art galleries before walking home to get ready for our dinner at Bæst in the inner Nørrebro area of Copenhagen. This is Christian Puglisi’s Italian restaurant where all the ingredients are grown or raised on his organic farm.

Two pizzas and many yummy other courses later we taxi back. Walking 10.7 miles


Today we go to the Louisiana Museum. The name derives from the first owner of the property , Alexander Brun, who named the villa after his three wives, all called Louise. The museum is 22 miles north of Copenhagen and is the most visited art museum in Denmark. The exhibits which impress me are one called Mor! ( Mother), a video work by Arthur Jafa entitled Love is the Message, the Message is Death and one of paintings by a Swedish artist, Mamma Andersson. The Jafa video contrasts the fame and status of black athletes and musicians with the treatment of the African American population in general. The place itself is quite impressive and there is art installed all over the grounds outside.

We decide to try to take the train home. We had many problems getting the ticket machine to work and when the train arrives we just hop on hoping to buy thru the app on our phone before the conductor arrives. With seconds to spare, we achieve success with the app and therefore incur no fines or jail time for violating the train rules. Good thing we are not in jail because tonight is Noma.

Noma is of course one of the most acclaimed restaurants in the world. The chef Rene Redzepi has created a gastronomic mecca of Nordic cuisine. The new location is on a large plot of land with greenhouses and herb gardens. Every detail of the many buildings on the property and the open kitchen has been meticulously planned. We have 17 courses each one as beautiful as a painting. Again I will let the pictures speak for the experience. We tour the kitchen of Noma and learn about the concept and the inner workings of this awe inspiring place.

Noma menu
Chef Rene Redzepi
Cardamon Candles–walnut wicks and caramels to eat after flame goes out

We choose to walk home with the Copenhagen sky doing a private show for us. Walking 9.1 miles

Walk home from Noma


I am sad to leave Copenhagen this morning, but my flight is at noon so one last breakfast and I say goodbye until the next time. In my week here I’ve walked the equivalent of 3 marathons and enjoyed becoming a part of the biking public . In summary? Copenhagen…..gorgeous canals leading out to the sea, an extraordinary food scene, awe inspiring art, cobblestone streets filled with cafes and wine bars, and the nicest population of anywhere I’ve traveled.

Planning a Solo Adventure

Traveling alone has a lot of perks, from meeting new people to changing your mind on a whim.

I just completed a week long workshop at Rancho la Puerta called Transitions, Transformations and Travel. All the sessions were well attended and enjoyable. I promised the attendees I would post on my site a brief article I wrote for Via magazine on traveling solo. Enjoy!

By Shirley Buccieri 


Would you like to go on a trip with someone you know intimately, do exactly what you want to do, whenever you want to do it, and never once have to share your dessert?   Then get on board with one of the hottest trends in  the travel industry–Traveling Solo.  The changing demographics of American households, the frustration of trying to mesh friends and partners’ work schedules and interests, and even the popularity of the book and movie Eat, Pray Love mean more and more people are hitting the road alone. For many people, traveling solo is an intriguing concept, but for some, that fascination is mixed with fear. So what are the ways to tip that scale in your favor and acquire the skills of successful solo travelers?

Optimizing your solo travels means mastering three basic concepts: (1) the practical mechanics of  what to do when “It’s all on you”, (2) dealing with the number one concern of solo travelers–loneliness, and  (3) embracing the experience to get the most out of being on a trip with yourself.

Practical Mechanics

Do your homework.  You won’t have a navigator to say get off at this exit or a friend to watch your luggage while you roam about checking out the bus vs. taxi option at the airport.  Advanced planning before you leave home is paramount.  Whether you are heading up to wine country or flying to Berlin, know your route, transportation options and  the general lay of the land before you leave home. Print out maps of things you want to do or put those destinations into your mobile phone or GPS.  Make at least your first night’s hotel reservation ahead of time and know how you are getting there when you arrive. 

Be Safe. Trust your gut. Going solo means the fun of talking to new people alone and accepting impromptu invitations.  But if something doesn’t seem right, trust your intuition and know that it is best to pass on that conversation or opportunity and exit.  Also, dressing and behaving in the manner of the place you are visiting goes a long way towards not labeling you as an outsider and that is good for both safety and enjoying your visit. Open your eyes and take your cues from those around you. 

Don’t be Lonely

Put lines in the water.  One of the things most solo travelers worry about is being lonely, or if not lonely, not having someone to share the wonderful food, art, or performance they are experiencing. This is where having put lines in the water ahead of time will really pay off. Having connections at your destination is a matter of asking people at home to E-connect you with locals they know via email before you leave home. Ask your friends, your doctor, your colleagues–everyone. A certain percentage of these “lines” will pay off. You can follow up when you arrive and set in place at intervals that suit you, dinners, lunches, coffees or drinks.  The nice thing is–one connection leads to another connection and you can pepper your aloneness with as much local companionship as you want to add to your vacation.  

Meet people on your terms.  A solo trip has room for as much or as little interaction as you want. While enjoying the freedom and flexibility of a solo outing, it is actually easier to meet people when you are a solo traveler.  Become a regular at a local coffee house and not only get great local tips, the aura of a regular means you will meet other locals as well. Choose places that have communal tables.   A person alone is much more approachable than a group, or even a couple,  so don’t be surprised if people strike up a conversation with you. Enjoy it! Need a loneliness fix? Get the benefits of a group without being one by signing up for a local walking tour of something that interest you at your destination.  Ask people to take your picture or offer to take theirs.

Embrace the Experience

Go for it.  Now that you have bravely taken your trip, get the most out of it. Put aside your electronic devices and look around. Walk as much as possible or take public transportation. Keep a journal both as a silent companion, but also to note how this experience is changing you. Write down the lessons you are learning from this trip. Contemplation and personal growth come naturally on a solo trip. When traveling with someone, sometimes we temper our curiosity to fit another person’s expectations–solo travel allows uninhibited observation of others and unbridled curiosity.

Mistakes-who cares!  One of the nicest things about solo travel is you learn to cope with your own mistakes and laugh. Got on the wrong train? No one to blame, so you shrug and get off at the next stop and make an adventure of a place you didn’t intend to see. 

No one else to please, so please yourself. You want to linger in the cafe for an hour?  Do it. This museum is boring? Leave. Don’t rush through your trip. Make conscious choices and please yourself. Get lost on purpose. Solo travel lets you be spontaneous and design your own adventure without compromise or negotiation. 

Have themes.  As you get the hang of solo travel, it is fun to have recurrent themes that you explore. Maybe you visit every place with an eye towards “What is the coffee culture?” Or maybe in each location you look at the dynamics of people and their pets? Or maybe you just want to sip an Old Fashion in every place you visit and compare and contrast that simple pleasure.  Go ahead–it’s your trip!

“To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world”–Freya Stark

This article first appeared in Via Magazine. 

Kyoto you make me laugh

Every year I do a post towards the end of Shirleyfest with things that have amused me during my month. Kyoto provided plenty of material. Let’s dive right in.

Yes the Nara deer are cute, but really? I guess that’s why they have this sign in the road. I can’t say I’ve ever seen an exclamation mark on a road sign, but in this case it makes sense.

Speaking of signs, here are some very funny ones. The first one is in my neighborhood and it is letting people know all the things they shouldn’t do– do not touch the geishas, do not eat and walk, do not use selfie sticks, do not smoke, litter or lean on the fences. Apparently groups of men tourist were cornering the geishas for pictures.

This next sign is also in my neighborhood. You got to hand it to the guy, he is straightforward.

This one is funny but very very sweet. I saw it on Naoshima when I was down in the Art Islands.

This one is in famous Nishki Market. Instructions on eating the octopus stuffed with a quail egg are most appreciated.

Speaking of eating, please heed this warning.

I was also so amused by the trend in Kyoto to always give the peace sign when your picture is being taken. Here are a few examples.

There was a shop at the end of my street that was rarely open and I could not figure out from the sign what it sold. Can you? Then one day I walked by and these two young girls had made a purchase.

Taxis in Kyoto are amusing for two reasons. First, you never touch the door to open or shut it. It opens and closes automatically. Also the side mirrors are not located where ours are. When I first saw a taxi, I thought it was a police car.

Speaking of police, the first Saturday I saw all of these uniformed men near my place directing traffic. I thought a dignitary was in town.

Nope. I tried to go into the building they were “guarding” and they all stopped me and pointed to this sign.

Oh I see. It was off track betting. It has been this way every weekend since I got here. I love the name of the facility…WINS.

I was cutting thru a forest area in Nara and when I turned the corner I saw this run down house. But….apparently they love my favorite sport of basketball.

Also in the forest, but at the start of a trailhead , was this guy. Maybe it reminds some of you of someone

Most people who come to Japan are amused by the next set of pictures. Vending machines everywhere. There is a mentality of efficiency that makes these vending machines very popular. When I went to the movies the other night, everyone was in line to buy their ticket from a vending machine while a live clerk stood by also willing to sell but with no customers.

This street in Osaka made me laugh and it still does. How can you find anything?

The Kyoto Station has 11 floors of lights and at night people come and make patterns by zig zagging thru them with their friends. Here is my friend Sandy letting herself zig and zag. It sure made me laugh .

Yasakakoshido Temple has unique way to worship. Worshippers write their wish on colourful ball called “kukurizaru” and hang them at the site. Kukurizaru is the round, ball shaped talisman made of cloth, representing the good faith monkeys. It is suppose to look like you put your wish inside a monkey. It is believed that if you give up one of your greeds, your wish will come true. 

There is so much more, but let me leave you with this one. Koe makes fabulous doughnuts . They are a delight to eat. It makes me laugh to think that they need to gild the lily by adding a lemon meranguine topping. But then I saw the signs outside advertising what else they do with doughnuts. Now that’s funny.

So Kyoto you are an amusing place and you make us all laugh whether we are born here, the USA or in Austria but now call Japan home. Thank you Kyoto!

Amsterdam You Make Me Laugh

I collect things that amuse me during my Shirleyfest. I am sure you recall the fill ’em up zip lock ice cube bags from Vienna last year. Amsterdam also provides lots of good amusement this year. First up is this….

Laura and I were eating at Scheepskameel restaurant when we first noticed next to us the table with the dark jacket on the chair and the glass with a little red wine in it. After a while we wondered where was this diner. Then we spied over our shoulder another table with a white jacket on the chair and also a slightly filled red wine glass. That diner didn’t arrive back at their table either. We outdid each other with hilarious guesses as to what was going on…. foul play?….or an instant attraction between 2 diners who had the urge to abandon their table and go somewhere together? We finally settled on our best guess and called the waiter over to see if we were right. Are you still guessing? We were right– this is how the restaurant reserves a table when a person asks for a specific table. The jackets belong to the staff and the wine is leftover from partially finished bottles of other patrons. It is amusing that a RESERVED sign was just too common for this restaurant.

Next….you know how it can be confusing to identify the men’s or ladies’ room in other countries?

At one end of the continuum we have the top two signs seen at a restaurant on the Spui– really hard to tell which is which at a glance I think. Then we have the bottom two seen at Cafe Verward. Interesting use of negative space but not confusing!

Amsterdam’s bike situation just provides a ton of amusement. Night or day, the sheer quantity of bikes is amazing. But it is also interesting what you find in the bike lanes. These are allowed in the bike lanes.

Also allowed in the bike lane are motorized wheelchairs and those tiny smart cars. I didn’t manage to get any pictures of those but can you imagine how “amusing”it is to have all these things passing you as you pedal along. Also given all the variety in the bike lane, I found this amusing,

Cops on bikes may have a hard time catching that fast motorized wheelchair.

Another amusing thing I see in Amsterdam–

No line thru the circle so do you think you should or should not drink alcohol near here? And what is the significance of the percentage sign?

The Dutch are great at so many things, but creatively naming things– not so much. The major churches in Amsterdam are Westerkerk, Noordermarkt, Zuiderkerk, Oude Kerk and Nieuwmarkt Kerk. That’s west church, north church, south church, old church and new church. Amusingly uncreative.

And here I am at the intersection of three streets

Bickers Yard, Little Bickers Street, Great Bickers Street. I’m sure Uber drivers love this.

Would you like some pickles with your pickled eel?

In Rotterdam, this Markthall was completed in 2014 and residents paid a fortune to secure the lovely high rise exclusive apartments above it. Turns out the next year the city allowed this giant ferris wheel to operate 6 months of the year right next to Markthall. So residents have strangers from every country looking into their windows!

This is an art piece made entirely of newspapers. As you walk by on the street you are encouraged to tear off some of the paper to demonstrate the disappearance of newspapers in our world.

I could go on for quite a while as Amsterdam is such an amusing city, but I’ll leave you with this one. I wrote about the Banksy exhibit I went to at Amsterdam’s MOCO. I saw this there.

In 2004, the artist printed 1 million pounds worth of his “Di Faced Tenner”– a play on words as Banksy substituted the Queen’s face with that of Princess Diana. He also included the words Banksy of England. He dropped all,the money into a crowd at the Notting Hill Carnival and created pandamonia.

So that’s funny.

A kaleidoscope of week 3 Amsterdam

Returning from Bruges, I awake to a rainy day in Amsterdam, yet it is somehow strangely inviting. I leave the apartment around 9:30 am with only a vague idea of what I would do and it turns out I’m busy until 11 pm that evening. That is how Shirleyfest goes.

I start with a breakfast at Teds in my neighborhood. It’s a lovely spot to get out of the rain, great servers and delicious eggs.

I put up my umbrella and head to the Amsterdam Museum which has a well done timeline of the development of Amsterdam and from there I go to an Amsterdam icon–Tony Chocolonley’s flagship store.

This is a chocolate company that not only produces delicious chocolate but is at the forefront of battling the horrendous child labor issues in Ghana and the Ivory Coast where 60% of the worlds chocolate is from.

I take a trip way out near the Olympic Stadium ( Amsterdam hosted the olympics in 1928) because I have heard that the cheese shop L’AMUSE supplies all the best restaurants in Amsterdam with their cheese. I have a wonderful chat with Karin and I sample ( then buy) lots of different cheeses. That of course leads to me inviting people over that night for a cheese tasting- which leads to wine to have with the cheese– which leads to ordering pizza…..”If you give a mouse a cookie…”

Another day, I bike over to Jacob Hooy in the old city which was established in 1743 and is still owned by the same family. They sell medical potions and spices and are known for the best licorice in town. I actually don’t like licorice but I buy an assortment for Laura who is coming next week.

Afterwards I stop for a cappuccino. I don’t know how this coffee shop does this but the coffee art lasts all the way to the end of the drink! I am sitting outside with my coffee and three lovely ladies are chatting together. One is so knowlegable about the happenings in Amsterdam that I blurt out– ” I wish you had a blog”. “I do”, Shoshanna says. “It’s called Awesome Amsterdam.” I’m invited to join them and they are really fun. Shoshanna tells me she has dozens of books on Amsterdam and Dutch art and she wants me to have them. When I get home later that day she has delivered them to my apartment!

I’m biking home to get ready to meet a friend for dinner when I pass the floating flower market and it looks so pretty today that I stop and take this picture.

My dinner with my friend is at Scheepskameel. A really terrific restaurant and a hard reservation to get. My friend, Laura, manages to get us in and we have such a great meal. I have to say the madelines at the end are my favorite part!

I managed to go to a lot of museums and art galleries this week because of the rain. I was passing the Museum of Purses and Bags and while it wasn’t on my list of must sees, I was right there so I went in. There was an interactive display where you answer questions and it designs the perfect bag for you with a message. Ha ha ha see below.

I am invited to the season opening of art galleries and I really enjoy going to many galleries and meeting the artists. One artist designs sculptures out of truck mirrors and then puts a neon backing in the installation. When you take a picture you get this shadow affect. That is the artist in the picture.

The opening night is fun and lots of people come– some with their dogs.

Another day I take the train to Rotterdam. Rotterdam was utterly destroyed during WWII and when they rebuilt they did so in a modern striking manner. These cube houses are lived in and are above shops. It was harbor day so I took a walking tour around the city and the harbor.

I ended up at a cool bar called Cafe Veward ( Translated Cafe Confused). I am not. I order a beer and enjoy talking to the locals.

Afterwards I have amazing octopus at a restaurant recommended to me called Ayla.

The next day I have not such a healthy eating day. You be the judge.

I also want to check out the main branch of the library. It is right on the water and there are great views from the top floor. Also on the top floor is a food bonanza like I’ve never seen in a library. I mean what student wouldn’t hit the books if they could choose from all these delicious things while studying.

I end week 3 with a fun evening with my friend Paul. After a ride on the canals we hit the Sky Lounge overlooking the city. Crazy bartender and fun way to end the week!

In Bruges

The movie In Bruges came out in 2008. It portrays Bruges as a fairy tale city used by two assassins ( Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson) as a hide out after a botched hit. While I have a few things I remember about the movie after 10 years ( a body count of epic proportions and a record breaking frequency of use of the f-word) what I remember most is that the city of Bruges was gorgeous. Ever since then I’ve wanted to go see this magical city. On Sunday and Monday I did just that. I decided to take the fast Thayls train to Antwerp and change trains there because I read that the Antwerp train station is one of the prettiest in Europe. It is.

It is only a short train ride from there to Bruges and as I walk out of the train station the local bus to the city center is right there so I jump on. I somehow hit the jackpot in this two day trip as everything went perfectly– including two uncrowded blue skies days. A little research a few days before led me to the Grand Hotel Casselbergh, a beautiful hotel right on the canal. When I made the reservation, I also registered for their loyalty program and because of that I got a super duper upgrade to a great room in the historic wing.

I start with a boat ride along the canals and I fall in love immediately with this town. All along the canal are colorful medieval buildings and I feel I’ve been thrown back into the Middle Ages. The city is like one big breathtakingly beautiful postcard. It is in fact a UNESCO World Heritage City.

Leaving the boat, I do a walk about town with its amazing squares and markets. Right outside the Stadhuis, I see, and more importantly hear, this.

I realize I need to eat early because I booked a night tour of Bruges. The hotel recommends a place and makes me a reservation, but I go there and it is dark inside and a band is erratically tuning up for a show later. I politely tell the waiter, “I don’t think this is for me for tonight.” He nods knowingly. Off I go, when I remember I spied a place on the canal from my boat ride. I find my way there– Pergola is the name and here is the view from my table. Now this is more to my liking.

Here is my view AFTER I order! Even better.

The place is filed with locals and people talking about the Bruges Triennial 2018 that is in town. Fifteen contemporary artists have been invited to put up outdoor installations. The theme this year is Imagining the Liquid City. In the 14th century Bruges was known as the liquid city of Northern Europe, dependent on the seas and its economy driven by the tides. After dinner, I see about half the installations before it is time for my night tour.

My student led night tour goes outside the tourists area and I learn a lot about Bruges’ history. I learn that because of a window tax many of the frugal homeowners bricked their windows while the wealthy showed off by adding windows. Mostly I just drooled over how Bruges got even prettier with the setting of the sun.

The last stop was the beautiful Koeleweimolen windmill on the outskirts of town. It is a functioning grain- grinding mill built in 1760.

I am a bit thirsty when the tour is over around 11:00 pm so I head back to the cozy bar at my hotel. Julien, my bartender, recommends the locally brewed beer Brugse Zot. The name means “the fool of Bruges”. Julian says the name comes from a time in 1488 when after a revolt against their harsh king Maximilian, the people of Bruges made peace with a celebration honoring Maximilian. Afterwards they asked him for permission to build a new mental hospital and he advised them to simply close the gates of Bruges because the town was already filled with fools.

A funny story to end a lovely day.

Monday morning is another beautiful day. After breakfast I take a walk around town as I want to sample the Belgian chocolate and waffles at some point.

Many of you know I am a San Francisco City Guide and I do a tour of the “painted ladies” or “seven sisters”. I think I found Bruges’ equivalent of those beautiful row of houses.

One thing I definitely wanted to see in Bruges was the Basiliek van het Heilig Bloed ( Basilica of the Holy Blood). The beautiful 12th century chapel houses a revered vial containing cloth stained with the blood of Christ. We are told that following the Crucifixion, Joseph of Arimathea wiped blood from the body of Christ and the cloth was preserved. The artifact was kept safe in the Holy Land until the Second Crusades when it was given to The Count of Flanders who took it to Bruges.

Across a bridge is the Begijnhof of Bruges, the most silent spot in Bruges. Founded in 1245 as a place for the religious Order of the sisters of St Benedict, only 8 nuns live there now. It is occupied by widows or single moms who, while not of a religious order, establish a community of women to live together and help their neighbors. A sort of commune-type living.

I walk to Depla the famous family run chocolate shop and sample and buy lots of Belgium chocolate.

Not satisfied with that gluttony, I find a Belgium waffle place that has been recommended and sink my teeth into the classic waffle.

Finally it is time to head back to Amsterdam. A taxi to the train station and a train which connects thru Brussels this time. I am very happy to have spent two days In Bruges. Tomorrow I’ll really have to eat only salads!


This past Saturday, I woke up early and had a nice coffee in my apartment. It’s beautiful and I want to take the short 15 minute train ride to Haarlem. Haarlem gave America’s Harlem it’s name back when NYC was New Amsterdam, a Dutch colony.

I walk towards the tram, noticing this interesting business on my way.

As fate would have it, someone comes up to go inside so I ask, “are you counseling millennials or counseling companies about millennial? And why are you going into work so early on a Saturday?” She tell me she is the boss and this is a booming business advising companies on how to market to millennials. Ok!

Onward to the tram.

As we speed towards Haarlem, I see this out my window. It’s everywhere!

At the station in Haarlem I’m once again impressed with the sheer magnitude of bicyclists in this area.

Now a short walk to the center of town. For 700 years Haarlem has had a wonderful Saturday market. It Is far larger than any of the markets I’ve been to so far in Amsterdam and filled with locals doing their weekly shopping.

Also at the market, I see these 3 cute kids in a bike basket and the little one was just saying over and over “mama? mama? mama?”–not crying–just sort of in a wondering way. No parent was anywhere near. No helicoptering parenting in Holland apparently.

I’ve never seen this before. I guess the very practical Dutch like buying only the part of the pineapple they can actually eat.

Another great thing about Haarlem is the Grote Kerk, a 15th century gothic church with Holland’s greatest pipe organ ( Handel and Mozart played it).

My favorite thing though was the Frans Hals museum. On Shirleyfest New York, the Met had a huge exhibition of Frans Hals and I think I went 5 times. He painted everyday people life size with all their warts and glory.

One unusual thing in this museum is they took these paintings and side by side with the paintings they had modern day medical doctors diagnosis what the subjects were likely suffering from based on the details Hals put in the painting. Getting to the museum is a short walk from the market through a residential area that was colorful and neat as a pin.

After lunch in Haarlem I had to get back to Amsterdam as I was meeting my friends for a Bach concert in Den Bosch– an hour train ride in the opposite direction. The concert was really lovely. My friend Ivan got us front row seats as he was responsible for obtaining the soloists for the concerts. It was an hour long and the odd thing was– no clapping- no no no, not until the entire concert was over. Also the audience sang at the end! We had a great dinner nearby and then headed through the town square for the train home

I would have loved to stay in Den Bosch longer but tomorrow at 7am I am taking the train to Bruges, Belgium. I’m very excited! I write up a draft of my post while having a nice glass of wine at home and then bed.

Week 2: Amsterdam Shirleyfest: Food, friends and family

I realized I haven’t told you how the rest of week two Shirleyfest went. I finish off that second Saturday with a bike ride along the canals to the exquisite Hermitage museum where I see Canova’s wonderful marble of The Three Graces, three sisters who were the daughters of Zeus and Venus and represent beauty, joy and elegance. (I have two sisters and I’ll be happy to have them pick first which of the graces represent them and I’ll modestly take whichever one is leftover.)


During Shirleyfest, I try to find a Catholic Church that does weekly mass in English. This time I bike over to the beautiful Krijtberg church for mass. A pedal through the Jordaan area after with a great meal at Koevoot completes the day as the sky turns quite beautiful as I lock up my bike.

Sunday I have in mind to bike out to the Brouwerij ‘t IJ brewery. Situated along a canal and housed in a windmill, the brewery produces organic beers in a friendly setting.

I have a great conversation with Joran and his friend Martijn who works there. Joran works in television and expertly scripts a shot of me at the bar with his friend in the background.

There was more to Sunday but I want to move on to Monday when my sister MJ arrives! MJ has been to every Shirleyfest except Melbourne and I love it when she comes. On Monday we walk all over Amsterdam and that night eat a great dinner at Belhamel where afterwards Nick and Ivan come by for drinks. A gorgeous walk home ends our first day.

With the weather looking good the next day we take the early train out to Zaanse Schans , a picturesque village, famous for its iconic windmills. As we get off the train we smell the aroma from the chocolate factory that is there.

We walk through and up into the windmills, most of which are still operational. There is another building where wooden shoes are being made right in front of us.

It is such a charming place. We are wise to have gotten there so early– it’s charm attracts many people so when we see the tour buses pull up we head back to the train.

That evening we have one of the best meals I’ve ever had—–Amstel 212. It is a restaurant recently started by two Michelin starred chefs and all the seating is bar seating. There are about 20 guests and the 4 chefs are working right in front of us and the fantastic front of the house man is Kevin.

I had gone over to Amstel 212 a few days before MJ arrived and had a great conversation with Kevin. His attention and that of the chefs made this an extremely personal experience. We had 3 amuse bouches before we even began with what we had ordered. Three delicious courses later we were presented with the opportunity for an amazing cheese course.

Of course we said yes. Don’t we look so very happy?

On MJ’ s last day we take in the Rijksmuseum and FOAM, the photography museum and do some shopping at De 9 Straatjes, the nine little streets that connect the main canals. One last dinner at Klepel where we are delighted with conversations from our fellow diners at the bar. MJ departs the next day and I look at my step counter for the 3 days she was here.

I have already posted about Thursday and Friday of that week so I will pick up my next post with the Saturday Haarlem market and my trip to Bruges, Belgium. Until then, can I leave you with something I saw along the canal near my apartment?

Cheese, Crime and Cauliflower

In Alkmaar, Netherlands on Fridays in the center of town there is a cheese auction.

The train ride to Alkmaar is about 50 minutes from my home. I arrive in town in time to walk into the ceremony with the singers.

The cheesemakers bring their huge rounds of cheese into town mostly by boats on the canals.

The cheeses are all laid out on pallets.

The wholesalers make a bid of how much per kilo they will pay. If the bid is accepted, the round is weighed on an ancient weighing machine and then run to a wheelbarrow where it is taken off to the buyer’s trucks.

It is a carnival like atmosphere with vendors selling cheese, pickles, herring and chocolates all around the bidding ring. I sample cheeses from almost every vendor there and also try the pickles and herring ( very tasty together).

It is a fun morning and I head back home via train. Little did I know my fun was about to turn tragic. Arriving at the Central Station, it is chaos —-in an act of terrorism, a man has stabbed two Americans minutes before my train pulls in. As we are arriving the police shoot the stabber and we are taken down a back tunnel and out the station. As you read this you have probably seen the details, but trust me when I say it was frightening being in that situation.

Ok time to make new memories. I have a dinner reservation at Ron’s Gastropub. This chef has several restaurants in Amsterdam. My first day here, my friends and I biked out to his Indonesian place. I feel like walking tonight and it is a 45 minute walk through the lovely Oud Zuid neighborhood of Amsterdam.

When I arrive the place is hopping and I decide to sit at the bar. Lindsey, the manager, comes over and we chat. I go with her recommendations. I’m not disappointed. Great salad, short ribs and cauliflower baked in that cheese I saw this morning at Alkmaar. I’m talking to two guys near me who have had several good looking appetizers and finished a bottle of wine. I think they are going to pay and leave when the one says to Lindsey, ” now we want to order the 6 course dinner with the wine pairings.” Perfect— now I feel light eater!

I uber home. My friends Nick and Ivan have suggested I go to Haarlem tomorrow before joining them in Den Bosch for a Bach concert. I want to get to Haarlem for the supposedly great Saturday market.

It’s all in a day’s work

Thursday was a day that typifies my life on Shirleyfest. I woke to a gorgeous fall day and after a starter coffee on my little balcony in my apartment, I head to my coffee place, Coffee Roastery and chat with Quinton and Marika about ideas to enjoy the day. (My sister, MJ, had left that morning after three really fun days together –more on that later).

Every city has that big green space park and Amsterdam was no exception– go to Westerpark was Quinton’s idea. As I pedal around this lovely park with lots of little cafes and restaurant on the border I know this will be a great day. I didn’t stop at any cafe because I needed to pedal farther to meet Paul. He is a friend of a friend’s friend. As is my usual practice I put “lines in the water” before I leave home and a good percentage of those pay off with interesting meetings of local people. Paul is no exception.

I bike to Cafe Van Noordt and we had broodjes, little sandwiches, while discussing his life in Amsterdam working to establish contracts for companies with travel providers. After lunch Paul shows me one of Amsterdam’s hottest development areas where he recently bought a place–the Eastern Docklands area with loads of homes being constructed right on the water.

Back on my bike I head for the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam’s modern and contemporary art museum. There is a special exhibit of Günther Förg there, a German artist who couldn’t decide if he was a photographer or a painter or both and who demanded his installations be done in very unusual ways.

In another room all the photos were hung 12 feet above the floor so your view is looking up but he took the photos from a bird’s eye view. Strangely compelling! I also want to see the permanent collection and I am not disappointed.

I was having a coffee in the Museum cafe when I look out the glass window and see the Concertgebouw, the royal concert hall, considered one of the finest concert halls in the world because of its acoustics. I even see an enormous poster for a concert tonight. A Tribute to Miles Davis. I want to go! A quick check of online tickets says the event is sold out. But I’m right across the street looking at this poster so I run over there and ask and they have a ticket just turned in that I can buy. Score! The concert starts in 90 minutes. I bike home stopping at Fento. Hillary is there and says she can make me a quick healthy salad. I pair that with a nice glass of wine at my apartment and get dressed for the concert.

Back at the concert I am impressed with how beautiful the hall is and the amazing acoustic. The Miles Davis Tribute is lovely. I am also impressed with how polite the patrons are. I sit next to a retired lawyer who knows a lot about jazz( I don’t) and he makes the concert so enjoyable. At intermission he says–now we get our drinks. The way he says it I know it must be different than I am used to. Sure enough as we leave the hall, waiters with trays of wine, champagne, beer, water, juice are there and you just take what you want . How civilized is that! “It’s included in the ticket,”he says. You can also have anything you want when you arrive at the concert hall before the show. Sweet!

After the concert I take the tram home. Got to get to sleep as tomorrow early I’m heading to Haarlem for the Friday cheese auction. That’s up next posting.

Amsterdam: photographs and memories- a week goes by quickly

I finished my first week in my cozy Amsterdam apartment with a visit to the Saturday market.

As I loaded my bike with flowers, the clouds opened up and the flowers and I got a lovely shower as I pedaled home. I managed to avoid a near collision with a motor scooter ( they go on the bike paths!) and went home to arrange my flowers. Somehow the weeks go so fast on Shirleyfest.

It all started last Tuesday. I was pedaling along the canals when I noticed a home with the smallest frontage I’d seen yet. (The red house in the picture). I knew the houses are taxed based on the length of their frontage so clearly this place belonged to a clever person. I parked my bike because next door was a shop selling the famous stroopwafels And next to that was a good looking cheese shop.

Turns out they had a cheese and wine pairing course starting in 10 minutes so I joined in and 6 cheeses and quite a lot of wine later I left very happy.

A stop at my neighborhood coffee roastery got me back in action. Every Shirleyfest I find My Coffeehouse where they know me each morning and this is a great one. I headed for the Rijksmuseum, home to an incomparable collection of Rembrandt’s, Veemeer’s, Hal’s and Steen’s. None so famous at Rembrandt’s The Night Watch. It was crazy because absolutely no one but me was in the room with this famous painting.

Time to turn to something more modern now and happily right next door was the modern art museum–MOCO. Right now the entire museum houses the work of the graffiti artist Banksy. He is one of my favorites so I head in. Many people know I’m a donut fanatic so I was pleased to see this piece of his in the museum.

Enough art, I head home and later go out with three ladies who are ex-pats working here– one for EBay ( thanks Alex for the introduction). They are a hoot– after a fun evening I got an uber back while they jumped on their bikes to ride home.

Wednesday was a visit to The Hague– an easy 50 minutes train ride away. I had actually been there before when we sold Transamerica to Aegon but all I had seen then was conference rooms. This time I saw The Girl with the Pearl earring. I wish I had planned ahead and not worn gold hoops!

Later that night, back inAmsterdam, I checked out the Foodhallen where dozens of indoor food trucks sell tasty food. On my way back home I saw the prep kitchen Fento a block from my apartment. I went in and this lovely gal made me a delicious salad and we chatted about her country of Scotland.

Thursday was more walking and biking with a visit to a special place. One’ Lieve heer op Solder. Our Lord In The Attic. In 1578 in a coup known as the Alteration the Catholics were deposed in favor of the Protestants. Catholics could no longer worship publicly so home churches popped up. In the attic of a well preserved traditional Dutch home is this lovely church.

Later that night I meet Nick and Ivan for dinner in an adorable restaurant on the canal near their house. Belhamel. It is a beautiful evening as we leave the restaurant even tho I got drenched walking from the tram to the restaurant earlier.

So now it is Friday and my plans change numerous times. I was going to go to Alkmaar to see the cheese markets and then I thought about the Van Gogh Museum. In the end it was a beautiful day and Nick didn’t have to work until the afternoon so we rode our bikes north along the water to adorable fishing villages and marinas and gorgeous countryside. We stopped for lunch at an old schoolhouse turned restaurant in the town of Holysloot.

With a quick stop on my way home to the Van Gogh Museum ( not a museum I would recommend– poor lighting and boring layout) I headed home. That night I was starving from all that bike riding and right near my apartment is a place called De Reiger where I headed for Dutch mussels and fries.

And that was the first week of Shirleyfest.

Amsterdam Arrival: Bikes, boats and bakeries

I left my wonderful friends in the Dolomites (who I met on last year’s Shirleyfest Vienna) and flew to Amsterdam on Saturday. Much to my surprise, my friends Nick and Ivan ( who I met on Shirleyfest Berlin) met me at the airport with flowers and T-shirt’s they had made for Shirleyfest month. We quickly arrived at my apartment and as is typical of traditional Dutch homes there was a steep set of stairs that led to my beautiful apartment. Anna and Robert, the owners, met me warmly and I was delighted with what I found. Not only was the apartment in a great neighborhood, they had stocked the fridge, left flowers everywhere and a bottle of wine was a chilling on the table.

My friends left me to unpack, but promised to be back at 6pm with a surprise. And what a great surprise! Amsterdam is a city of canals and the waterways are something to be seen. I was picked up by Nick who led me to the canal near my apartment where I found a gang of fun loving people to help launch Shirleyfest with champagne, local cheeses, fabulous homemade quiches and the finest from Amsterdam’s bakeries. And off we went under bridges, around corners and absolutely all over Amsterdam.

It was magical as we cruised by homes, the opera house, museums, and the hundreds of bicyclists who rode along both sides of the canal. Finally I decided I needed a turn at driving…. maybe I have a new calling.

And that was the first day!

The next morning I had to get my bike. I always have a bike on my Shirleyfest but here it was essential. Amsterdam is built on a swamp so it is quite flat. Everybody bikes. I really think bikes are the religion of Amsterdam. The bikes have priority over people and cars. If there is an accident the bicyclist is never at fault. It is truly one of those if you can’t beat them join them and I felt much safer on my bike than walking. So off I went to Frederic’ s bike shop where Arthur fixed me up with a bike, saddle bags and a heavy duty lock. Locking up your bike is essential as bike theft is a problem. I heard that if someone cries out, ” Hey, that’s my bike”, 6 people jump off their bikes and run.

Having gotten my bike, there is nothing to do but go for a long bike ride with friends past the outskirts of town and pass 2 windmills and then bike some more until we got to a small village and home to a wonderful restaurant that has the best Indonesian Rijsttafel ( rice table) in Amsterdam.

Twelve different dishes and two kinds of rice and two kinds of desserts, all incredibly flavorful. We sat outside along the Amstel river as it flows east of Amsterdam and it was a perfect day. Of course then we had a long bike ride home but it was totally worth the ride.

The next morning. I did a walking tour of Amsterdam which was good to learn a bit more of the history and to get my bearings. I saw the headquarters of the Dutch East India Company founded in 1602. As a corporate lawyer of course it was fascinating to me as this was the beginning of stock companies in the world.

Also got to pass many many “coffeehouse.” No not our kind of coffee houses– those are called cafes here. Coffeehouse are where you sit down and get a menu of weed and other concoctions that don’t require cream or sugar.

That afternoon I spent at the playground—no not a playground in my enhanced mind, a real playground. My Shirleyfest Montréal friends introduced me to a documentary film editor and she was taking her 2 year old to the park so we met there. Interestingly at this park there were lots of toys and play cars and scooters but it was all provided by the park– the parents didn’t have to lug it there or listen to their kid scream “mine”as another 2 year old jumped on their fire trucks. Brilliant really.

Tonight I want to check out the food scene in Amsterdam. I had heard of Cafe de Krepel so I headed there first for a glass of wine. Beautiful tiny restaurant and as I’m sitting there I met Vanessa who has a fashion shop nearby. She is also enjoying a French wine and she says she is avoiding her children’s texts to go to the grocery store. I like this lady. She writes down some of her local favorite places for me to try another day and I promise to stop by her shop soon.

I have in mind a Spanish place nearby so off I go and find a seat at the bar. The restaurant is Olivia Pintxos y Vinos The bartender Cleo helps me pick out some delicious tapas.

Again I start talking to my fellow dining patrons and have a great conversation with a couple from Paris. I turn to my right and ask a woman how she liked her tapas and what she is doing in Amsterdam. “I work for Netflix so I’m here in business.” Are you from California. I ask? ” San Francisco”she says–oh where in San Francisco? “Laguna and Broadway”. She lives one block from me! Ok it is time to walk back to my apartment.

Three days in Amsterdam and it already feels like home.

#amsterdam #solotravel #shirleyfest #ArtApartment