Saturday, 26 September 2015

A Late Holiday - Pt.1 - The Beginning

          As a result of my studies of recent weeks which culminated in the writing of my previous post, I found myself in a state of unease and dissatisfaction. I therefore tried to find historical evidence for the refutation of the non-existence of Jesus the Nazarene so that I could obtain a more balanced opinion as to his existence, or otherwise. That further investigation is opening all sorts of pathways, some of which I have travelled before, and some which will require further investigation. I have this odd sensation of being passed through a sieve but having no receptacle into which to fall. Once again I face the experience of the abyss. I am nowhere near ready to write on those issues that grab my attention so securely. Rather than give up writing here, I have decided to talk about a very mundane subject, our recent holiday in Amsterdam and Brugge (aka Bruges). This exercise will need to be tackled in a number of phases, there being far too much to cram into one post. So here we go.
          It has become a practice of ours, I am of course referring to Lucy and myself, to take time away from home at around my birthday. As we no longer have a dog, at least for now, we are making the most of the opportunity to holiday in places outside France, an activity which requires travel by train rather than by car. Now it has been too many years since I have visited the Netherlands, the last time being when I was serving with the R.A.F. in Germany as part of my duties to Queen and Country. And that was around six decades ago! I should add that for my part, I have never had any great hankering to travel the world. In so many ways, Europe offers pretty much all I desire to experience, this family of nations which has offered the world so much, and which has also been the seat of so much misery and suffering. Yes, I love and sometimes ache for this continent.
          Thus it was that having put the house into relative slumber-mode, we set off across Northern France by TGV [high speed rail], arriving in Paris at a time when thoughts were turning casually towards lunch. We had decided to take a couple of backpacks and a large suitcase to carry our necessaries. As I may never again refer to that suitcase, I must say that lugging that thing up and down staircases when no lifts or escalators were available is not any activity I care to indulge in ever again, so there! But at least there are signs that my heavily bruised calf muscles are recovering. But back to Paris, and Montparnasse Station in particular. This is not my favourite railway station by any manner or means. It is such a pity that from trains one invariably seems to see the backsides of towns and cities. Graffiti-daubed Montparnasse is no exception. On the other hand we were getting away from rural France into the vibrant world that lies beyond, and I was enjoying the sense of rising, mental sap.
          At this point we took the Metro to Paris Nord, discovering that our tickets did actually activate the barriers. On occasions this does not happen and one is obliged to return to the ticket office for a replacement ticket. Of course there are ways round this procedure, like slipping through the barrier on someone else's coat tails. Never, I have to say, have I climbed over or squirmed under the barriers. Well some do! Yes! But one needs to be more fit and agile than me, with a nasty little predisposition to cheating. Mmmmmm? No I don't, and neither does Lucy. The Metro is a noisy, draughty mode of transport, but we like it, and there were not too many stairways to negotiate. Finally, we burst forth onto the station of Paris Nord with about forty minutes to spare. Well if one isn't careful, one can be booked on a train that arrives at one station with only a few minutes to catch a train leaving from miles away. I'd like to put that down to the ticket office's sense of humour. Even so the point would be lost on me. I remember on one occasion arriving at Koln (aka Cologne) in Germany with about two minutes to traverse the whole station for our connecting train. No! Of course we didn't make it! But that's another story.
          From Paris we travelled sort of northwards across flatlands to Antwerp (aka Anvers), Brussels, Rotterdam and, finally, Amsterdam. It was approaching four o'clock on an overcast, wet, in fact very wet, Monday afternoon. We had arrived in the Netherlands. And what a welcome the gods laid on for us. Huddled in a taxi, driven by a little man young enough.....alright let's just say, 'young'......as I was saying, driven as if all the demons from hell were after him, we arrived at our apartment. On the way, oh let us ne'er forget, the heavens opened and down came the deluge. Thunder and lightning, yea Donner und Blitzen to the highest degree, greeted us. It was as if the Gotter-Amster-dammerung was being played out before our very eyes.
          Unfortunately, our hostess was not there to meet us, nor was the key to the apartment where she said she had hidden it, and neither were her parents-in-law at home. So after a number of mobile telephone calls on Lucy's part, and much apologising on hers, we trooped off to a local cafe for some refreshment. An hour later we returned to be met by the in-laws. Now I have to say that Mr. In-law was a great bear of a Dutchman, who promptly grabbed my suitcase (remember that monstrosity I mentioned earlier?) and hefted it up the thirty stairs - in one continuous flight - to our apartment. He arrived back some minutes later panting for breath, well I didn't ask him to carry it up, and gave us the keys.
          Well we had arrived in Amsterdam, and there was for me a sense of coming home to a country that I never feel in France. In the latter case, it is a sense of seeing the familiar, but not home. And as English is the second language of the Dutch (they have no fears that their culture is going to be erased under the weight of those British!) we got off to a perfect start on the communication front. Very quickly, we stopped asking, "Do you speak English?" and instead reverted to, "May we speak in English?" It seemed almost an insult to ask a Dutch person if they can speak English.
          And that is all for now. In the next instalment we discover the culinary joys of Amsterdam, and take our first of a number of tram cars.

18 comments:

  1. How wonderful it is that both of you are able to take a holiday to another country not so far, and with many to choose from! That I envy about living in Europe and so I look forward to your stories. Yes, English is spoken by so many now.

    Oh, and happy birthday, Tom!

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    1. Marja-Leena; Thank you for the birthday wishes. There really are so many places we would like to visit, particularly in northern and central Europe. However, we would not feel comfortable about leaving a future dog, particularly a rescue dog, hence at some time some difficult decisions will need to be made.

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  2. Belated birthday wishes, Tom. You might have been better with a wheeled trolley/case like one uses on airlines -at least on the flat bits.

    I vividly remember being in the Netherlands with my Roman re-enactment group. Off duty, we were looking around Nijmegen (scene of the second world war bridge battle and the freeing of Holland from the Nazi yoke). Lost, we stopped an elderly Dutch couple to ask the way. Very courteously they showed us on a map. When I made to return it to them the man said "please keep it; we owe you". It still brings tears to my eyes.

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    1. Hullo Avus; Thank you for the birthday wishes. Certainly when I served with 2nd. TAF in Germany, our people received a similar treatment. They are, in the main, a lovely people.

      re the suitcase: Ours does have casters on it, and an entensible handle. It was simply too unmanageable (and heavy) on staircases. Never again, unless we are travelling by car!

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  3. Happy birthday, Tom, and congratulations on your tour. You are nearing the area of northern Europe that SWMBO and I visited back in 1985. We did not enter Holland but early on you mentioned Bruges, the great Venice of the North in Belgium. We extended our stay there because we so loved the architecture, the food and the beer! Can't wait to hear about your visit. And, sorry about the suitcase.

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    1. Hullo Bruce; The Netherlands is certainly one of the countries in that region that I like. So glad that you and SWMBO enjoyed your visit to the region even if you didn't quite get into Holland. I won't say too much about the architecture, food and beer at this stage except to say out feelings echo yours.

      Thanks for the birthday greetings and the suitcase commiserations. My calf has improved from black to blue and yellow, so improvements are afoot. [Just as well I won't be climbing any ladders in the near future :) ]

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  4. Oh, dear, the town you mentioned was Brugge. Is it the same as Bruges or have I committed a huge gaffe?

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    1. No Bruce, you're okay. I just happened to use the local spelling, but I have now suitably edited the text.

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  5. happy birthday, dearest tom, and what a lovely place to celebrate it! you may recall (or not, for i do tend to blather on) that amsterdam (and in fact all of holland) is the only foreign place that i felt at home in, and almost immediately upon arrival. for me the homecoming was not based on anything at all, but my very first visit was enough to assure me that i would be back and, if possible, for a longer term.

    i'm a packing minimalist, more and more so each year. suitcases that can be worn as backpacks are very handy!

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    1. Hullo Agnieszka; I well remember you talking, glowingly, about your visit to the Netherlands. I must say that your blathering, and I can feel not one jot of pejoration in the use of your word, is one of my prime entertainments. So keep it coming.

      I tend to find that, because there are inevitably times when I wish to wear a suit when dining out, my packing is becoming less minimalist. Having, also, become accustomed to taking Molly with us on holiday (but not by train), and since the volume of her gear was always greater than ours, this has tended to make us nervous about reducing our baggage below a certain level. Normally we have a small wheely suitcase and a backpack each. We will return to that arrangement.

      Thank you for your birthday greetings, and I wish you both well with your future moving plans.

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  6. All the best for your birthday, Tom. I'm glad to hear you've been enjoying holidaying in Holland of all places :) Many good wishes to you both for peace and tranquility in your dear European home. I'll look forward to hearing more about your adventures.

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    1. Hullo Susan; Thank you for your greetings and best wishes. Further news will find its way into the ether in due time. The first task is not to clash too much with Lucy's news on "box elder".

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  7. Many late but still happy birthday wishes, Tom, and what a great idea to spend it away from familiar surroundings. I'm very much enjoying your vivid report of the trip, peering over your shoulder, as it were. I spent only a short time in the Netherlands (Amsterdam and the Hague - also once in Anvers) but enjoyed every minute. Looking forward to your next installment.

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    1. Hullo Natalie; Thank you for the birthday wishes. It is good to get away from familiarity, and that also extends to get beyond the borders of France. Even in this part of N.W. Europe, it surprises me how different things can be, how differently people can behave. Even the air in Amsterdam smelled differently from other places en route.

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  8. ... again, I am fluttering about late to the party ... Happy Happy Birthday wishes I am sending to you with a hearty Prost and a clink, dear Tom! ♫ ♪

    I'll be back soon to read about this wonderful holiday you and sweet Lucy took!

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    1. Hi Rouchswalwe; Thank you, and see you soon.

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  9. In my experience, I shall forever associate Dutchmen with bicycles ... wirey guys who can carry a bicycle up multiple flights of stairs. whew

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    1. Not to mention heavy suitcases!!

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