Europe 2011

E-Day minus 2

It’s true! In just over 48 hours, Cheryl and I climb aboard the big silver bird to start our Sixties Summer Sabbatical in Europe. Over the next three months we’ll be:

- Cycling from Amsterdam to Bruges (with a canal barge for company)

- Relaxing in a spa town in Italy, Montegrotto, near Venice

- Two weeks cruising on the Wind Surf, visiting Croatia, Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica and the west coast of Italy, ending in Nice–with 109 of our closest personal friends

- Three days in Paris, staying in what looks like a large closet on the third floor with no elevator

- Riding a motorcycle around Wales (me) while Herself flies to Iceland for some intra-sabbatical work

Bikewriter and Herself

- Two weeks of R&R in Vernet-les-bains , between Perpignan and Andorra in the Pyrenees’ foothills, with easy access to Barcelona and the Costa Brava

- Cooking school in the Dordogne

- Riverboat cruise from Budapest to Amsterdam on the Danube, Main, and Rhine Rivers

- That’s all folks!

You can keep up with our adventures by following this blog, which I intend to be mostly image-driven, and by reading Cheryl’s blog at mytripjournal.com/cherylsgrandtour

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A Good Omen

San Jose 2, Vancouver 3. Vancouver wins Western Conference, advances to Stanley Cup Final…

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Day 1: Three strikes–but not out…

May 25, 2011: YVR-LHR-AMS

Just arrived in Amsterdam (10:30pm) a day late and a dollar short.

We got to YVR on Wednesday afternoon to discover that Cheryl had left her expensive iPod earphones at home, so had to buy some more. Strike one.

AC845 to LHR was uneventful, but arrived late. Then the luggage was equally tardy, meaning we had less than an hour to get from T3 to T5 for our LHR-AMS flight. Didn’t make it. The cost of rebooking on the next flight out (4:00pm) was…well, let’s just say it was more than a weekend in a luxury hotel… Strike two.

Giraffe cafe at Heathrow. Cheryl gives her cup of tepid water and tea bag the thumbs down.

 

Thunderstorms over LHR and AMS meant our incoming plane was late arriving, so we were even later leaving. We touched down here at around 21:30 local time, caught the train to Amsterdam Centraal and a cab to Charlotte’s Garden House at 1009 Prinsengracht. Got unloaded to discover I’d left my backup camera in its bag in the back of the taxi!  Strike three.

Fortunately, we’d had the presence of mind to buy a couple of bottles of wine on the way…

Sky full of foreboding...

... so a very wet and windy Heathrow...

 

New Rules

New Rules for commercial flights, based on today’s experience on YVR-LHR (AC854) and LHR-AMS (BA400)

  1. A good time to go to the washroom is when the seat belt sign is on, because then you get to avoid the rush
  2. A flight that took 8 hours in the 1960s now takes 9 hours. This is progress
  3. The seat belt sign always comes on right after your meal, when you’re busting for a pee. This is so the flight attendants get to sit down for a while
  4. “For your comfort and safety” translates as “for our convenience”
  5. When the flight attendants are reviewing the aircraft’s safety features, it’s cool to pretend to be doing anything other than paying attention. But if the excrement ever hits the air-conditioning, I want to know how to get the hell out!

    ...resulting in lengthy delays...

  6. Carry-on bags that are designed to fit overhead bins lengthways also fit sideways and take up much more space. And space on an airliner is like a gold claim, so you better grab as much as you can.
  7. Rules like: not going to the washroom while the seatbelt sign is on; not using electronic devices during takeoff; and not taking oversize hand luggage on board should be considered suggestions, not rules. That is, based on the number of people who completely ignore them.
  8. The rules only apply to other people

    ...but better than being on the M25!

Breaking News!

The taxi driver arrived at 00:30 with my camera!

 Day 2: Amsterdam

Amsterdam’s first lesson is…don’t step off the sidewalk without looking for bicycles! There are easily as many bikes as people in the central district, and they hurtle around at high speed. Everyone is a cyclist—mothers with baby seats, delivery guys with vast luggage racks, extended bikes with pickup-like beds in front, pedicabs, trikes… Most look like they were made from truck parts, but they whizz around with amazing alacrity. No surprise that the Dutch are great at football—they probably have the best tuned legs anywhere.

Central Amsterdam is laid out in a ring of canals, each lined with narrow lanes that would have been towpaths at some time, I’m sure. Cars can get around, but it’s not easy, and as cars share the bike paths, progress isn’t any faster, and parking is at a big premium. We’re staying on Prinzengracht, a little way out of the centre of town, but right on one of the ubiquitous canals.

It’s easily noon before we manage to get away from Charlotte’s Garden House, but as we’re just a short walk from both the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh museum, we make those our first destination. We managed to avoid being run over by bicycles, but there were a few close calls. Every intersection is a challenge because there are two sets of lanes to cross—cars and bikes. Then at major intersections, you need to watch out for the trams as well. Altogether, crossing the road requires the use of all sense.

Charlotte has been kind enough to leave us a couple of free passes to the downtown museums, but the main part of the Rijkmuseum is closed for repairs, though a core part of the collection is housed in an annex next door. Unfortunately, they forgot to reprogram the audio guides we rent from the desk, so they turn out to be not much use. Cheryl and I never did find half of the exhibits. But we find a delightful espresso wagon outside selling coffee from a Piaggio three-wheeled van—with a waterfall in the back!

Next to the Van Gogh museum, and we decide to skip the audio guide… As is inevitable with any pioneering creative endeavour, much of Vincent’s art seems to me to be a work in progress (as I’m sure he would have admitted). But it’s through experimentation that boundaries are broken, and great work results. Some of the final Arles work from 1889-90, like The Cornfield, is breathtaking in its scope and mastery.

We decide an R&R break is needed, so we stop in at the museum café. I choose a Trappist beer (7%!) and a cheese sandwich, while Cheryl has a frittata and a glass of wine. The food is freshly prepared, scrumptious and of the highest quality. It also comes in manageable proportions, sparking the inevitable debate about how in North America we’ve sacrificed quality for sheer volume in our food. It’s been a long time since I ate bread as fresh as we have with this meal—in a museum café!

It’s almost time to meet up with La Gang at the Restaurant de Reiger (Heron) near Ann Frank’s house.We investigate the tram, and find out it’s just E2.60 to get downtown, so we catch the #5 from the Museum to Dam Square and walk the few remaining blocks. At the canalside is an old geezer feeding the birds, including a pair of herons that could easily have dropped in from the Reifel sanctuary in Ladner, BC. Apparently, the American BlueHeron is a close relative, but not identical. Could have fooled me.

We meet most of our bike ‘n barging buddies at De Reiger—Brenda & John, Bob & Sue, Dennis & Anita, Marty & Jane, and Drew & Heather—though Don & Bettina are still in London, and Pat & Hans are visiting relatives in Haarlem. My pan fried duck breast is exquisite, and Cheryl’s sole fillet looks as good as she says it tastes. Looks like we’ll be enjoying a pretty fun ride on the Elodie—party poopers will be thrown overboard!

Forsaking the tram, Cheryl and I stroll the canalside walkways back to Charlottes and settle in for what we hope will be a quieter night…

Day 3 Amsterdam again

 The second night of jet lag, I find, is the worst. I spend most of the preferred sleeping hours on ceiling patrol, listening to the skeeters circulating above my ears. I wake at 7am, 8, 9, 10 and 11 but still can’t force my eyes open—Hmmm…

 So after a late brunch of leftover bread and cheese, it’s almost 2:00pm before we emerge and head for an exhibition I’ve seen posters everywhere for: Best Press Photographs 2011 at De Ouwde Kerk (Old Church) near Dam Square. The audacity, courage patience and determination of the photographers who captured these astonishing images is inspiring and almost overwhelming. As one editor once told me were the first two rules of photojournalism, “f8, and be there.” Those guys were there—right there: Somalia, Afghanistan, Congo… Amazing.

 On Cheryl’s last visit to Aamsterdam in March, she left a few items in her room, which were promptly returned to her by courier—to Vancouver! So we stopped in at the Radisson to thank the housekeeping staff.

 Time for some “attitude adjustment,” so we repair to a bar for a beer, and an order of crostini. Cheryl orders a “light beer,” which turns out to be a Belgian Duvel at 9% alcohol! The crostini includes carpaccio, salami, chevre, shrimp, all dressed with basil, rocket, tomato and balsamic vinegar. Yumm!

 Back to Charlotte’s via more canals, and Cheryl is still peckish, so we head back to Rembrandt Plein and find an Italian restaurant. Now sufficed, we stroll (or maybe waddle) back to Charlotte’s. It’s been a long, short day, and tomorrow we start cycling!

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