Travelogue #6 The Traveling Old Farts

The traveling old farts:

Our buds Bobbie and Jack came for a visit.  We all went to Amsterdam, taking the train from London.  It boggles my mind that one can take a train under the English Channel, zip along at ~200 mph and arrive in Amsterdam a few hours later.  We traveled late, and found our way to our AirBnB rental near midnight.  Having not eaten dinner, and being totally unfamiliar with local eateries, we sought sustenance from the bar immediately beneath our apartment.

There were still a few patrons, and a lovely young French woman served us.  Unfortunately, she spoke little English, and interestingly, little Dutch as she attempted to communicate our questions to the bartender/cook.  Thankfully, our confusion was minimized by the fact that there was almost nothing left to eat.  Yes, there was still food, it turned out, but only “snacks.”  We perused the appetizer menu until we were later informed that by “snacks,” they meant only nachos.

So in desperation, we ordered the nachos.  We were presented with tortilla chips covered with some sort of melted Dutch cheese — so far, so good — but with a “salsa” consisting of three large, round slices of tomato on top and scattered green cocktail olives.  Hmmm.

We devoured them.

As you may recall, I had earlier complained about the configuration of the stairs in our English cottage.  No more.  Not after having lived through climbing two flights of “stairs” to our apartment in Amsterdam.  Think: even narrower, even higher angle of elevation, and perhaps 4 inches in depth in places.  A rope ladder would have felt as secure, especially with luggage in tow.

he Netherlands is, however, incredibly lovely, both physically and in spirit.  Bikes are everywhere, actually outnumbering cars it seems, with their own lanes and traffic lights.  Being a pedestrian is rendered a bit more hazardous by this, although having a cheery bicycle chime alert one to the fact that you’ve just errantly stepped into their path is considerably less disconcerting than having a car horn blast away at you in New York.

Just a few blocks from where we stayed was a magnificent granite gateway, soaring several stories high in the air, with an inscription in Latin which, I at first presumed, carried some profound or historic message. 

Then I read it.

“HOMO SAPIENS NON URINAT IN VENTUM” it proclaimed majestically.  OK, I thought to myself, “Homo sapiens” I know.  “Non” seems obvious.  “Urinat?” Um... I think I understand, although I’ve never seen it so dramatically written.  “In” seems universally to mean, “in.”  “Ventum” I had to look up.  It means, “wind.”

Really?  A monumental structure devoted to warning all who may pass, “People, don’t piss into the wind!”  Really?  There’s a story there that I might look up, but it’s probably better to not.

Just outside of Amsterdam, we went to the Keukenhof tulip festival.  It was beautiful, but reinforced a fear in me that I may spend the rest of my life merely gazing at lovely things, if not my navel (which is, I assure you, not so lovely). 

You see, I confess that this retirement thing still hasn’t sunk in.  Max told me before I left that it would take me a month just to decompress.  Well it’s been a few, and I’m still discombobulated. 

It took that first month for my usual dreams to switch from the work-themed panic-stricken variety (forgetting to pack for a trip, forgetting a to give a talk, etc) into those less stressful. Now, I even occasionally wake from a dream in which I miss being part of the action.  I also do so occasionally when awake.  Occasionally, I stress.  :-)

Speaking of stress, there are other ways to achieve it, such as watching news from an international perspective.  There is every imaginable channel here.  Want news from India?  China?  There’s even “local” channels in other languages, such as Welsh, where you can watch football matches and such with a commentary understood only by people just a little to the west of us, and nowhere else. 

There are also truly disturbing outlets available.  Salisbury, where the former Russian spy and his daughter were poisoned with an unimaginably potent nerve agent, isn’t very far from here.  As you might imagine, that evolving story and the saber rattling that resulted was even more prevalent on the news here than I imagine it was back home.  But a channel I can watch here that I never could at home is something called “RT,” which is “Russian TV.”  It’s actual English language Russian government-sponsored news. 

OK, at home we may decry the ideological bias in Fox News or MSNBC, but nothing compares to real, true government propaganda.  It is amazing to watch.

The poisoning never happened.  Then it did, but it was obviously the Brits who did it, then it wasn’t the same poison after all, on and on.  But then, in the midst of this, when the US missile attack on Syria was looming over another alleged (but RT-denied) use of chemical weapons, I watched as show after show declared, “If Trump gets his way and there is World War III...,” or ended their broadcasts with, “We only hope we’re all still here for next week’s show.” 

This channel with Russian government-approved news was actually preparing their surviving viewers for who to blame when the inevitable Armageddon occurred within a few days.  Like anyone would care whose fault it was.  Like anyone would care that anyone else would care.

I grew up in the “duck and cover” generation.  If you’re too young to know what I’m talking about, you’ve avoided a lifetime haunted by memories of a childhood spent practicing for nuclear annihilation as casually as practicing fire drills.  Hear the recess bell sound repeated short bursts?  Line up single file to walk calmly to the playground to await the fire trucks.  Hear the recess bell in one, long tone?  Crawl under your desk, turn your little butt to the glass windows, and await either instant vaporization or a blast that will send thousands of glass shards into those little butts.  Only much later did it occur to us that radiation poisoning would take us before those little butts ever had a chance to heal.

To watch a state-sponsored media outlet broadcast messages seemingly in anticipation of the real thing felt just a wee bit disconcerting. 

I have stopped watching RT.

We also spent time with Bobbie and Jack in London, of course.  On one such trip, we bit off more than we could chew, and after walking more than a few miles, we resembled the walking dead.  Between the four of us, we included two asthmatics, one diabetic, and four old farts.  With aching backs, sore feet, asthma, failing knees, blood sugar swings, and general poopiness, we were quite the sight as we staggered through ancient London streets and dodged young joggers who were oblivious to their surroundings.

I must say, if you plan on walking in London, be prepared to dodge joggers at least every minute or so.  They are plentiful and despite the risk they pose to mere pedestrians, it is a beautiful thing to see so many Brits committed to taking care of themselves. 

Update on the remainder of our schedule:

Denise is here visiting us until May 27.
We may be gone from ~June 1 until ~June 12, seeing a friend of Nan’s in Germany, visiting Vjollca in Kosovo (yea!), and perhaps another friend in Romania, if it all works out.

Ron is here June 14 until June 26.
We travel to Finland to meet Dawn and Anthony at his conference June 26 until July 1.
July 1 until July 8 we are at Lake Como in Italy with family.
For a few days after that, hopefully in other places in Italy.
By July 13 at the latest, back in the cottage in Belsize, England.
July 18-29 Dawn and Anthony are back here, and we all close up the house.
Departure on July 29 either home or to one last fling somewhere before heading home to the US.

Can we time it or what?  Returning to Phoenix in late July or early August.  We will know we’re home the moment we step off the plane!

It seems like a lot, but changes may occur, and please let us know if anyone thinks they might be heading to this part of the world before we return.  We’re having a great time hosting, and you can’t beat free rent in Europe.

‘See y’all soon.