Friday, November 16, 2001

On the Open Waters

On the Open Waters

Anne had asked us yesterday if we were not getting tired of ‘English breakfasts’ yet. We agreed that the same thing each morning is a bore, when the English, Irish, and Scotch breakfasts were almost identical. We have been out of the States for over seven weeks by now and that is just about all we have had each morning, but today was the last one. We are leaving the United Kingdom today. Although, I will have to admit that this mornings breakfast was a whole lot better than last nights dinner.

Right after breakfast we took our luggage for a walk again back to the train station/ferry terminal. We found that if we took the long way around, we would not have to manage getting the luggage up the two flights of stairs; there is an elevator that is still working. We checked in for our ferry and all was all right from what I was told then. We went to the bar where we could have coffee and a cigarette to wait for our boarding call. When we saw the masses moving without the encouragement of an announcement, we moved in the same direction.

It was time, the moment that I had blocked from my consciousness for weeks now. We were about to venture off to my favorite city in the world. We showed our passes in the boarding area, and then had to go through security. We were just waved through without a check, probably due to the size of our luggage. When we went to check our luggage with 200 people behind us, the young women said, “You don’t have a ticket. This is just a reservation card.”

The blood drained from my face and I looked at Ron, then back to her and I whimpered, “This was booked and paid for in Dublin before we left. I signed the Visa receipt for it.”

At this, she had to disappear, but at least it was not under her desk like the guy did in Dublin, she really disappeared much to the dismay of the anxious travelers behind us in line. When she finally returned she needed to see our Europasses since we were given a discount on the ferry. Naturally, partly due to my paranoia and partly to Ron’s sense of organization, they were locked and buried in the bottom of the suitcase. Under pressure, it is difficult to remember lock combinations, you know. Visions of our two week reservation going up in smoke with my charge card being billed, went fleeting through my mind, but I was determined to board this boat or swim if I had to swim to get there. The agent was satiated after getting our pass numbers and gave us the boarding cards.

The ship was very similar to the one we took to and from Holyhead-Dublin-Holyhead, but this one had a small casino on it. The ride was a little over four hours and we had to move our watches one hour ahead, changing time zones. It was monotonous seeing nothing but water all of that time. Ron forgot his book and I intended to nap, but the Sandman would not come. This time, I am the one who was the wanderer. Up and down I went walking around the ship, reading the newspaper, wandering some more. Ron was content to sit still. I was also a bit nervous about making our train connection. We only had a half hour from the time the boat arrived to get the train, assuming the boat was on time. I had told the hotel we would be there by 6:00 pm and since it is small, they had to have someone waiting for us to let us in.

We did arrive on time, so now it was through passport control and gather up the luggage from the conveyor belts. There were only about four of us in the Non-EU line, so that went quickly. They did not even stamp our passports and I really wanted the stamp there for a souvenir. Our luggage was amongst the first to be delivered and the train platform was less than one hundred yards away.

When I looked at the train schedule again, it was not due for another twenty minutes, so we had plenty of time. The train arrived like clockwork and we quickly stuffed our entire luggage into the opening. With that we had two choices, it was a double decker train. We could go up eight steps or down five. Not being totally stupid, we went down and got our luggage squeezed into nooks and cavities and flopped into the seats. Then I looked up and saw that we were in first class. Quickly, I looked at our tickets that I had bought on the boat and they were for second class. We had to move. Ron tried debating with me that the conductor would take pity on us and let us stay. Having been a seasoned traveler to Europe, I assured him this was only his tired muscles speaking and that we had to move. Back up the five steps. Then it became a problem finding a second-class seat where there could be room to stuff our luggage, since this was more of a commuter train than a long haul train. One would think that since it starts at the ferry station, they would use different equipment, but nooooooo! We found an empty car that was second class, but there was no room for the luggage without putting them on seats and that is what Ron did. He just knew the train would not fill sufficiently to need the seats. By the next stop, the train was filled to capacity and people were standing in the aisles, but our luggage was perfectly comfortable. If we understood the language, I am sure we would have heard, “Who the hell are the inconsiderate morons who have their luggage on three seats?” Our only saving grace was that other travelers followed our poor example and put their luggage on top of ours.

An hour and twenty minutes later, we were in Holland at the Amsterdam Central Station, one of my favorite places to be. There was a long line for the taxis, but we were able to get one within ten minutes. When the driver grabbed the first big suitcase, I warned him that it was heavy. He either did not understand or was trying to prove his masculinity when he grabbed it to try and fling it into the trunk. After making subsequent attempts with the rest of the pieces, he was bent over in pain. Later we found out his hernia surgery is in two weeks and he will not bill us for it.

We were given an orientation to the guesthouse upon registering. Instead of a key for the front door, we have a magnetic disk that is held to a pad and it unlocks the door. We are given breakfast tickets since the morning meal is included, but at a restaurant around the corner. What we were dreading was finding out what floor our room was on. Elevators in Dutch hotels, especially small ones are a rarity. Praise the god of Stairmasters, we were on the first floor above the street. Our room is large. Another concern was that we would have to have one room for us and another for the luggage, since Dutch buildings tend to be narrow. Our shower looks like a large vertical aquarium, glass on two sides and walls on the other two.

After unpacking the two little suitcases, we rested and decided to hold off on the larger ones for a day or two. We will be here for two weeks after all, why rush it? If we want to pay some amount of gilders a day, we can have DSL Internet service in the room, but we would have to have it the entire time we are here. That comes to over $140.00 for the two weeks. At first it seemed it may be a better deal than the Internet cafés, but then we did not think we would be in the room long enough to warrant it. Besides, when you are at a café, you are in a rush to get out and do things. If I had DSL in the room, I might be in a rush to get back to the room.

Since I could not get a hotel room in an area that I was accustomed to, I have to get myself oriented. This is my seventh time to Amsterdam and Ron’s first. It was my intention to show him some of my favorite parts at night, so we headed on out to walk the city. This hotel is in a part that I am not familiar with at all, but I LOOKED AT A MAP. Okay, I admit that they can be helpful under rare circumstances. The guy that checked us in told us the breakfast place was left out the door and left again at the corner. I was thinking left at the corner and left again, so when I looked at the map, I thought I knew exactly where I was going to lead Ron. Twenty canals later and the equivalent of forty city blocks, we both knew I was not headed where I had anticipated. But hey, I found parts of Amsterdam I had never seen and of course Ron has never seen them, so it was okay.

We never did come across what I had hoped and went into a bar that offered free Internet access for twenty minutes with every drink. Well it was time to switch to Dutch beer anyway, so we bought and we typed. They only had MAC computers. I am a PC man myself. Three times I wrote an e-mail to my friend Daphnee in regard to continuing Ron’s health insurance and three times when I went to find the ‘Send’ button, the whole thing disappeared. I have no idea what the little icons on a MAC are for, but it is different for a PC. With anger and frustration, we quit trying even if we did have twenty minutes left. The other reason for leaving is that we did not realize we had walked into a liquor bar, but also a marijuana bar. Pot and Hash are both legal in Holland and can be served in bars and cafés. Customers may partake of both while in the bar or café, but since I am not inclined toward either, the smell gave me an instant headache.

The problem with getting lost was that coming back to the hotel, we started out on our street at house number 1 and our hotel is number 679. God bless the Dutch, they don’t miss one number in between. Good thing the bed is comfortable, we are going to have a good nights sleep.

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