Amsterdam

Dam Square
Dam Square

Amsterdam

After making plans to rendezvous for lunch, we set off to explore Amsterdam.  Vince headed off to explore the Rijksmuseum, Dam Square, (shown above) and  visit aboard one of the many houseboats lining the canals (shown below).  041 040Jack and I set off to explore The Church of St. Nicholas (or St. Nicolaaskerk in Dutch), Museum Amstelkring, also known as “Our Lord in the Attic”, and De Oude Kerk (The Old Church).

My first impression of Amsterdam was that, like most of Europe, it was very old, but still very much in use.  Signs of renovation were everywhere.  It seemed like litter was everywhere, too.

The next thing one couldn’t help but notice was that there were thousands and thousands of bicycles!  052There were bicycles zipping past in the bike lanes, bicycles chained to every imaginable stable object, including being chained to each other, seas of bicycles in bicycle parking lots.  Once again I vowed to ride my bicycle more after returning home.  100_2796

Amsterdam is very busy, with traffic, bicycles and people, moving purposefully toward their individual destinations, along with hoards of visitors characterized by their slightly dazed expressions pretending to know where they are going.  That was us, as well, as we made our way along Prinz Hendrickksen to the massive cathedral across from the train station.  100_2819We, along with scores of other tourists were surprised to find the doors to the church closed and locked.  It was too early…they were not open for another hour.

So, we made our way along the canal to De Oude Kerk, which was undergoing major renovation.  Again, all the doors were locked, but were due to open any time…if we could just find the entrance!  My husband Jack was getting tired, so I parked him by one of the entrances and continued around the massive building looking for the main entrance.

As I rounded one corner I saw a young woman in a window display and for a moment, thought she was arranging a new display, but was puzzled by the fact that she was wearing a bikini.  Too late, I realized that I was in the heart of the Red Light District and that SHE was the window dressing!  If made me wonder if prostitution was an honorable occupation here in Amsterdam?  If this girl’s mother would not be ashamed to have her daughter choose this line of work, or if this was a desperate way to exist until something better comes along?  The thought troubled me, as I pondered this universal dilemma…a young woman on display, for sale, in a shop window, at 9:45 in the morning.

Around the next bend, there was the Church entrance!  I hurried back to find Jack right where I’d left him, looking a little nervous and very relieved to see me.  The doors opened and we walked inside.

On entering the Oude Kerk, the immediate impression is one of beautiful light. 100_2791Some of the light is colorful, shining through the medieval stained glass windows, while some of it is bright white, illuminating the centuries-old graves, entombed in the floor. 100_2785

Although originally built as a Catholic place of worship, today the Oude Kerk is one of the unique buildings expressing the national character of Dutch Protestantism.  The Oude Kerk originally functioned as a harbor church, where sailors and fishermen would pray for a safe voyage. The procession boats (hanging miniature ships) are reminders of the time when the church overlooked the open harbor.100_2784 100_2793The Old Church has four exquisite organs, which can be heard during services and concerts.  The church tower contains the centuries-old carillon and church bells.100_2792 100_2790 Click the link below to see and hear the organs.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZNd8rDfN2fo

Next, we visited the Museum Amstelkring, also known as Our Lord in the Attic, one of the oldest and most remarkable museums in Amsterdam.   Behind the characteristic facade of the house by the canal lies a largely original 17th-century home and a complete hidden church. 100_2814This hidden church ‘in the attic’ was built during the Reformation, when Catholics were forbidden to hold public services.  Jan Hartman bought this house on Oudezijds Voorburgwal and the two adjacent buildings on Heintje Hoekssteeg 350 years ago. He had the attics of the three houses rebuilt into a Catholic church conforming to the conventions of the day, yet nothing on the outside would suggest that there was a church inside. 100_2810

Here you can see where he took out the middle attic of the narrow canal house.

100_2802

100_2803

It also was being renovated while we were there.  There were lots of steep, narrow stairs, as is typical in canal houses, so Jack never made it to the attic, where the church was.

Next, it was back to see the Church of St. Nicholas, which the Sint Nicolaaskerk (St. Nicholas Church) is one of the first Amsterdam monuments most visitors spot.   It is the city’s major Catholic church.  As we stepped inside to visit, Mass was just beginning.  It was a Spanish Mass, and we stayed for the entire service.  We enjoy attending church during our travels.Netherlands Amsterdam St Nicholas interior naveIt was almost time to meet Vince for lunch, so we found a table alongside the canal and enjoyed a drink.  The earlier rain shower had passed and the weather was warm and delightful.  100_2815 100_2816

We ate lunch outside, as well, at the Restaurent Smits Koffiehuis.

Smits Koffiehuis100_2820 100_2821Vince tried the Dutch Pancake, for which they are famous!

Next up was a narrated canal tour of the city.  100_2822044

I wonder how many cars and people and dogs fall into the canals?

043100_2827Unfortunately, we kept dozing off and dropping our cameras.  Jet lag was catching up to us!   It was time to head back to our hotel to shower, read, relax and turn in early.  100_2782

Tomorrow would be a big day!

Trying It Out…

My entire working career I have always put a high priority on travel.  When I had the preschool I did not have paid vacation, so I worked a second job to pay for travel.  When I started working at the school district, my position was a year-round position and so I got vacation days.  Every year I planned our travel using every one of those days each year.

Over the past few years a number of circumstances have come together that have slowed my travel plans considerably.  As I result, I found myself with enough vacation days “left over” that I could take the week of New Years off.  I had no plans … I would just stay home.  I had NEVER in my working life just stayed home.  In fact, I had never even considered it, preferring to save my days for a big trip.

Suze Orman is always encouraging people to “try out retirement” while you’re still working .  This time would be a way to do just that.  It wouldn’t be a fair trial because it would not be long enough to really know what it felt like, but it would still be an interesting experiment.  So here’s what I learned:

  1. I had much more energy!  Even though I worked hard at home, my time at work is faster paced, more stressful and demanding.  Now, by the time I get home in the evenings I have already “hit the wall”.
  2. My house will be cleaner, because I was always taking a little extra time to more thoroughly clean.  Now, I am so tired after work that “a lick and a promise” is about the best I can muster.
  3. My husband was hoping for more together time than he got during that week.  He kind of followed me around as I busied myself around the house, hoping for a little companionship and maybe for us to spend more time doing something together instead of me being totally absorbed in my projects.  If I was working on my computer, he would want to be on his computer as well, wanting to share all the forwarded email and You Tube links he’d received.  Unfortunately, I have no interest in or patience for forwarded email crap, and his playing You Tube videos while I’m working at my computer, wanting me to watch them with him, was more than I could take.  From now on, when I think about being retired I need to include time for “us” as well as time for myself.  It WON’T include forwarded email or You Tube videos, however!
  4. I was surprised to find that I was not as physically active as when I’m at work.  Several of my projects were things like sewing, reading, working Sudoku puzzles, working on my computer…all very sedentary things.  While at work, I am up and down the stairs and hurrying here and there.  Once I’m retired I had already planned to join SARC and exercise at least 3X/week as well as walking more and working in the yard, but I did not do those things during my time off.  For sure I will have to make that conscious effort to stay active.
  5. I was NOT bored!  I did not think I would be, and in fact would have been very surprised if I had been.
  6. The TV drove me NUTS!!!  My husband LOVES TV and music and You Tube and often has all of them going at the same time…AWK!  I would retreat to my sewing room and close the door and put on quiet, background music in an attempt to drown out the constant babble, but that is going to be a problem.  We have worked around it in the evenings and on the weekend and when we go camping by him wearing headphones to listen.  But he can’t walk around all day, every day, wearing headphones the whole time.  We are going to have to work something out there.  I’m going to have to get some of my own headphones to share the inconvenience, if I like it quiet.

All in all, it was a great experiment and I’m looking forward to being retired even more than before.  I thoroughly enjoyed being home and puttering around the house and did not feel like those vacation days were wasted at all.

I was a little anxious about going back to work, knowing that it was going to be really busy… but once I got there it was fine.  I really do love my job and the people I work with.  I’m still looking forward to being retired, though! Continue reading Trying It Out…

Seattle to Amsterdam

My husband Jack, my son Vince and I left on our trip to Norway on July 5, 2012 from our home airport in Seattle, Washington.  Image Our Delta flight departed at 1:40pm for the 10 hour flight to the Netherlands, arriving at Schiphol Amsterdam Airport at 8:30am local time.  Image

They served dinner about an hour into the flight, and then we settled down and tried to sleep.  Although it would be midnight, our time, it would already be morning when we arrived at our destination.  We were hoping to minimize jet lag.

The time passed quickly, and too soon they were coming by with coffee and breakfast.   Soon we began our descent… “Good Morning, Amsterdam!”.  After passing through customs, we bought a train ticket and headed downstairs, where the trains depart every few minutes.  It was about a 20 minute journey  traveling northeast to Amsterdam Centraal.  We passed through flat, green countryside which soon changed to cityscape with tall buildings and bustling streets.  amsterdam-centraal

Departing the train, luggage in tow, we made our way through the station to the exit, where our hotel, the A-Train Hotel, was located across the street and one block away.  As we trundled along, I happened to look back to see how my husband Jack, was doing.  I was horrified to see him serenely bumping along directly in the path of a silently approaching tram, which was about to run him down from behind!Trams!  Just in time we got him back up onto the sidewalk as the tram whispered by, just inches from us.

Our hotel was just across the street, but it was a very, very busy street.  We had to hurry across to an island, wait for the light, and then hurry across the rest of the way.  My husband has some mobility issues and cannot move very quickly.  The light began to flash, and as we almost reached the other side it changed, and  a huge cavalcade of bicycles charged right toward us.  Awk!  We were in the bike lane!  We leaped to safety as they whisked by, spokes flashing, without a sideways glance.  Rick Steves, in his book Amsterdam, Bruges and Brussles had warned about watching out for bicycles and trams and pick-pockets.  We were lucky enough not to encounter a pick-pocket, but we narrowly escaped being run down by bicycles and a tram.   100_2828Later, on the ship, we talked with someone who had a cast on her arm, due to an unfortunate encounter with a bicycle, on her first day in Amsterdam.

The A-Train Hotel was everything we’d hoped for, and more.  It was centrally located, within walking distance of everything we wanted to see.  The proprietors were friendly and helpful.  Our room was on the main floor, just up a few steps.100_2781  It was clean, comfortable and completely adequate for our needs.

http://www.atrainhotel.com/

And now, it was time to explore!

 

Planning: Norway 2012

My daughter Dena and I traveled to Scandinavia in 2003, spending a week in Denmark, a week in Sweden and a week in Norway.  Ever since that trip I had wanted to return to Norway.  Dena and I traveled using a Rail Pass, stayed in hostels and carried packs on our backs.  My husband is in his 70’s and has some mobility issues, so I knew that a subsequent trip to Norway would need to be much less arduous.

My “must see” list for this journey included stops in Oslo, Bergen, Flåm and traveling north of the Arctic Circle.  A “bonus” stopover would be a trip down the Trollstigen, or Troll’s Path, a steep, winding mountain road switchbacking past waterfalls and sheer cliffs to the valley floor below.

Researching our options, I found Holland America Line had an itinerary that fit very nicely with my priorities. It included my “must see” cities of Oslo, Bergen and Flåm, and my “bonus” Trollstigen offered as a side trip from Ålesund, plus two cities north of the Arctic Circle, Tromsø and Honningsvåg, which is about as far north in Norway, as you can go.  It was the perfect itinerary!

ItineraryMy son Vince, who also has the travel bug, loves to cruise, and also had Norway on his “list”, would be traveling with us.  We often travel with our adult children, all sharing expenses, which makes it more economical and more enjoyable, as well.  Norway is a very expensive country to visit.  Sharing actually made this trip possible.

We planned to arrive in Amsterdam the day before the ship sailed, which would give us some time for a little sightseeing and an opportunity to adjust to their time.   After the cruise portion of the trip, we planned to stay the night in Rotterdam, and another night in Amsterdam, giving us another two full days for sightseeing in the Netherlands, before heading home.  Our departure date was July 5, 2012.

Beginnings…

Before I set a retirement date, I wanted to be sure that I could afford to retire.  Most of my working life I owed my own business.  I lived with debt.  I got a paycheck only after all the bills were paid and after everyone else got paid.  Seven years ago I closed my business and went to work for the school district.  Now I have regular paychecks and health insurance and paid vacation and sick leave and once I turn 65…a modest pension.  I no longer have debt, except for my mortgage.  I do not want to retire and then find out that I don’t have enough income to go anywhere or do anything or to fall back into debt.

There are lots of free calculators out there to help you decide how much you need to have in retirement.  But those calculators are useless until you figure out how much you currently have coming in, how much you have saved or invested to date, and most importantly…how much you have going out.  I keep track of my finances on Quicken.  I know at a glance what the answers to those questions are. But that is only the beginning.  The next part takes work….lots of work.

I like the Expense Tracker on the Suze Orman website.  http://www.suzeorman.com/suze-tools/expense-tracker   With the help of Quicken, I made a spreadsheet using Suze’s expense-tracker as a model.  Furthermore, I had to look back at previous years to make sure that the amounts I put down for each item were realistic.  This exercise is a real eye-opener for most people.

Next, I had to run different scenarios to be able to fill out the spreadsheets projecting into the future.  If I retired at age 62, what sources of income would be available to me?  How would that number change if I wanted until 65?  What if I wanted until my full retirement age of 66?  What if I waited until 70?   I remarried seven years ago and my husband is fifteen years older than me.  If he died, would I still be able to afford to retire?  I own two rental properties and am currently paying mortgages on both, as well as our home.  Would I be better off to sell one or the other of the rental properties, or both…. or neither?  These are the types of questions and scenarios that aren’t covered in those retirement calculators one finds online.

The last time I upgraded my Quicken to Quicken Deluxe, it came with a tool called Lifetime Planner.  Using what you already have entered into Quicken, it prompts you to put in all the information above, including all your assets, any loans, any future big purchases, how much you plan to contribute to your retirement accounts each year and etc.  It uses all that information to give you a red, yellow or green light about whether you should have enough money for the retirement date you put in.  The tool also allows you to change play around with different scenarios to see how changes might affect the plan.  After putting in all my figures I was happy to get the “green light” saying “you should have enough to fund all your life event goals and your expenses in retirement”.  For me, that was the confirmation I needed to feel confident that I had figured things up correctly on my spreadsheets.  It does appear that barring some sort of financial calamity, if I continue to put away what I have been every month, and keep paying down my mortgages, I should be able to afford to retire at the end of June, 2017.

There is a commercial on TV that always makes me smile.  It asks “Isn’t that what retirement really is…paying yourself to do what you love?”  That’s what I’m hoping.

118

And so, the journey begins…

100_3358I have always looked forward to new journeys, both in travels and in life.  At various times in my life, I have kept a journal during times of transition, to help me sort my thoughts and hopefully understand why I made the choices I did … and how it all turned out!

I am now approaching another big transition in my life — Retirement.  For most of my life retirement has seemed far off and maybe something that would never happen for me.  For most of my working life I was self-employed and working a second job in order to have money to travel.  As the other part of this blog, I will tell about some of those journeys, as well.

But now I am into my 60’s and now retirement is starting to seem real.   In fact, I have a retirement date — July, 2017.  As I contemplated starting another journal, to chronicle this new journey, I decided to explore another path by sharing the journey, via this blog.

And so, the journey begins….