Part 1: Amsterdam and the Long Road to Romania
Tue, November 5, 2019. After ten months of waiting, prepping and researching, the day had finally arrived! Being the procrastinator that I am, I finished packing early that morning (as well as cleaning) and had roughly 3 minutes to breathe before mom showed up to take me to meet Laura and Angie. A 42lb suitcase and a backpack that felt as though it weighed 42lbs shoved in mom’s car later and I’m on my way to our rendezvous point.
Shortly after pulling into the Pilot off of the interstate, Laura and Angie pulled up. I loaded my stuff in the van and a few moments (and one god awful pic that mom took of the three of us before we left) later, we are making our way to Detroit to catch a flight to Amsterdam!
I’ll skip past the 3 hour drive and move on to the airport. Working for an airline for half of my adult life, check-in was a breeze, as well as TSA and finding our gate. For our flight to Amsterdam, we flew on Delta buddy passes (thanks, Tonya!). Unfortunately, we did not get first class, but the flight out wasn’t that bad for Angie and me. Laura did not have the best of seats. Apparently she was squished in between two large guys whose vocabulary did not include “personal space”. The flight over was uneventful. At roughly six and a half hours, it went by relatively fast. None of us slept on the way over (which we paid for later). The food wasn’t half bad and there was a wide selection of movies and tv shows from which to choose. They even had that painter guy from the 70s on….his name is currently retreating from my memory.
We landed in Amsterdam a little after 6:00am local time. For those who have not been to Amsterdam, the airport is huge. They already had it decked out for Christmas. Beautiful lights were hung, a huge Christmas tree that you could walk through/under was on display (selfie moment), not much was open given the time of day, but plenty of people bustling around. Tonya’s flight wasn’t arriving for a couple of hours so we walked over to the airport hotel and bought a day pass to their spa. Showers are incredibly wonderful when you’re exhausted and have “long flight gook” on you. We had showers, changed our clothes and relaxed in the chairs until Tonya arrived. Once she made her dramatic entrance, showered and got ready, we headed out to find the area for the Uber pickup.
The ride to our hotel was interesting. A big section of the road was closed and our driver had no clue how to get us to our hotel. He wanted to drop us off about a mile from it. Now remember, none of us have slept in about 25 hours, so you can imagine how that conversation went. He ended up going down this narrow alley (pretty sure he did some damage to his car) and got us a block from the hotel. Don’t worry, we tipped well. I believe it was around noon when we arrived at the hotel. They would not let us check in until 3pm so we stashed our bags and took off to explore Amsterdam.
We had tickets to tour the Anne Frank House so we strolled over to that area. The Pancake House is right across the street from the entrance to the Anne Frank house. Since we had some time to kill, we decided to get breakfast. Now these aren’t your ordinary pancakes. Mine had spinach, ham (I think) and a fried egg in the middle and it was beyond scrumptious! I don’t remember what Angie and Laura had and the only reason I remember what Tonya had is because I teased her on her choice….a typical American style pancake. With our stomachs full, we headed over to take our tour. There are no pictures or videos allowed inside. Normally, Tonya would be taking film secretly while I kept a look out, however, given what this place was/is, we were respectful of their wishes.
Being a WWII history buff, I knew Anne Frank’s story, and of course, of her demise, but I had never read her diary. Given that our first stop was going to be in Amsterdam, I felt I should read it. ‘Moved’ does not come close to touching on how this girl’s diary made me feel. You can have knowledge of an event or the group of people involved, but reading the thoughts of the person who lived through it makes it beyond real. Reading of her wishes for the future and her plans for once the war ended, all the while knowing her fate, was heartbreaking. By the time I came to her last diary entry on Tue, Aug 1, 1944, a small part of me had hoped there would, by some miracle, be extra pages detailing how she had survived. But, as most know, that’s a hope that will never come to pass. Anne died at Belsen in Germany in March or April of 1945…at age 15. Otto Frank was the sole survivor. Aside from the horrors of what must have happened to them at these death camps, what is just as heartbreaking is the war was over in May of 1945….weeks after Anne succumbed to her illness at the camp.
How to express the emotions I felt walking through the house where they spent multiple years in hiding. The cramped spaces, having to be silent during the day so no one would find them, the lack of food, the lack of privacy…I don’t think anyone can truly understand it if they have not lived through something like it. The place was packed though no one was speaking. It was a solemn silence, heavy, almost suffocating. A part of me wanted to turn around and leave but in my eyes, that seemed to be disrespectful. They lived there for several years…I can manage several minutes. Anne’s room still had the pictures and drawings she had on the wall. They have done a wonderful job at preserving the families’ memories.
“I want to go on living even after my death! And therefore, I am grateful to God for giving me this gift, this possibility of developing myself and of writing, of expressing all that is in me.”
After leaving, we continued to stroll along the canals, enjoying the sheer beauty Amsterdam offers. It’s peaceful and the energy is wonderful. Everyone is on bikes or sitting in cafes having a nice time. It was enchanting. We finally were able to check in to our room. It was on what they consider the first floor, however, you have to go up one set of steep stairs. Getting the luggage up the stairs should have been filmed because it was a comedy of errors. It was by sheer luck that no one got injured.
We settled into the room a bit, then headed out to the Albert Cuyp Market. A visit to Amsterdam is not complete without going to this market. They have EVERYTHING. I even tried raw herring. It wasn’t terrible, the pickles and onions helped, but I won’t be getting that again. Next time, I will be trying the kibbling, which is fried. We walked to the end of the Market and back and hopped in an Uber to take us back to our hotel. I believe night had fallen so it was now time to experience the Red Light District! Ok…not really “experience it” but walk through it. I have to say I was a bit disappointed. There were some red lights on but I only saw one window open (no I did not take a pic). You could most certainly smell the “herbs” in the air. After the disappointing walk through an infamous area I have always wanted to see, we headed back towards the hotel. We walked through Dam Square and saw Santa (yes I said Santa, as in Santa Claus) walking around. It wasn’t Christmas yet but they were hanging decorations. Perhaps he was practicing. We had a nice dinner in the café of our hotel and headed up to our room.
Now for the disaster….
We had originally booked tickets to and from Romania on Lufthansa. They decided to go on strike so our flights were cancelled (with no rebookings). We had a slight melt down then diligently got ourselves rebooked (thanks, Laura and Matt!). We planned to take a train to a bus station to Eindhoven airport, then hop on a Wizz air flight into Cluj, Romania. After that was all booked, we strolled down to central station to get our tickets for the next morning. It was a good walk but it was so pretty walking along the canals at night. Seeing the lights of these beautiful buildings reflecting in the water. Tickets in hand, we headed back to our room and crashed. I had been up going on 36 hours, I believe, at this point.
The next morning, Laura and Tonya got up early to go to Primark. I got up, got ready and went down to the café to have breakfast and some tea. I was waiting for the mall across the street to open so I could buy cheese from Henri Willig (fantastic and you can order online). Angie chilled in the room for a while.
Laura and I were the first ones ready to leave so we took the suitcases downstairs….again, comedy of errors, though it was a tad easier going down than up. We trudged through the rain to central station. I have never actually travelled on a train before so I really enjoyed the ride. It was about an hour to Eindhoven bus station. Holland is a beautiful country, which made the train ride that much more pleasant. The bus ride was uneventful, although I did see a man who reminded me of Matt (Laura’s husband), or of what I figured Matt will look like in 20 years. At Eindhoven airport, we checked in and headed to the food court. They don’t announce your gate until 45 minutes before your flight, so we had some time to kill. Plane ride was a breeze and we finally got to Cluj….four hours late.
On to the next disaster. The rental car company decided to close early and they gave up our reservation, even though they were informed that we were going to be late. Don’t ever use Enterprise/Alamo if you go to Cluj. They have horrible customer service. The first problem, none of us had gotten international driver’s licenses (we were unaware we needed them because the last time we did not) so none of the other car rental places were interested in letting us rent a car. Fortunately, there was a local place that would do it. Price was reasonable, but the car he thought he had wasn’t there so we thought we were going to have to go back home. Laura started crying (and you know men can’t handle that), so the guy came up with a car. We swear, to this day, that he gave us his own personal car. So we finally get that settled and head to our air BnB, which we had no issues with….thank God! It was a very long day, but hey, we had finally made it to Romania!!!!!
I would like to add something. We have gone to Romania once before and the first time, we stopped in Paris for a day. The plan was to explore and then that night we were gonna get toe up drunk on real absinthe. Didn’t happen. This past trip we were gonna get toe up drunk on real absinthe…and try a “Dutch brownie”. Didn’t happen. Is that a sign of getting old????
To be continued…….