Saturday, October 1, 2016

Kelly and Colin go Europe-ing

While discussing the trivialities of completing his freshman year at high school over caviar and crumpets, Colin and I decided to jet off to Europe like proper spoiled people do in the summertime, and track down a particularly misplaced guy we all like to refer to as “Chris”. Don’t worry – we held our pinkies out while drinking our Perrier, pushed our noses high and wore cashmere. As people do. Cause this wasn’t the Boy’s first foray to Europe…it’s all so “been there done that”, you know? I’d actually never been – was always smart, and stopped when I got to Ireland or the UK, no need to go any further. 

We packed our bags – proper Euro travelers with our nifty backpack suitcases – mine weighed 873 pounds, the Boy’s pack weighed 7 (that should have been a clue, but we’ll just leave that there…cause, you know, it’s not like I asked him 27 times if he’d packed, you know, pants.)

We arrived in Amsterdam and found the train to Dordrecht. When we arrived, lo-and-behold we got off the train and there stood the walking epitome of America, right before our very eyes…the only thing that would have made Chris stand out more is if he had wrapped himself in an American Flag with cowboy boots and a couple of pistols strapped to his hips. Freedom. 

Next day, Colin and I head off to Rotterdam via the water taxi and I got to try out my Dutch skills. Yeah. I don’t have any Dutch skills. But lucky for us, I know how to say “Do you speak English” in five - that’s right FIVE - languages. But really, there was no need…the Dutch look at us and automatically speak English without even having to ask. Could be the ‘Merica hat and absence of an infinity scarf... hard to say. 

In Rotterdam we saw funky architecture – the Market Hall and the cube houses and a variety of tall buildings that looked like stacked shipping containers on steroids. Rotterdam had been obliterated in the war, and instead of recreating and building what once was, the people decided to be avante garde and progressive instead, which is pretty damn cool. 

Then we found our way to the museum campus, and Colin elected to go in the Natural History Museum. This was not your usual Natural History Museum – I affectionately refer to it as the “Museum of Mostly Dead Things” -   primarily because the very first exhibit we looked at was – and I’m not exaggerating at all – “Dead Animals with a Story” and the very first item on display was a homosexual necrophiliac duck. I kid you not (the link is a fairly entertaining read). It was followed by a sparrow that was shot and killed after it knocked over a large domino display, a half smashed mouse still stuck in a mousetrap, a rat found behind the wall after it received a nail gun to the head during a renovation, a gopher with its head stuck in a yogurt container, and a pigeon that had an unfortunate run in with the museum ceiling fan. The next room was filled with floaty dead things in formaldehyde, followed by furry stuffed dead things stuck to the walls, and a room full of the bones of dead things…and of course, the hall of skinned dead things. I’ve just now realized: Dutch museums are super creepy. You all should totally go.

We ventured out the next day to see a medieval castle. We had to take the scenic route, as we found out that in order to take the ferry from a fort to the castle, you had to call the ferry guy ahead of time for a ride…it was an on demand personal ferry…that’s fantastic. 

Two things noted while gallivanting through the Netherlands countryside: there’s a lot of water…like a lot, and it’s way flatter than Chicago – which is to say, it’s pretty damn flat. About half the country is below sea level. Chris actually rode his bike every day downhill (from the river) to work. I know that the Dutch were invited to the USA to help New Orleans work through solutions after Hurricane Katrina – and they certainly have centuries of experience making it work. Except that one time when the sea took out an entire town…but Chris can tell you about that a little later.

We went to De Hoge Veluwe, a National Park located towards the center of Netherlands. It’s a pretty cool set up – there’s a free bike rental system with open/on demand white cruiser bikes available at various locations throughout the park. There’s 40 kilometers (see how Euro we are now – METRIC!) of bike trails that take you through evergreen and deciduous forests as well as an odd section of sand dunes. 

Colin and I spent a fine damp day at the windmills in Kinderdijk (Chris was working). It’s the largest remaining concentration of old windmills in the Netherlands, built in the 18th century, and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. A few windmills are set up for tourists to go inside, but the remainder have been modernized and people currently live in them. 
We stopped in a little shop on our way back to get a gift for our neighbors – they take care of Otter when we travel and we take care of Riley when they do – so we always exchange trinkets as a thank you. Had a lovely chat with the owner of a little sort of antiques shop and settled on a little etching of a windmill from the 1740’s. He commented “I always sell windmills to Americans” and I explained to him that for the most part, Americans identify “Holland” with Amsterdam, Windmills, and wooden shoes. I thought the little picture I bought was quite a steal, until I realized that over there – it’s not old. The church they have in town has floor tombs dating from the 1300’s. So yeah, some little trinket from the 18th century just isn’t that big a deal to them. It just so happens to be before we became a country…but yeah, whatever, right?

That ended my time as a Netherlands tourist. Colin got to stay another week – and Chris can pick up how that all went down…
What?  Who says it went “down?” I mean, yeah Colin voluntarily stayed an additional week with his wayward father in a very wet and below sea level country…what were we talking about?

Right. Freedom.

After depositing Kelly at the bustling Schiphol Airport, Colin and I continued north a few more train stops to Amsterdam.  After a proper English Breakfast at a Turkish diner in the Dutch capital, we set about wandering.  Colin really dug seeing all the canals, bridges, boats, and bikes.  After a while, we arrive at a tour kiosk and select a package deal for the Amsterdam Museum, Madame Tussaude’s Wax Museum, and a Canal Tour.  

The Amsterdam Museum was nice, but basic history as expected, and we practice a few Dutch phrases with the staff.  At one point an older American Couple very slowly and with exaggerated enunciation asked if we’d take their picture.  “Wow…they must think we’re ‘slow’ or something” I thought, until they ask politely if we speak English.  Pretty funny stuff.  Clearly I’ve been here too long. 

Madame Tussaud’s was both impressive and creepy – the wax figures are as realistic as advertised.  At some point as Colin and I wind through the halls and stairwells, we realize that we’re somehow mixed in with a young school group about Colin’s age. “Hey Colin…” I nod in the direction of the herd… “there’s a young girl over there…you should go talk to her…”  Slightly embarrassing the poor boy only encourages me to continue every time we see a suitable target…it's a father/son right of passage, amiright?

We do some more wandering taking in the culture and old buildings and alleyways, and even skirt around the very edge of some kind of “district” that has a lot of “red.” light bulbs.  I have no idea what that’s all about but I think the locals should invest in some additional articles of clothing.  Although they must have been cold they sure looked awfully friendly?  Oh well…maybe someone will explain it to us one day.

Lastly we board a Canal Tour consisting of us Americans and about 50 Indonesians, and after an hour long ride through the city, caught the hour long train back to my temporary home in Dordrecht.

On another day we took a drive to the Zeeland area of Holland – out on the edge of the North Sea. After a 1953 storm basically wiped out the entire province, significant engineering projects were implemented to protect the land and residents from flooding.  We visit the Deltawerken Museum on Neeltje Jans,  dedicated to both the disaster and building projects which includes (ironically?) a water park.  There’s something about these Dutch folks that isn’t quite right…

On work days, Colin was left to his own devices with a pocketful of Euros and a vague sense of where we were living.  It all worked out fine, as the most trouble he could get into in my sleepy little town was to go out and get a haircut.

After his week "solo" in Europe, we had back to Schiphol Airport on a rainy Monday (they’re all rainy in Holland, by the way) for his unaccompanied flight home to Kelly. I'm sure it went fine. No doubt he made it there...what could could possibly go wrong with a fifteen year old kid flying through Europe alone...right?

Anyone seen Colin?