“No, no, no, it’s P-O-T-A-T-O-E, potato, it has an e on the end, thank you.” – Vice President Dan Quayle, Trenton, New Jersey June 15, 1992
For those of you looking for a grammatically correct, spell checked version of life on the road, please be forewarned that you will not find it here. I ranked in the 13th percentile nationally in spelling after second grade and have probably fallen into the high single digits over the years. That means over 90% of the people can out spell me. Throw in the use of commas, and something called dangling participles and 1st/3rd person, past/present tense, and whatever else the Elements of Style can hurl your way and it all adds up to a lower than expected verbal score on the SATs. Since my math scores were not that stellar either I ended up at a state school with the rest of you. Man, what a downward spiral from the 13th percentile after second grade, so much for national testing to build a child’s confidence.
Sure, 90% may be able to out spell me, but when I look at the “verbally aware” spelling bee geeks I have to ask can they knit the words together in a patchwork that provides meaning? Maybe, then again, maybe not…
Day Twenty-Two – July 10th (happy b-day Rich)
It’s hot. So hot I had to sleep on the floor of the camper because two people in the bed over the cab was just too much. The kids look like they wake up sweating. Even the breakfast is hot.
Teri tries to do laundry at the campsite but it’s a disaster. To avoid any further damage we drive into Trier and try again. It is hot across the river as well, even hotter in the Laundromat, and practically boiling in the parked camper sitting in the mid-day sun. The vague plan to see some Roman ruins goes out the window. It is amazing we survived.
Thinking maybe it would be cooler down river we start to drive. I swear to you it gets hotter. Yes, the grapes are beautiful and the castles crowning the cliffs are dramatic but in the end the heat and the thought of another night sweltering in the HOW does us all in.
We abort the Rhine/Mosel mission and head towards Liege in Belgium figuring the further north we get the cooler it will be. This is a tough day. Germany is much different than what we expected: it’s not so friendly, it’s not unfriendly mind you, just so different than Paris. And the food is all heavy and thick and brown and yellow. There are no greens to be seen, just sausages and potatoes and beer and wine. It works for some, but not for us. You can take the people out of So Cal but we all have out limits.
By 8p we are in a mega-site in the Belgian countryside filled with families and kids running in all directions. It starts to rain, at first it is just distant thunder and lightening then it becomes a torrential downpour in a matter of minutes. We ride out the hard rain in the camper listening to the raindrops pound the ceiling. I love being so close to the rain yet still being inside the camper, safe and sound, warm and dry.
Thinking that the worst of the storm is over I decide to make a break for the washroom. When I return lightning strikes so close to me that I am thrown back a step and things stand still for a moment in a white flash of light. Thunder booms and crashes. Then it happens again, this time closer and I actually lean backwards as if in a high wind. In the intense flash that covers everything I notice the power surge and then shut down across the campsite. The people around me all go into slow motion and it takes a few seconds for all of us to come back into reality. I shudder and fight off a chill. Knowing it will freak out the kids I decide to keep the experience to myself. It was too close for comfort.
Back in the camper with the rain off in the distance and the cool night air filtering into the HOW things are finally looking up again.
Day Twenty-Three - July 11th
Then they are looking down. Upon closer examination in daylight it appears that we are camping in the middle of the equivalent of the LA County Fair in Pomona, or for you East coasters, think Giant Stadium pre-game meets one of the major Avenue street fairs in the city.
It is insane. People are everywhere, so are the tattoos and 9a beer drinkers and the steamers. There are Belgians, Germans, Poles, Russians, and a bunch of people from all of those various “cranes”. It looks kind of like organized crime goes camping. The men are big and burley, the women are as well and the kids are simply running wild. All of them are in Speedos - men, women and children. Bellies and breast are hanging every which way. They look at us like we are malnourished rag dolls.
By 10a, the official “opening hour” for the pool, the place is already partying. Teri sums it up best by explaining to Adele and Vince, “do NOT drink the water, it is one big, giant cesspool of germs!” and to me, “This is either a high point or a low point in life, I have no idea which.”
Badda Bing - we are “outta there!”
We decide to try Holland. With our new GPS the drive is a breeze. If you go to a foreign country invest in one of these it is worth whatever you have to pay for it. It’s a long haul though; three plus hours in the heat but the kids are great on the drive. Up in the cab you only get part of their conversations that tend to go something like this:
Vince: “Adele, I fart you!” He then laughs hysterically.
Adele: “OH MY GOODNESS! VINNY! NO! YOU DO NOT FART ME!”
Vince: “Adele, I fart you again!” He laughs so hard he almost cries.
Mom” “Vincent, do not say fart”
Vince: “Mom, I did not say fart I said fort! I fort you, Adele”
And on and on….
Anyway, our campsite, de Hertshoorn, about an hour outside of Amsterdam, is really amazing. It was recommended by Cookie Magazine back home and we have been carrying around the torn out page with the write up for months hoping we may get the chance to stay here. It does not disappoint. The sites are spacious and the grounds perfect for families. There are playgrounds, bouncy things, bike paths, an activities center and plenty of room to run and play. Needless to say the kids are in heaven.
The Netherlands is playing Spain in the final of the World Cup. I say the Netherlands, which I think is also called Holland, and it may also be known as Nederland. They should just pick it one of the three and call it a day. It just confuses the rest of us.
We get invited to our neighbor’s tent to watch the game. We rummage through our clothes and manage to find orange shirts (the color of the Netherlands) for each of us wear to show support. The Dutch are very excited we are pulling for Holland and showing up geared out like the rest of them. I do my best to teach then the wave.
I’ll comment more on the Dutch people later on. However, as an example of the type of folks they are, when the Nederland team rings up six or seven yellow cards (warnings for players) they do not question the calls by the referee or criticize the other team for being too aggressive but instead bow there heads and are embarrassed that their national team is not playing a clean game. Unbelievable. If the Dodgers were playing in the 7th game of the World Series I can assure you every call going against them would be the Yankees fault and any sense of embarrassment would be confronted straight up with indignation. We are in a much different land.
The Dutch lose the game and we mourn the loss with our fellow campers, there is nothing that an ice cold Heineken can’t cure.
Days Twenty-four/five - July 12/13 – Much needed rest days, happy b-day Charlie (my dad)!
According the Vince the “wind clouds” are blowing the rain clouds around again and thus water is falling down. It is actually nice to have a few overcast days for a change.
After the torrid schedule we have been keeping we decide to take advantage of the campsite and give ourselves our first rest week. We all need it. Much of the time is spent doing household chores: bill paying, catching up on journal writing, playing, resting, running, bike riding (we rent them at the campsite) and generally lounging around. We only stray as far as the bikes will take us.
Adele loves the independence the bike brings. She rides everywhere and is always volunteering to go get things. Ice creams for Vince, Coke Lights for dad. She is even brave enough to go to the store and pay for things on her own. She is growing up fast in this foreign land!
A few words on the Dutch - They are truly wonderful people: very caring towards each other and their children, the environment and the space circling around them. The campsite is spotless, not cleaned by an army of workers but instead all self-policed. They stop and pick up other peoples trash if they happen to mistakenly leave it behind.
They are educated and speak Dutch, German and English fluently. All of our conversations are in English and they easily float between all three languages as the need arises. The banter is insightful and they are truly interested in our lives back home and what brought us forth to be with them.
They opened their doors to us; offered us food and drink, gave attention to Adele and Vince and made us all feel welcome. We will miss them and feel lucky to have had the pleasure to stay among them for a few days.
By the end of the last day we are ready to travel again. We return the bikes, do a last load of laundry, scout out Amsterdam and try and get to sleep early. Tomorrow we are off again on another adventure.
Bring on the hookah; we are going to the big A.
Day Twenty-Six – July 14th
Adele has trouble getting up. Our sleep patterns are still off kilter and she is not going to sleep until way past 11p. Vince looks glossy from the get go and he is unusually quiet for such a big guy.
The vomiting starts as we hit the ring road outside of Amsterdam. First Vince goes all over himself and his bed and then as soon as he subsides Adele projectile vomits all over Teri and the bathroom floor. This is all happening while we are driving at high speeds in heavy traffic. All I can do is lob in the occasional, “how’s it going back there?” or the ever helpful, “it will all come out in the wash.” Sometimes it is best to shut up and drive.
Amsterdam is on hold. Fearing the worst, two sick kids and no aide in sight, we decide it best to head for a campsite outside of the city where we can crash for a few days. Edam wins the coin toss and we head to Strandbad-Edam.
It turns out to be a beautiful site on the water complete with a playground, swimming beach and WiFi (pronounced wee fee in Dutch). The kids want to feel better but are still under the weather for most of the afternoon and evening. Vince and I do manage to go for a quick swim in the lake and take a walk around to look at the sail boats tied up to the main canal.
The boats range from 30 feet to over 90 feet long, all full sail, some with two and three main masts. It demonstrates how dominant the Dutch sailors are/were. These boats are massive and impressive. They look like pirate ships lined up and waiting for Black Beard to return with sunken treasure. Vince loves them and remains on the look out for pirates at all times.
In the early evening I realize my passport is missing. Not to panic it must be here somewhere. That somewhere turns out to be the nightmare campsite we left in such a hurry back in Belgium four days ago. Badda-boom…
Confirming it is there is a nightmare unto itself. The woman that picks up the phone at 10p is the old lady that checked me into the campsite five nights ago. She is bitter, old and pure Belgian, speaking German and French but no English what so ever. I am yelling in broken French that my “passport est la! Oui, c’est la! Mon passport? American? Carcano?” She keeps putting down the phone to scream at people coming in and going out of the office. She sounds sort of like Ralph Cramden. “Halloow, C-A-R-C-A-N-O, Herren, A-L-B-E-R-T, USA” she is almost taunting me, “Yes, Yah, Yah, C’est moi! Hold it please, Si vous plait, je come there au domain!” She hangs up. I take that as a good sign.
However, I don’t sleep very well…
Day Twenty-Seven – July15th
My rented Fiat 500 goes 140km easy. And that is in the slow lane. Plus, it is much more fun to drive the Autobahn at high speeds in small cars.
We decide to split up today to save everyone the drama of the passport fiasco, so I rent a car and head out on a seven-hour tour of Belgium on my own. The seven hours includes an hour spent lost in downtown Amsterdam in peak traffic on narrow streets filled with bands of people partying in the mid-afternoon. By the time I get out of the city I know I have seen enough of Amsterdam.
Teri and the kids go and explore NEMO the science museum and grab Chinese food for dinner in town. The reviews are positive upon return. They do have a long walk back from the bus stop to the camper though so everyone is pretty worn out by days end.
After watching the sunset with Vince we wander back to our HOW and Adele decides to hold a family meeting to discuss our “feelings.” How is that for an eight year old? She sets up some fairly elaborate rules that take forever to explain but the gist of it is that each person should discuss what they are feeling so the others in the family are on the same page.
Vince insists on going first and lets us all know he is afraid of spiders. He then rambles on about Lighting McQueen and Matter and throws in a few lines from Nemo for effect. After that the meeting generally breaks down and we all agree that this meeting was just a meeting about the meeting and that the real meeting will be tomorrow and then once a week on Fridays going forward. Except for Vince who insists that his meeting is tomorrow and then he thanks Adele for her great meeting today, “Great job Adele.” Whew. How much drama can there be in one day?
Day Twenty-Eight - July 16th
Finally a day of sight seeing! After days of logistics and travel I can’t wait to see something! We have flexibility with the Fiat 500 and we take full advantage of it by loading up, piling in and heading off to fully embrace Holland!
First stop is the town museum in Edam. We wanted to go to Gouda but it was off track so we decided to hit Edam (pronounced Ahh dem) instead. We are glad we did. The town is beautiful. Canals lined with old stone houses from the 1600 and 1700s. The museum is set in a 400+-year-old house that is leaning heavily to one side with a basement storage area that floats on the water running underneath the foundation. It is great fun with the kids.
From there we go to the Edam cheese export house. Another 400+-year-old building filled with wheels of cheese destined for all points around the world. Here the cheese is sorted by age: “new” one month, “young” maybe two or three months and “aged” five months or more. The older the cheese the stronger and sharper the taste. They also have flavor cheeses with herbs, smoked and even a pesto version. Those crazy Dutch!
Clogging is big here, as in wooden shoes, so we zip over to Zaanse Schans to visit a real working village. It is sort of like our Colonial Williamsburg. By days end we are all wearing new wooden shoes, eating chocolate from the local factory and discussing the pros and cons of wind power after touring a lumberyard powered by a giant wind mill. How cool is that?
For lunch we have “pancakes” with ham and cheese. It sounds disgusting but tastes great. Then it is back home with some down time, I go food shopping (always great fun) and we end the night with another attempt at Adele’s family meeting.
This one goes a bit better. Vince is still afraid of spiders and babbling about The Backyardagins, Adele is mixing up feelings of pride and sadness (not sure exactly what that means and it takes so long to get it out that we must evoke a new 4 minute per person rule to stay on track), Dad is frustrated that people are not listening and Mom is feeling cramped in the camper and wants time to herself. I must admit Adele is on to something with the family meetings. Everyone feels better afterwards.
Tomorrow we travel on…