On Monday of this week, thanks to the good folks at Delta and my friend Gary, I found myself biking the streets of Amsterdam wearing all the clothes I could fit in a carry on bag.
Even in private homes here people wear a sweater because to them its not cold yet (low 60s day, 40s night). But to a floridian its full winter weather already! I love it. The air is so exillerating and fresh and I can bike so much better out of the steaming florida heat. Bike paths are everywhere but you still have to be very careful due to trams, cars, trucks, scooters, pedestrians and other bikers. I almost hit another bike rider my first day and after skidding to a stop just in time I looked at the guy said in broken dutch, "sorry....excusus...." which is 'sorry, forgive me' in Dutch. The guy snarled in english, "excuses, excuses, excuses," while shaking his head. He was making fun of my dutch while scolding me for almost hitting him broadside!. Yikes.
Monday I tried to sleep for a few hours to get over the jet lag, but I'm afraid I won't adjust until I get ready to fly home this friday! Then I'll be out of whack again in Fla....oh well.
Yesterday I drove with Martin in his Maserati (way too fast a car) to the coastal city of Schevenen where the beach looks like the northeast coast of Florida with a giant wide beach that goes for miles. The difference of course was the howling cold wind. And not a person was in sight on the beach except one couple with a kid and two dogs who fetched a tennis ball the guy threw into the crashing surf. I also saw a lady with a metal detector looking for euro coins left during the summer months. And offshore there was a lone wind surfer who kept falling and then somehow getting back up. He was a half mile out to sea umong the giant waves. Whew. The wind was blowing 25 miles an hour at least and I was amazed at the guy's guts or insanity.
After a lunch and some expensive water in a tiny 6 oz. bottle from one of the dozens of beachfront restaurants, we drove to the Hague, the political capital of the Netherlands. The city was packed with Dutch solders giving cannon demonstrations (firing blanks but loud as hell). There were also demonstrators and a parade as the queen led a procession in a horse drawn carriage through the streets to Parliament.( As luck would have it, I showed up on the first day Parliament opened for the fall session. Pretty cool.)
After a while I headed to the train station and said goodbye to martin who had a business meeting in the capital. I tried to buy a ticket but all the computers were down. The next train for Amsterdam was about to leave and there wasn't another train for an hour, so I simply jumped on the next train which left five minutes later and hoped the conductor wouldn't check for tickets.
My luck turned bad when I was accosted halfway to Amsterdam by the conductor. When I couldn't produce a ticket the guy turned red in the face and started talking fast in Dutch. There were a lot of people on the train all of them looking at stupid Ralph who was about to be fined 35 euro plus the cost of the ticket (the Dutch word for fine is "boete"-pronounced boote). The guy got out a ticket book and started asking for some ID. In slow tourist English I told him my situation about the computers being down in the Hague. He put down his ticket book and changed his expression. By this time the cabin had shifted to my defense. A few of the commuters spoke to him in Dutch.
Then he announced with a smile, "Today is your lucky day. I heard another tourist tell the same story in the next cabin a few minutes ago." He walked off and the people around me congratulated me and all started to tell their stories of being fined by train conductors. "You were lucky, usually they are very mean. And they are worse in Belgium. There they usually throw you off the train in the middle of the night at the next station", said one girl.
Back in Amsterdam I went to the street market called the Albert Cuyp market and thought about buying some stuff to take home but since I only have one carry on bag I couldn't really buy much to take home. Instead I called my host, Annelies, and got a shopping list for some Italian food. She directed me to a wonderful Italian Deli on a nearby street where I bought an enormous meal "to go" for five people. They have incredible food. But its all at a steep price, of course. In Holland you try not to think about the cost of things in dollars....its too painful. I always hand them a fifty euro note and hope to get change. Sometimes it works.
Later that evening Martin made it back to Amsterdam and we enjoyed a meal while he went through his mail. Sure enough he had a "boete"-fine for speeding where a camera has taken a photo of him going 137 km per hour (80mph?) in a 100 km zone. In Holland they don't tell your car insurance company about your traffic tickets (considered a private matter) and there is no "point" system where you lose your license if you drive too fast. You simply pay the $225 fine and drive on. I didn't ask how many speeding tickets he gets in a year!
We then had a great meal with the kids, Marc and Ana. Martin and Annelies and I sipped wine and talked about the euro. They believe that the euro will stay in existence even if Greece defaults. I hope they are correct. Then Ana asked me to help her with English class. They are studying at age 14 "relative pronouns and phrases" in English. My god, I felt inadequate to explain, "Which vs. where" in various phrases and let her dad help her.
Later I rode the night streets with a halogen light in front of my bike to meet Laurens for a beer. I met him at the Brandon, an ancient pub in a 15th century building along a canal in the oldest part of town. There I met a bunch of Russian tourists who taught me a few words of Russian while they smoked Marlboro cigarettes endlessly while searching for words in English. The Dutch spoke to them in English but they only understood my American accent. It was a bit strange. Smoking cigarettes in bars and restaurants is forbidden in Holland but people smoke anyway. Laurens even told a story about some "cigarette police" got roughed up in a place around the corner.
By the time I got home the streets were empty and I collapsed into a deep sleep and didn't stir until almost noon. The jet lag was wearing off and I finally got a good night's sleep.
The next day I went to Utrecht to see Tom and Goof. It was great to have a dinner with old friends.
It got colder each day. And after three days in Holland I could feel the difference as the temperature seemed to drop a degree or two per day. That night I borrowed one of martin's trench coats to ward off the night cold.
Finally the whirlwind tour ended on Friday morning. At five a.m. I arose just in time to catch a pre-arranged taxi to Schipol airport. The flight was packed and I got a coach seat back to America. I almost looked forward to the heat of Tampa when I arrived 14 hours later on a blazing hot day.