Honestly, I intended to take all blog readers with me on my girlfriends' getaway. I was assured that there was wireless internet access-and there was. However, because 200 passengers utilize the bandwidth via a monitor and keyboard in each cabin, the sites that contain comments are blocked or restricted. That would be THIS site. I am sure that if I was a tech-savvy person, I could have cobbled together some sort of clever solution. My i-phone was working in most places, but I am a miserable typist on that teeny tiny keyboard. SO I became a tourist as opposed to a blogger. Now I am home, and I get the feeling that someone else's vacation is pretty boring to the casual reader. SO shall I bore you? Maybe just a little.
This is the riverboat. Nice digs, great food. Free wine.
I have never been on a river cruise, and it was tailor made for my pathetic knee. We selected "tulip time" because we had to travel the first week of April (schoolteacher schedule) and ordinarily there would be crops popping up all over. This year, the Netherlands had an unexpectedly tough winter, and the tulips decided to stay subterranean for an extra week. So we missed the waves of flowers. We coped. After all, wine is free with dinner. It soothed any tulip anxiety we might have had.
Things we saw: Anne Frank's hiding place, the Van Gogh museum, canals galore, city squares, beer, french fries with glops of mayonnaise, beautiful Brussels and Brugge, Ghent, Volendam, Edam, thousands of bikes parked in multilevel bike garages, windmills, churches, a Michelangelo sculpture, the Red Light district, coffee shops, chocolate in every shape and size.
Things we did: eat, drink, walk, sail, celebrate and feel like the luckiest people.
Things we learned: ah, too much. But here are a few fast facts:
1. The tulips you buy are from a greenhouse; the ones in the ground are a crop of BULBS. They are beheaded in one fell swoop, the bulbs are fertilized by the withering stems, later harvested and sent to nurseries for fall planting.
2. Brussels has hundreds of beers, and they are served in glasses that are marked with the brand.
3. French fries originated in Belgium, when soldiers found tubers in the ground as they burrowed in trenches. They cooked them on the spot.
4. Belgians eat their fries with mayo, and their waffles with any complementary fruit, chocolate, ice cream or whipped cream. Beer is their passion.
Dogs are well behaved in Belgium. This terrier is a co-pilot as well as tourist attraction in Brugge. Horses have the right of way.
5. Amsterdam has outlawed smoking in coffee houses, which is a challenge because the natives mix their herbal smoking material with tobacco. Pipes are used inside for pot.
6. Taking pictures of the working girls is not allowed in the red light district. Girls in bathing suits dance disinterestedly in glass door frames while talking on their cell phones. Pimply young men take surreptitious pictures with their phones. Ick.
7. Anne Frank's father survived the holocaust; Anne Frank died a few scant weeks before liberation.
8. Everyone in Amsterdam rides a bike. I saw mothers with boxes over the front wheel that held 3 kids and groceries. Consequently, no one is fat. My heart palpitated with the stress!
OK, enough. I just wanted to pretend that it was an educational tour. Mostly, it was a time to celebrate the friendships we have, and the freedom we have to travel. We were treated to many hours of sunshine, although the Netherlands and Belgium have a climate like Seattle. Though the European countryside is saturated with churches, Europeans are relatively non-observant. Nevertheless, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday and Easter Monday found most towns deserted to celebrate the holy days. Our morning tours disembarked at 9:00, and we had the towns to ourselves. There were no shops open to tempt us. Things perked up in the afternoon, but we were so well fed on the ship that we did not even snack on the fries and chocolate that were everywhere.
My knee was a good sport on its last European visit, but I generally held up at the rear. My ice pack and heat wraps were called into service, but I never said "no" to an outing. If this had not been a gliding adventure, the extra steps would have been a pain. I am now more comfortable with my imminent knee replacement. Still, there were others with far bigger physical challenges: a stroke victim who has rehabilitated for a year to make this trip, and who soldiered on despite weakness on her right side, and a World War II veteran who kept up with us. He explained "the bridge too far" to us on a rainy Easter Sunday in Arnhem. 8000 multinational Allied soldiers died there as the result of a bad plan coupled with bad weather. He was not a fan of General Montgomery. One daughter accompanied her father, a retired professor, and her mother- both needing wheel chairs and walkers, yet navigating cobblestones and challenging outings. They reminded me that there is no whining on vacation. Ever.
A week flies by, and too soon, the Detroiters and the Chicagoans had to hug goodbye. Our teachers have a few more years to adhere to this schedule, and we are already ruminating about our next trip, in 2012.
French River Cruise?
Who knows? But dreaming is fun, and free. Anticipation is a rich treat; we are grateful that our lives allowed us this week of sisterly adventure. We do not take for granted that we will do it again, but we will work to take care of ourselves so it is possible. I will torment you with a few more photos in the days ahead...so we can be co-travelers. I promised.