Monday, November 18, 2013

Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam

Back in the fall of 2010 I visited Las Vegas as my parents were going to be there for a week.  We decided to take a day trip to Grand Canyon because, well, it's the Grand Canyon!

We drove for about 30 minutes and arrived at Hoover Dam first.  This is the dam I always remember hearing and reading about.  The great Hoover Dam.  I love the architecture, it screams Art Deco!

I love the public works projects from the 1930's, they weren't just utilitarian, they really showcased true artistry.  We seemed to have lost that in today's public works projects.

Look at the Winged Figures of the Republic.  There are two of them and their wings are 30 feet high.

They were designed and built by Oskar Hansen, who was responsible for most of the mythical art work.  They are constructed from tons of bronze and they sit beside a very tall flag pole.  Most of the statues have a green patina, except their feet, which are brown from being rubbed by tourists.

Hoover Dam was started in 1931 and completed in 1936 and made of concrete that is 660 feet thick at the bottom and 45 feet thick at the top.  And on the top is a road that connects Nevada with Arizona and is the perfect direction to reach the Grand Canyon, which is about 4 1/2 hours away, by car.  The dam cost $49 million back in its day and is 726 feet tall and 1,244 feet wide and they used over 3 million cubic yards of concrete, which holds back the Colorado River, which helped to create the Grand Canyon.

Hoover Dam

Lake Mead

Lake Mead is the man made lake being held back by the dam and is about 28.5 million acres large with a surface area of 247 square miles or about 3 1/2 times larger than our capitol, Washing D.C.

The turbines inside can, at capacity, create almost 2,100 megawatts of electricity.  It's annual generation is 4.2 billion kWh according to their website.

In 2010 a new bridge was built to accommodate the heavy traffic, which currently stands at over 1 million visitors a year just to the damn alone.

It is really a nice trip and the entire tour takes about an hour before heading to the Grand Canyon and definitely worth the stop.

Hoover Dam was a quick drive from Las Vegas, but the Grand Canyon was another 4 hours away and so worth the long drive!

Because we left a bit late we didn't arrive to the Grand Canyon until late afternoon, which meant the sun wasn't so strong and you could really see the layers that made up this grand natural site.

And as the sun was setting...

We suddenly noticed the moon was rising!

And not just any moon, a FULL moon!  We couldn't have picked a better day or a better time to go!

The entire Canyon and surrounding area was bathed in a warm light.  It was truly magical.  Here are a few more photos from the Grand Canyon.

Family and Friends


We were going to Kaua'i in mid-May because friends of ours were having a destination wedding.  My boyfriend, David, is from Hawai'i but hadn't been back in a few years and had never visited Kaua'i so we were both very excited to go.

Kaua'i is known as the garden island and for good reason.  It truly is a gardener's paradise.  It has one of those climates and soil richness that you put it in the ground and it will grow.  Lush is the word that best describes Kaua'i.

Wailua River State Park

Our flight with Hawaiian Air was really nice.  I would fly with them again.  It took about 5 hours to get to the Oahu and then we caught our next flight in less than an hour to get to Kaua'i.

We landed and were quickly bused to our car rental and the first thing we noticed is there were roosters everywhere!

The chickens and roosters are all over the island and were actually brought over by the original Polynesian settlers and have since bred with European chickens and that is what is around the island today.  Each morning you will hear a few roosters welcoming the new day's sun.

We stayed at one of the plantations that are found on the island.  Ours is called Kiahuna Plantation in the southern part of the island, about a 35 minute car ride from the airport.

It has multiple buildings and various types of apartments.  There were about 30 guests to the wedding and all of them were staying at the plantation.  We had a 2 bedroom plantation that was two floors and had a balcony on the second floor and a patio on the ground floor.  We looked out onto a massive tree and it kept our place relatively cool.

Kiahuna Plantation

The first thing we noticed were all the vegetation, birds singing, and the huge orchid garden they had next to the registration building.  The orchids were stunning and just growing outdoors with no care in the world.
And these are just a small fraction of the size of their orchid garden.  It is truly splendid.

Of course when you get on an island we want to explore it, see what it has to offer.  Its main offerings are its beauty.  The beaches, the resorts, the gardens, the mountains are all so breathtaking.  You just can't stop taking photos of everything because everything is just so beautiful.

Some basic facts about Kaua'i.  It is a volcanic island that is roughly 5 - 6 million years old.  It is the oldest of the Hawaiian Islands.  It is a little over 560 square miles and is 25 miles long from north to south and 33 miles wide from east to west.  It has a population of around 69,100 people and its main source of income is tourism, with almost 1.3 million visitors a year or 18x greater than the population of this island!

Here is a brief history of Kauai's inhabitants: 

200 - 600 AD -- Early Marquesans arrived
1778 -- James Cook arrived at the shores of Kaua'i
1810 -- The Kingdom of Hawai'i was established under the rule of Kamehameha the Great, which included the island of Kaua'i after three battles, the third had Kaua'i surrender before any bloodshed
1820 -- The first mission house in Wiamea was built
Early 19th century -- Economic evolution surged due to the sugar and pineapple industries
1893 -- The Kingdom of Hawai'i was overthrown
1920s -- The tourism industry in Kauai was born
1959 -- Hawaii, along with Kauai, became the 50th state of the United States of America 

One of the beautiful places to visit is the National Tropical Botanical Garden.  It has a huge collection of local and exotic plants all within a short walk to the ocean.  The two gardens that are here are the Allerton and McBryde and are definitely worth a stop to spend time in this well-cared for gardens.

Water Lily at the National Tropical Botanical Garden in Kaua'i

Our next trip was to what is called the Canyon of the West or Lush Grand Canyon and boy was it!  The drive to Waimea Canyon took a few hours but we were surrounded by beautiful lushness and the ocean so along the drive so it was a pleasant few hours.  The temperature did drop by almost 20 degrees when we got to some of the higher elevations.  

Waimea Canyon is 14 miles long, one mile wide, and 3,600 feet deep.  You have multiple viewing spots and each one takes your breath away.  Below are just a few photos from this amazing canyon.

We kept driving and driving because we just couldn't get enough of the beautiful canyon and we thought we were seeing the most beautiful scenery in the world, until we came upon this!

 The Kalalau Lookout

To look from so high up onto a lush and glorious fjord like canyon that plunged into the bluest of blue seas with white fluffy clouds floating high above, it was truly a marvel.  Both of us couldn't get enough of this glorious place.

There is so much more I could talk about when it comes to Kaua'i but some things are better experienced in person.  So please give yourself the gift of the garden isle, go to Kaua'i.

Below are few pictures from my friend's wedding.  Congratulations to Charles and Sherrie, it was a truly unforgettable week!

Charles and Sherrie giving vows
The reception

Charles and Sherrie

The wedding cake


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Rant About U.S. Universal Healthcare

There is so much rancor out there right now regarding the U.S. Universal Healthcare (legally known as the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010) and the country is starting to believe, majority-wise, that universal healthcare is a bad thing.

Most people seem to be in fear of the cost of the plan, as in dollars. I tend to think about the cost to people, as in human beings.

The Kaiser Family Foundation, "a non-profit, private foundation dedicated to providing information and analysis on health care issues in the U.S." has done extensive research and analysis on U.S. healthcare.

Here are some of their findings:

* In 2005, the U.S. spent $2 trillion on health care, which is 16% of GDP and $6,697 per person
* Health care costs have grown, on average, 2.5 percentage points faster than U.S. GDP since 1970
* Almost half of health care spending is used to treat just 5% of the population
* Prescription drug spending is 10% of total health spending, but contributes 14% of the growth in spending
* While about 26% of the poor spent more than 10% of their income on health in 1996, the number increased to 33% by 2003
* Many policy experts believe new technologies and the spread of existing ones account for a large portion of medical spending and its growth

These are very sobering statistics and here is one more, 32 to 46 million Americans, of them 9 million children, have been without health insurance in the U.S. That is more than 10% of the population.

And we are all to blame for the increased costs in healthcare. We choose to take drug after popular drug based on our own neurosis, and worse, we shove drug after over-prescribed disorder drug to our children.

We are the most obese and sickly citizens in U.S. history and we take on the least amount of exercise than any citizens before us. And we are possibly raising the first generation to live, on average, fewer years than their parents. I hear gym classes are not even mandatory in many school across our country.

And all of this has happened over time, this did not become the norm over night. And yet screaming blabbermouths on the air scream "Obamacare!" like it's the threat of the nation.

Personally the threat of the nation is 46 million uninsured people going to emergency rooms across the country for colds, sprained ankles, scrapes and other conditions that could have been handled by a competent doctor in his/her office with an appointment, if they had healthcare.

I'm also wondering when we became such a selfish country. To think 46 million people without health insurance is a better system than universal healthcare is just unfathomable to me.

Partly I think people are not looking at this issue on a human scale. Look at your extended family of say, 50 people. Now of that group, choose 10% of them and tell them they cannot have health insurance. Look at your niece, tell your grandfather, tell your child, "sorry, health insurance is not for you".

You can't do it, right? Well, we do it as a country every day, but no one has to go out and tell an American that you can't have health insurance, it is just part of being a free country. The markets decide who can and who cannot afford health insurance coverage. It's easier when no one has to take responsibility for it.

It's time to stop being such a frightened and paranoid country and to start making bold moves to ensure each and every citizen has the rights and freedoms to be healthy, happy and strong. And that includes ensuring each and every one of us has adequate, safe, and cost-effective health insurance coverage. No one should have to choose between dinner and a pill. It's not going to be easy and it's not going to be cheap, but what is more humanly expensive than 46 million Americans without health insurance?

Sunday, September 05, 2010

A Friend's Farm and Project

Growing up in New England and in a small town, you see and learn what small-farming is about. We lived in 'milking country' and had many family-owned farms around us.

Today we hear about the problems with intense-farming and corporate farming and the destruction they are having on our environment (polluting under-ground water and rivers and streams) and destroying our country's food supply.

So when a person or family is trying to produce top-quality, local, long-lasting products, you want to do what you can to support them.

Here in California we have many family-owned farms in and around the Bay Area who make cheese, raise organic chickens and sell organic free-range chicken eggs as well as all of the wonderful organic foods grown in the valley here.

I have a school friend who has a pre-civil war farmhouse and is running a sheep farm in Virginia. The lambs she is raising are rare and quite stunning to look at (I've only seen photos) and I have asked her to create a lamb's wool blanket for me.

My friend, Nancy Chase, and her farm, Ingleside Farm, and her story, can be found here: Ingleside Farm

Here is the design of the blanket (personally designed by Nancy):

and here are a couple of the lambs that will be providing the wool for the blanket:

This is Xenophon

This is Windsor

Aren't they just beautiful, beautiful animals!

Please think about your local family-owned farm. Buy their eggs, their cheese, and their other lovely products. You and your neighborhood and this country will be better for it.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Brief Review of PBS's Masterpiece Mystery! Murder on the Orient Express

I would have to say an interesting adaptation of Agatha Christie’s ‘Murder on the Orient Express’.

The acting was superb all around, the writing was well done but let’s make no mistake, it was an adaptation, not a legitimate expression of Agatha Christie’s intent.

For someone who has read Agatha Christie since I was a child, this was not the Poirot that I know nor is it the Poirot Agatha Christie knew.

Poirot had more control, had much more pomposity and would not have shown his emotions in such a raw form, which is what made this an intriguing adaptation.

The story is a powerful one that all of us take ownership of, which makes it hard for us to watch when others take liberties with the author’s intent.

Interesting adaptation but I felt Poirot’s character was not held to Agatha’s standards and unfortunately neither was the plot. I don’t think I would have enjoyed it as much if the acting wasn’t so brilliant (or the cinematography for that matter), but in the end, I was let down with a director and writer who felt their views and visions were more important than Agatha Christie’s and that I cannot forgive.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

A Note to Jeffrey

Hi Jeffrey, it’s been awhile, I know.

Today is your birthday and something tells me it was stellar!

What did you do? Man I wish you could tell me.

My life has been an interesting one since you and I met last. Let’s see, where to begin…

1) My grandmother died shortly after you. She, like you, had a wonderful life of friends and family.

2) I continue to see the world. Went to one of your spots, Puerto Vallarta, with 9 friends and had a freakin’ blast! Met an 81 year old lady from Scotland whose dad moved the family from Scotland to Mexico when she was 3. She met her husband when she was 17 and they married when she was 18. She has a great collection of art that she and her husband have collected through their 60+ years of marriage. Don’t you just love randomly meeting those awesome people in the world?

3) Atlassian is still growing by leaps and bounds, you would be so proud!

4) I had a really good browny that liked me less than I liked it, but we grow as people, right?

5) Heading back east to wonderful Martha’s Vineyard, which you know is one of those special places in the world.

6) Off to Sydney and Amsterdam later this year. You would be thrilled with how Amsterdam is going.

7) I’m going on my first trip to Vegas and with my family. Can you believe it? I can’t either but it’s happening.

8) Britt and Mac are doing well. I would tell you all the gossip but you always knew what was happening before I did, so I will let you tell me the next time we speak.

9) Jessy, gosh, Jessy. Jessy is doing well, Jeffrey. She has amazing friends and family and we all love her dearly and she, like all of us, just miss you terribly and wish this was all a bad dream.

I wish we had more time, but I think it’s time to say good-bye for now.

For now, Jeffrey, ciao and we’ll talk again.

I love you and these tears, oh these painful tears will dry and I will smile the next time I think of you. Just not right now.


For those of you who may not know, this is Jeffrey:

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

A Test of Strength? No, LIFE

It has been a very trying time in my life. The death of my boss and mentor has jolted me to the core. I thought, as with all of his trials, he would triumph. How do I let go, how do I say good-bye to someone who has impacted me so greatly?

On top of this, my grandmother, whom I love so dearly, is starting her first major battle with sickness at the age of 96 (she had to have a pace-maker put in a few years back). If we could all be so lucky. The doctors have said there is nothing they can do and slowly my grandmother's heart and body are degenerating. Her mind is sharp and she is able to move about of which the family is very fortunate and grateful to still have and enjoy.

Additionally I just found out my 42 year old best friend had to have two lymph-nodes removed from her neck after having an abscess in her tooth that then caused her lymph-nodes to swell to an extraordinary size. All tests have come back negative, cancer and sexually transmitted diseases, but the oncologist is very concerned and the lymph-nodes have been shipped to Maryland for further tests.

This is a lot for anyone to manage, singularly, on their own; one battle at a time please, but to have to grieve and worry through all three is a new challenge.

Not to say I have any difficulties compared to my mentor's family or what my grandmother is personally going through, wondering when the next phase will begin and what that will be. Imagine hearing from the doctors there is nothing they can do. And my friend, my dear friend, having to wait for the results of the further tests, wondering if she will begin the battle with a form of cancer or some other unknown-at-the-moment condition.

With my boss's death, people are saying, 'I was meaning to visit him' or 'I wished I had called'. With my grandmother, the family wonders if there is more we could have done or can do now. And with my friend, we all hope the results come back negative and that we have many more years to spend with her.

I have found through other losses in my life, there really isn't enough time. My family is very close and they have spent thousands of hours with Grammie and I saw Grammie at least weekly, but, of course, we wonder 'could we have spent more time, could we have experienced that time with more love and attention?' 'Could we have brought her more joy by doing more things?'

Only one person can answer that question and we seldom dare to ask. A common phrase is "life gets in the way". I'm sure each of these people have said those exact words about another person in their life who is no longer living. Why do we question our connections at the time of possible departure or after the death of someone? Wouldn't it be better to evaluate and re-evaluate all of our relationships? Maybe I should put in my calendar, monthly, an examination of one friend or a few friends or family; what have I done with them this past year, what can I do to let them know I love them?

I know, it won't happen and I don't think it's practical, really. Family is family, we are stuck with the good, with the difficult and with the continued drama that close-knit loving people endure. Would you really want it any other way? Friends are people we choose to spend our time with. We get something in turn from our interactions. They know us on a level that family doesn't, and they continue to choose to be with us as we continue to be with them.

My boss and mentor taught me to experience life to its fullest. I have heard that all throughout my life from those who regret decisions they have made in their past and from others who wished their lives were different. I am fortunate. Though my life is not perfect, I am pleased with my choices and where I am in my life. Yes, I would make a lot of changes along the way, if I had the chance, mostly to avoid the pain and heart-ache of past mistakes and choices that did not lead to a great conclusion. But we don't have that ability, and neither do the 3 wonderful individuals I talk about here.

What we can do is remind our family, our friends, our loved ones that they are important, that they matter, that you love them and you wish and hope for nothing but joy and happiness in their lives and a painless and long-way-away death surrounded by family and friends with the knowledge you did everything you wanted to do and you told everyone you wanted to tell that you love them... and I DO love them oh so much.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

My Heart Aches

Today I grieve for the loss of an amazing life.

Read his blog:

If you have not met Jeffrey, you truly missed out. Each of us who knew him and were enveloped in his passion for life were really, really fortunate. The ride, at times, might not have been smooth sailing, but damn it was a hell of a lot of fun!

I could say more but, frankly, I'll let the man speak for himself.

Read his blog, experience his life. He truly is an amazing life.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Present is past

Talking to friends on the Vineyard and listening to James Taylor makes me think about years past; growing up in Maine where family was always around.

Growing up in Maine, I had a very large, extended family. My mother was one of 6 and each of her siblings had children and even some of their children were having children.

I must have had 20 or more cousins (at least it seemed that way) and I was the youngest or one of the youngest of the gang so I learned a lot from them that maybe I wouldn't have learned about until later in life if they weren't around; things about family gossip, sex, smoking, dirty language and all the other things that move us from the clutches of innocence to the realm of reality.

Innocence may be nothing more than ignorance but I do think of my childhood fondly. I was so fortunate to be brought up in the bosom of love and care. I felt it with every smile, every wrinkling of the nose from my mom, every warm hug from Nana, every laugh from a cousin, every night I went to bed, knowing when I got up in the morning there was a family, oh so eccentric, unbelievably funny, all too often annoying, just a little bit crazy, and more loving than anyone could ever imagine; there to say to me, with the warmest of hearts, "good morning".

More to come.

* * * * * *

We glide along the night darkened country roads warmed from the hot summer day. We are returning from a day of swimming at the lake and being with family and friends. The caressing breeze cools my face and neck and I hear, in the distance as we ride by, frogs and crickets and see the familiar and welcoming flickers of the fire-flies in the fields passing by. I look up into the pitch-black night sky and I can millions of far-a-way stars and planets flickering, like the fire-flies in the fields below.

There are no street or porch lights to shine our way, just the limited focus of the car's headlights, which are no match for the darkness of these impenetrable ancient woods. No words are spoken, no music is heard other than that from the night creatures of rural Maine.

This is a familiar scene for me, growing up in rural Maine. Summers are about being with family and friends, swimming in sun-warmed lakes, sand in our feet, bug bites on our arms and legs and no worries in our souls. Just thoughts of what we would be doing tomorrow during another long summer day and night.

* * * * * *

Crickets creek, frogs shreek, fire-flies blink and I am looking up at the warm summer night sky wondering who, so far away, is looking back.

* * * * * *

Saturday, April 04, 2009


"The verdure of the trees reflecting strongly upon large windows which are kept bright and free of dust, add infinitely to their luster and magnificence." wrote a visiting American back in the 1700's.

This succinctly explains Amsterdam to the modern traveler as it did during the revolutionary years of Europe and America.

The brick and stone buildings shine with spotless oversized windows that reflect the branches and leaves of the tree-lined canals.

Amsterdam is a place you must experience, rather than just explore. My first visit in 2000 was about exploring, visiting the sites, going to the Keukenhof and the cheese auctions in Alkmaar. My time was spent mainly in the center between Centraal Station and Dam Square, very bustling and busy and hosts to the travelers and locals who like the adult night life. Because of this, Amsterdam did not enthrall me as Paris, Egypt or Bruges did and still do.

This time I came to work and I've done more than just explore, I've experienced Amsterdam, and now I have a very different perspective of this place of 700,000+ people. There are the frustrations of running a business in this aged and lovely city, but there are also the triumphs and joys of spending one's precious time here.

Let's start with the basics.

Amsterdam began to emerge from a sleepy fishing village in the late 1200's at the mouth of the Amstel river. Lords van Amstel feuded with counts and bishops that lasted for another century.

By the late 1300's, controlled by the Dukes of Burgundy, the little city perfected the method of curing herring (in 1385) and started to become a truly rich port as it also became the stopping ground to export beer and other wares from its mutli-purpose built homes that were also warehouses.

In 1452, the second major fire caused legislation that outlawed any buildings being constructed of wood. A few years earlier the marriage of Philip the Good of Burgundy to Isabella of Portugal put the Low Countries (as Netherlands was known at the time) in control by the all powerful Habsburg dynasty. FYI: Philip's son, Charles the V became, in later years, the King of Spain.

In 1568, the Dutch Revolt under William of Orange (a Protestant) arose and the power of the Catholics eroded quickly and within 10 years the Alteration occurs, where the Catholics are expelled from Amsterdam. William of Orange was assassinated in 1584, when he was shot on the staircase of his quarters in Delft (not sure if any of his porcelain broke from the shot).

In 1634 tulip mania begins in Amsterdam and Rembrandt becomes a Dutch sensation and in 1648, after many decades of war with Spain (80 years), the Treaty of Munster ends the fighting and the Netherlands is born.

For the pilgrims of the new world, later these United States of America, prior to sailing across the Atlantic, they went to Leiden to escape persecution from the British and stayed for 11 years before setting sail in 1620. There is a museum in Leiden describing their time in the Netherlands.

The 17th and 18th centuries were of great expansion and creation of wealth for the people of Amsterdam, including the creation of the East India Company as well as it's expansion around the world, including New Amsterdam, later to be called New York City.

In the 1960's, as in other parts of the world, strife and riots shook Amsterdam and droves fled the city and not until the late 1980's was the city once again a place of tranquility.

For those who are use to loud noises from city life, Amsterdam has to be one of the most silent cities in the world due to the few cars, relatively speaking, that travel throughout its streets. But when you are at street level, the site is anything but tranquil. There are throngs of people, bicycles, trams and mopeds and each one is plying their way through the narrow streets of Amsterdam. But, thankfully, most go about without any incidents of crashing into one another, it's actually quite remarkable!

When you visit this city, and please spend at least a week, rent a bicycle, it is the only real way to get around. Their bikes are single speed and many do not have hand breaks, just use your pedals to break. It takes getting use to. Many of the bikes are Chinese made and they sound it... the clanking of cheap metal can be constantly heard along bike paths all over the city. New and shiny just is not seen in the bikes of Amsterdam.

Amsterdam is a city that loves the arts and they have many museums, some are famous, like the Van Gogh and Rijksmuseum whereas others are unique, like the Torture Museum, Hashish and Marijuana museum as well as distinct as the Bag and Purse Museum.

The most famous is the Rijksmuseum which holds some of the cities best and most valuable works of art.

There is a lot of construction going on at the Museumplein at the moment, with renovations happening at the Rijksmuseum and with the just-begun new construction at the Stedelik Museum, which will be a white box made of what looks like fiberglass (but one can only guess - possibly cement) with a very large overhang. This is the upscale part of Amsterdam with extremely large homes and expensive international shops all within walking distance of the 1860's built Vondelpark with its English inspired landscape covering 110 acres.

The I AMsterdam is a campaign to advertise this fascinating city. Art can be found all over Amsterdam, from the classical to the modern, from the religious to the outrageous, as you can see below.

Art can be VERY subjective.

Of course the Netherlands is known for it's tulips and a trip cannot be complete in the Spring without visiting one of its flower attractions. The Bloemenmarkt is the last remaining floating flower market in Amsterdam and it is very touristy, selling bulbs that are shipped all over the world.

Bloemenmarkt is one canal long and not anything special. For the truly outstanding, go outside of Amsterdam where the real flower gardens are to be found.

One of the charms of any city is to find a place that makes you feel welcomed. Mine was this little watering hole next to a more famous pub Cafe Belgique. But I like this one much more.

This great little watering hole is called Bols Proeflokaal De Drie Fleschjes and is located at Gravenstraat 18 and is owned by a man who lives the good life. He opens it up when he feels like it and he hangs out with the patrons while a bartender tends to their needs. They rent out the barrels to businesses and when the barrel runs out, you either buy another fill or another name goes on it. A great little spot that is not too well known but well worth a walk-by to see if it is open. They sell great beers (some from Belgium) and some Dutch gin (genever or jenever) and their phone number is: 020-6248443.

Of course one of the greatest draws are the canals. Amsterdam first started with the Amstel river and as time went on, the fishermen and farmers diverted some of its water into canals and over time, more and more fortified canals were built to make Amsterdam the water-laden city it is today. It is actually below sea-level, with only the heart of the center of Amsterdam being about 7 feet above sea water.

Boathouses on one of the many canals in Amsterdam. At a time, not too long ago, it was cheaper to own a houseboat than it was to buy a house or flat, but the city felt too many houseboats were congesting the city's canals, so increased taxes have now made living on a houseboat a luxury or a privilege rather than a convenience of euros. Many of them are floating gardens and hold a romantic voice in peoples' hearts and minds, even from those people who are just floating by.

One way to see the sites from the canals is to take one of many canal boat rides that are available to all, for the right price. But if you are lucky, as I was, ride with a local, the time spent can be quite wonderful.

The Atlassian Amsterdam office crew had the good fortune of doing just that. Valerie, who is part of our partner program and who is responsible for the European partners, invited us on her boyfriend's (Nicholas) 21 foot boat to cruise the canals in what was definitely the nicest weather Amsterdam has had in 2009. It is late in the evening and I still didn't need a jacket.

Atlassian crew enjoying the ride along the canals in Amsterdam.

You see many of amazing buildings - grachtenhuizen (canal houses) - all along the route. Many buildings built in the 1600 and 1700's with some later in the 1800's and even the 1900's.

This row of canal houses are on the Herengracht many of which were built in the 1600 and 1700's. Some of them may be leaning a little to the left or the right, but they still show their true majesty after 350 years.

Amsterdam has many styles of buildings which most were built after 1521 (since they are of stone) and the 1600 and 1700's are the majority of the buildings.

This row of canal houses is unique since all of them have shudders

I also love this row of canal houses with their lovely red shudders

One of my favorite buildings is currently the Theatermuseum. I am hoping to go inside later this week. The Theatermuseum was built in 1617 and was known as the Bartolotti House and was built in the Dutch Renaissance style of Hendrick de Keyser. This building is located at Herengracht 168.

Another of my favorite buildings is the Concertgebouw or Concert Hall in the Museumplein.

Concertgebouw is a Neo-Renaissance building that was open to a public architectural competition and the architect AL van Gendt won. There are two music halls and the Grote Zaal (main concert hall) has almost perfect acoustics even though the architect had no musical knowledge. It's first concert was on April 11, 1888 with 160 musicians and a 600 person choir. In 1983 the foundation was having subsidence issues and the entire building had to be lifted to remove the old original supporting piles, which were 43 feet deep, and pour in concrete pilings that are now 59 feet deep.

And here we have reflections on a canal.

Canal houses reflected on a canal

One of the more famous areas is that of the 7 bridges. Since we were boating through it, I only got photos of half of the bridges, but it is still amazing to see.

Part of the seven (7) bridges, which is one of the most photographed in all of Amsterdam.

As we were boating along, we heard this music and found this.

A Rock and Roll band were standing in and on an American car while playing and singing to the crowd.

On the eastern side of Amsterdam, we found this pizzaria.

Boats motor up and give their order and in a few moments, pizza is handed through the window at this pizzaria.

One great event during our evening of boating was Sherali's daughter got to be captain.

Our new captain Jasmine drove under 5 or more bridges and did a spectacular job... we were all so proud of her!

For three times now, I have run into this canal performer and sure enough, during our boating, I saw him again!

This canal performer blows his horn while cranking his organ and maneuvering his boat... and he actually sounds really good.

One of the more famous sections of Amsterdam, also on the east side, is the Red Light district.

The Red Light district is famous and infamous for the women in the windows and the legal prostitution. People in the business are treated with respect and have public and business clout. Just another example of the tolerance that is Amsterdam.

As stated before, Amsterdam is a very quiet city, especially outside of the center, you just don't have those constant city humming noises that you do in most others and in the early nights it is even quieter, quite serene actually.

This is one example of a canal at night with lights reflecting off a calm, benevolent canal.

So why the three XXX's on flags, posts and elsewhere?

For many people, it represents pornography and debauchery, which Amsterdam is well known for, but in fact the flag of Amsterdam depicts three Saint Andrew's Crosses and is based on the escutcheon in the coat of arms of Amsterdam. The flag was adopted on February 5, 1975... so there!

One of the most interesting and peaceful places in Amsterdam is just four blocks from the frenetic Dam Square is the Begijnhof.

Begijnhof from the outside.

Begijnhof - English Reformed Church was built in 1419 for the Catholic sisterhood sanctuary known as the Bengijntjes for single women who did not take monastic vows but educated the poor and took care of the sick. The church was turned to a Protestant denomination following the Alteration in 1578.

the green past the church.

Begijnhof Chapel, across from the church, still holds symbols of its Catholic past.

People continued to practice their Catholic beliefs, in secret, at the Begijnhof Chapel until 1795 when tolerance returned, including religious freedoms.

Begijnhof - Het Houten Huis - No. 34 - is the oldest building in Amsterdam from around 1420 and one of the two remaining all wooden structures/buildings in Amsterdam since the city banned wooden buildings in 1521 due to devastating fires and also since most of the buildings in the Begijnhof were not built until after the 1500's.

Begijnhof - Palm Sunday celebrations, surprisingly, no palms, but some other branch was used as the reverend spread holy water over his congregation. Plaques that came from some of the buildings at the Begijnhof can be seen on the far wall.

These are close-ups of the various plaques that came from the buildings inside the Begijnhof. Of course they have a religious note about them. If you can guess what they say or are about, good for you. I'm still guessing.

A truly magnificent spot just north of Vondelpark is Hollandsche Mangege, or the Netherlands Horse School. This building opened in 1882 and was designed after the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. In the early 1980's the building, and school, were threatened with demolition but due to a major outcry from its neighbors, funds were raised and the school continues today.

Hollandsche Mangege's beautiful entrance.

Hollandsche Manege - a sweet horse who just wanted to say hello.

One of the two large corrals where students can learn how to ride as well as how to train their horses. Each of the students, on top of getting lessons, must perform duties at the Hollandsche Manege, like feeding the horses, cleaning the stalls and taking care of their gear.

The cafe overlooks one of the corrals. Barring the smell of horse manure, it is quite lovely.

These are the horses in the Hollandsche in 2007... oh so cute.