Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Day One: "Jeanne and Frank's Excellent European Adventure" - New York to London to Amsterdam
6PM JFK Airport: The plane is enormous and it makes us nervous – how will it fly? What would Orville and his brother (Samuel? Freddie? Jamie?) think of this mammoth thing? But when we leave at 6:30, it magically lifts itself into the sky as if it had wings.
Frank and I don’t sit together as we have different needs – his for stretching, mine for pictures. His are not met to his exacting specifications, so he wanders the aisles, finally finding a place in the very back of the plane on the floor where gets a precious half hour of sleep before the murmuring Brit steward tells him to scram, sir.
I get several hours of snooze, about the same as I do every night. The person behind me randomly pushes against my seat. We’re served dinner (then “breakfast” four hours later)—I have lasagna, Frank has steak and mashed potatoes. Not horrible. I save my complimentary small bottle of wine for later, Frank doesn’t save either of his.
We land at Heathrow 20 minutes early, which is good because it takes forever to go through all the rigamarole of security which we’d just done, excuse me? at JFK. We get to leave our shoes on, but Frank must remove belt, which annoys. But worse, they forbid liquids, which forces me at 7AM London time (2AM NY) to down a couple of healthy swigs of Chardonnay so as not to waste my entire complimentary bottle before I have to throw it in the trash! Frank does the same with his recently purchased water.
We take a normal size plane to Amsterdam, sitting together on the 45 minute flight. Our first view of Holland seems to be of a great plain that is lower than the sea - could that be true?
After landing, we stagger, hollow-eyed and slack-jawed through the airport searching for the train. We look so stranger-in-a-strange-land that a kindly British Air pilot takes us under his wing and pilots us in the correct direction. Did you know that the Amsterdam airport is Home of the Whopper?
After a short, brutal ride on the train where Frank feels he’s been pushed around, he takes proper charge and people fall by the wayside as we hop into our cab.
We are stunned by a kazillion bikes whipping by, also stacked, and piled so that every crack in the sidewalk sprouts at least three bikes. We find later that they rule the road, and we are mere insects to be crushed under their wheels and also viciously screamed at in a foreign language by short-haired blond women. We see virtually no SUVs, but are treated to a parade of small, colorful tractors.
We find our hotel, the Hestia, down a narrow cobblestone street like one reads about in Dickens. We pack Frank and our bags into the tiny “lift” and I climb up the three vertiginous, ladder-like flights of stairs, and find our room to be big and airy with three—yes three!—beds.
We fall into a jet-lagged doze only to be dragged awake by the desk-lady knocking to say, oh dear, your room wasn’t hoovered. I stagger to the door and say no, it’s fine, but how do we plug in our various electronic brain devices that keep us alive because here are these strange foreign plugins with tiny round holes that make no sense? (And to think that my brother Dan warned me about this very situation and did I listen?)
She says she will dig up something, but I find an American-syle plug in the bathroom that ominously says, FOR SHAVERS ONLY – nevertheless it seems to work for other more important things than shavers like phone and camera battery but not the MacBook Pro which we find out later when it’s down to 21 percent.
What does this mean: Homo Sapiens Non Urinat In Ventum?
We decide to finally face the music and go see some art, which is why we're going through all this torture, after all. The Rijksmuseum has a long line, but I finally get in free on my lapsed press pass, saving us 12.5 Euros. The first painting we see is full of Dutch men in silk hose of pink and yellow with lacy frills at the top of their soft leather boots – they look very manly nonetheless, and one of them looks exactly like my son Aaron.
Then to the Vermeer that Frank has longed for—one of only two Vermeer did of town scenes, called "The Little Street" with whitewashed facade and detailed bricks and the woman in the door sewing in the morning light. Then to Rembrandt and his “Night Watch” with all the gun cleaning and shimmering golden light woven through it, plus several mother-of-pearl-embedded guns are hanging on the wall, just like the ones in the painting.
We begin to weave and sway in front of all the beautiful paintings, so go for a refreshing walk back to our hotel, snooze again, then find a Dutch restaurant by a canal that has one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten, with a complimentary mushroom soup in an espresso-style cup, no not soup, distillation, elixir, with a delicious fried cod-ball, and I had the grilled cod with carrots, asparagus, lima beans, all crunchy and flavorful, and Frank had the quail with its little legs all rolled up in Dutch bacon and truffles. Oh, forgot to mention Frank’s appetizer, a duck mousse brulee with a crispy crust.
We run into an Alice in Wonderland chess game like played by intense, somewhat seedy men who all look like Vincent Van Gogh. And now here I am at 3AM Dutch time, running out of computer juice, and no way of knowing when I’ll be able to plug in again!