Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Saturday, May 10 – Another long day

Our European odyssey was about to end and we were packed and ready to go ahead of schedule.  Rather than wait for the 10:00 shuttle to the airport, we packed all of our luggage on the 9:30 bus which was crowded by the time everything was aboard.  Once again, we were traveling like the Vanderbilts with 3 matching suitcases and 2 carry-on bags plus the van Gogh poster.  Our “stuff” took up most of the luggage rack.

While David wrestled the baggage out of the bus, MA secured a trolley and then retreated to cover so we both were not standing in the light rain.  With the luggage securely on the trolley, we made our way into the confusion that is Schipol Airport.  We had no idea where we were going but headed there anyway.  We found an overhead screen which showed departing flights, which gates they would leave from and, most important to us, which check-in desk to find.

Although sprawling, Schipol is really quite well organized and we had little trouble finding a people-mover to take us from the arrival level to the departure level.  A bit more searching and we were at counter C-20 in Terminal 3.  No one was there.  With a 2:00 pm departure time, the counter was not due to open until 11:00, giving us an hour to kill.  There was a coffee stand quite nearby but there were no available seats.  We spied a nearby bench with 4 empty seats and commandeered 2 of the 4 spots.  Shortly thereafter, a Belgian woman sat next to us and she and MA had a long conversation which lasted until it was time to check-in.  While they talked, David went to the coffee stand and bought cappuccinos and muffins for breakfast.

The line to check in at Icelandair had grown over the hour that we had been relaxing.  There was a separate entrance for Business Class passengers, so we stood in it until we realized that the people manning the desk were not really paying attention to it.  We waited patiently as another family inched forward, determined that no one was going to get ahead of them.  Since we all had reserved seats, there was no real rush.  Still, we managed to get the next clerk.  Checking in was no problem.  Our luggage was tagged and sent on its way which is more than we could say about ourselves.  Our flight was delayed at this end of the trip, too.  The Icelandair pilots had held a work stoppage the day before and flights had been canceled.  Ours was still flying but not at 2:00 pm.

One of the perks of flying in Business Class, other than the extra leg room, is the opportunity to wait in  the airline’s lounge rather than in the general boarding area.  The lounge usually offers more comfortable seating, electric outlets for computers and free snacks.  The Singapore Air lounge in Singapore was luxurious and had better and more diverse food options than many restaurants.  The lounge we used at Schipol was a joint venture shared by many airlines; with only one flight per day, Icelandair cannot afford a private lounge. 

The directions we received at check-in were confusing.  MA thought we had to go through security to find the lounge; David thought we had to go to Terminal 2.  We were both right.  We asked people as we walked and realized that we had to go through security in Terminal 2 [the departure point for our flight] and then over the river and through the woods – really up another escalator and around several corners – to the lounge.

It was not very full when we arrived but became busier as time passed.  And passed.  And passed.  We had been told that boarding would commence at 2:15 [it didn’t] and were in the waiting area early.  It was a mob scene.  When an announcement was made that there would be some pre-boarding, everyone got up and crowded the entryway.  David asked if the Business Class passengers would, indeed, be able to board early since they had not been listed in the announcement.  The answer was “yes,” but there was still a lot of crowding and rudeness when the gates were finally opened.

Since we were hours late taking off from Amsterdam, we knew that all of the other Icelandair flights would also be hours behind schedule and that, consequently, we would be late leaving Reykjavik.  And we were.  The mob scene at Keflavik in Reykjavik was worse than at Schipol, but everyone boarded without injury and we finally took off.

Both flights were fine.  We felt lucky when we discovered that we had the front bulkhead row on the second flight.  Leg room was no problem.  Service was good and we ate our way across the Atlantic again.

The limo we had hired was at Dulles when we landed at 9:40 instead of 7:00.  We were grateful because the thought of driving home after such a long day and such little sleep was not a pleasant one.  We finally got to Emily’s just past 11:30, tired and happy to be home.


Monday, May 12, 2014

Friday, May 9 – Delft

When we went on a Christmas cruise with Emily in 2010, we shared a dinner table with a Dutch family.  Marcel and Jeanet had married late and were in their late 40s or early 50s; they were sailing with her mother, Jerry, who spoke almost no English but was entertaining anyway.  The highlight of our dinners came the night Jerry goosed our waiter.  Marcel did most of the talking for the group because Jeanet’s English was limited, too.  In this, they were like Peter and Manu whom we met 2 years later.

We have kept in touch over the past 3 years and have met them in Miami when they have come through on the way to or from a Caribbean cruise.  This past winter, David met them and drove them to Sawgrass Mills so they could shop [They took a taxi back to Miami].  Of course, they have kept up with Emily and Harper and we have sent them baby pictures by email during the last year.

On Friday, Jeanet picked us up at our hotel and drove with speed and dexterity, and a non-stop conversation, from Amsterdam to Delft.  Because of work commitments, they still maintain separate living spaces 90 minutes apart.  When he retires, Marcel says, he will move out of the apartment he has maintained for 25 years and move into Jeanet’s house.  They will finally have more than weekends and holidays together.
Interior of the Old Church

Stained glass closeup
Marcel had taken the day off from work so he could join us; Jeanet apparently had a school holiday and did not have to report to work.  She drove us to Marcel’s apartment where we had the obligatory coffee or tea and, this time, wonderful almond cookies, followed by more coffee and conversation.  Marcel’s apartment was a combination of traditionally-Dutch wooden furniture mixed with modern sofas and chairs.  He has three aquariums [aquaria?] in the living area and souvenirs from their yearly safaris to Africa.  The most striking is a breath-taking photo of elephants that he took in Kenya.  There were masks and wooden animals throughout.

Organ at the Old Church
Once we headed out to see Delft, we had to contend with the weather.  Ever since we got to Amsterdam, we have battled overcast skies, cool temperatures and wind.  Today we finally got real rain.  David and MA had brought rain jackets which helped keep us dry but offered no protection from the cold or wind.  In a concession to the conditions, Marcel dropped us off near the center of Delft’s old section while he parked the car “nearby.”

Town Hall in Delft
We walked with Jeanet through the drizzle and wound to the Old Church [so-called to distinguish it from the New Church].  While we were looking around, Marcel joined us and they both tried to explain both the building and the appropriate Dutch history.  History was not their strong suit, as they readily admitted later in the day.  Regardless, we marveled at the architecture and decorations of the old Gothic structure.
We had to wait a bit for the rain to ease before leaving the Old Church and heading for the New Church.  Our path took us through the town square, the market square on certain days, and past the Town Hall.  We arrived just after the conclusion of a wedding and were surrounded by children whose teacher had just been married.  They must have all been invited.  We even saw a group on bicycles and wearing matching yellow slickers preparing, we assumed, to return to school.
The Old Square in Delft
The New Church
The square was much like all of the others we have seen in Europe, meaning many of the buildings on the perimeter had become cafes aimed at the tourist trade.  Whether it is Brugge, Prague or Delft, one will find tables, tents and umbrellas outside of the cafes, all the better to capture the tourists and their On this particular day, there were no visitors sipping beer or cappuccinos, but the tents were filled with people escaping the rain.  It was not raining as hard, though, as we traversed the square, the Town Hall behind us and the New Church ahead.

William of Orange's sarcophagus
The interior of the New Church did not approach the majesty of the Old Church, but its place in Dutch history is assured because is the final resting place for members of the royal family.  There were displays throughout of the sequence of Dutch kings starting with William of Orange as well as showcases with relics from the various periods of history.  The burial vault is below the chancel of the sanctuary.  Because it is sort-of sacred, it is not open to the public but there is a three-dimensional model of the burial chamber as well as televisions showing continuous loops of the past four royal funerals.
Typical Delft scene
Piet Hein, namesake of our
 favorite HAL bars

The sun was shining through the clouds when we left and began walking through more of Delft.  We were able to see parts of town that tourists usually don’t get to see.  Like a miniature Amsterdam, it has numerous small canals and bridges and lots of ducks.  Narrow houses with assorted gables fill the narrow cobbled streets.  It was a relaxing and lovely walk.  And long.  Marcel may have parked close to downtown, but our circuitous route made it seem that he had parked in Brugge.

The burial chamber
cover in the New
William and Mary
in the New Church
Marcel had parked the car in front of his father’s house, so we just had to meet him.  He was a sprightly old man [although he may not be much older than we – Marcel just turned 50] and smiled and laughed with us even when he wasn’t completely sure of what we were saying.  Of course, we had coffee and cookies; we were still in the Netherlands, after all.  It was finally time to leave and Marcel’s father looked genuinely pleased that we had visited.

The next part of the “tour” was really a peek at small villages near Delft.  They were as enchanting as the ones around Cadzand.  Again, there were more canals and ducks, but we also saw the ubiquitous cattle and sheep as well.  On the way back to Marcel’s apartment, Jeanet jumped out of the car and walked home to prepare the table for dinner.  The rest of us drove to a nearby Chinese carry-out and Marcel bought dinner for the four of us.  As they explained, they are not cooks, but they asked if Chinese okay with us; it was.  The sauces did not equate with what we were used to [for example, a tomato sauce on egg foo young], but it was all good and we ate more than we should have.

After dinner, they drove us back to the hotel, a journey of about an hour.  We drove in and out of light rain and followed a rainbow for much of the time.  Traffic was horrible in the opposing direction, so Marcel said they would take a different route home.  Once at the hotel, there were hugs all around and promises to stay in touch.  We are hoping they will visit us, and perhaps stay with us, before this year’s winter cruise.

There was good news and bad news.  On one hand, we finally escaped the hotel dining room tonight, but on the other, we had to pack for tomorrow’s flight home.

Tomorrow – The longest day returns


Sunday, May 11, 2014

Thursday, May 8 --  Amsterdam Redux II

We got an even later start it seemed this morning.  Again, we were our own masters with no obligations and a prediction of rain, so why hurry?  Coffee and stroopwafels in the room got us off to a good Dutch start. 

Today’s adventure mirrored yesterday’s to the extent that we spent lots of time going from one vehicle to the next.  The shuttle led to the airport which led to Centraal Station; this time we experimented with the Amsterdam Metro.  Arjan the concierge had told us which trams came closest to our ultimate destination but David decided that the Metro was our best bet.  Besides, we had ridden a tram yesterday, so this would be something new.

We exited the station itself and headed for the entry to the underground Metro station.  There may have been a way to get to it from inside Centraal but we did not see it.  The main rail station is not as hospitable as the airport terminal and we did not spend time looking since we knew we could get to the Metro from the outside.

The underground was just as trash-strewn as the train station with wrappers flying in the wind and garbage cans overflowing with fast-food wrappers and soda cans.  We asked for a bit of guidance to be safe and combined that with path-finding skills to arrive on the platform just before the subway train departed.  We had only two stops before we got off, so we know we couldn’t get too lost.  If our stop was not number two, we would get off at number three and go in the other direction.

Don’t laugh.  We have done this.  On a trip to Osaka in 2008, we had a native guide who led us around on the local subway and Japan Rail systems.  He got confused by the automated ticket machines in the stations and could not figure out how much money to deposit until a member of the group helped him.  More to the point, we traveled on a train of some sort [Metro or JR] in the wrong direction.  He realized his mistake before we left the platform and we did, in fact, take the next train back to our starting point.

 We had no such trouble today in Amsterdam and Waterlooplein [Waterloo Square] was right where it was supposed to be.  We came here to visit the Jewish Historical Museum, part of the Jewish Heritage area in, naturally enough, the old Jewish Quarter of Amsterdam.  We had passed the area while on a ship’s tour last week.  It is near Gasson Diamonds where we looked but did not buy and also only a few minutes’ walk from the apartment Skip and Fran have rented for the week.

The weather gods have continued to toy with us.  During the cruise, most of our tours were held in good albeit windy weather.  We may have worn windbreakers but it was mostly sunny except in Amsterdam where it has been chilly, windy and often wet.  Even temperatures in the mid-50s feel raw in a stiff breeze.  Today was such a day.  In fact it was so raw, and the hour approaching noon again, that we walked past the Jewish Historical Museum and found a warm-ish café at the end of the block.

There were perhaps a half-dozen cafes, but we picked the one which seemed to have customers.  We worked on the assumption that they could not all have been wrong.  We found a table inside – eating at a sidewalk café is very Continental in good weather but not on such a blustery day – and ordered sandwiches on French bread.  The bread appeared to be a mini-baguette, but we have seen so much bread in the Netherlands that it all is starting to look the same.  MA had a goat cheese sandwich and David had what was billed as the Italian with some salami and cheese.  We had sodas for the second straight day and cappuccinos, too.  The bill was not outrageous, the food was hearty and the people-watching was fun.
Torah scrolls

The bema
We were not sure what to expect at the Museum; names can be deceiving.  This one was not for the museum gave a history of the Jews in the Netherlands and especially Amsterdam from the 1600s onward.  Before we got to that, though, we visited the Old Synagogue.  Just as the Lloyd Street Synagogue in Baltimore has become the local Jewish museum, so has the one in Amsterdam.  In place of pews, we found learning stations which explained customs, holidays and rituals of both the ultra-Orthodox and more modern Orthodox Dutch Jews.  Most of the stations had audio-visual presentations of some aspect of Judaism aimed primarily at non-Jews.  Visitors could also see film clips of “contemporary” Jews from a decade ago discussing the same topic as the basic lesson.  If the lesson was on a holiday, visitors could view a film featuring a discussion of how it is observed today.  Even though we knew what to expect, we still watched most of the films.

The bema [altar] sat in the middle of the main floor as was the custom many years ago.  Surrounding the second floor was a balcony which is where the women would have stood because the genders were strictly separated during religious observances.  The synagogue’s original Ark, the storage place for the Torahs, was still in the sanctuary.  Unlike the bema, it was blocked off so visitors could not get too close.

Looking up at the balcony
Looking down from the balcony
The balcony housed the first phase of the history of the Dutch Jews, 1600 – 1900.  Showcases held artifacts from the earliest days of the Jewish community.  There were old books, drawings and some reproductions all designed to show what life was like over the years.  As we progressed through the displays, we learned, for example, that Amsterdam was a center for Jewish publishing with books in Hebrew coveted by Jews and Gentiles alike either for their religious content or as learning tools and references.  There was a showcase filled with several rows of antique leather-bound books, all printed in Hebrew.  Later displays dealt more with individuals who were important in the community as it tried to assimilate into mainstream Amsterdam.

An antique book printed in Hebrew
We crossed into a connected building for more showcases and explanations, this time for the history of the Jews from 1900 to the present.  At the beginning of the “story,” there were commercial items and products developed by or supported by the community, many of which became popular across the society.  As we progressed toward more recent times, the themes got darker as Hitler and the Nazis came to power.  Many of Holland’s Jews were rounded up and sent to extermination or work camps and many of those who somehow survived moved to other countries after the war; the memories and fears were too strong for them to return.  As a result, the Jewish population of Holland is now just a fraction of its pre-War size.

When we were finished our walk through the Museum, it was time to go, but the weather gods were angry and it was raining steadily.  We had considered going around the corner to the Portuguese synagogue but were dissuaded by the conditions.  It was easier and more comfortable to hustle to the Metro station and reverse our morning’s course.  Back we went but somehow missed the Starbuck’s in Centraal Station.  Still, we had become pro’s at finding the right platform so our trip was without incident. 

When we arrived at Schipol, we weren’t quite ready to continue to the hotel.  We walked the shopping concourse without any success and the realized that we had had missed Starbuck’s in town. There are several at the airport, but we decided to have pistachio gelato instead.  It was still too early to grab dinner at one of the many restaurants there, so we took the shuttle back to the hotel where we found that the housekeeping crew had jarred the power cord from the computer and it had zero battery life.  We have been using the computer to charge the other electronics, so they were low on power as well.  We ended up in the hotel coffee shop again and had a comfort meal of the goulash soup and tostis.  A tosti is simply a toasted cheese sandwich but the waiter was surprised when we asked for them by their Dutch name.  He had to check in the kitchen to be sure there was bread available but returned with good news.  Ma had a cheese tosti and David had ham and cheese.  Soup and a sandwich – the perfect meal for a rainy day.

Tomorrow – the rest of the “connection”


Wednesday, May 07, 2014 – Amsterdam redux I

Even with all of the sleep we had yesterday, we had a relaxed morning.  After all of the early mornings on shipboard and all of the mornings we were ready long before Edwin arrived to drive us around Zeeland, we had no place we had to be or a time when we had to be there.  So we goofed off.

We made coffee in the room even though it was instant and broke into our hoard of stroopwafels for breakfast.  We spent enough time in the hotel restaurant yesterday to last for a while.  The stroopwafels hit the spot and we were ready to go, finally.

Today was a day of trains and trams and buses, oh my!  We started with the shuttle bus to Schipol airport and then found our way, with some assistance, to the money exchange where we bought train tickets to Amsterdam’s Centraal Station [no, that is not a misspelling].  The round trip tickets cost 8.50€ each which we thought was reasonable.  At least we were not being driven around Holland by a rogue taxi driver.

Schipol is a city unto itself.  In addition to a bazillion passengers and airplane landings and departures, there is enough shopping at all price points to satisfy anyone.  The stores run the gamut from high-end, like the terminals in Singapore and elsewhere, to the downright cheap.  One of Holland’s institutions, HEMA, has a store in the terminal here [and in Centraal Station, we discovered].  HEMA caters to the Dutch passion for thrift.  We have tracked the price of stroopwafels across the country, literally, and found that HEMA sells them for less than anyone [On the other hand, the duty-free stores at Schipol seem to be the most expensive].

Centraal Station is a slum compared to the airport.  Even though it is tremendous for a train station, it can’t compare in any other way.  It, too, is crowded with passengers, but many of these are commuters or other locals who are all in a hurry.  The station is cold and dirty, the platforms an embarrassment of trash.  MA did experience the ladies’ room in the station – at the standard European cost of .50€ -- but found it clean and well maintained. 

We walked out of the terminal building and walked to the tram stop.  The concierge on the ship had told us that trams 2 and 5 would take us to Museumplein, the square in the middle of the museum district [hence its name].  We had considered returning to the Rijksmuseum to see the paintings without the holiday crush we faced last week and, indeed, walked there from the tram.  When we realized that it was already 11:45, we changed our plans and went in to have lunch in the museum café.

The café is cozy – read “crowded” – but tables turned over quickly and we waited only a minute or so before being pointed to space at a table large enough for 8 people.  We didn’t mind sharing the space and people came and went as we ate.  We settled on a cheese plate which turned out to be delightfully good and just the right amount of food.  We even had soft drinks with the assorted cheeses and onions and finished the meal with a cappuccino and a hot chocolate.  Steady readers know who drank what.  A trip to the lavatories after lunch [no charge!] and we were on our way.

The one item on our schedule today was to meet Skip and Fran at the van Gogh museum around the corner.  Despite some false starts and touristic oblivion, we arrived just at 1:00 as scheduled.  They were already there and we all hugged and greeted each other as if we had not seen one another last week.  Fran had recovered from her malaise and looked great.

We had bought our tickets in advance while on the River Navigator.  While we paid an extra 2.50€ apiece, we were able to avoid the long and growing line of tourists waiting to get in.  Even with so-called priority tickets, we had a short wait.  Once at the head of the line, we found that our tickets were really vouchers which we had to exchange for tickets in order to gain admission.  It was worth it.

We took the lift to the top floor where there were, actually, no van Gogh paintings.  We did not stay long and walked down a flight of steps to the second floor which in the US would be the third floor.  The ground floor [street level] in Europe is called 0, our second floor is 1 and so on.  It takes a little getting used to.  The second/third floor was better and we were in Heaven, Fran especially.  We followed the crowd so as not to feel like salmon swimming upstream and read displays about van Gogh and his work, especially his use of an adjustable frame to help him keep things in perspective.

The Potato Eaters
We were not supposed to take pictures in the museum.  In many, non-flash photography is allowed, but not here.  There were even explanations of the overhead light system and how it was designed to have as little effect as possible on the art.  Long exposure and/or bright lights [like a photo flash] contribute to the deterioration on the paint.  Skip was caught two of the three times he tried to take pictures, but David was luckier.  We blamed the camera, not Skip.  All of the van Gogh pictures in this entry were taken illegally, but David promised to send them to Skip.  As our friend Ed says, “If you don’t have a picture, you weren’t there.”
Once we finished ogling the art, we separated.  They had a full schedule of things to do and places to be and we didn’t.  Even so, we all ended up in the gift shop where we bought a print of one of van Gogh’s last paintings, a still-life of poppies and butterflies.  Our purchase complete and the weather threatening, we retraced our route and caught the tram back to Centraal; the train back to Schipol; and the shuttle back to the hotel.  We did check out the HEMA in Centraal to no avail and consoled ourselves with drinks at Starbucks which was across the concourse.  It may have been heresy to go to Starbuck’s but it tasted good after three weeks in Holland.

Dinner at 7:00 in the hotel dining room was gigantic bacon cheeseburgers for both of us.  And fried.  And more bread.  We have met the carbs and they are now us.

Back in the room, we read and David transferred pictures and did some work on the journal, but he hasn’t written a full report or posted since we met Edwin.  Maybe people will think we are dead.
Tomorrow -- More Amsterdam
Three self Portraits of van Gogh





Saturday, May 10, 2014

Tuesday, May 6 – Terneuzen to Amsterdam

We left Terneuzen early this morning.  The drive is several hours and Edwin had to go to work after he dropped us at our airport hotel.  Although it looked like the hotel was hiding because of road construction, he figured out how to get us where we needed to go and by 11:00 a.m., he was back on the road and we were checking in.

Jet lag and joy have exhausted us, so we dragged our Vanderbilt-like luggage to the room and then returned to the lobby area and the coffee shop.  Our breakfast the past few days had been Mario’s wonderful bread, but for some reason, we were ready for lunch.  We both ordered the “goulash soup” which turned out to be a spicy beef vegetable soup accompanied by the inevitable bread and butter.  This combination hit the spot and we returned to the room for a long-overdue nap.  Sorry, Edwin, but you wore the old people out.

We woke in time for dinner and returned to the coffee shop/restaurant.  MA had a very spicy, almost Asian, vegetarian pasta dish and David had “crispy vegetarian sausage” was pretty much the same as the vegetarian cutlet MA gets on HAL ships.  We were both happy with our meal and returned to the room to play catch up on the electronics and go back to sleep.

Tomorrow – Amsterdam, again


Monday, May 5 – Terneuzen, Cadzand and ???

Once again, Edwin drove the Cadzand – Terneuzen – Cadzand circuit as he picked us up only to return to Mariela [a good choice on his part]. The drive is both familiar by now and hypnotic.  David has developed the habit of split-second naps as we drive.  The land and houses still fascinate us and we think we may never tire of seeing all of this.  We are not in Kansas anymore, Toto.

The best part of this vacation may be the people.  Historic sites and banks of brightly colored tulips can last a long time in an album, but talking to the people is even better.  At the time, we thought our afternoon with Anna in Enkhuizen was the highlight of the trip, but now we realize that just talking and joking with friends [Peter and Manu, Edwin and Mariela] is the real reason to travel.  Anyone can visit “the sights” and “the sites,” but we are lucky enough to have a stronger connection to the “real” people of the Netherlands and Belgium. 

So we sat in Mariela’s backyard and chatted until she went inside and prepared delicious scrambled eggs which we ate with more of Mario’s heavenly bread and, of course, cheese and garlic butter.  And more coffee.  It is surprising that we can sleep with our caffeine intake this week.

After lunch, we walked to the bakery to meet Mario, but we were in for a surprise.  When we went into the store, we met Marit, Mariela’s daughter, who was working behind the counter.  This was our first glimpse of her since arriving Saturday.  She was friendly and attentive as Mariela bought even more bread and David bought a little surprise to bring home [no, not more stroopwafels].

We went into the back of the shop where the actual baking occurs and met Mario, a gentle bear of a man who was warm and funny but proud of his work and workplace.  It was being cleaned after a busy day, so we did not get to see all of the machinery or see the baking process.  Still, he pointed out the ovens and freezer and took us into a room filled with miscellaneous bits and pieces of equipment including molds and cookie cutters.

We walked back home, for that is what it feels like already, and chatted some more.  Marit and a girlfriend came in and said they were going to the beach.  Mariela told them to be back by 6:00 so they would not miss supper.  Shortly after they left, we did, too.

We drove to a neighboring village which Edwin said is even smaller the Cadzand if that is possible.  Edwin parked the car on the verge and we began what turned out to be a nature walk along a well-marked path.  It was well-marked for two reasons – there was no longer any grass on the path and it was bordered by a low-voltage electrified fence.  There were only 2 ways to go, forward or backward; there was no way to deviate because of the fence.  We did not know if the fence was meant to confine us or the cattle.

This being a nature walk, we saw plenty of nature.  In addition to lots of trees in their full spring glory, there were the usual cattle, sheep and ducks.  The occasional butterfly crossed our path, too.  We were walking on the ridge of a protective berm created as a defensive barrier against invaders rather than the sea.  It was very like a dike in every way except its original purpose.  Because we were on the “high road,” we could see the neighboring houses and farms.  The sun was bright even though it was still a bit chilly and breezy, and the 5 of us [including Ward] looked forward to the return of civilization.

That return came in the form of a village pub.  It was surprisingly busy for a Monday afternoon, and we took a table outside where we sat in the sun [and David without his hat!] and had drinks.  Edwin and Mariela had beer, of course, and even MA had a “lady’s beer” which had a lemon flavor to it.  Ward and David had sodas.  Some things never change.

The house had smelled wonderful when we arrived in the morning and when we returned for supper after our commune with nature, we understood why.  Mariela had prepared a ratatouille for the family, slow simmered all day.  With it, she served beef which had been cooked or, perhaps, marinated in a mustard sauce; there was no sauce on it, but it was infused with the taste in every bite.  Dessert was pastries from the shop.

The pastries were brought by Marit who joined us, with her friend, for dinner.  They were the day’s leftovers, a perk of being part of the business.  And they were yummy.

We don’t know what Marit expected of Edwin’s friends [us], but she seemed quite surprised that we were not old fogies, just old.  Again, we sat and talked like any other family.  Whenever they lapsed into Dutch, we just looked at each other, as we have been doing for several days, and said, “Sorry.”  They have caught onto the joke of our one word of Dutch and laugh with us.  Marit’s friend spoke very little English but she did tell us that she has been to Disneyworld 3 times.  We encouraged Mariela, Edwin and the children to come to Florida where they could stay with us.  It would be fun but we’re not sure if they took us seriously.

We also found out that we had become Marit’s homework assignment.  She was to have some interaction with English before returning to school from the week-long holiday.  Instead of reading or watching American or British television, she was speaking English with us [and very well, at that].  We talked about books and popular culture and finally, somehow, got to a discussion of slang.  Before we were done, we had given examples of American English and Hebrew dirty words.  Her report to her class should be a lively one.

Once more into the night as Edwin returned us to his house where we had to pack for our departure tomorrow.

Tomorrow – Terneuzen to Amsterdam

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Sunday, May 4 – Terneuzen and Elsewhere

We didn’t really know what we were going to do today, but we were up early, as usual, so that we were ready and waiting when Edwin arrived.  We breakfasted on really great bread from Mario’s bakery and caught up on our electronics while we waited.

We repeated the drive to Mariela’s house, marveling again at the countryside and animal life – horse, cows, sheep, goats and ducks.  Once at Mariela’s, we sat in the backyard surrounded by her “natural” garden.  The garden has little bits of lots of plants, both annuals and perennials, but no large swaths like Keukenhof.  If there is more than one of a type of plant, it is probably not near another one.  It is controlled chaos and is lovely.

Her house had been her father’s and she has taken pains not to disturb things too much.  The potting shed and green house [the glass house] are just as he left them and she said she is afraid to try to repair them lest they fall into ruins.  The house is spacious although we have spent time only in the sun room with its wall of glass so we can see the garden. 

Mariela cooked for us again today.  Brunch was omelets and more of that good bread plus a young Dutch cheese we sliced as we went along.  We ate outside where Edwin had brought the kitchen table and the men [including Ward] dragged chairs.  There was still no sign of Marit but we have not given up hope.

After lunch, Edwin said that it was a good day to visit Brugge.  We had written to him earlier saying we wanted to return, especially after the confusion last week.  Brugge is only 45 minutes from Cadzand, so we were there in no time.  Edwin took a less-traveled route to avoid traffic but mostly to show us more of the Lowlands scenery.

He parked the car in a garage outside the center of the Old Town and the 5 of us walked along the cobblestones while being wary of cyclists.  Our only goal was to visit a comic book store for Mariela who is addicted to them.  We made no effort to get to Market Square, where we met Peter and Manu a week ago, but we got there anyway after walking through the non-tourist shopping district and some decidedly-tourist cafes.  Mariela stopped to get some tobacco for her cigarette habit; she rolls them herself to avoid the high taxes on cigarettes and they look suspiciously like joints.  David went into the store with her and bought a present to add to the ever-growing collection.

Mariela needed a bathroom so we stopped in the biergarten of a Brugge brewery.  After we ordered drinks [beer, soda, coffee], she excused herself and we sat in the courtyard crowded with other Sunday celebrants.  Brugge was nowhere near empty today but the crowds were manageable unlike last week when there was no room to move.  We saw many of the same places today – Market Square, Fish Market, Tanner’s Courtyard, etc. – without feeling crushed or rushed.  Even if we had not recognized some of the landmarks, it was a more enjoyable day.  Brugge may depend on tourism to keep its economy afloat, but it is still a lovely medieval town.

All good things come to an end and all too soon we were on the road again.  Edwin must feel like a bus driver by now.  We chatted some more at Mariela’s before heading to a restaurant a block away.  On the way, we stopped at the local church to view the Peace Flame, an everlasting flame meant to light the way to world peace.  There were handwritten messages in the courtyard, not so unlike the paper cranes we saw in Nagasaki at the Peace Park.  Seeing the Peace Flame in Cadzand was a moving experience.

Dinner was down the block at the local bar/restaurant/hotel.  At Edwin’s suggestion, we all ordered the beef satay.  It was a great choice and all the plates were clean when we finished.  Then the fun began.  David tried to pay for dinner, but the waitress/owner would not accept any of his plastic.  He could not convince her that his MasterCard would work in her EuroCard chip-card reader even though they have the same logo and are supposed to be interchangeable.  She probably would have had a cow if he had tried to pay in US dollars, but Edwin saved the day again by charging dinner on his card.  Tomorrow we must find an ATM so we can reimburse Edwin.

Once again, we ended up at Mariela’s until it was almost dark.  Once again, Edwin had to make the 90 minutes roundtrip to and from Terneuzen.  And once again we were grateful to have such a friend.

Tomorrow – Terneuzen, Cadzand and ???, part 2