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Monday, June 28, 2010

11th Stop - Amsterdam, part 2

Perfect, well almost. I just barely made my flight. Unfortunately, I couldn't check in luggage in Nice because I was too late. What to do with the four nice bottles of rosé wine I bought as gifts for my hosts? Had to think fast, lest they end up in the trash... Who is always hanging out at the airport in Nice? Mister Limousines of course. I had Laurent on the phone in a matter of seconds, and he told me to drop them off at the Heli Air Monaco desk. He'd swing by to pick them up later. Ok, that was done, time to get on my plane. It isn't very nice to be going through the security check and here your name being called, "Passenger John Di Rico, last call for the flight to Amsterdam!" I grabbed my things in both arms and started to run... and sweat profusely. "Wow, you just barely made. I was just about to close the flight."

The flight got me back to Amsterdam and I was soon in my car. Thanks Chantal for the tip about the free parking outside of the RAI train station! I picked up Marion and Hilde from JCI Amsterdam International and we headed over to Sugar City in Halfweg for a visit of a new office building built in and on top of an old sugar processing plant. They actually kept the existing sugar silos and turned them into office towers! For those who don't know, Halfweg is halfway between Amsterdam and the ocean.

The next day I had a training with 3 translators. I got there extra early to make sure everything was in place. Perhaps too early, I thought to myself, when I showed up and was greeted by an iron curtain in front of the training office. No big deal, I'll go grab a coffee and come back in half an hour. Coffee was grabbed and I got back in front of the office. Still no one there. Then one, two, all three of my trainees show up. "Ok, maybe the person is running late. Let's do introductions outside and then..." Fifteen minutes later and still no one! Luckily, they have a sister organization not too far away. More running, this time in a suit and tie. We finally got the door opened and had a fabulous day of training. Despite having confirmed in person, next time, double check to make sure they received the confirmation by email.

I learned some interesting things about Dutch culture from my trainees. Let's start with the birthdays. Apparently, when it is your birthday, you have to hang around at your place and receive guests all day long. You also serve them coffee and cakes when they pay you a visit. The Dutch also have a thing called club friends. This is a group of childhood friends that remains intact forever. Some clubs even chip in money and plan reunions every year. If you weren't part of the group as a child, there's no way you'll get in as an adult. Thanks again Marlies, Zena and Jean for attending the training and the interesting discussions at lunch!

This time around in Amsterdam, I stayed with a friend (Maureen) of a friend (Chantal). Maureen is an exceptional host, amazing cook, and great conversationalist. She is also a very talented listener. I appreciated the time we spent together talking about family, friends, and life in general. Unfortunately, as the days went on, we started to see less and less of each other because of scheduling conflicts! I want to wish her the best of luck finding a new job in the cultural industry.

The first night, we took the bikes and went out for dinner. Maureen warned me that the brakes weren’t working and she seemed rather concerned. Little did she know about my years of experience riding bicycles, but more importantly, that I used to work in a bike shop. What a great opportunity to fix her bike (didn’t get around to it until Sunday but got it done!). After a delicious dinner in her old neighborhood (pizza with truffle oil and fresh riccola), we watched the end of the World Cup game (the Dutch versus Cameroon).

I made breakfast Friday morning and Maureen’s friend Katelijne stopped by with an apple coffee cake. Katelijne is an up and coming filmmaker and was having a release party later that evening for her latest documentary called The Last Polder. She has some great ideas for future films including an in-depth look at how the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) radically affected small farmers in the Netherlands over the past 50 years. Sounds promising, best of luck and looking forward to seeing it on the big screen!

After taking a ride to the bike shop to get the brakes for the repair job, we had 25 minutes to make and eat an avocado, tomato, feta, garlic, olive oil and lemon juice pasta salad before we were supposed to go to the movie theater. In fact, I got confused, I thought we were going to the release party but it turned out Maureen was meeting a friend of hers to see a new Japanese animation... with Dutch sub-titles! I appreciate the invitation but I think I’ll do something else. Maureen’s friend started recommending good films to see and others to avoid. I’m sorry guys, I know you’re going to lose all esteem for me but I really enjoy watching action-packed Hollywood movies on the big screen. I didn’t find out until later that Maureen’s friend is a film critic!

There wasn’t anything playing I wanted to see so I left them and met up with Enrico, Manus, and Renato for some Belgian beers at Golem. I met Manus 7 years ago when I came to visit Janet in Amsterdam. I was surprised to learn that he just started making movies (corporate films) and wants to start making documentaries. Wow! Going to have to hook him up with Katelijne. Around 11 pm I got a message from Hilde to join her and her friend Uke at a club. Manus and Enrico left and Renato and I headed over to what we soon realized was a 90’s music theme evening. Fair enough. We barely had time to get a drink and find Hilde and Uke when Enrico shows up! I guess he couldn’t resist the urge to dance. Thanks to everyone for such a fun night!

On Saturday, I grabbed some croissants and another one of Maureen’s friends came by for breakfast. Then I left to go to the beach with Hilde and her colleague from work, via Halfweg of course. I rushed into the water only to be scared out of my wits by a giant jellyfish on patrol two feet in front of the spot I planned on diving head first. I think I’m just going to suntan and play the djembé for the rest of the day...

We made it back to Amsterdam and went directly to the riverside restaurant to meet up with Marion, the JCI Amsterdam International local president, and other members from their chapter. She had organized dinner and drinks partly because I was in town. Thanks Marion for doing this and to everyone who joined us!

It was getting late and time to go to a club or bar. Jasper and I were the only two with enough energy so we said our goodbyes and were off on the bicycles for a late night on the town. Jasper grew up in Amsterdam but recently returned from working in Madrid. He’s now looking for a job here in supply-chain management. Good luck to you too Jasper!

We hit up several places: a hard rock bar with a live band playing Metallica covers, a boilerplate bar with top 40’s pop hits, and the Bourbon Street Club with live soul and funk music. We closed out the latter and ran into an Indian friend of Jasper’s cousin on our way out. This friend either really liked his cousin or was really drunk because all of the sudden, I was his best friend and if I went to Calcutta, his family would take care of me. Ok, that sounds nice, can I have your number?

We left and headed back to the first place we had stopped, a former newspaper production facility, but never actually went in. There were some top DJ’s from Berlin spinning and the party was supposed to go on all night, until 3 pm the next day. Sure enough, by the time we got there at 5:30 am, there were people outside waiting to get in. While the sun rose, we waited until the doors re-opened at 6 am (legal requirement to “close” for an hour) and went back into the night.

We met some nice people in there, including Melanie, who told me all about her business plan and recent participation in a young entrepreneurship contest. We danced until about 9:30 am and then reemerged from the night. It’s strange coming out of a pitch black underground dance party at 9:30 on a Sunday morning. You feel almost ready to start the day.

After getting some shut eye, I packed my things, fixed Maureen’s bike and was on my way to Brussels. Thanks again to Enrico, Janet, Hilde, Marion, Jasper and everyone else for such a wonderful time in Amsterdam and especially to Maureen for hosting me. That’s 4 bednets to protect 4 families for at least the next 4 years.

Next stop: Brussels!,


  1. wow! Real party time! Sounds fun :-)


  2. wow! Real party time! Sounds fun :-)



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