The Grand Tour, Part 1: Amsterdam

Last summer, Jeff and I took a trip to Europe. Three weeks, three countries…though really we only spent a couple of nights each in two of them. We both studied French and therefore chose to keep most of the trip in France, including nearly half based out of Paris. Since I’m writing this just after returning from our second major trip of the year, I thought it would be a good idea to finish paring down the old photos for the blog before we start on the new set. We (mostly Jeff) took about 4000 pictures in Europe. Thank goodness for digital cameras! We got it down to roughly 250 for general family and friends viewing. And it looks like I will be able to tell our story here using about 50 of those.

Note that third button on the left!

So let’s take a metaphorical journey back to July, where we started off with a very long journey: an attempted four hour train ride to Chicago – blocked by downed trees – replaced with a shared Uber ride, followed by a couple hours of down time and a seven or eight hour flight. We arrived in the Netherlands shortly after the crack of dawn, and were delighted to find that the Amsterdam airport had a beautiful shortcut for buying a train ticket into town. Unfortunately, we were so exhausted that we forgot upon arrival at the train station that we meant to take additional public transit to our hotel, so dragged ourselves and our luggage on a meandering yet beautiful walking trip through the central city.

I love the northern European port architectural style of tall, narrow buildings. Some of them still have hooks at the top for using ropes (and pulleys?) to bring loads of supplies upstairs. Amsterdam’s canal layout makes it easier to tell where you are, too. While I liked the city’s bike lanes in principle, I found that my instinctual way of crossing streets wasn’t compatible with the new traffic pattern. It would have taken maybe a week or two to adjust my movement habits, but we only had two days in town. We found an outdoor market and a hole-in-the-wall cafe with delicious food on our way to the hotel, then I succumbed to a nap while Jeff went out hunting for a European sim card. He ultimately got one, but was never successful in getting it to work.

We spent the majority of our time in town wandering and eating, not entering any of the major attractions. We stumbled into a free organ concert in a local cathedral (Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals may never be the same again). We perused two separate outdoor markets – one food, one art. We tried a cone of Belgian fries and ate waffles with ice cream. Come evening, we sought out a restaurant whose discount card was stocked at our hotel for rijsttafel – essentially Indonesian tapas, which I finally picked up enough Dutch to translate as “rice table”. We strolled past many of the notable landmarks (even hearing some street musicians in the amazing acoustics central tunnel of the Rijksmuseum), and breezed past the many outdoor shops (finding the fish mosaic pictured above).

We learned that the train station (left) was built as the East India Trading Company’s headquarters. The next day, we walked around part of the exterior of the zoo, had more food and art adventures, discovered that tulip bulbs souvenirs destined for the US have to be specially certified and can only be purchased at the flower market or the airport. We got a bit lost past the red light district trying to find local art galleries.

We don’t normally do food pictures, but our last dinner in town was translated as “beef stew” and served with a wedge of the local sausage on top.  Although it was delicious, we felt there was something off about the label. See if you agree – it’s pictured on the left. We also don’t tend to drink very much, but there again we felt it was worth doing something special in each European country, so we tried some stroopwafel liqueur  – it was nicely smooth and sweet.

Craft Area: Sitting Room

Don’t you just want to wedge yourself in that chair and stay forever?!

And now we get fancy! Along with more serious work and tips: Like many of my projects, I went to the big box store with only some idea of what I was doing. We were covering a stairwell, which I don’t particularly want forming a chimney of fire, so I figured I wanted the fire resistant drywall. The guy on the sales floor made sure I didn’t buy stuff that was way too thick, and helped cut it down to the very weird measurements we needed. (And Jeff and I bribed a theatre friend with dinner to transport it all to our house in his truck.)

Jeff and I adhered the drywall many weeks later with Liquid Nails (cutting out an awkward corner where there’s brick sticking out of the floor, and squaring up the far left hand vertical). Then he informed me about the need for mud and tape. What? I just want things to look pretty! So back to the hardware store again…

And finally this fall I got out the wallpaper I’d tested at the work station only to discover pre-pasted is insufficient to secure it to the wall. Cue the  recurring theme: to the hardware store! I used another internet tutorial, and let me tell you, I don’t have a work table big enough for pasting wallpaper, and that’s okay! I just laid it down on the floor…got a little paste on the carpet…bookended it, shuffled it over, finished pasting, and hung it. I think it looks pretty good for a first try. My corners could be better, and it could be less wrinkled, but it’s not completely sideways and the pattern’s lined up well.

As for the decor: the table and crystal basket are more family pieces, the globe and flower prints are thrifted, and the armchair (which someday I might try reupholstering) is from Craigslist.

Craft Area: Display Area

Don’t look too high up – you’ll see over the curtain into the storage area!

Ah, there’s that Cersei progress shot again, taken by pure serendipity. Here is where I can finally share more cleverness and methodology: I didn’t want to have to deal with the City’s permit process and inspections to add a real wall, I just wanted the appearance of one (there’s a support beam and then the furnace and water heater right behind here). So I bought some brown bedsheets at the thrift store, got a giant tension rod, and hung the sheet up as a curtain – cutting a small hole in it to hang the oriental print on a nail already in the support beam.

Fun thrifted items here include: a telescope with wooden base (I thought about painting the tube bronze, too, but couldn’t do it), a former library art piece (of the check out-able variety!), and an old timey map of the world (you know, the kind where coastlines aren’t quite right). And we got the rug on Craigslist!

Craft Area: Natural Light

Giant window ledges may also be known as cat perches…above which looms the one piece of ductwork I forgot to spray bronze with rustoleum.

Turn to your left away from the work station, and you finally get some natural light…well, during the daytime of course! There’s another window just out of frame to the right. Both are curtained with some handy dandy thrift store finds, with cozy butterfly pillows made from vintage prints and backing from the stash (and can I add that I was too lazy to hand sew them shut? I just jammed the stuffing down, tucked the flap under, and ran it through the machine one more time). Still on the list of things to do is acquiring some trim to make especially the top of the window more formal looking.

You can’t see it very well, but the brighter picture has a crowd in Victorian clothing gathered below several hot air balloons – yet another thrift store item, and perfectly suited to the steampunk theme!

Craft Area: The Work Station

Where my sewing machine should be! Some day my electricity will come…

Let’s start off with a picture again, shall we?  The desk and clock were really at the heart of the whole plan – old family pieces that my dad wanted to be sure had a home, at least for a while. They didn’t really fit upstairs anymore after moving things around yet again, but I like old things, and I like crafting, and I like steampunk, so the steampunk craft area concept was born.

The shelves of the grandmother clock hold some old family glassware as well as knick-knacks I just like the look of. The lamp came as a bonus with a couple of happy lights, and I sprayed it with more bronze rustoleum to fit the theme. I also sprayed the edges of an old bulletin board (not that you can really tell, it sucks in the moisture like crazy!) and covered the  board itself with a sample of the wallpaper for the stairwell to help decide on orientation. Jeff came to the rescue with fishing line to hang the board up. I have this theory that someday I’ll use it to pin up sewing pattern instructions.

The big thing still missing here is electricity. The lamp needs to plug in and so will the sewing machine when it moves down. Though I kind of hate the idea of taking up the rest of the desk space with it…

Anyway, the last thing you need to know is that the print on the desk is from a surprisingly versatile New Orleans artist. Go see it in more detail and check out their other work! (We have a print of this one, too, and don’t know where to put it…)

Craft Area: The Entry

Your first view of the basement craft area from the bottom of the stairwell. Complete with chicken supplies.

Let’s start off with pretty pictures, shall we? Say you’re coming down the stairs into the basement, and ta da! A nicely plastered and painted fieldstone wall, with bronzed plastic pipe and some art hung up with fishing line. And yes, it’s a bit crowded with chicken coop supplies…loppers to cut raspberry cane, epoxy shield, gravity feeder, feed scoops, a stray CO detector… Moving on… How did we get here?

The fun, easy part was spray painting the pipe. Rustoleum is your friend. They make an antique bronze finish that is just lovely. Although possibly I should have dusted the tops of the pipes first…

The wall was a slog! First the research. I can’t even begin to recreate the rabbit hole of finding out that field stone basements should be coated with lime plaster and how to make it. I think the reasoning had something to do with drawing the moisture through the wall to react with the lime instead of decomposing the stones? And most of the formulas are proprietary. Looking back, though, I can crib from Wikipedia for the basics:

Lime plaster is a type of plaster composed of sand, water, and lime, usually non-hydraulic hydrated lime (also known as slaked lime, high calcium lime or air lime).

I can also tell you that I ended up working with a proportion of 3 parts sand to 1 part lime (by volume), and then adding enough water to make a nice slurry. You have to be careful both sourcing the lime (you want something like this product, not the type of lime used to fertilize lawns – it’s a different chemical compound) and mixing it (powdered lime is hazardous, so you should wear a breath mask until it has reacted with the water).

I used a big plastic tote to mix my plaster in – and with a lid, it stays usable for over a year! I started out using an extra garden stake to do the stirring which was both very silly and very hard. My uncle recommended a power driven mixer attachment, which was a godsend. You just stick it into your screw gun like any other bit, and use it like you would use an automatic mixer for batter in the kitchen.

Given my general impatience and penchant for skipping steps, it may astonish you to know that I did indeed scrape the old plaster before apply new, and waited several days for the plaster to dry before painting the wall (with one of several cans of antique white I picked up on sale years ago. Yes, there’s a hardware/home goods stash, too).

Oh, and in case you’re curious about the art: the piece on the left was a framed-tile thrift store find, and the banner (supposedly a scarf?) was a present from my dad – it commemorates the new Japanese garden at the local botanical institute/sculpture park.