Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Richmond Reflections

Sitting outside, on a beautiful (for me) warm, humid day. Just fed the birds (lots of dirty looks) so they are chirping away. Yesterday was our travel day and that’s all we did. I would include pictures (and may put a couple before I'm done), but most are just of big airplanes, which it seems only males like.

Thursday October 4, 2007 10:20 am Studley Va. 83°

We had an OK 3 hour flight to the (it seems) perpetually cold and rainy Reykjavik airport, where we got Rick some Fire and Ice vodka, checked in and waited.

My only concern was the scheduleded 2 hour window in Boston where customs had to be cleared, and a terminal change made. As it turned out our 5 hour flight to Boston left on time and in fact arrived ½ hour early, so that was good news.

Customs was easy, very easy in fact. (I had the "Midgnight Express" fear that they would be able to tell that we had stopped in Amsterdam so I was trying to look the customs agent in the eye and hide flop sweat and pounding heart, even though at this point I was 24 hours clean).

An easy walk to our Jet Blue connection, we checked in and … waited. It was only 6:45and we had an 8:45 flight. The weather was beautiful in Boston, about 70° so we killed an hour outside the terminal chatting about the trip, the pluses and minuses, what we learned (navette for example), our favorites, where we would return, etc.

We agreed that the Netherlands was a pleasant surprise, well ordered, charming, with warm and friendly people.

Upon returning to the terminal we saw on the monitor that our flight was delayed until 11:10 pm, or 5:10 am if you go by our body clocks. There were (we were told) major air traffic control delays in the New York area affecting incoming and outgoing flights to Newark, JFK and LGA. Great. We sat and snoozed and read until a Tampa flight came in at 10:30 which they turned around very quickly and actually got us out of BOS at 10:45. Impressive.

We landed at RIC at 12:04 a.m. Thursday, (that's what made it 16 days I mentioned in the beginning for you purists out there) and took the Groome shuttle (not taxi) to Studley, arriving at 1:00, a warm foggy night ending to our trip. I was asleep by 2:00 and awoke at 7:00 pretty refreshed, Kat is still sleeping bless her heart, a wonderful, wonderful, woman. A real joy.

The laundry is about done, the house is fine, but apparently we had very little rain for the past three weeks, and the basil has withered and died. The cilantro, hibiscus and begonias did fine, and the grass needs mowing. I checked the email and no correspondence from SIXT yet, so I don’t know if that is good or bad. I’ll be anxious to settle that.

So, good trip and we’re ready to go again.

May 13, 2008 - Reflections

I typed most of this from early February - 12th of May 2008. While most of it came right from the journal I’ve added some thoughts along the way usually in italics.

For a while I had lost track of what happened to the middle third of my Rookies special, so maybe there is something to the part about it killing brain cells. All I know is that it was worth it.

We definitely have to get back to Florence. In all the times we've been to that city, we still have not made it inside the Uffizi (lines are too long). Plus we have 2 new grandchildren since the last time we were there and we had planned to get leather boxes for each (with their initials embossed in gold on the top) in Santa Croce. All the other grandkids have one.

Spending time with my son and his new wife was priceless.

Now this is a heck of an idea. Although I imagine if all four slots were full the faces would be very close to each other, and hopefully no one had a Henkies Hoekie for breakfast.

I note there is little reference in the journal of our dinner at Aux Armes de Champagne (a gourmet's meal that I should have at least itemized). I don’t know why, and can’t remember much about it or our dinner there. I think we were all still absorbing the accident and the effect it had on us and all the feeling surrounding it. I think it would be fair to say that it subdued our good feelings about what we were seeing and experiencing. We like to talk about what went right, went wrong, what we would do differently, etc. each day, and of course it was impossible to have that kind of discussion. It will probably take some time before the four of us can reflect objectively.

I have nothing good to say about Iceland in my journal and I am not apologetic.

The guidebook said that this is the most picturesque spot in Delft. I agree.

The SIXT saga appears to have stagnated, and my only real complaint is their lack of communications. VISA contacted them (since I had opened a claim with them) and SIXT said that they were attempting to collect from the insurance company of the motorcyclist. That (and perhaps a very slight limp) would be justice in my opinion. They will let us know in the future if there is any claim against VISA. We appear to be in the clear, whatever that outcome. I would rent from SIXT in the future.

The last piece of unfinished business was cleared up this past week. Remember the broken handle on our luggage when Edward failed to negotiate the metro turnstile? Travelpro (excellent, strong, lightweight suticases) sent me a replacement telescoping handle this past week (May 2008 - $15.00 - and they didn't even charge me the $9.50 postage cost) and I installed it in about 10 minutes.

In other words, we are ready to ride again.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

"The Girl" and a Paris Nuit

For the record: A very full day and a beautiful way to end our vacation. A cool Netherlands followed by a warm misty Paris evening. We enjoy driving and road trips in Europe are usually interesitng if only for the rest stops that make our Burger King pulloffs seem silly in comparison.

We will not be denied again. Today we visit "The Girl." An easy checkout, (nice when you don't have to pay) and before we knew it we were on the highway to Den Haag. It was cloudy again but without the bite of the previous day, well on our way a scant 30 kilometers (about 18 miles) from where we were staying in Hoofddorp. Since we are so smart we decided not to take the first Den Haag exit (toward the Centrum), because everyone knows how packed that road must be with rush hour traffic. Instead we ended up in a major traffic jam and overshot the city.

Taking the next exit we worked our way back toward the centrum, and found the underground parking (exactly where my honey said it would be … she is a great navigator), parked the car and strolled over to the Mauritshuis. It was a cool, pleasant 10 minute walk and we arrived just a few minutes before opening time to a very short line peopled mostly with oriental tourists.

We had to wait a few minutes because workmen were unloading modern display cabinets, etc. from their trucks. It seems the museum is undergoing renovation and we wondered what this would mean to us, as we dearly wanted to see some particular paintings. That was the bad news, the good news was that because of the renovation, the museum was free, and they even threw in free headsets to listen to the audio commentary. Wow, we usually never spring for these, and it was fantastic. Because most of the museum was shut off,they arranged all the “masterpieces” into five galleries separated by the central staircase. How great is that.

In these galleries were Rembrandt’s last self-portrait and three paintings by Vermeer, including the Delft city scene which was magnificent. Diana, a dark and early work (there was some question about the attribution of this painting since it is so unlike the rest of his work).

Finally, the real reason for our determined visit, The Girl with the Pearl Earring. We stood before it, less than a meter away, alone in the room listening and looking. This close to the painting you can see that the white reflection in the pearl is but a single brush stroke, and the two dots of pink paint that is the slight moisture at the corner of her mouth. It was a fantastic experience.

As I have said the Dutch seem like very nice, polite, outgoing and interesting people. Even on the bus or train people smile. How often do you see that? I recall our new friend on the train who was going to the job interview yesterday. He was so apologetic and embarrassed because while chatting he told us he thought we were going the wrong way away from instead of toward Delft. We weren’t. Maybe it’s the weather after all that makes them so pleasant. Too bad it doesn't have that effect in England.

We were back on the road by 11:30 for our 4-5 hour trip back to CDG to return the car. Kat mapped out a course that put us about an hour ahead of our car return time of 4:00 pm. Just outside Antwerpen Belgium we lost that hour and ten more minutes backed up behind a tow truck and, we think, one squished car accident on a 2 lane highway. If that was a car at one time, it had to be a fatal collision, because it was as flat as one of those pancakes we didn't have at Orange Williams, looking like the product of a junk yard crushing machine.

We did get the car back to SIXT late, but within the one hour grace period they give you, so there were no additional charges. We liked the SIXT rental experience, all in all, given the problems we had. Upon return we could not get the attendant to understand that we wanted the original receipt back and would have no proof of the condition or time when we returned the car. So when he wasn’t looking I went back to the car (under the pretense of getting something out of the glove compartment) and liberated the receipt from the little compartment on the side of the door. (Tying to expiate some guilt here.)

Navette(ing) our way back to the hotel, we decided to go into Paris for dinner (that sounds so cosmopolitan). We walked from St. Michel (yes the train went there directly, the grève apparently being over for that section) and walked through a light drizzle to the Ile St. Louis to eat at the Silver Lily. Ferme, and foiled again. Instead we ate at a little Crêperie a few doors down and chatted with an American couple from Seattle.

The rain had stopped and the evening sky was breaking as we strolled down the street to Berthillon for a cornet of caramel cream (Kat as usual didn’t have any). It is a short walk back to St. Michel and on such a perfect Parisian evening tinged with sadness that it was our last. It was about 70° (warm after our northern exposure) and everything glistened from the rain. Notre Dame sat magestically on the other side of the Seine, lit and shrouded in mist. There was no pedestrian traffic and scant vehicular, and it seemed we had that part of the city to ourselves. Magnificent!

We trained back to CDG and took the wrong navette, how embarrassing, next time look for the Marriott sign on the side silly, so an hour later we got to our hotel. It was still beautiful out, so I took a short (1/3 Rookies) walk across to the park and those northern lights were sparkling for the last time.

Tomorrow we end our journey planning to be in Richmond before midnight. There are just a few critical connections that have to work out just right (Iceland and Boston connections particularly). Time will tell.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Den Haag and Delft

For the record: October came in at a very cool 48°, brrrr. I don't want to know what that is in Celsius as it will only feel colder out there. As I write this I celebrate a new week and new month, wondering how the kids made out getting back to the US.

The fascinating thing about travel is that when plans go astray, opportunities arise. Today was one of those times. Our original plan was to head to Den Haag (otherwise known as “The Hague”), to see Vermeer's painting "The Girl with the Pearl Earring" at a museum called The Mauritshuis. We took our now familiar #300 bus to the airport and picked up the train to Den Haag, passing through Delft on the way. The Hague is a pretty, compact city, with large government buildings, a modern center and the ever present (it seems) drizzle. It is a pleasant short walk past a park and large canal from the train station to the Mauritshuis.

Monday mornings have a certain feel to them I think, particularly if you are just observing and not participating. Not sure they want to start another week, people just seem resigned to their fate. No bounce in anyone’s step. There were the regular deliveries being made, including an interesting cheese delivery. You don’t see that in the US.

As we approached the Mauritshuis, we could see the huge "Girl" poster on the side of the building, our pulses quickened and we were thrilled to see that there was NO line at the entrance to the museum. We were quickly un-thrilled to see that the museum was closed … duh, Monday … we should have known better - nobody wants to be anywhere on Monday. Since we came through Delft on the way to Den Haag, and we had round trip tickets, how bout we go there? Yes.

Two things we noticed on the way back to the train station: the Henkie's Hoekie stand in the parking lot was not yet open (darn) and we got bikes. There were a slew (or better word if you can think of one) of bicycles outside the train station, which raised a couple of questions in my mind: how do you ever find your own upon return? and if one falls over ... ?

We made our short, 9 km. trip to Delft (which is just inland from Den Haag, and on the river seen in Vermeer’s paintings) in 20 minutes on a train that looked as though it had seen better days. Instead of row seeting, the car contained little compartments with sliding doors. On the train, which was almost empty, we were joined in our compartment by a young man who was going to a job interview in Tilbury, we think, and he was interesing and interested. Nice people.

What a pretty town! The woman in the magazine store at the train station sold us an excellent tour map of the city and when I asked her how to take the bus (in Amsterdam for instance you buy strips of tickets at the stores, or windows at the train/bus stations and they (or you typically) stamp them when you get onto the bus and cancel the appropriate number) she said “No bus … you walk” with such authority that we decided to walk. We are glad that we did.

It is a compact town, as picture-worthy as any we have been in (and that includes Annecy, France which is still number 1). We stopped at each and every spot marked on our map and read all about each. There are two main canals each with a number of (pick an adjective - pretty, charming, quaint, etc.) small, perfect bridges to cross. One thing we don't understand is why there are no railings on the side of the canals, and why there aren't more midnight dips resulting from an inebriated first step out of a hastily parked car.

An observation: the Dutch seem to be happy people, quick with a smile, and very friendly (not withstanding the morning fugue most everyone in the world seems to wallow in each Monday). We were standing on a corner looking at our map, and a very well dressed man stopped to ask us if we were lost and if there was anything he could do to help. A first in Europe.

There is style everywhere, even the door of the little Roti Schotels & Broodjes (whatever they are) shop which made us think of our Surinamese friend, Anne. Kat was clearly in style in her red scarf in front of a red-doored home (note the screens inside each window for privacy). After making the circuit we ended up at the main square which is surrounded by souvenir shops, (we bought a Delft tile and pin) and traditional pancake restaurants. We particulary liked the display of chainmail in the window of the “William of Orange” however Kat doesn't like pancakes, and I think of them as early morning fare. I settled on an omelet and Kat a ham and cheese sandwich and fries, all of which were very good.

At about 4:30 we trained back to Leiden (becoming routine now), then Schiphol where we went grocery shopping at the airport (pretty good selection and since the airport is also the train hub, it makes sense to have a mini-supermarket there) so we have a picnic just waiting to happen. We were able to keep the goodies cool in the room refrigerator (they think of everything).

(A note: Since Delft was not one of our planned stops, we were not as prepared as we otherwise might have been. Vermeer was born here, lived most of his short life here, is buried here, and it would have been a very short walk to the spot where he painted his View of Delft, that hangs in The Mauritshuis. Next time.)

We hope to take the car to Den Haag tomorrow morning then head back to Paris for a 4:00 car return. Kat went down to the lobby to do some internet stuff (while we were gone e-mails from Rick and Edward came in, so it’s comforting to know all is well back in the states.) So that’s it for now.

(ps. I did check out the "Northern Lights" and they were fantastic. And it looks like they might just shine on for one more night.)