Friday, August 03, 2012

Some days off, Amsterdam and a Visit with a Friend

I'm getting there. If I gauge my journalling progress by how many more folders of photos I need to mine to illustrate our vacation, I'm getting there. Back here in the real world, I was struck down by a nasty little virus for the last day and a half and am just now able to nibble on cheerios and sip gatorade to try and get my strength back. Ugh.

So, as they say, now back to our story...

On Thursday, July 19, the day after we returned from France, Eric flew home to actually work for a living. I know. Bummer. I was grateful he could come and stay as long as he did, though. The rest of us had a flop day and did laundry and accompanied my sister-in-law to the base to visit the commissary and PX, where we got to hand over our passports for fancy clip-on visitor badges. Every base we visited did this process a little differently. I was surprised by this, but I guess it has to do with the purpose of the base, the length of stay and the fact that the security duties at the bases are sometimes outsourced to local companies. Anyway, at the PX, the kids got a couple of things and I found a rockin' long skirt for SIX bucks! It was fun to get a taste of  the everyday life my brother and his family are experiencing while living in Germany. They have the mixed blessing of living in a very German/Dutch area, with the bases where they go for services about 30 minutes away in any direction. This means they get to experience more of the culture, but it also means a certain amount of isolation since they don't speak the languages a whole lot yet and there are few other military families nearby. They are making the best of it, though and I am full of admiration for them taking on this adventure.

Friday of that week, we headed to Amsterdam to get a taste of the Big City. My word. Amsterdam really is BIG in all senses of the word. It is vibrant and diverse and yes, there really are sex shops and marijuana all over the place, yippee!  But, there were also lots of beautiful old buildings, a harmonious sense of new energy built on a strong history, and completely different side of Europe than we saw in Normandy or the tiny corner of Germany my brother calls home. Amsterdam was all crowds and color and move, move, move! It was actually bewildering until we got our bearings.

We didn't have much time so we took a canal boat ride, which was a fun way to see a lot of the sights of Amsterdam in a short time. There was much of amazement and wonder at the ancient architecture and story of how this city was built on nothing. The land was reclaimed from the water and they made a city. I can hardly even imagine that kind of vision-to look at a stretch of water and swamp and think: "Beautiful city that will last for centuries. Yup. Let's get started!" It's even more astonishing to me when I consider how long it has stood on little more than shifting sands and many piers and pylons.

Here are the photos:

The main rail station. Not a super-old building, but cool,

One of the wonderful old churches in
People filled the market streets, stepping aside for the
many bikes and scooters to whiz by. We saw everyone
on bikes, from men in elegant
business suits carrying shiny briefcases and women in the
highest heels you can imagine all the way to moms and dads
carrying kids and groceries in ingenius cargo bikes.
One of the many markets in the city. 
By the canal. 
Bikes and people riding them will remain in my mind as
one of the iconic images of this unique city. 
Cool old church from 1600's juxtaposed
with sleek, modern apartments, all in the
same courtyard. 
More contrasts: the elegant window grate caught my eye, as
did the exotic guy in the leather jacket. 
Love. This. Baby. 
The underpass to get to the train from where we parked.
When we came through the first time, there were two hip and
talented buskers playing their guitars. On the way back to
the car, the niece and nephew took the opportunity for some
impromptu graffiti-sliding.

That evening, when we got back home, this was the view we enjoyed across the street from my brother's house. Ahh. Evan commented that he may like small-town Europe better than big-city Europe, and I may agree with him.

Saturday we went to the Farmer's market in Sittard and did some shopping for souvenirs and gifts. Sittard is another town, like Bayeux, that perfectly captures the Europe I have dreamed of all these months, and we had a lovely day picking out bread, fresh produce, scarves and other goodies for eating and taking home.

On Sunday, we went to church in a another small town in the Netherlands and got to hear parts of the service in English and parts in Dutch. That was very interesting. That evening, after a perfect American cook-out courtesy of my brother, we headed south to visit friends. We will be back to Schalbruch before we fly home, but it was a good time for a new adventure. We had so much fun with the family. My kids were absolute STARS with the small ones but I could tell they were hankering for some company their own age after 2 weeks (the near fistfight was a clue). We first stopped at Felicity's house, about 2.5 hours from my brother. It was so very good to see her and the family. Good friends are treasures, whether in the next street over or on the next continent over. She graciously housed us for a perfectly refreshing overnight visit before we headed down further south to Amy's place.

About the autobahns: I was nervous but there was no cause. They are awesome. Fun to drive, perfectly sensible and you do not have to go 150 mph if you don't want to. Many people settle down at about 85-90 mph, which is often the speed of traffic on I-95, so it felt pretty normal. Plus, the unlimited speed had the benefit of stretching the traffic out and leaving lots of open road, so it actually felt safer and more orderly than the crazy roads here. I maxed out at about 100 mph on one stretch of my trip, and it was perfectly peachy.

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