We took the train back to Amsterdam, again going through the track works and arriving late. We checked into room 11 (back at Seven Bridges Hotel). I loved our little room. Skylights and textiles and bright colors made it feel bigger. The old sewing machine table with the marble top was our dresser and breakfast table. Breakfast was brought to the room on trays…coffee pots and the best bread (with sunflower seeds!) with cheese and sliced meats. Nice way to start the day. And of course, we had dinner at the steak place where dogs sat tucked into the arms of their people getting a few bites too!
We took a train to Keukenhof one day to see the flower fields. Hyacinths and Tulips were blooming–long wide fields of them. Unique new varieties of flowers were on display, though the bulbs wouldn’t be available for a few years.
Massive smells of flowers and dirt. The red of the tulips burned the film it was so red.
We spent the final few days of our trip wandering the canals, watching the people and the dogs and the bicyclists, eating pancakes and enjoying the Irish bar and/or Cafe Otten in the evenings.
I should say 3 SPRING days in Paris! We arrived at Paris’ Gare du Nord on the afternoon of April 9, 1997 with a suitcase full of dirty clothes. A local man helped us sort out the Metro and we arrived quickly at our hotel (Hotel de l’Esperance Paris)…and found a laundrymat 3 doors down. Figuring out even the most mundane things–like how to get detergent out of the vending machines and making the dryers work–make for fun travel experiences
We would spend alot of time in Paris walking, drinking wine, eating cheese, and watching people. It turned out to not be enough time there–and to this day, I long to go back.
We found an Irish bar…Le Galway. $8 pints of Guinness and $1 glasses of red French wine. We saw a dog on a short stool at the bar with an old woman who wore every piece of jewelry she ever owned. We listened to bluegrass music played by a guy from Indiana via school in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
Our local cafe was in a street market. Tasty cafe-au-laits and croissants of chocolate. Sitting among all those flowers, fish, vegetables, bread and fruits. Somehow seeing it all at the market made it seem so easy, so natural, to buy the ingredients + a bottle of wine, and stroll to a cute little French apartment to cook!
There were also the expected sites. The Notre Dame gargoyles. The Eiffel Tower. We took a LONNGGGGG walk from our hotel in the Latin Quarter to the Eiffel Tower. We strolled along the Seine (was it the “Left Bank”?). We saw artists painting, books/papers being browsed and sold, and chickens in coops on the sidewalks between postcards, posters and food vendors. On Brady’s birthday, we tried to call him from under the feet of the Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel Tower had a digital countdown on the side of the number of days until Y2K, January 1, 2000.
We sat at a busy corner cafe (Le Roma) in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, on the sidewalk in the sun, to enjoy a cheese plate and a bottle of wine. A French couple with a french pooch sat next to us, smoking and chatting away. Ladies walked by in pristine heels and dressed to the nines with long skinny loaves of bread tucked under their arms. We made a list of things we wanted to do by the time we were 40 (at the time, that gave us 7 years to do the list): BRYAN: New Zealand, Norway (4 new countries), Fly a plane, Speak another language, Hike the Grand Canyon, Fly fish in Montana, Have his own business, Own 10-20 acres of land. CAROL: See the Northern Lights, Speak Irish fluently and have a working knowledge of Dutch, German, French, Write a short story, Learn to play piano, fiddle or mandolin, Have my own business, Travel to 3 new countries.
How do you describe Sainte Chapelle and all the colors of light from the stained glass windows…and the floor tiles of dogs and worn gravestones?
How do you explain walking up those steps to Sacre Coeur or being in Montmartre at a sidewalk cafe sipping French wine over lunch near the only vineyard in Paris?
We visited Jim Morrison’s, Oscar Wilde’s, and Isadora Duncan’s graves at Pere Lachaise. Jim Morrison is now a grey cat according to Bryan. The cat followed us–peeking from behind headstones along the way.
We took a boat cruise from Pont De L’Alma at twilight down the Seine, past the mini-Statue of Liberty. In just a few months time, Princess Diana would lose her life near this place. But on that night, the place twinkled and sparkled, as only Paris can.
3 beautiful days filled with French onion soup, wine, and cheese…many times over
We took the train from Amsterdam. It was eventful! First, there was smoke that caused a 20 minute delay as we were leaving the station. Then the tracks were having work done, so we were rerouted and had to change trains in Rotterdam and Dordrecht. This made us late for our planned connections. Thankfully, we just made the next hour’s connection with only minutes to spare in Antwerp and Gent. Again, dogs on the train!
Off the train, and into the streets…I love the sound of the luggage wheels ca-chunk, ca-chunk, ca-chunk over the cobblestone streets. When we arrived at our B&B (Koen & Annemie Dieltiens), our hosts were out of town, but had left a note to have the neighbors let us in. We left our bags behind and wandered to the canal market at Dijver. We dined in a French tea room on lasagne, soup and ice cream while watching the birds in a giant cage with an upturned cooking pot on top.
In our wanderings that evening, we found the Dreupelhuisje. This bar had Belgian beers and flavored jenevers and was decked out for Easter and oozed ambiance. Thousands of yellow feathers hung individually from the ceiling on different lengths of string for Easter. Candles lit the small room–candles at the bar, in the windows, on the tables…everywhere. Books were pinned open and arranged on the wall like pictures, with dried roses as accents hanging beside them. There were murals, tulips, wooden windows from an old French church. Cirque du Soliel music played in the background. We sat at the bar and sampled a variety of flavored jenevers from the tulip shaped glasses. Filled to the very brim, we learned from our bartender Dominique that it was respectful to bend to the glass and sip it before picking it up. This place would become our “local” for the 3 days we were in Bruges.
We toured the Belfort Tower…366 narrow steps to the top and were actually standing with the bells when they rang 11 o’clock. Wonderful views of the red tiled roofs of the city. We sat in the sun and enjoyed waffles and coffee for Bel 150. Then made our way to the Jerusalem church and the lace-making center.
So, lace making…it’s done with bobbins…hundreds of bobbins, each tied with thin threads that are then moved individually around the pins and across the table in a certain order to complete a special pattern. We watched one woman speeding the bobbins around–like she was just wiping them off the table–yet a beautiful pattern of lace was left behind. She was known as the TGV (which stands for the fast train that runs between Brussels and Paris).
One day, we went to the Begijnhof. A courtyard with beautiful willow trees and blooming daffodils. Peaceful. We saw the Michelangelo Virgin and Child in smooth white marble at the Church of Our Lady.
Later we sat in the sun and tried mussels at Vivaldi. This episode stays with us to this day. My perspective: “Hmmm, we’re in Belgium. We should try the mussels…it’s a Belgian thing.” The mussels arrive. I bite into sand. Ugh. Bryan’s perspective: “You ordered mussels and then made me eat them”.
On our last afternoon in Belgium, Bryan would buy Belgian chocolate and I bought lace. We basked in the sun on the steps of the Belfrey before a cheap Pizza Hut dinner and drinks at the Dreupelhuisje.
The next day, we would take the TGV fast train to Paris.
We spent 5 days in Amsterdam and became somewhat disappointed–though we eventually got over it. This was the first trip NOT Ireland or Great Britain. We didn’t speak the language and we missed the familiarity of Dublin. So, we found an Irish bar–Mulligans. We spent a few nights there listening to music. My favorite was the drummer who tied wood chunks to his feet so the stomping was louder. Later in the week we found the Cafe Otten–a Dutch bar–where we pieced together a conversation with Burt the bartender, Marian, Henk and Rudy. Good fun–and finally feeling better about our decision to spend precious vacation time in an unknown place. (I’m writing this in 2008…this sounds so strange to me now. Thank goodness we got over that feeling–we’ve had so many amazing experiences traveling since this!)
Our week in Amsterdam was perhaps too long. We yearned to roam. We walked the canals…into old churches, through the Red Light district (where we saw ladies in their underwear displayed “for sale” behind glass windows and Bryan was propositioned with “longer the hair, bigger the discount”) and past little shops of trinkets, flowers and antiques (where they stand over you while you look). I bought a small compass with St. Christopher on the back, silver rosaries, a Delft christmas ornament and a wooden doorknob. We bought gloves for our cold hands as we wandered the flower markets. It snowed and hailed even as the sun was out one day.
I loved watching the bicyclists…everywhere. Old bikes ridden by all ages–whether dressed in skirts, suits or jeans–and bikes in every color, bouncing along the cobblestone streets, parked against steps and canals…some with baskets full of flowers or small dogs riding along. We tried various bars and restaurants–and kept going back for the buttered pancakes with powdered sugar in Rembrandtplein. One night, we ate at a nice restaurant…a splurge steak and potatoes dinner with bisque/scampi starters. In the candlelight of the cute little place, I noticed several dogs tucked into their owners laps or seated beside them. I could love this place with a dog by my side!
We took a canal cruise late one afternoon. The 18 year old girl who was our tour guide asked in 6 languages where we were all from so that she could give the tour in those languages. I yearned for more languages so that I too could shift between them like gears on a car. In one canal, there was a houseboat parked called the Poezenboat–it was filled with old cats who had been strays but now lived there. We discovered another red light district where there were Jamaican storefronts offering the legal sale of hash. And we sat under an old tree by a canal to change film one day. We sat there for an hour watching people and enjoying the sunlight on our faces. We saw a movie one night, “The Devil’s Own” with Brad Pitt. It was in English, with Dutch subtitles. Beautiful old theater with opera boxes, balconies and curtains…and a 15 minute intermission (“PAUSZE”) after only 30 minutes.
On another day, we took the train to Zaans Schans village. We passed windmills, community gardens and sweet little houses. We walked in the rain/cold to the village–looking at goats, crooked trees, pewter shops, and shoemakers (yes, the wooden ones). The most fascinating things there were the big blocks of cheese at the cheese makers and the windmill. The windmill keeper told us that windmill was his hobby and his work. Bryan liked the guy’s look–green jacket, fishercap and round small glasses. The guy sold yo-yos and booze too. He stirred up the windmill while we were inside–the building shook as the wind whipped through.
We would leave for Bruges and Paris and return 10 days later for another few days in Amsterdam before our flight back to Chicago.
Tulip time in Europe! Our first big trip beyond Ireland and Great Britain // March 31 – April 15, 1997
Arrival in Amsterdam, The Netherlands
We arrived into Amsterdam 6:30 am on April Fool’s Day. Two dogs made the KLM journey from Chicago too. I thought about them all night down in cargo and was happy to see them at baggage claim on the other side…tired and tentative, but good. There is no quarantine of incoming pets–just registration/vaccination papers to show.
It took some frustrating minutes to figure out how to get to Centraal Station from the airport–but we asked around and pieced it together: Metro Train (f6,25 each), and then a Strippenkaart got us on the #16 tram for 5 stops to our hotel. The room wasn’t ready, so we left our bags
behind and went for a walk on a beautiful sunny day. We walked through the flower market as they were setting up… gorgeous flowers and oh the fragrant smells!
The Anne Frank House
We decided to head over to the Anne Frank house early to avoid lines later in the day/week. Our jet-lag heightened the moment–we walked up the stairs, saw the bookcase door ajar, took a step up, ducked and walked into the Secret Annex. The rooms were very small. Hard to imagine 8 people spent 2 cramped years here…little fresh air, no sunshine (the windows were covered with screens to prevent peeking eyes from seeing them hiding there). There is no furniture there now. It was taken by the Nazi’s and Otto Frank chose to leave it empty when the museum was established. Anne’s room was very narrow. A statue stands where her head lay at night. As we were leaving the Annex, I looked down the long, narrow, steep stairwell that ended at the forbidden front door. It was one of the most intimidating pictures I’ll ever have in my mind. My vague feeling of fear cannot compare to the mortal fear they lived with. Anne’s actual diaries are in a glass case next door. The ragged little red/orange/pink/white plaid “Kitty” with it’s feathered pages closed to the public’s eyes was there beside her rewrites, which were open to us. I can’t read German, but I studied the pen marks and lines. Neat, confident strokes. I read the book when I was a kid. To be standing in front of the source, in the building that held her, was humbling. When we left the building, I stopped to stare at the cobblestones, the trees, the sky, the canal in front…what did they feel like when they were discovered and taken out onto that same narrow street in August 1944 after 2 years in doors?
Jet-lag in Amsterdam
We walked silent past the building, the church who’s bells told them the time, past street vendors setting up–and back to our neighborhood. We ate at an outside cafe in the sun–people watching. We ate pancakes with butter and powdered sugar, sipped our cafe au laits and listened to a pitifully bad street musician…tired from the overnight flight, dazed by the Anne Frank house and warmed by the sun. Dogs everywhere…hanging at the restaurant with their people, riding the trams, in the markets.
Around 11, we checked in to the hotel (The Seven Bridges Hotel). Room #10 with an orange yellow door…all the way at the top. Narrow, spiraling stairs…in a series of 13-5-15-13 steps as the staircase wound it’s way up. The room is small–double bed, marble top table, marble top sink counter and 2 oriental rugs. 3 mirrors reflected the light from one window facing East and one skylight over the bed. We would sleep for 4 hours.