Posts filed under ‘Amsterdam’

Sex and the NEMO Science Center

Early on in our Netherlands trip, Ryan Somma and I noted the credit card receipts didn’t have a line item for “Tip”. Solution? We started carrying around cash so we were able to leave an extra 20% to our wait staff. So it turns out there is a reason the credit card receipts were different. There was already a service charge automatically added to the bill! That was probably the most expensive cultural difference we ran across. Zwarte Piet was definitely the most perplexing cultural difference. The cultural difference that was most interesting… and inspiring… is the open attitude towards sex.

And I’m not talking about the famous Red Light District with the sex shops, the peep shows and the window ladies. I’m talking about what you can see in the NEMO Science Center— the children’s museum.

The exhibits were not squeamish about nudity and did not shy away from the topic of sex. On the nudity front, you could see it throughout the museum. One of the many optical illusions on display asked viewers if they could see lovers or dolphins. A great “Bizarre and Beautiful” exhibit displayed photographs to show how beauty varies from culture to culture.

What do you see? Dolphins or lovers? (If you have trouble spotting the dolphins click on the picture to see Flickr notes)

Bizarre and Beautiful Display

Another exhibit allowed you to press a button and see how different hormones and proteins sounded if they were translated to music. Next to each item there was a representation so you could see what you were playing. So say for example you were playing the DNA of a mosquito. Next to the button was a mosquito. One of the musical scores was the “Human Sex Hormone”. For that representation, they simply put two naked dolls on top of each other.

Human Sex Hormone

And then we got to the third floor which featured more detailed exhibits geared towards teenagers. They had a display demonstrating sexual positions.

Sexual Position Displays at the NEMO Science Center

They had multiple displays on contraceptives, including novelty condoms.

Novelty condoms at the NEMO Science Center

The museum is a hands-on museum. What kind of hands on display can you do with sex? Hmm…How about allowing two children to move giant tongues to simulate a French Kiss?

Hands on display for French Kissing

A cartoon movie explaining the changes of puberty featured a confused cartoon boy ejaculating.

The befuddled cartoon boy on the left is ejaculating. Obviously he hadn’t visited the NEMO Science Center when he was younger.

They even had a booth were you could put on headphones and watch snippets from Beautiful Agony, a site which captures the human orgasm… from the neck up.

Explanation of “The Little Death” with still shots from Beautiful Agony

With so much talk about sex, surely the teenagers must be running wild in the Netherlands. It’s got to be worse than any invasive species– their teen birth rate must be through the roof!

NOPE! According to a 2001 Unicef report, their births per 1000 women, ages 15-19 was 6.2. Ours– 52.1, over 8 times as much.

Oh gawd, silly me. Of course! The reason their birth rate is so low is there are more abortions!

NOPE! Their teen abortion rate per 1000 women, ages 15 – 19 was 3.9. Ours — 30.2. That’s 7 times higher.

United States
Births per 1000, women ages 15-19 52.1 6.2
Abortions per 1000, women ages 15-19 30.2 3.9

Numbers from a 2001 Unicef Report

As a recap:

Easy and encouraged access to information to make knowledgeable decisions.
Less teen births.
Less teen abortions.

What exactly is the drawback here?

I may have my doubts and reservations about the Dutch’s Zwarte Piet, but not their attitute towards sex. I left the NEMO Science Center with a great respect for their culture.

Additional Reading
Sex Education: Why the British Should Go Dutch published November 28, 2008
Let’s Talk About Sex – Op-Ed Piece from the New York Times, published September 6, 2008

December 11, 2008 at 8:00 am 6 comments

I See Extinct Things… in Amsterdam!

Thanks to the Amsterdam Botanical Gardens, I got to view more species that were once thought to be extinct.

Dawn Redwood (aka Water Fir)

In 1941, a Japanese paleo-botanist found fossil specimens that were similar both to Sequoias and Bald Cypresses, but had opposite leaves instead of the expected alternating leaves. This prompted the creation of a new genus, Metasequoia. Since the last appearance of trees with those properties was a whooping 1.5 million years ago, they were assumed extinct. But, three years later, a strand of unknown trees surfaced in China. Lo and behold, they were Metasequoias.

Water fir/Dawn Redwood in Amsterdam Botanical Gardens

Today the original forest still houses 5000 of the “living fossil”. In addition, the tree is planted widely. The tree in the Botanical Gardens was planted from the first seeds to arrive in Amsterdam in 1947. It is a source of national pride in China and marketed as an ornamental in the U.S.

The plantings that intrigue me the most, however, are in my new home state, North Carolina. Hidden away in the Sauraton Mountains, a Dawn Redwood preserve is in the works. In 2007, they had over 300 Dawn Redwoods flourishing on the site, some as tall as 50 feet. The Crescent Ridge Dawn Redwood Preserve hopes to open to the public in 2035 where visitors can experience what a metasequoia forest looked like 50-100 million years ago.

I think I will pencil in Crescent Ridge Dawn Redwood Preserve as my birthday hike in 2035. I’ll be turning 60. Anyone else in?

Wollemi Pine

Like the Coelacanths, we encountered plenty of fossils of this tree. In 1994, a National Park and Wildlife Services officer in Australia found some peculiar trees. Upon investigation, they turned out to be trees we saw no trace of for 2 million years.

With less than 100 adult trees existing in the wild and fossils dating back to 90 million years ago, the Wollemi Pine is one of the world’s oldest AND rarest trees.

Wollemi Pine in Amsterdam Botanical Gardens

It is considered Critically Endangered, but like the Dawn Redwood, it’s being planted extensively and can be purchased to grow in the U.S. In fact, if you get your orders in by December 15th, you can have your own Wollemi Pine by Christmas time!

More pictures of the Amsterdam Botanical Gardens can be found on my Flickr site.

December 3, 2008 at 8:00 am 1 comment

Manna Ash and the Washington Monument

Recently I shared pictures of the Two-Face Tree I saw at Douthat State Park. Little did I know there were cooler things to come! Check out this tree from the Amsterdam Botanical Gardens:

What the–

They wanted a Manna Ash in the gardens. But the Manna Ash is indigenous to the countries of Southern Europe. Since it is accustomed to the same warm weather that attracted Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet to Spain, the Manna Ash has doesn’t grow as well in the colder climate of Amsterdam.

Solution? Graft the Manna Ash to the root structure of a Common Ash which is better suited for the cold. It makes for an interesting looking tree.

Manna Ash grafted onto a Common Ash

This tree doesn’t remind me of any comic book characters, but it does make me think about the Washington Monument. Thanks to funding problems and a little thing known as the Civil War, there was about a 25 year hiatus in the construction of the Washington Monument. When construction finally resumed, builders could not locate stone that matched the work that was already done. To this day, there is a distinct color change where the original effort left off.

Two Barks

Two Stones (Photo by CrimsonMage)

With both the Manna Ash and the Washington Monument, the construction materials of the top and the bottom were closely related. And yet, a border is still readily visible.

More pictures of the Amsterdam Botanical Gardens can be found on my Flickr site.

December 2, 2008 at 8:00 am 1 comment

Hearts in Nature: Amsterdam Botanical Gardens

There was a lot of diversity on the Botanical Gardens at Amsterdam and there were a couple of hearts as well. One of these comes from the desert climate greenhouse. The other comes from a tree in the outdoor gardens. Enjoy!

Heart in Nature from the Desert Greenhouse

Heart in Nature in the Outside Gardens

More pictures of the Amsterdam Botanical Gardens can be found on my Flickr site.

December 1, 2008 at 9:00 am Leave a comment

Hortus Botanicus Amsterdam

My favorite, favorite, favorite part of the trip to the Netherlands was an afternoon at the Hortus Botanicus, aka the Botanical Gardens. Area-wise, the gardens are small, taking up only 1.2 hectares. On the map, the gardens are so small that I originally thought little Wertheim Park was it!

The small size is incredibly misleading. The gardens are completely packed with things to see! They house over 4000 different species of plants, they have a special butterfly greenhouse as well as exhibits representing subtropic, tropic and desert climates. There was an amazing amount of diversity.  Oh and I did I mention they hand out a guide highlighting the notable trees on the property? 🙂 Not too shabby. Rounding off its resume, the Hortus Botanicus is one of the oldest botanical gardens the world. It was started in 1682 as a medicinal garden.

Roughly 326 years later, I found myself captivated all afternoon. I seemed to profit substantially from the season and got to see an array of autumn colors.

Bridge Over a Canal

Floating Gingko Leaves

Neat eye-shaped patterns in one of the greenhouses

A decaying leaf in the Butterfly Greenhouse

A tree’s large branches dig into the ground

Glasswing Butterfly

Yeouch! And I thought the Devil’s Walking Stick looked treacherous!

Layers of Algae in the Tropical Greenhouse

Canal and buildings from inside the subtropic greenhouse

A twisty tree in the gardens

Changing leaves with an Iron Tree

I found the gardens well worth the 7€ entrance fee. If you are in Amsterdam, I highly recommend a visit.

More pictures of the Amsterdam Botanical Gardens can be found on my Flickr site.

December 1, 2008 at 12:19 am 5 comments

Hungry Tree: Amsterdam

Being one of the most tree-rich cities in Europe, it makes sense that Amsterdam would have a hungry tree somewhere. Here’s one I spotted next to the zoo in someone’s yard. It’s eating a fence.

Europe has hungry trees too

And speaking of hungry, I hope everyone’s appetites get complete satiated today. Me– I’m going to be gorging on delicious Sweet Potato Casserole at my Aunt’s house.


November 27, 2008 at 8:00 am 2 comments


On Saturday in Amsterdam, I got to see an episode of the BBC comedy, Outnumbered. It’s about two parents struggling to raise their three energetic and imaginative children. I found myself laughing a great deal. Like Curb Your Enthusiasm, some of the dialog is improvised. However, I don’t think you have to adjust to a different cadence or delivery (With Curb Your Enthusiasm, it took me a number of episodes before I could appreciate the humor). This show, I didn’t even realize improvisation was involved and I was laughing right away.

Here are a few clips I found on YouTube.

Even in scenes where the outcome is predictable (like that last clip), I think the execution is still so good.

Anyway, I recommend keeping an eye out for it on BBC America… or maybe one day it will sneak its way to Netflix.

P.S. It looks like they are going to try a U.S. version of Outnumbered as well.

November 26, 2008 at 8:00 am 1 comment

Season Compare: NEMO Science Center

The NEMO Science Center resembles a big ship. Inside, of course, you have all the great displays, many of which are hands-on. Outside, on the deck to the ship, you have a great view of the city!

One of the views from the top of NEMO Science Center

I was in Amsterdam for a day trip in 1995, well before this center was in place. So really, a Season Compare was far from my radar. But wait! At the top of the deck, there was a nice panoramic display detailing the different landmarks you are looking at. And, whoa! They just so happened to take their panoramic pictures during the summer. As a result, in each direction I looked, I had an on demand season compare!

On Demand Season Compares

More pictures of NEMO Science Center can be found on my Flickr site.

November 25, 2008 at 8:00 am Leave a comment

Amsterdam – Wertheim Park

On Sunday, after visiting the closed Energetica Museum, Somma and I wandered over to Wertheim Park. This small but inviting park is a remnant from when France occupied Holland– the land was originally a gift to the city from Napoleon. Today the park houses a reminder of another wartime occupation. Wertheim Park is home to Amsterdam’s Auschwitz Memorial.

Before the German Invasion, there were 140,000 Jews living in the Netherlands. After the war was over, only 5,200 had survived the concentration camps and returned. That means roughly 96% never made it home.

The memorial in Wertheim Park consists of panels of broken mirrors on the ground. It reflects the sky which, having witnessed such atrocities, will be “wounded forever“.

A shot of the wounded sky at the Auschwitz Memorial

I believe it was well planned to have the memorial surrounded by such a simple, but lovely park. Just as brief glimpses of a horse chestnut tree brought Anne Frank happiness, the park can remind us about the beauty admist the varied and ugly sins of our past… and present.

Sphinx line the entrance to the park

Turning leaves and catkins at Wertheim Park

A large tree stands in the park, nearby the memorial. The twists and knots in its bark, document the trials of a long life. It has taken its wounds, continued on, and grew into something more rugged, more stable, yet inspiring and beautiful.

Rugged tree

If a tree can do it, perhaps then, so can mankind.

More pictures of Amsterdam’s Wertheim Park are available on my Flickr site.

November 24, 2008 at 1:00 pm Leave a comment

Rollerblading: 5th Country – Netherlands

The fifth country I have rollerbladed in is…the Netherlands!

It didn’t look too promising at first that my skates would get a chance to leave my suitcase. It was rainy the first couple days in Amsterdam and the first two days in Bergen op Zoom, we stayed at the customer site past dark.

My very last night in the Netherlands, however, we got off work with enough daylight to pay a parking ticket AND for me to sneak in a skate in Bergen op Zoom.

The pavement wasn’t exactly optimal– it was a stone walkway that was still damp and had pockets of fallen leaves.The outing was pretty short as it was getting dark and I still had to drive back to Amsterdam. But, I did manage to get my heart rate up and I managed to stumble on a scenic water front. So all in all, my 5th country provided a pretty nice skate.

Me getting ready to rollerblade! (Photo by Ryan Somma)

Me (far right) rollerblading in the Netherlands (Photo by Ryan Somma)

Waterfront in Bergen op Zoom

P.S. For the other rollerbladers out there– The next day on the way to Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, I did spy a very nice, smooth, bike path nearby. I also read that Vondelpark would be a good place to go.

November 24, 2008 at 8:00 am Leave a comment

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