Sunday, May 12, 2013

My take: Dealing with adversity on the trip

     This is my followup to the previous blog, Bea's gratitude for dealing with adversity on our trip to Holland.
     Yes, it's true, we flew to Germany -- to the airport in Frankfurt, not something I wanted to do. Personal reasons; anyone that knows me knows why.
     But our scheduled DFW-to-Chicago connection was delayed by weather; no way we were going to make our Chicago-to-Amsterdam connection that day.
     So, at DFW, while I was off trying to find an Internet connection to send an e-mail to our host in Holland, the gate attendant at United advised Bea we could get on a DFW-to-Frankfurt flight with Luftansha (the German airline) that would be our only chance to get to Europe that day. Otherwise, it meant an overnight in Chicago or back home.
       Bea made the arrangements. When I got back to the gate, she gave me the news: "Hope you're OK with this, but we're flying to Germany -- to Frankfurt."
       I was OK with it, knowing the Frankfurt-to-Amsterdam leg would get us there with only four-hours delay. And to be honest, the Luftansha flight was much more upscale than the United Amsterdam-to-Chicago flight coming back. Plus, people in Frankfurt were just as nice as anywhere else.
       To second what Bea said, people were helpful everywhere we went -- but particularly at our arrival at the Amsterdam airport, when we pretty clueless, too exhausted to think straight and not much had gone according to play.
       Figuring out how to buy train tickets and catch the train to Zaandam was an adventure. So was finding the booth to pick up the Holland-Amsterdam passes we'd already paid for.
       Yes, Luftansha failed to get my bag (about 35 pounds worth) on the flight. So before we could leave the Amsterdam airport, it was about 30 minutes worth of filling out forms to have the bag found and forwarded.
       Three days later, it finally got to Zaandam (where we were staying). So it was one set of clothes -- with some casual-wear alternatives provided by our host and some toiletries provided by Luftansha -- for almost four days.
        It stunk. End of this topic.
        Except at the end of our trip, back at DFW, my bag again didn't appear on the baggage-claim conveyor. After a moment of panic, I asked an airport employee where more bags might be; he pointed to an area with many bags waiting to be claimed. My bag, thankfully, was there.
        Traffic in Amsterdam, in Holland, period, is a challenge.
        Hundreds, thousands of small cars (I did see a Jeep Cherokee once, about the biggest car I saw there). Even more bicycles than small cars. Motorcycles, motorbikes. Buses everywhere. Packed trains and trams (we were train regulars, and sometimes seats were hard to find).
       All these modes of transportation, on tiny streets, right alongside canals, on streets with tram tracks. Two observations:
       (1) People know how to drive there; it takes a special talent ... and fearlessness. Our friend Patricia DeWeijs and my cousin Heleen, who drove us on back-to-back days, could do it; they were amazing.
      No way -- no way -- I would even dare to drive there (Bea said to say the same for her). No way we would even try bicycles.
      (2) You have to be careful about stepping into the wrong path. Twice I nearly got run down by a bicycle. Just as I had to do with my Dad in 2004, when he was 85 and I had to grab him and pull him back on a sidewalk as a bicyle bore down, Patricia had to put out her arm to stop me as a bicycler -- we think a courier in a hurry -- came close to hitting me. He actually was ringing his bell as a warning, but I didn't hear it.
      It turned out be a funny moment. He screamed, "DOOF," Dutch for deaf. Can't say I blame him.
      By the way, I appreciate the bicycles. That's all my Dad and Mom had when we lived in Amsterdam in the early 1950s; I remember we took vacations, fairly lengthy ones, on bicycles; I rode with Dad; Elsa rode with Mom. We rarely ever rode in a car in those days; few people had them.
      The bicycles are a symbol of how hearty the Dutch people are. It's a cold-weather country, but no matter, people ride their bikes to work, to the stores or outdoor markets, to run errands, whatever. And it's people of all ages -- elderly men and women, women dressed in working clothes, men in suits, young people, teenagers, grade-school kids. Bikes are parked by the hundreds everywhere.
      It's really an amazing culture.
      -- Most people speak some English (thank goodness), almost all in places that deal with the public. I know many Dutch words -- ones I remember from my childhood and from listening to my parents -- and if people speak slowly enough, I can get this gist of what they're saying.
      But what I don't know is how to put Dutch words into a Dutch sentence, much less have a conversation. This was proven without doubt at the dinner table on our river cruise (table No. 23) with our tablemates, two Dutch ladies (ages 85 and 77) who didn't speak English.
Bea with our table compansions on the cruise, Annie and Thea.
     At the first meal, one suggested we find English-speaking tablemates (there was a Canadian family, the woman -- like me -- a Dutch native who had immigrated in the early 1950s -- and her son and daughter-in-law). But we chose to make the best of it.
      So with our ladies -- Thea Bode and Annie Snel -- I began writing Dutch words or phrases, best I could, and we made somewhat of a connection. They realized I could understand some Dutch and we tried to treat them with as much courtesy as we could, helping the older one -- who wasn't all that mobile -- in little ways.
     At the end of the cruise, we each hugged our ladies. When I told Annie "tot siens" -- Dutch for "until we meet again," she laughed, shook her head and said she doubted that. (It's the thought that matters.)
      Because most of the people on the cruise were Dutch, and it was a Dutch company and mostly Dutch crew, much of the conversation was in Dutch. This wasn't easy for me, but impossible for Bea.
      As I mentioned before, the cruise director -- Wim Smits -- translated for us as much as he could, and spent time with us to keep us informed -- and made it much better. And Bea handled it all like a champion.
     One other language-related tale: I went into a fish market to buy some smoked eel (paling, in Dutch) -- one of my very favorite things to eat since I was a boy in Holland. The woman behind the counter greeted me in Dutch. When I asked if she spoke English, she shook her head no and called her male working companion.
      I asked her "waarom niet?" -- why not? -- about speaking English. She was not amused.
      The man spoke to me in English, took my order and then asked me if I could speak Dutch. Before I could answer, the woman indignantly said, "Niet veel" -- not much.
      Good for her.


  1. From Leo Van Thyn: Really enjoyed your Netherlands blogs. Sorry to hear you had travel issues. We had those too although not to Holland.
    It is quite an amazing little country -- very modern. But, oh, those bicycles. They’re everywhere. I don’t know how many times we stepped onto the wrong path only to be yelled at by some mouthy arrogant cyclists. They rule the roost.
    On one of our trips I rented a car to go from Amsterdam to Amersfoort (about 20 minutes). It was a bit of an adventure and, of course, while waiting to make a turn I was blocking a bike lane. I had almost forgotten all those Dutch curse words I heard.
    My Dutch is OK, probably about grade 4 in terms of speaking. That’s the grade I did last in Amsterdam before emigrating. The family research has helped with my vocabulary. I find that I understand almost anything they say, however, composing sentences is a problem. With a limited vocabulary you can’t express your depth of understanding of a particular subject. Whenever I need to compose a letter to someone in Dutch I am fortunate to have my research partner convert it from English to Dutch for me. Her English is very good.
    We have been to Nederland in 2002, 2004, and 2012. Last July we took Rachel because she wanted to see where I was born. It was a lovely trip and we met up with some family of both my father and mother.

  2. From Ken Sins: Travel in Europe is an adventure, well worth the effort and occasional mishap.

  3. From Jerry Byrd: I never learned anything about the Dutch language, but I took a couple of years of German at Northwestern State. That wasn't enough for me to be able to read a copy of "Ivanhoe" that my father brought back from World War II. One of my cousins from the Marthaville-Ajax area was stationed in Berlin for a while and brought a German girl named Barbara back to the USA and married her. I was able to say a few things to her in German, but I couldn't carry on a conversation. The only thing I remember is "Sprechen sie Deutsch?" (Do you speak German?)