August 28, 6:30 pm CDT
What a hectic week it has been! With millions of things to do and too little time, tempers flared often enough. As Gerry Jr. described it “Mom screams at Dad; Dad screams at me; and Oscar steals the remote.” (Naturally his description of my tone of voice as “screaming” is a GROSS exaggeration and the non sequiter about Oscar means nothing to me either.)
This morning I was out of bed by 4:38 (aren’t digital clocks great!) and on the internet finishing last minute details like finding a rental car in England (unsuccessful), trying to see pictures of the apartment in Paris that we want to rent (unsuccessful) and sending an email to Bob F. in Naples, FL (successful!).
The children both went to school early to say good-bye to their friends, and we went to the office to say goodbye to all our wonderful co-workers. We left for the airport at about 11:45 am. It was a pretty tearful morning of good-byes as it turned out … Nayda accompanied us into the airport and took us to the Admiral’s Club. It was my first time and that is definitely something I could get used to! Our first flight was in First Class to Chicago (remember we are using our mileage!) Everything went very smoothly. Oh, but we did have one VERY tense moment! That was when the “flight attendant” came around with the hot towels. Dad, Gerry J and I all looked anxiously at Oscar…This time he didn’t try to eat it!
Leaving was exciting – exhilarating, really! It was so good to be getting away, getting up and out of the rut our lives had become. School was such a drag on everyone. There was so much pressure on the kids and so many demands from the school that invaded our life at home. I was constantly screaming at everyone. “Do your homework!” “Hurry up!” “Get up!” “Hurry up!” “You’re late,” “Hurry up!” “Let’s go!” When did I ever have time to just enjoy my children? Only on vacation. So what could be better than a year’s vacation!
(Truthfully, despite how much it may have looked like a vacation, it was not. The boys still had to so their school work, and I still had to keep everyone organized and on track, but I’ll be the first to admit, it was infinitely easier when it wasn’t imposed from the outside!)
I was also very happy to step away from my business. I had grown tired of dealing with the day-to-day issues, certainly, but the real cause of my discontent was rooted in the political situation in Puerto Rico. The island had elected its first woman governor, something that would have made the feminist in me thrill at the prospect. But this governor came into office on a wave of anti-American, nationalistic sentiment emanating from the controversy surrounding the Navy and Vieques. From my point of view, anti-American meant me. Worse then was the fact that my business, selling the symbols of Puerto Rico, was justifying the nationalistic sentiment. I was in a bind, a very unhappy one. I needed to get away from Puerto Rico.
When I got into the airport that day, I felt as if I had shed 100 pounds of worry and unhappiness. All I could see before me was adventure, and I was ready!
August 30, 8:00am
Well, my very first assumption about this “trip” has proved wrong. I assumed that all the sleep I didn’t get before the trip, I would be able to make up on the plane trip here…wrong! I arrived at 6:00 pm yesterday, Amsterdam time (GMT +1) and had just enough energy (actually was revived for a short period by being in the fresh air after 24 hours of airport and airline air) to take a walk and drink a delicious bier canal-side, before I fell exhausted into bed at 9.
Our trip from Chicago to London was fine. Was it my imagination that the plane seemed bigger and heavier than the ones we normally fly in from San Juan? Our accommodations in business class were so nice that many times we wondered what First Class was enjoying! Our seats were very comfy (though for almost 7 hours nothing can be that comfortable). The headrests bent in around the ears to keep your head from flopping around, and there were leg and foot rests and lumbar support to adjust, as well as the seat recline. I unfortunately didn’t figure out how to extend the foot rest until morning, so I slept “all night” (all three hours) with a too short leg rest. We were given special headsets to listen to the radio or watch our personal TVs, which were fantastic as they blocked out all other sounds of the airplane. Gerry and Oscar were delighted with almost everything – the only disappointment was that we thought there would be games on the TVs, as well as programs and movies, but there were not. The children and I slept through breakfast (and Gerry Jr. slept through most of the day, too!). Every time we were not actually walking somewhere he was asleep sitting down or lying down, wherever he was).
In London, we went to the Admirals Club again. (From never having been in one two days ago, I have now been in three. What a difference it makes!) We were able to relax and eat something (JJ is asleep again) and Oscar got to use the computer to play games without interference. We changed terminals (we were at Heathrow) and found our British Airways flight to Amsterdam. After boarding the plane, British Airways discovered a discrepancy between the number of bags there were supposed to be and the number of bags there were on the airplane, so we waited about 1.5 hours for them to remove all the bags, check them, locate the two miscreants, and reload. Oscar played his Game Boy, Dad and I dozed, JJ was sound asleep.
Our flight to Amsterdam had some funny moments! The first inclination that we might be in a different “culture” was when a man’s voice came over the PE system and asked us to pay attention because the “cabin girls” were going to demonstrate the safety features of our airplane. (Yesterday I was laughing at myself calling them “flight attendants” because to me they will be forever “stewardesses,” and today I find out that the British refer to them as cabin girls. Oh, PC Police where are you?)
The other funny thing was how the meal service simulated a Chinese fire drill. There were a lot of cabin girls and boys serving the first class passengers, but the pilots had decided to try to make up some of the time we lost with the baggage business by flying faster. They really did not have enough time to serve lunch and there were so many of them, that they kept getting in each other’s way as they tried to serve and retrieve everything. We still had our lunch trays on our tables when the 10 minutes to landing notice came! They were all very cool, calm and collected about it – staying cheerful and friendly throughout.
JJ slept through all of this.
Things have really changed in international travel since I used to fly back and forth from Italy in the late 70s. In Heathrow, we had no passport or customs at all. In Amsterdam, we did go through passport control. (JJ went first and had a hard time, even though he was awake and walking at that moment. I went second and asked the agent what was up and he claimed that Oscar and Gerry’s passports were invalid because they weren’t signed. They weren’t signed because they got them when they couldn’t write!) We got our luggage and went through the “Nothing to Declare” lane, and there wasn’t even anyone one there who seemed to be trying to care.
Against the advice of our guidebook (who cautioned that it was too expensive), we did take a taxi to our hotel. We have 9 pieces of luggage – two per person and one full of schoolbooks. With all that, we were really just too tired to contemplate taking a train and then walking from the train station.
Our “hotel” is just right! We are staying in a canal house apartment that is maintained by the Renaissance Hotel, which is a Marriott. We climb two flights of very narrow stairs that curve around and around to our apartment. On the first level is the bathroom; up a couple of stairs to the main level, we have the master bedroom, living room with kitchenette; and up another flight (narrow and curvy but inside the apartment) to a huge loft bedroom with two single beds. Our view is right out onto the street and the canal and the neighborhood is just full of places to eat and little shops. We are in the section of Amsterdam called Nieuwe Zijde (New Side, though it is two centuries old) and across the canal from the main train station. So far, I am charmed by Amsterdam and wish my men would wake up so we can go out and explore.
I spent a lot of my time in Amsterdam watching out the window of our apartment. I found it fascinating. There were people walking, people on bikes, people in boats, and even an occasional car. Looking down from my window, I could see the canal, just meters away and running at about a 45-degree angle to the front of our building. The street directly below met the street running along the canal just to the right of my window. Over to left, in the triangle made by the two streets was a “brown café” with plenty of outdoor seating.
The canal was lined with trees and the typical canal houses. It was a colorful, constantly changing, always stimulating scene. Night and day, there were always people going by. In the late afternoons, all the canal-side cafés would fill up with people having a beer, before going home. What fun people-watching is!
August 31 9:20am
Everybody finally woke up but we didn’t get out of the apartment until noon, so we went to have lunch first. JJ was in a bad mood and sometimes eating helps him get over it…While we were waiting for our pizza, Oscar was imitating my whole body jiggle style of laughing and actually got JJ to smile!
(Peckish. That’s the word for someone who is in hunger-induced bad mood. I just learned it recently.)
We walked around – meandered through the streets and stopped here and there to take some pictures and watch people. JJ’s mood improved little by little as the afternoon progressed. We found ourselves eventually at the Anne Frank House, which was our unofficial destination.
The exhibit is housed in the actual house where Anne Frank hid from the Nazi’s with seven other people. There are videos in some rooms. Most are of people involved with the Frank family telling parts of their story. There is no furniture in any of the rooms, but on the walls we saw many excerpts from “The Diary…” and displays of books and letters.
I found it a very emotional exhibit, both as a parent and as a participant in history. It struck me very strongly that Anne Frank was born the same year that my mother was born, so that as her story unfolded, at each point my mother would have been the same age. What a contrast! The same pictures that Anne used to decorate her room in the Annex, would have been the same movie stars my mother had pinned up in her room in New Jersey, yet one girl was hiding from the Nazis and the other was going to dances and parties. One of them died at 16, the other at 61.
Otto Frank’s anguish at trying to save his family, yet losing both his daughters and his wife is heartbreaking. Probably the quote that sums up the exhibit best, is right near the end and unfortunately I cannot remember who said it nor can I quote it exactly, but the impression is “If the story of one girl can move us so profoundly, it is better that we cannot contemplate the fate of the other millions of people who died at the hands of Nazis, for how could we bear it.”
There was also an interactive exhibit about discrimination and free speech…Very challenging questions about just how far are we willing to let the freedom of speech go and the consequences of limiting it, especially when some of the views expressed are so reprehensible…
Gerry, Jr. liked this exhibit particularly. This is the type of issue which stimulates his creative thinking. He thrives on questions about justice and fairness.
The rest of the afternoon was lighter in tone! We continued our wandering through the streets of the sector called Joordan. Tree-lined canals filled with houseboats, canal houses with luscious window boxes filled with flowers, street performers, cafés, music and more. We were back at the hotel by 5-ish and the kids both sat down to study (and they asked to!) Gerry studied biology and Oscar tackled math. Then we all relaxed and finally at about 8 went out to have dinner at a Thai restaurant nearby. Food was good and the waiter really liked Oscie. (Oscie was hyper all evening, except in the restaurant.) Another late night and once again I am the only one up this morning!
Throughout the trip, I was the first one out of bed in the morning. I love this quiet, thinking time of the day. Even as I write these words, more than a year later, it is early morning, and everyone else is still asleep.