Back Home Again

Friday was a late night; the taxi dropped me off at midnight. The added price for the “reservation” turned out to be 17 euros…  but he was there.  Not sure I need a reservation next time – at least at this time of night.  I recall standing in a taxi line for 30 minutes once when I came over on the Eurostar.

An observation: during this adventure, I am having new experiences daily.  That is exciting, exhilarating, daunting and tiring.  I am realizing that by my age, life is normally … what’s the word?  Certainly, not boring, but perhaps routine. And living in a foreign country, with a new language, is more “different” than I expected.

It has been cleaning weekend.  I started the washing when I got home (yes, midnight), and have done 4 loads since.  It’s now Sunday night.  Saturday morning after a surprisingly good sleep I set out for the last (I hope) round of upgrades for the apartment.  A towel that is softer than those here.  A drying rack so I can hang clothes somewhere other than over the bathtub, a thermometer so I know the temp (but I didn’t notice til I got home that it is only Celsius…. I added the Fahrenheit.)   And a new shower head.  And stopped by the pharmacy on the way home for some hydrogen peroxide.  She was hesitant to sell it to me… wondered what I was doing with it.  So common in the US, here in the back room.  Why did I want it?  I saw a FB post about it’s use on mold.  Now, don’t think my bathroom is full of mold!  But there are a few spots.  It’s because other people didn’t open the window when taking a shower.  And I was determined to rid the place of it.  Successful.

IMG_5885The drying rack is also a godsend.  Except these are 7 foot doors and that’s the only place I can hang it.  Climb on the bed to hang the clothes…

In the second to the last month (I have a deposit), I plan to give her an accounting of what I have spent to customize this place and see if she wants to credit me anything.  And even if she doesn’t, I am happy.  No reason not to be comfortable for such a long time.

And I am happy.

Yesterday  Edith of La Vie Parisienne had another outing- this time to Montmartre.  I like her walks because she gives detailed information – all about the commune of Montmartre in the 1800s.  French are strange.  Big on barricades.

2015-04-11 15.51.23 2015-04-11 16.14.08 2015-04-11 15.39.09We walked from the famous Moulin Rouge (which she doesn’t recommend) up to the base of Sacre Coeur through an area that was new to me.  Past the café from the movie Amelie.  I thought it was on a square… nope.  just a crossroads.   Past several cafes that catered to Picasso, van Gogh, and other artists and writers.  2015-04-11 16.26.13And finally by the last vineyard in Paris.

2015-04-11 16.21.46Edith always dresses the part: leather skirt, black jacket, black and white kerchief scarf over her hair, red red red lipstick and spike heels – spike heels up and down hill on cobblestone!

It was a drizzly day.  And after this hill climbing adventure, I rushed off to pick up the extra key for the apartment.  Visitor arriving Tuesday.  Decided to go by my preferred transport, the bus.  Bad idea in the rain.  I waited with a crowd for many minutes.  Only to discover after I got on the crowded bus that I had waited on the wrong side of the street so I was going the wrong way.  Got off at the next stop and just walked to the metro.  My landlady was waiting in front of Monoprix.  So I thought I would pick up some things.  Not.  Everyone and their brother was there.  I went up the escalator and fought through the crowd to get to the down escalator.  Metro back.  With this clever idea – if I got off at Etoile I could take the 73 bus which has the closet stop to home. A great idea in concept.  However, I believe the walk through the Metro station was twice the distance I was supposedly saving.  And the bus wait was 20 minutes. Bustimate loss. But while waiting, I did notice that the leaves are coming out.  2015-04-11 18.16.14Soon Paris will be green and flowering again.

Sunday was another stay inside day – aided by the fact that I didn’t get up til 11.  I am amazed at how long I can drag out the cleaning of a 400 sq foot apartment.  I excel at delays.

But now it is cleaned and rearranged and ready for guests.

When I walk around in the bustling areas of the Left bank or Montmartre, I wonder if I picked the right location.  Those areas feel so French.  But when I come home to rue du midi, I appreciate its peace and quiet.

I Am sterdam…

2015-04-10 14.26.14              I am sterdam….

What a great ending for a lovely stay in The Netherlands. Gea and family are so gracious, open and receptive to a visitor. And Gea bravely acted as tour guide to the American Tourist. (Although I was complimented by a Netherlander that I spoke so much more softly than my compatriots.)

The Keukenhoff Gardens were a beautiful sight. And the weather progressively improved. I asked Gea to change the plans – we were going to walk a labyrinth that Thursday. Keukenhoff turned out to be the right choice as it’s only open from March to May. Flowers, you know.IMG_5403 2015-04-09 11.52.31 IMG_5427

Friday was my last day here in the Netherlands. And what a spectacular send off I had. Gea has friends visiting from the states and they were arriving late Saturday morning so I arranged to leave late on Friday from Amsterdam. We took the train to Amsertdam and Gea grabbed the train to Utrecht after seeing me off. So it worked well for us both.

Kids off to school, we walked to the local train station – 5 minutes away! I bought my ticket; we waited just a few minutes for the “local.” It took us from Rijen to Breda. You may recall that Gea came to Breda to pick me up last Tuesday. On my next visit, I get to be a big girl and take the commuter from Breda to Rijen. The train from Breda was an express to Rotterdam, the airport, and Amsterdam.

In no time at all, we were locking our bags up in the Bagage Locker and setting off for the bike rental.

Yup, she made me into a real Netherlander. There was a bike choice, but I opted for the “coaster brakes” bike. Hey. No worry. I grew up on coaster brakes.

Never again.

Next time, it’s a three speed with hand brakes. You don’t really need the gears, but I sure handle braking better with the hand brake. Too complicated (and boring) to describe, but trust me. I found it challenging.2015-04-10 14.38.332015-04-10 11.39.40

Yet I biked in Amsterdam. And not just in Amsterdam, but in rush hour traffic in Amsterdam! With scooters and motorcycles whizzing by, other bikes passing me, and big trucks and fast cars passing within inches. Yikes. But I did it. And it was fabulous. I am looking forward to doing it again (with the different bike!).

2015-04-10 12.04.12The architecture of Amsterdam is beautiful. I could see the burghers out strutting and bartering and supervising the unloading of cargo. We rode through the main square (where the kings and queens are crowned – or resign) and on to a delightful lunch by a canal. Not too difficult to be by a canal. Gea was the official bike locker-upper. Finding a place to lock the bike could be a challenge. There are SO MANY bikes and, in comparison, so little railing space. She was very resourceful.

Lunch was croquettes again. The Dutch national snack/meal. Meat mixed with a thick potatoey sauce, then fried. Shorter but thicker than a hot dog. 2015-04-10 12.08.51I remain successful in being an American incognito. Someone spoke to me in Dutch – expecting a response.

After lunch, we walked over to the RijksMuseum. It was closer than we both thought. They have recently remodeled this museum – to accolades, I have read. Gea was able to explain to me what it looked like before. The main courtyards are now covered, bright, light, and quiet for the number of people. With online ticket and museum pass (me, Gea) we got straight in. Our destination – The Vermeers and Rembrandt. 2015-04-10 13.21.24 HDRI believe I have seen the Vermeers before – traveling shows at the Met, the DeYoung or even Paris a few years ago. But no matter, Vermeer is always divine. I saw my first Vermeer when I was in college and visiting the Met one summer. I believe we determined that the girl with the Pearl Earring is in The Hague – Gea says: Next visit.

Then down the Hall of Honor to the Night Watch. I prefer the drawings and etchings to the paintings of Rembrandt. But this one is awesome – and I mean that as inspiring awe, not in the vernacular of a teenager. It’s huge. And what is more interesting is that it’s actually been reduced in size. When they moved it to another hall before it was in a museum – years ago – it was too wide. So they just cut a foot off on the right and maybe 2-3 feet on the left. To a Rembrandt. (LOL – not a person’s foot. A third of yard…)

We passed by three Van Gogh. There is a separate Van Gogh museum. Next trip.

Quick photo op at the “I am sterdam” art. And back to the bikes. Our next destination: Canal Cruise.

Having Gea as tour guide was fantastic. I didn’t have to worry about a thing, didn’t have to check a map. Just hopped on the bike and followed her. She dodged traffic for me too.

Canal cruise was to be expected. Relaxing. Beautiful scenery. Interesting stories.2015-04-10 15.27.53 2015-04-10 15.42.52

And back on the bikes to look for a place to have coffee/water and relax.

2015-04-10 15.40.45 HDRMost places were full – apparently others had this same idea.   As we wandered further a field (bikes were locked again), we found ourselves on the edge of the red light district. It wasn’t our intent but there were the windows with the curtains. Some open, some drawn closed. Gea said they negotiate a price through the window; when agreed, the girl opens the door, lets him in, and shuts the curtain. A tour guide for a bike tour was telling some tourists not to take their pictures. He said it might result in a fight – or they could get pushed into the canal. Sounded like the girls themselves, or maybe they had a … what? Pimp? Guard? I didn’t want to take pictures. I prefer not to consider the issues of legalized prostitution. Call me an ostrich.

After the girls, we came upon a delightful café in the courtyard of an old church. Gea was pleased with her latte and brownie, I with my sparkling water and carrot cake. It was in the shade – a pleasant change from the sun beaming down on us on the boat and bike. We took our time and then made it back to the locked bikes and set off for the bike rental store. 2015-04-10 17.33.33 This was the worst of the traffic – but by this time I was brave – no, no, the word is foolhardy. And like the horse on the way home to the barn, I just put my head down and pedaled.

Clearly, I made it without incident or you wouldn’t be reading this.

The train left at 1939 and it was 1745 so we had time to walk to the ferry and have a quick bite at a patio restaurant on the other side of the A. I just had a cheese plate, knowing I would have some dinner on the train. Gea had leek soap. 2015-04-10 13.41.05(BTW, did I mention the asparagus soup from Keukenhof? A Netherland treat – wax asparagus. And they have just come into season. Yes. Tasty.) Yes, that is a still life of asparagus!

And back on the ferry (free) to collect our bags and find the platform. Gea, sweetie that she is, stayed with me til my train came and waved me goodbye.

And I am going home now. Saying this with a wry smile – because it came out of my mouth naturally – Home to Paris!

I am riding the Thalys high speed train. In first class. That was a bit of a mix up. That’s what I am supposed to pick with my Senior Carte. But after I made the entire reservation, it turns out that the senior carte does not work on Thalys. At that point, I shrugged and said fine. In fact, there are some benefits of first class. A reserved seat, of course. Comfy-er seats, of course. Meal service. (Although this dinner was cold and not too tasty. Food on the way to the Netherlands was much better)). And now I find I can reserve a taxi for the arrival at Paris Nord. I took the metro when I left. But I am arriving just before midnight and have had a full day of activity and I don’t want to carry my bag up and down stairs. A taxi is just a fine idea.