Saturday, December 24, 2005

It's a Wonderful Life

Ring! Ring! “Hello, I’m sorry but, I gave you 100 euros too much. Would you please return them?” The bank teller gave Julie 500 euros for 500 dollars. As we left Flagstaff, we returned them. Thus our adventure began.

We drove to Phoenix and stayed at a “park and stay” hotel that provided a shuttle to the airport. Last Christmas we couldn’t find long term parking at the airport and paid for ten days in short term parking.

Going through security in Phoenix was he easiest I’ve experienced. I think all security stations should be manned – er, staffed – by little old ladies like the ones we encountered. They were nice and it would have been difficult to get impatient with them.

The gate attendant failed to appear in Chicago so we waited while an attendant was summoned so we could unboard. After a not unpleasant wait and after boarding for London we learned the fuel for a plane at the next gate bound for Delhi has been loaded into our plane. We would have to wait an hour for excess fuel to be unloaded because we couldn’t land with the extra fuel. But wait, let’s unboard this plane, move to another gate and take another plane which will save time. But wait, we need to do some maintenance on this plane. We’ll leave in a short while. By the way, for everyone who expected to board the plane that we are now waiting to board, please go to the gate that we left and wait for the fuel to be unloaded. Two and half hours later we boarded. (Ummm? Which is faster? Wait one hour to unload fuel or two and one-half hours to prepare another plane?)

You jumped ahead, didn’t you? You knew we missed the connecting flight in London. If we hadn’t circled London and if the gate had been free, we might have made the next flight.

You jumped ahead again, didn’t you? You knew our luggage didn’t follow us from London to Amsterdam.

Customs in Amsterdam was a piece of cake. As we waited for the luggage that was still in London I watched the customs station so I would know what to expect. After reporting the missing luggage we went to customs and no one was there! Lunch break perhaps? We walked through, no alarms sounded and we were on our way.

We had some interesting experiences in the Amsterdam airport. – at least, I found them interesting. I went into the men’s room and the first person I saw was a woman. She was cleaning the sinks. Everyone else was ignoring her and she was ignoring us so no problem – except for the coffee that I drank. Ma’am, excuse me please but nature is calling with a loud scream.

While waiting for Julie, a scruffty looking young man, who appeared to be from somewhere in Asia, held his camera near the floor and took a photo of my bags sitting next to my feet. Did he get all of me or up to my waist? He moved closer and took a second photo. As he walked by he said thank you and wished me a merry Christmas in imperfect English. I returned the wish. Did I look weird and interesting? If, in the future, you see a photo of some luggage and a guy’s legs dressed in hiking boots and jeans, let me know. I’d like to see the photo.(Actualy, the lines in the tiled floor and the lights in the backgound and some other details made me think this guy knew now to take an interesting artistic photo. Glad I could help.)

At the luggage belt I heard a man’s British voice say “There it is!” While he held a baby, his wife approached a woman and traded coats with her. The coats were identical and the mistake was understandable and the apologies sounded interesting in proper English.

The taxi ride was exciting. The driver didn’t fasten a seat belt and I hadn’t fastened mine yet and was wondering if The Netherlands mandates seat belts when he pulled out into traffic. I decided to fasten mine – as quickly as possible. Ok, a kilometer is about six tenths of a mile so, if we’re going though the city at 140 k/h then we’re going……. Darn, I know it’s too fast for me without doing the math. The taxi was equipped with a GPS system and a brilliant display. I knew where we were before we got there! Actually, we saw very little traffic. I read that Amsterdam has a population of 750,000 people and 550,000 bicycles.

We’re here to visit Shaun and Abby (Julie’s daughter). Shaun is Canadian from Montreal. He and Abby married last August in Dallas and moved to Amsterdam two days after their wedding. He is earning a graduate degree in Philosophy and Theology at Amsterdam’s Frei University.

Newly married + in graduate school + living in school housing = Julie and I are sleeping in a cot! One cot, both of us. Not that I’m complaining! I like being close to the love of my life. We have hotel reservations starting tonight but Julie wanted to spend the first night with Abby and Shaun. Their apparment came furnished with two cots so we packed an air mattress – a big, thick, comfortable one. Yes, that’s right – the mattress that's in luggage in London.

Two of Shaun’s friends met us for supper at a Greek restaurant. Let’s see – two Texans (Julie and Abby), one redneck (me), a Canadian (Shaun), a philosophy student from Baltimore and a friend from India are eating Greek food in The Netherlands talking about the Chinese friend who had been invited but couldn’t join us. There we were – six of us with five Dutch menus and one English menu. What’s number 83? Never mind! I like surprises. (83 turned out to be a vegetable plate.) I can’t remember the name of the drink in the shot glass. It was potent stuff that tasted like licorice, burned on the way down and was made from anise seeds.

On the return from the restaurant we stopped by a grocery store. Amsterdam has a reputation for being expensive but I wish we could buy food at these prices in Flagstaff. Shoppers weigh fruit before taking it to the register because the cashier doesn’t have scales. "Excuse me, please. I’ll be right back with the weight." Julie saw a man in line behind us roll his eyes and say something that began with the letter ‘D’. Does the Dutch word for ‘dumb’ begin with a ‘d’? It was fun trying to read labels. I’m not certain what’s in the bread but it looked good so we bought it. I liked the store. They do not provide bags and they do not bag groceries. Shoppers bring bags and do the bagging. I wonder if that’s one of the reasons groceries appeared to be less expensive than in the US – or is this store an anomally?.

The last two days were perfect. I've enjoyed it all, including waiting on planes and searching for luggage – which may appear today. The sun is coming up and another day of adventure begins. Life should be adventurous and unexpected and surprising.

It’s December 24. Happy Christmas Eve!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad you’re enjoying your European experience. It is a very cosmopolitan place, at times it makes you wonder (pun intended) what all the diversity in the world is about. If you need help in tracking down your luggage at Heathrow ... let me know ;)

12/24/2005 05:05:00 AM  
Blogger Anna said...

Welcome to Europe!

Your drink was probably ouzo... yummy stuff! As far as I know, everyone brings their own bags and packs their own groceries on this side of the pond. Oddly, though it doesn't seem to have affected the prices - at least not here in Dublin where everything costs more!

Hope you enjoy a wonderful holiday!

12/24/2005 07:55:00 AM  
Blogger Round Belly said...

I enjoyed your travel blog. Keep up the interesting observations :)

Ps Merry Christmas

12/24/2005 09:08:00 AM  
Blogger Bob said...

Welcome to Europe!
Have a good Xmas..Rob

12/24/2005 10:00:00 AM  
Blogger Jim said...

Paul and Julie-

Peggy and I wish you a very Merry Christmas and want you to know you are included in our thoughts, and in the circle of people who inspire us in striving to live more sustainably upon the earth, and I greatly admire your positive approach to living in todays world.

I apologize for not being more blog-friendly of late. It's been a very difficult few months for us with our sons loss of his vision. But he's alive and otherwise physically healthy, and for that we give thanks and count our blessings.

Again, a Joyous Holiday Season to you.


12/24/2005 12:12:00 PM  
Blogger Melody said...

It sounds absolutely marvelous! I am so jealous of your adventures. Just think of the stories and memories you will return with.

Merry & Happy

12/24/2005 01:06:00 PM  
Blogger Dale said...

Pics, Paul. Please post pics, if possible, of people and palaces and pertinent places.

12/24/2005 01:50:00 PM  
Blogger George Breed said...

Your humor continues! Blessings to you and Julie, Paul. Merry Christmas!

12/24/2005 07:43:00 PM  
Blogger George Breed said...

Hi Julie and Paul! It's Karen here, not George. So glad you made it mostly unscathed.....I've been thinking of you. It's been 60 degrees here and we may head to the Canyon tomorrow. Continue to have a wonderful time...please don't forget to come home.

This is my first-ever cyberspace posting. It seems being able to communicate with you was the impetus (kick in the butt)I needed!

12/24/2005 08:08:00 PM  
Blogger Red Bark said...

Merry Christmas Wondering!

Have a great trip.

12/24/2005 08:16:00 PM  
Blogger Gaye said...

Wow! Now that sounds like an adventure... have a blast and a wonderful time with family. Merry Christmas!

12/25/2005 05:11:00 PM  

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