Friday, April 27, 2012

Amsterdam No. 4 - The Breakfast Buffet

Disclaimer: The following is an “intuitive” observation. By this, I mean that my observations may not be supported by fact. Instead, I have utilized my substantial intuitive abilities to ascertain fact. Characters referenced in this narrative are fictional and should not be confused with actual persons traveling with me, whose general behaviors I have based the fictional characters upon.  It is reasonable for the reader to assume that any behavior intuitively attributed to my travel colleagues would not by any means be applicable to my own fictitious behavior.

Planning a trip is not easy. It takes hours and hours of hard working figuring out what to do and the optimum time to do it in order to maximize what you get to see. If you are an anal planner, like myself, those hours become days and weeks. So when you arrive to find that breakfast at the hotel is at 8:00AM, not 7:30AM, it is a crisis situation.  But then, I am an anal planner.  As such, I shift gears, flip things over, shuffle the deck and put Humpty Dumpty back together again.  And then … the buffet. The buffet changed everything.

Basic human nature. Human beings are predators at heart, and though domesticated and civilized to a large degree, revert to ancient primal calls under certain circumstances. There is no better example of such behavior than the presence of a breakfast buffet. Most people, not under the supervision and control of a parent, eat little or nothing for breakfast … unless under the spell of a breakfast buffet.

Visions of sugarplums dance in their heads. They eat things they have never dreamed of eating before and generally do not like. Secondly, and especially true for those of us of Southern decent, they feel compelled to eat some of item on the buffet and most of the condiments. For example, I personally observed Anne eating kiwi for breakfast and drinking mango juice. Would a normal human being do such a thing?

There is the quantity phenomenon. If there is bacon, they eat 4-6 pieces, not their usual 2 … boiled eggs, 2 of course … 2 pieces of toast, then a croissant or a roll to boot … a large bowl of granola with yogurt as if they had it every day … a glass of each of the 3 varieties of juice … a dab of each of the 8 jelly varieties on anything with a flat surface …topped off with 3-4 espresso coffees. The icing on the cake (they would eat that too if available) and most amazing of all, they raid the fruit bowl to take several pieces with them for later in the day … as if it was a Halloween grab bag.

For a master scheduler like myself, all this translates into a 1-½ breakfast instead of the quick ½ hour snack I had envisioned. I was astounded. I sat back and sipped my 5th cup of coffee and pondered the ruination of my schedule for the day!

Amsterdam 2012 No. 3 We arrive in Haarlem

The first day was a whirlwind. A cold whirlwind. We landed at Schipol and the pilot announced that it was 37 degrees and rainy. This would seriously affect my tiptoeing through the tulips. We staggered from the plane and began the process of deciphering the hieroglyphics of the Dutch language. Yes everyone speaks English there. But they don’t write it on the signs and when they speak it, it doesn’t come out “hey ya’ll”.  

We wove our way through money exchanges and information booths and eventually ended up with a fistful of Holland passes for things to see and do, and Museum Cards for a myriad of museums on our hit list.  Within the first 15 minutes, I had walked away from the group and was lost for about 45 minutes. By standing real still in a big open space munching on the stroopwafels that I bought within the first 5 minutes after landing, they found me as I assumed they would.

We managed to unlock the mystery of where to catch the bus to Haarlem and off we went. No doubt about it … the Netherlands are flat … real flat. No wonder people rode bicycles there ... regular old one gear bikes. Having a fancy mountain bike there would be like buying a Hummer ... all for show. The ride to Haarlem took about 30 minutes and we were dropped out in the heart of town. We immediately began taking turns stepping in front of bicyles and narrowly missing being hit and killed until we had grasped the essentials of bike lanes in Holland. Those essentials were quite simple: (1) Stay out of the bike lane or they will joyfully run over you  (2) Watch out everywhere else or the bikers will run over you even more joyfully there as well  (3)  The ringing in your ears is not due to an old war injury,  it is a bike bell and you are about to be killed  (4) Have insurance.

We easily found our hotel, given our heightened since of awareness. As I expected, it was shabby chic. By this I mean, it was somewhat shabby and the last person renting the room must have been a sheik because he tracked in a lot of sand from the desert that the maids had missed. Thank goodness there was no elevator … the narrow, winding stairs that disappeared into the sky would be an excellent source of exercise for us in the days to come. But first, we packed all of our bags on the backs of our pack mules and Louis and I headed up the stairs braying all the way.

It never fails to amaze me about nesting behavior. No sooner were we in our rooms and the normal color had returned to our faces, than everyone started unloading suitcases and arranging things in drawers. Everyone, that is, but me. I will never understand this behavior though they tell me it is about order and convenience.

It was immediately clear that my schedule of things to do was a bit too robust and humanly impossible to do. We headed for Grote Markt, the main plaza for Haarlem. I loved the architecture … this was a rambling Mecca.  A huge church was the cornerstone of the area and we visited there first.

We were treated to amazing stained glass and an enormous organ in the church there that was once played by Mozart. We were also treated to a taste of an organ concert while we browsed about.

Nearby was a small modern art gallery that we checked out to whet our appetites for bigger and better art at the Modern Museum de Hallen.What actully got whetted were our appetites and we headed for the Grand Café XO.  Soups and sandwiches were a perfect response to the increasingly deteriorating weather outside.

Did I mention the weather? Did I say it was 37 degrees outside? And raining … a rain driven into your face by the howling winds. The winds that had already reversed my umbrella about four times. The umbrella that I finally gave up on and pulled the sweatshirt hood up instead. The hood  that came in handy while I attached the backpack cover over my backpack to keep it dry.

Just before we stopped so Susan could buy a scarf because her neck was freezing. Did I not mention the weather?

Distances in the Netherlands are different. Scientifically, it must be due to the flatness. The lady in the tourist information said we could get to the post office for stamps and that it was only 80 meters up the street. About a quarter of a mile later, Louis and I stopped at a tobacconist and found stamps there instead. When our credit cards could not be read at the Museum de Hallen because cards from the US do not have an embedded chip and they did not have an older slide machine to slide our cards, we were told that the Museum Frans Hals did have a slide devise and that it was only a five minute walk there.  Louis and I found that walk to be about 30 minutes. The guy at the pub indicated that the restaurant that we were looking for was very nearby. While Anne, Louis, and Susan finished their drinks, I used the 45 minutes to finally locate the restaurant that unfortunately was closed. I managed to ascertain that fact while standing in the cold rain.

Nevertheless, I found an alternate place, Black Beauty Pizza and the pizza there was good.

By the time we got back to the rooms, we were cold and dragging. No sleep and old age had us by the throat and we crashed. We dreamed of warmer weather and no rain!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Amsterdam 2012 No. 2

In flight must be written about as a separate entity. Even for a flight to Detroit. That is a MUST … logic demands it. Need I explain? Is it notthe ultimate higher ground? Can a soul not soar unencumbered by the necessity of wings? Shall I not rise to the height of my imaginings oblivious to the gravity of earthbound realities?

I begin by mistakenly buckling myself in with one of Anne’s seatbelt straps. The takeoff is a little bumpy., but I refrain from comment. It is a full flight and logic tells me that full flights are representative of Detroit departures, not arrivals. The inner workings of my brain need no encouragement to recognize this to be amafia hit flight. I intuit a gat in every carry-on. Save linguini for lunch, speculation has calcified into fact.

Anne scans the setback literature in lieu of conversation. Perhaps “I might as well have been traveling by myself” has its roots in my not waiting for her to board the plane. I will not ask for a sip of her water or for her gorp. I will not do that because I have laid claim to the high ground. The application of higher order thinking still might reveal itself in a new contemplation … three’s company and four’s a crowd. The lack of adequate seating makes the high ground both uncomfortable and lonely. So lofty a perch has, with its diminished supply of oxygen, weakened by thought processes to such a degree that I have strapped my coat to my backpack in such a way as to interfere significantly with the retrieval of my massive doomsday supply of travel snacks … a mistake that I shall not repeat.

Amsterdam 2012 No. 1

I doubt the newbies understand that no matter how many times one goes through this, the night before is filled with the doubts, the second-guessing, the tossing and turning as you run the never-ending lists of what-if’s through you mind. I have been here before and sleep does not come readily. Anne and I headed to bed last night convinced that we had thought every thought … had wondered every wonder … had shimmied to the top of tallest pine and surveyed the situation from the high ground. The trouble with being anal is that no amount of Kaopectate will lessen the urge …the urge for one more plan… for one more item on the spreadsheet. Interesting enough, it was not the trip that raced through my mind, holding sleep at bay. It was the fish I didn’t catch … the next trip I might take … but not Amsterdam.

The first salvo was Anne's alarm. Feet hit the floor and we instinctively moved to our separate staging areas. Communication was unnecessary and unwanted. We prepared for battle and savored amenities that soon would be outside our reach. We would move as a tactical team, but clearly we each had personal strategies. My armor lay before me … carefully selected for the conflict we would face. Before this day was over, I would shed two articles of clothing. The great lessening of the load! Socks, heel and ball so thin as to make an onion skin cry. A black, long-sleeve over shirt with a chest-covered grease spatter reminiscent of the shot pattern of a full-choke 12-guage. These would find the bin before day was done.

I moved the agreed upon bags to the door for final inspection. One bag each and a carry-on apiece. Zippers strained to contain the excess. We skirmished over what was ready and what was not … who should take out the trash … who should empty the dishwasher … is it time to go. There is no question of who the General is. We headed to the car. It all began to fall into familiar routines that would end with wheels rising above the runway and would redefine itself in Detroit where we would meet up with Louis and Susan.