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


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


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.


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.


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


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.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014


Friday, July 25
Since we had slept through breakfast the first day we decided to start setting the clock. We made it on time this way, and it was worth getting up for. Breakfast is buffet style, with all the Dutch yummies: several kinds of rolls, breads, and crackers; cheese; sliced roast beef; ginger/molasses cake; pound cake; boiled eggs; bishout (sort of like zwieback); chocolate sprinkles; licorice sprinkles; yogurt; vanilla pudding; muesli; granola; fruit; juices; coffee.

After breakfast we met Fred and El again. They had offered to drive us around the "Krimpenerwaard", the area around the city where Willem was born. We joked being on a pilgrimage, going back to all the major spots of Willem's youth. We started in Krimpen aan den IJssel, the city he was born in, and went to the 1669 house where his mother had been born and where she also gave birth to both of her children. It was a very picturesque street, built on a dike. When I get the photos out you'll have a better idea of it. All of the houses are from that same period - mid 17th century - but very well kept and still lived in. We also saw the houses of some of his aunts (his mother was the youngest of 10), the school where his maternal grandfather was head master, and the canal where he learned to skate.

On the other side of the river in Capelle aan den IJssel we saw his Opa Offerman's house and the pub where he went on Sundays while Oma was in church. Sometimes he and Willem cycled there together and Willem was sworn to secrecy about the trip. We also saw the ferry house where he took the ferry across the river to go to school. When it was warm he would take the ferry across with his bike, then ride into Rotterdam to school, picking up friends along the way.

From Capelle we stopped in Nieuwerkerk aan den IJssel for lunch at a charming little place in the old town and saw the spot where a skipper had shoved his barge into a hole in the dike during the flood of 1953. His action prevented the dike from breaking and extending the flood all the way to Utrecht.

After lunch we did the university period, going to Waterloostraat where Willem had his boho apartment; and to Bikini, the college hang-out where he partied hard and long.

We got back to the hotel around 5:30, just in time to change for dinner with his best friend from school and college days. They used to bike together to elementary and high school. We had a lovely dinner with him and his wife in a private club located in a downtown park. After dinner we went to see their new condo on the 17th floor in a building right in the park, with 360 views of the city from floor to ceiling windows.

Afterwards, we walked the short distance back to the hotel and fell exhausted, but happy, into bed.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Around Rotterdam

Thursday, July 24
Since we had slept through breakfast, we went to the hotel's little cafe for coffee and a tosti. The coffee is wonderful here, so no need to search for a Starbucks.

Willem's best bud from Uden, about 2 hours south of Rotterdam, drove up to take us to lunch. He was leaving very early the next day for a vacation in Italy with the whole family, so could only stay a couple of hours.

It was a great short time, though. We took a water taxi from our hotel over to the Hotel New York. Dik wanted to show me the hotel, since it is located in the old offices of the Holland America line. It was from this point that many emigrants left for the US.

It was also the spot where Willem had his first job after college. He was called a Water Clerk, and served as representative of the foreign shipping companies. In this role he made sure they cleared customs, logged in properly, and got loaded up and provisioned for the next trip.

For lunch, Willem and I both had uitsmijters, a lunch favorite he had wanted me to try. It is basically two pieces of bread with roast beef and two fried eggs on top. I had it with rye bread, along with a Heineken. Delicious, and very filling.

After taking the ferry back, Dick left to return to Uden. Willem and I took the "Spido" for a tour of the close-in harbors of the Port of Rotterdam. The 75-minute trip gives an excellent perspective of the size of the port and the way is is organized by industry. Amazing, the size of the barges, ocean-going ships, and the service bays.

Next, we took a tram ride that goes around the major neighborhoods of Rotterdam. My head kept bobbing, but we had decided to push through in order to acclimate more quickly. The printed material gave a good snapshot of all of the areas, and Willem filled in the rest. It took a major effort, but neither of us gave in to a nap.

That evening we went in search of a lumpia, Willem's favorite Indonesian dish. It seems it no longer is made in the way he remembers it back in the good old days, so our search ended up cold. We settled instead for sate, chicken in peanut sauce and shrimp in hot sauce. In case you're wondering who ate what, Willem has told me that salt is his hot sauce!

Saturday, July 26, 2014


The flight wasn't completely full, so we each took a row of seats and stretched out for the night. We were able to manage a few hours of sleep out of the 7and1/2 in the air.

Customs and baggage retrieval went smoothly and we finally were on terra firma in Amsterdam. My thoughts went back to the Russia period, when arrival at Schiphol Airport was akin to going to Legoland. It didn't disappoint this time either. We decided to have a coffee in the outside cafe while collecting our thoughts, disentangling from the enticing shops, and getting the train schedules straightened out.

We discovered that it was a national day of mourning for the Malaysian Airlines victims. All flags were flying at half-mast and at 4:00 all activity was to stop for a moment of silence.

Once collected, we bought a new SIM card and a short-term plan for Willem's phone so that we could use it in Europe without paying a fortune for service; and the tickets that are good on all public transportation. The tickets are like debit cards (similar to the DC metro), and you can use them on buses, water taxis, trams, subways, and trains (except the bullet train).

We took the train from the airport directly to Rotterdam Central Station, then from Central Station we took a tram that stopped directly in front of the hotel. The hotel is the Maritime, a lovely small no-frills hotel in the same vein as the Seaman's Hotel that I stay in when visiting NYC. The main difference is that this one is right on the river. Our room is on the top (7th) floor with a huge window that looks out over the river and onto the Erasmus Bridge.

I'm afraid I haven't worked out how to incorporate photos when blogging from the iPad, so I'll have to do a separate album when we get back.

Shortly after we arrived, Willem's cousin Eleke called and invited us over. She and her husband Friedrik have a gorgeous condo 2 buildings down from the hotel, with the same views. We sat on their balcony, drank wine, snacked, and talked for a couple of hours, then went to a local bistro for mussels. The waiter told us that that day was the first day of the mussels season, so we were in luck.

After dinner we went back to Fred and El's for coffee and more wine. We talked until well past 2:00 and ended the evening with a shot of genever, Dutch gin.

Back at the hotel, we fell into bed and didn't wake up until the maid service knocked on the door around 10.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

As MuchTime as you Would Ever Want to Spend in the Detroit Airport

We took the boys to the Pet Resort Monday morning, stopped at the post office, and headed home to make final preparations for the trip. Having friends over for wine, and doing last minute chores kept us up until after 11. We grudgingly set 4 clocks - redundancy rules! - for 3:00 and settled in for some turbo sleep.

Willem's phone went off first, a full 4 minutes early - and at that time of day, every second of sleep counts. Adrenalin alone got us up and going. I went downstairs to start the coffee and by the time I went back upstairs, the 3 other clocks (clock radio, iPhone, and iPad) were loudly battling for supremacy. I couldn't decide which to turn off first - the harp, Etta James singing "At Last", or the barking dog. I went for the dog.

Departure was smooth. We were out on time by 4:00 and at the airport by 5. We left from Roanoke as scheduled and got to Detroit at 7:30. After making our way to the international terminal we had a nice  breakfast and then settled in to make the best of the next 14 hours and 15 minutes in an airport that has very little to explore. Great people watching, though; and lots of time to solve the world's problems. In the last hour or so, we relied on Netflix to entertain.

All Clear!!!!

Text from Long and Foster Real Estate this morning while sitting in the Detroit airport - "Appraisal is OK." We could almost hear the agent's loud sigh of relief coming through the text along with the words she wrote. Willem and I heaped our own sighs on top of hers and the whole collective exhalation swept through the airport like the refreshing breeze that follows a heavy summer rain. (Literary critic writes in the margin, "trying too hard".)

The appraiser visited the Frog last Wednesday, but only submitted his report today - Tuesday. We spent the whole weekend finishing as much as we could of the packing, all the while thinking and trying not to think, "What if?"; telling people about the move but completing every sentence with, "but it's not a done deal yet."

Now it is a done deal! Something could always go wrong at the last minute, but at this point it is highly unlikely. Although the other house still needs to be appraised and pest inspected, we don't anticipate any issues there.

Vacation time is really here now!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Naar Nederland

After several months of planning and anticipation, we are leaving tomorrow on our trip to Holland. Today (July 21) is one of our anniversaries, so leaving tomorrow makes the trip seem almost like a honeymoon.

It's a very good thing that we did plan early, since the last 2 months have been quite hectic. In spite of all my good intentions of writing every day after making the blog public, I have managed only one post since then. And that one stayed in draft limbo until just now when I saw it and rescued it by hitting the publish button. As they say, life is what happens while you're busy making other plans.

Selling the Frog (we're still waiting for the final inspections, so it's not a done deal yet) came about faster than we had anticipated, and the closing was set such that we had to be packed before leaving on the trip. All of this meant that we also had to find a new place to live in that same time frame. Something had to give, and I'm afraid it was the writing. I can just hear you saying, "handy excuse" under your breath. Giving into superstition, I'll leave further info on the house until everything has been settled.

Anyway, the trip now offers another way into the blog. I will do my best to communicate our doings and post photos of what we are seeing.

BBQs at the Frog

We decided to have a BBQ at the Frog over the Memorial Day weekend for the blues band that plays at the Merc the last Friday of every month. Our friend, Bob Piscura, started this event last August and it has been a great success. While he was being a snowbird in FL this winter, Willem took over his MCing duties.

We reorganized the space near the big pond, exchanging the fire pit for the round table. It worked very well and gave us lots of room. Getting the weeding done in preparation for the event also gave me a muscle strain, which I am now nursing with ibuprofen and muscle relaxers. Actually, I think the origin of the strain was a big jerk on the leash while I was walking Tico, whom I have not yet written about.

Including us, there were 10 people. We set up the croquet and badminton games that Andy gave us a while back.

That one went so well, we decided to do it again with the folks on the UUC Leadership Development Committee. The weather was perfect, and we had a great time showing everyone the Frog and the trail.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Getting Started

May 28, 2014
For years now I have wanted to write two books. One is about my courageous family, its split into Canadian and American branches during slavery and the two sides' rediscovery of each other in the 1980's. The other is about my own love story. So far, I have not gotten beyond "want."

A creative writing teacher once told my class that we should write even if we didn't want to; and that if we were stuck, we should write about being stuck. So that's what I'm doing.

I love writing about life at The Frog, which I have been doing since since 2010. I hope now that the writing will also serve to help me get unstuck. I have added to the description of the blog, that it is about creating life moment to moment, whether in flesh or on paper. 

I have also made the blog public! I hope that taking this plunge will help keep me true to my goals of writing no matter what, and getting unstuck.