Creating Life at the Villa Coro di Rane

This blog is about being in the moment - creating life one instant at a time, whether in the flesh or on paper.




Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Naar Pulaski

August 5, 9:30 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.
Last morning in Holland. Willem's childhood friend who now lives in Belgium was having a meeting in Amsterdam later today, so he drove up early to take us to the airport. We wanted to be there by 11, so he met us at the hotel at 9:30. That left us time for a coffee together at the airport before we had to start going through the formalities.

This time the agents questioned my passport, which is still in the name Barksdale. My ticket says Offerman. There wasn't a problem with this in Detroit on the way over, but I had to show the Dutch agent's supervisor my driver's license as proof of identity. Apparently, they could have made me buy a new ticket. She was very nice, though, and suggested that next time I should buy a ticket with the name in the passport. I said I thought I would just get a new passport! 

Boarding was to begin at 11:30 for the 1:00 flight, so I window shopped on my way to the gate. I got there at 12:00 to find a very long line, because security procedures are done right at each individual gate rather than en masse. That answered our question about why they started boarding so early. Willem had already gotten through the first check-point, so rather than just joining him in line, I had to go to the back and start from the beginning. Slow going, but at least there was no further questioning of my passport.

We left right on time, taking off to the NW, and very quickly making it out to the North Sea. From there we headed in the direction of England and Scotland, and then out over the Big Water towards Iceland and the New World.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Amsterdam

Saturday, August 1 - Tuesday, August 4
We left Paris midday, again on the fast train. This time, though, our seats faced the direction of travel. On the way to Paris our seats (they are assigned and the train was full, so we couldn't change) faced opposite the direction of travel, and we got pretty dizzy from watching the scenery go by backwards at the high speed. I was also trying to write, but that didn't work well at all. We opted to keep our eyes closed. It was a little better on the return trip, but we still couldn't write or read.

After arriving at Central Station we took a tram to the hotel, which is less than a block away from the stop. The hotel is in a quiet street in the Museum Quarter, a small hotel in what was probably a wealthy town house at the turn of the last century. They do have a lift, so we don't have to walk up the steep flight of stairs to our second story room. On many occasions I have opted to do that, however, to offset some of the food and wine I have been taking in. In Paris we were on the third floor and in Rotterdam on the seventh. I took the stairs often there, because the elevator was very slow.
Our hotel is just off the Vondel Park, a large green space in the middle of the city, named for the Dutch Shakespeare. After settling into the hotel we took a walk through the park and enjoyed the sights. There was a large gay pride parade going on in the center city, and there were several offshoots of it making merry in the park. We window shopped and finally stopped for soup and wine at a restaurant next to the Koncert Gebouw concert hall.

We limited our intake of Amsterdam as we had of Paris. Our 2 planned activities were to visit the Rijksmuseum, recently reopened after a 10-year renovation; and take a canal tour. We enjoyed the Rembrandts, Vermeers, and Hals in the museum (we stopped with those) and heard a lot of interesting tidbits about Amsterdam on the canal tour. Much of it Willem had already told me as we walked along the canals and through the Leidseplein, with its concentration of restaurants and bars.

On a more sober note, in talking with Willem's cousin, Mas, this afternoon and then with the Lithuanian hotel clerk, we were surprised to learn how worried people are about Russia's next moves. Although this had not come up in previous conversations about Ukraine, increased Russian aggression is apparently a big concern. Mas even said she is glad that we are leaving now.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Paris

Paris
Wednesday, July 30 - Saturday, August 1
Wednesday morning we took the high speed train to Paris. From Rotterdam Central Station to Gare du Nord in Paris, traveling at 180 kph,  took only 2&1/2 hours, even with brief stops in Antwerp and Brussels. All of the transportation is incredibly efficient and departure times have no fudge factor.

Speaking of transportation, the bike still rules in Holland. There are special lanes for bikes on sidewalks as well as in the street, and stiff penalties for ignoring right of way priorities: pedestrian, bike, car. People confidently ride without helmets. Women ride in skirts and heels, and there are various ways of carrying children and groceries or other goods. I have seen them eating an ice cream cone, texting, talking on the phone, and holding an umbrella - all while riding. All ages ride, and it is not unusual to see even the very old pedaling.

The bike is fairly prevalent in Paris as well, although it is trumped there by the scooter. Parisian bike riders also eschew helmets, wear no special clothing, and use the bike as  just another way to get from A to B.

We decided in advance to do Paris "light"- meaning low key, without a lot of running around, We took a "Hop On, Hop Off" bus & boat tour, but didn't go inside any monuments or museums. When we hopped off it was to have coffee or a beer or wine, to eat something, or just to sit in a cafe and watch the action.

When we got off the boat tour near Notre Dame, there were several artists doing charcoal portraits. We decided to have ours done. I'll post a photo of it and you can decide whether or not it looks like us.

Parisians still smoke a lot. It seemed to me that there were many more smokers than in Rotterdam. It was common to see people smoking while walking or riding a bike and to find cigarette butts on the street.

We had a chance to ride train, tram, boat, and metro, and to come in contact with locals as well as tourists, so we felt pretty Paris-ized in spite of the short time there. Willem and I can both get along in French, and that certainly helped; but the people seemed friendlier than I remembered from previous trips. Maybe it was because August is here and many of them will be going on vacation soon. We found out that the woman who staffed the breakfast room and also cleaned the rooms in our hotel was about to leave on a 5-week vacation back to her home in Yugoslavia. 

One other thing we noticed about the locals is how many of them come from former colonies. Africans abound, many of the older ones wearing traditional dress. It makes the street scene very colorful. There are also many Middle Easterners, with women in varying degrees of coveredness; Asians of several stripes; and Roma, unfortunately holding up the stereotype.

Cousins

Tuesday, July 29
Since this was the actual date of Mas' birthday, we had planned in advance to spend it with her and Ma, the 2 favorite cousins. First we had lunch with Ma, then went with her to Mas'. Mas had arranged for us to visit her upstairs neighbor, who has a panoramic view of the city from her wrap-around balcony. We also spent some time looking at old picture albums. I enjoyed seeing baby and childhood photos of Willem and also photos of his parents, sister, and other family members, including Mimi De Jong and Jan van Hurk, who had both been in the Dutch resistance during WW II. Mimi is even pictured in the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC because of her work rescuing American pilots shot down over occupied Holland. She was Willem's first cousin.

Delft

Monday, July 28
Our weather luck finally changed and we woke to typical rainy Dutch weather. Since we had both brought rain jackets, we decided to just suck it up and continue with the plan. We took the inter-city train to Delft, just 20 minutes away from Rotterdam. There we visited both the Old and New Churches, saw where all the Orange van Nassau royals are buried, and took a picture of a statue of Willem of Orange above his tomb. He was assassinated and the man who shot him was drawn and quartered! Civil people, these Dutch.

By afternoon the rain had stopped and we had lunch at a cafe in the central square before heading back. That evening we had dinner again with Fred and El, this time at a place that was like an Asian tapas bar.

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Birthday Party

Sunday, July 27
This was the big day and the catalyst for the whole trip - the birthday party for Mas, Willem's first cousin who turned 90. The party was held in Krimpen at an old windmill-turned-restaurant, called Schellevenaar. In Dutch custom the birthday person organizes her own celebration, and Mas did a terrific job, with time to mingle followed by a delicious buffet lunch. There were about 50 guests, mostly family, but also including some of Mas' friends whom she took bike trips with back in the day. They call themselves the "Group of 9". I enjoyed meeting the people I have heard so much about over the years and getting to know them a little. Willem and I organized a group photo afterwards so we could make a framed memento for Mas.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Dordrecht

Saturday, July 26
After breakfast and a couple of coffees, we took the ferry to Dordrecht. It is a quaint little 15th century walking town with canals and very narrow brick streets. Not much to say about it. We enjoyed just meandering around town, looking in the little shops, and having lunch in the central square. I posted a photo from that day to Facebook.