Melanie's Mom's visit

Trip Start Apr 15, 2003
Trip End Sep 01, 2011

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Thursday, September 4, 2003

Hi Everybody!

If you've been following the last few travelpods you know that Melanie's Mom, Carol, was due to arrive on Saturday morning (Aug 16), but was delayed one day due to the East Coast power outage. Well, she did finally make it here - TWO days later than expected. And finally, two WEEKS later, we have a travelpod entry to prove it! Apologies for the delay, but if you read the last tpod you know it's been a rough couple of weeks. The latest fiasco is that we accidentally deleted about 30 pictures including almost all of those from Carol's trip. ARGHHH!!! We were looking forward to some really great pics that Chris had taken, but unfortunately there's only the two posted here remaining.

Carol's itinerary was to fly from Columbus, Ohio, on Friday night to Detroit, Michigan, and from Detroit to Amsterdam, arriving Saturday morning. Unfortunately there were thunderstorms in Columbus which delayed her flight such that she arrived in Detroit too late to make the scheduled connection. There was a later flight to Amsterdam available, but due to the power outage chaos by the time she got to an agent for rebooking the later flight had also left. The airport hotels were all full, so she spent the night in the baggage claim area of the Detroit airport - which was apparently a zoo of misrouted luggage and other stranded passengers. There were no food or drink concessions available and the water was not potable, so it was a long, unhappy night. :-(

The next day, some of the concessions opened but there was still no water or coffee available. Because of the food and water situation her plane left Detroit as planned, but made a special stop in Boston to pick up meals. When the plane landed in Boston, it made a funny noise, which turned out to be a mechanical problem that left everybody stranded in Boston for another day! This time at least there were hotels available so she could take a shower, get something to eat and sleep without having to keep one eye open watching her luggage. Finally on Sunday, two days after expected, she left America, arriving in Amsterdam at 5:00 a.m. Monday morning. Unfortunately, her luggage did not arrive at the same time. In fact, Northwest had no idea where her luggage was - they couldn't find it in the system! They did eventually find the luggage and delivered it to our home that night.

If all this weren't bad enough, on the way to pick her up at the airport, our car stalled 3 times. We had visions of Mom arriving and still not being able to get to Amsterdam because we were stuck on the side of the road somewhere! Luckily, the car did make it to the airport and home again without issue. (Although it died on Tuesday - details are in the "culture shock" entry). YEAH - she's finally here!

The first day was a lot of walking around, trying to get outside in the sun as much as possible. Chris' friend, Steve, had arrived on Sunday for a quick visit so we all went to the flea market at the Noordkerk. It was SO CROWDED that we didn't last very long before moving on to other things. Before leaving, we saw a box of old U.S. auto license plates - mostly from the 70s and 80s and from western states - Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and the like. After that, Carol slept through most of a canal boat ride, but did wake up enough to get a few good pictures! She was amazed by the age of the buildings here.

On Tuesday Carol had arranged to play chamber music with some musicians here in Amsterdam. They live in the southern part of the city, so Melanie took the tram out with her to be sure she didn't get lost. They played quartets of violin, viola, cello, and oboe and had a great time! Carol got to see a Dutch "suburban" (sorta) house and play with people from another culture. Melanie met some new people who offered to help with finding places for her to play and also to recommend a teacher at the point when she is ready to get the cello out again.

There was more music in store for the week as well. Each year in the 3rd week of August, Amsterdam holds the "Grachtenfestival". This is a music festival with lots of concerts, recitals and other events centered on the inner canals of Amsterdam. It started on Wednesday and went for the remainder of the week. We saw a mobile carillon played on a barge on one of the canals and an oboe and harp recital inside an elegant old canal house. We also saw an organ recital in one of the grand old cathedrals close by. As Carol pointed out, you simply cannot get the sense of what it is like to hear an organ in a space that large without being there. It's an experience that cannot be replicated on a CD.

Melanie and Chris are taking a course on Dutch culture and our teacher had told us that on Wednesdays at 12:30 there are free concerts at the orchestra hall - the Concertgebouw. Since Melanie had to work that day, Chris took Carol to the tram so she could go see the concert. However, it turns out that the concerts are only held during the cultural season, so after trekking all the way to the Concertgebouw, there wasn't anything to hear. Carol's plan had been to stop by the Diamond dealership on the way back and maybe a museum, but she somehow got turned around when coming out of the Concertgebouw and ended up over by the Heineken Museum - definitely not where she had intended to be. After some more walking, she ended up back at the Rijksmuseum to view the Dutch masters paintings and then made her way home - pretty much exhausted.

When we asked Carol how she liked Amsterdam her reply was, "It's different." With that in mind we spent much of Friday and Saturday in the country. On Friday we drove up to Alkmaar for the cheese auction which is staged in their town square. Like Almeer's flower auction, the only buyers are wholesalers - who buy rounds of cheese by the trolley full. However, there are lots of booths surrounding the square where cheese and other goodies can be purchased by the tourists. There were also some delicious free samples. It was much more crowded than we had anticipated, so it was hard to see what was going on until it started to rain lightly and the crowd thinned. Also, the auction goes for 3 hours and after the first hour many people get bored and wander off, so it is probably best to wander first and come back to the auction later. Alkmaar is really a cute little village with lots of nice shops and very narrow streets lined with beautiful old houses and warehouses - some from medieval times. It seems like the sort of place that might be nice to visit even without the auction.

On Saturday we had planned to drive south to Kinderdijk which is a place outside of Rotterdam where many old windmills remain. It is a Unesco World Heritage site and is the picture that many of you have probably seen of many beautiful windmills lining a canal in the countryside. However, the highway that we wanted to take was closed and we were diverted northward, so decided to go to the old shipping village of Hoorn instead. There is a lot to see in Hoorn including some very beautiful buildings, a harbor with old tall ships, the Museum of the 20th Century, which was showing an exhibit on Laurel and Hardy, the best ice cream in the Netherlands, and more!

After walking around Hoorn we drove east and across a sea wall that was built back in the 1930s to block off the North Sea. Later, another sea wall was built further out so now the first sea wall separates two fresh water lakes from each other. (Yes, the water was salty when the walls were built, but has turned "sweet" in the last 70 years). In order to permit boats to travel from one lake to the other a "Navaduct" was built over the highway. It is a bit hard to describe and very odd to see, but from the road it looks like a bridge going across overhead with boats floating by. We imagine that from the boat's point of view it probably just looks like a canal but without land on the sides.

The sea wall is fun to drive across because it is very long (over 20 km) and there is water on either side as far as the horizon. There are usually large sail boats on the water and in the distance where the wall ends a bank of high tech windmills can be seen. The sea wall ends in the newest province of The Netherlands, Flevoland. The landmass of Flevoland was reclaimed in the 1950s and became the 12th province of the Netherlands. It's pretty dull except for the hundreds of high tech windmills that collect wind energy. The windmill fields go on for miles and miles and are pretty amazing to see.

On our way back to Amsterdam we stopped in another little village called Muiden. This village dates from 1050 and has more cute houses and beautiful boats along its canal. There is a castle there, but we arrived after it had closed so were not able to go in.

Other events for the week included seeing the Singel Flower Market, the Cat Boat, the Aalmeer Flower Auction ("amazing"), the Red Light District, the Amsterdam Historical Museum, Dam Square and the Anne Frank House. We did a lot of walking and went up and down many many stairs. And of course we ate appelgebak, tostis, Dutch pancakes and rijstaffel. Carol liked the tostis and pancakes the best.

A former colleague of Chris, Brent, and his wife were also in town for a day while Carol was here. They were actually visiting other people and had called us in hopes of getting together at the last minute, but due to unfortunate timing Melanie was not able to meet up with them. Chris was only able to go out one night for a few drinks in the red light district, where he was privileged to introduce them to the penis fountain. Itis a large marble upright squirting penis with spinning balls at the base. You have to see it to get the full impact, but, yes, it is as tacky as it sounds.

Tomorrow we leave for vacation in Belgium, southern Netherlands and Northern France. It's 10 days of driving to the small abbeys and other places that brew the famous trappist and trappist-style beers. We'll start by eating mussels in Brussels at a celebration for Saint Arnold, the patron saint of brewers, where brewers get indicted into the Belgian Brewer's Guild. From there we'll drive (always BEFORE drinking) to many of the smaller towns and villages for the local pub and grub and see many other interesting things along the way.

That's it for now. As always, if you would like to receive (or stop receiving) an email whenever we post a new entry, you can subscribe (or unsubscribe) at any time at the top of the page.

Toet ziens!
(that's Dutch for "See ya later" -- see the lessons are paying off already!)
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