Monday, March 14, 2011

This is the dawning of the rest of our lives on holiday...

the fantastic Antwerp Train Station
We left Antwerp in style, that is to say, on the train with a nice bottle of French wine that we savored as the countryside of Belgium and then the Netherlands rolled by, the sun setting in flaming oranges and pinks, fading to violet and then gone in the west, the train swaying gently back and forth. It would be nice to say that we were looking pretty sophisticated at this point, but actually at the station we'd severely misjudged where our ride, train car #18 would be. Far down the line, right?

We'd waited somewhat down the tunnel and when our train rolled in the first car was #14, ours a mere 4 cars back. We had to dash with our luggage once more. Ah well, no fooling anyone. We are scrambling travellers. Not sophisticates. Somewhere, with a chic hat and adorable heels there is a tall, slim woman and her escort who only has eyes for her, striding gracefully onto the train, probably with a pale greyhound on a leash. But that's not us.

In Amsterdam we were allowed to go through the initial security 12 hours before our flight, since we were staying at an airport hotel. This was the space age "Yotel". If you think that sounds Mork and Mindy, you should have seen the room. One reserves online and then checks in at a sort of ATM machine which gives you the card for you room. If you can make it work. Then you go down a white, highly institutional corridor and enter a small, sterile capsule that is not terribly unlike getting on the plane early, though with a bed and shower and no flight attendants.

I took no photos of the Yotel...nothing to see really. Not bad, modern and plastic, though with a floor to ceiling clear glass-wall between the bedroom and bathroom that made me cringe. It was the sort of place that made me wonder if room service, had there been room service, might just bring by a steaming plate of Soylent Green. And we all know what THAT is, don't we?

The purpose of the Yotel was to have a place to rest before your flight, and be able to quickly and easily get to your gate at departure. It was definitely this and beat the heck out of perching in a airport chair or staying in a hotel in the city, worrying about whether you'd be able to get through town and security to your flight on time. In fact, this was one of the better moves we've made as travellers.

However, in a sadistic move, the designers of our "suite" had given us a battery of cute buttons that made the bed go up and down and so forth, and controlled the television, also made it apparently impossible to turn of all the lights at the same time to get some sleep.

For instance, if one pushes the button with footprints on it, the bathroom glows with, what they again sadistically describe as, a "restful purple light." Somebody was laughing when they wrote that one. I think it might have been Dogbert.

Park your bike here. No wait! Don't park your bike here! (park your bike on the windowsill?)

Since we're basically intelligent and patient people, (and persistent to the point of stubbornness), I can only imagine the F bombs (or their foreign equivalents) dropped by sleep-deprived travellers faced by this, that, and then the other light coming on and turning off in no pattern discernible. At least, not to us , at any rate.

The saving grace of that room, which made me willing to bury my head beneath a pillow after finally accepting that there would be some lights on no matter what we did, was the Sage Seaweed all-over body wash. I was willing to forgive an awful lot for that, including the reveal-all glass wall and the drains that, perhaps to be in the same league as airline toilets, made noises not unlike the death croaks of extraordinarily large toads. The wash was delectable and I think using it made me more Earth-friendly and reduced my cholesterol.

In the morning we gathered up our things, probably checked out, and went to stage 2 of security. In Amsterdam the passengers of each plane must go through a secondary round of security where you, your children, and your luggage are x-rayed, your ID and boarding pass are checked again and you are questioned by one or two security officers before you can enter the waiting area before you board the plane.

During the question and answer portion of this process there is an unavoidable furtive feeling of guilt that swamps even the most unimaginative would-be passenger. Personally, my mind goes blank and I turn red. I would love to know how they sort the stuttering innocents whose brains shut down at the simplest inquiry from those rare nasties who would actually wish harm to a flight.

The only thing I had to make me feel anxious were two small souvenirs and I'd put those WWII bullet casings from Normandy into my checked luggage, and made sure they weren't hidden and would be easily accessed should security want to inspect or seize them. After all, my scrapbooking stuff had looked suspicious enough to the international security folks in the States to open everything and give it a thorough once-over.

Those nice boys left me a polite note in apology for that in my suitcase, by the way. Can you believe it? Essentially: sorry for doing our job and keeping you safe. Wow.

Anyway, I wasn't terribly worried about them. I simply have an undeservedly guilty conscience. At least I think I don't deserve it...wait, maybe I do...augh!

After everyone is through security at Schiphol airport there's some more waiting. Eventually the plane is opened and, by section, there is a rush by the passengers to get to their seats.

This I have never figured out, unless it's all about the luggage placement. You're going to sit on the plane for hours, and hours, and hours in a seat that slyly asserts, "you should have sprung for business class, you cheap bastard." ("cheap" being relative, of course.) Your posterior goes numb and your sinuses shrivel up from that desiccating recycled airplane air. Who wants to hurry to that? If accepting all this as your lot in life doesn't make you feel like a bit of a chump, imagine how I felt when I asked the flight attendant which of the proffered meals she would choose, the beef or the chicken. She looked down in my general direction and said, without a hint of apology, "I never eat airline food."

How, exactly, does one respond to a pronouncement like that?

Perhaps it was that I unwrapped and ate the dinner anyway, or that my butt had indeed fallen asleep, despite that I got up and shuffled to the bathroom a good 5 times to Mike's once, and he only went because he was bored, (he's irritating that way), but I was ready to be done with the whole airplane business. The movies were still the same. Trains are infinitely preferable, if not practical on a transatlantic route. Here is what I wrote in my ever-present notebook:

I hate Greenland. It's just like when '3:30 AM' is relentlessly glowing on the nightstand clock when you what you desperately need to be doing is sleeping. Is it morning? Time to get up? No...still over Greenland...Greenland...and, wait for it, more Greenland.

Stupid blanking bleeping Greenland.

I've deluded myself into almost believing that we're on a road instead of in the sky, so when we dip and bump from turbulence it's merely that the roads in Greenland are not the best. No worrying about falling from the sky for me. What does it mean that not only won't the stewardess eat the meals but that has no problem telling ME that she won't?! There are several possibilities here and none of them make me feel very good in my tummy.

A long flight home is a good thing in some ways. After all, it gives me time to disconnect, control alt and delete the luxury of swear words and to reboot to clean mouth Mommy. Hopefully. It's a relief, too, that Mike and I won't have to work any more to make our mouths to French things, which sounds unpardonably dirty but by which I mean that we said "pahr-dohn" so often it was laughable and that my French accent attempts were painful to even my ears.

I can't wait to see the kids. I can't believe our time overseas is really, truly over. It's official: we are tired of travelling, and just want to be home.

Home, home, what a beautiful word.

Bethy and Thomas, 3 days later, at a roadside farm produce stand in the Evergreen State.


Mumsey said...


Natalie said...

Aren't they cute? The kids are always super appealing when they're holding still and the sound is turned off, of course...

AKBrady said...

We MUST get these kids together. I almost shudder (in a laughable way, of course) to think of the mischief they could create together....Alaska, perhaps, miss?

*Paula* said...

I'm so behind! I've missed this post for I-don't-know-how-long but I enjoyed reading this today. I'm still cracking up at the "I never eat airline food" comment! It's as good as what my cousin's girlfriend said when I asked her about her job. She said she didn't like to fly. Guess what she does? Yup, flight attendant.

paris parfait said...

Ha ha, Greenland...and that blankety-blank airline food and annoying security. Hate flying across the Atlantic; hate it! Have to do it early in May and trying not to think about it. Love the photo of the cherubs at the veg stand! Hope the readjustment to life in the US is going well. x