Europe 2016

Europe 2016

In September, 2016, we returned to Europe for two weeks in the Netherlands and France. Follow the "book navigation" links at left to read more about the trip, or click the map above to skip ahead to a location.

Ben Tue, 09/20/2016 - 12:11





Wednesday, Sept 21

We left Emporia around 7am and met Zarrin and Ziya Reynolds at a pet hospital where they volunteer, north of Kansas City. Zarrin came with us to breakfast while Ziya drove her car to work. Zarrin has been unemployed for 6 months after schoolteaching at a juvenile detention facility became too dangerous. After breakfast at Waffle House, she dropped us off at the airport and borrowed our car for the duration of our vacation.

Our flights were uneventful, except that I realized during our layover in Philadelphia that I'd forgotten the power cord to my computer. I figured I had more than enough charge for my presentation the next day, and I just wouldn't do any work the rest of the trip! The flight to Amsterdam was cramped, and Jessie got almost no sleep, while I got an hour or two. They fed us dinner and breakfast, which we shared so I could avoid gluten.

Thursday, Sept 22

We arrived at the Amsterdam airport around 8:30 in the morning local time. I had purchased two "HollandPasses," cards that will get us discounts on lots of tourist attractions as well as public transportation. Unfortunately, the email confirmation never arrived, so I spent about an hour getting all the documentation I needed to get both the passes and the train tickets into town. We arrived at Amsterdam Centraal around 10:30.

I was enamored by the picturesque downtown and suggested walking to our hostel, about two miles. Jessie agreed but quickly became uncomfortable due to being very tired and hot. We persevered and straggled in before noon. I picked up some disappointing lunch from a nearby deli while Jessie got a shower and lay down for a nap. I had planned to visit an urban garden on the west side of town, but after looking at the distance and the time available, decided to nap instead!

Around 2:30 we took a tram back to the station and a train to Utrecht, where I was to give a presentation on the Drupal migration work I've been doing, to an informal Meetup group of Drupal users. We arrived in plenty of time and again decided to walk from the station, but it went better this time! We got to the meeting almost an hour before it actually began, because people arrived late. Jessie went for a sightseeing walk during my presentation. I was not satisfied with how the presentation went, because the audience was more experienced than I expected (and a few of them more so than I was), and I made a couple of mistakes in my demo that caused it to last longer than anyone had planned on, so that I delayed the second speaker's talk.

I had made tentative plans to meet up with the organizer of the Netherlands' first "library of things," DeDeelkelder, after the Drupal Meetup, but we had trouble reaching him and decided we were too tired to track him down under the circumstances, so we went back to Amsterdam.

See our album of photos from Utrecht.

Ben Thu, 09/22/2016 - 12:04




See our album of photos from Amsterdam.

Friday, Sept 23

We had a lovely breakfast in the hostel featuring cold cuts, cheeses, and hard boiled eggs as well as fresh pastries (which I carefully avoided, just in case), cereal, and an espresso machine that made 10 different drinks perfectly.

We tackled the Rijksmuseum first, home to many of the Dutch masters' most famous works as well as many by the impressionists and expressionists. After lunch, I went back to the hostel for a short nap before joining Jessie at the Van Gogh Museum. The special exhibit was about "The Verge of Insanity" and played up the role that Van Gogh's mental illness had in his artistic career and personal life. Since this was the topic of Jessie's undergraduate thesis, she was captivated!

By the time we were done with the two museums, Jessie's feet were quite sore, and we wound up stopping for dinner on our way back to the hostel at an Italian place called Pompe.

Saturday, Sept 24

At breakfast in the hostel, we met two filipino women who had moved to Norway years ago while working as performers and got their Norwegian citizenship. We had a good time comparing notes about various countries and cultures!

We repacked our luggage and made our way by tram (streetcar) to the condo of Kaj, our Couchsurfing host for the next 3 nights. We chatted on his balcony for some time, and when he found I had not yet booked transportation to Paris, he helped me find a good deal on a German economy bus line. He also let me use his MacBook charger, so I was back in business!

We decided to rent bikes so that Kaj could show us around town by bicycle. He had a good rental place in mind, but they were out of stock, so we went to a less reputable place a block away. My bike turned out to have a broken saddle which became progressively less rideable as the day went on, so I just rode standing up... making a sight the people of Amsterdam are not used to seeing!

Kaj had asked if there were any Dutch foods we wanted to be sure to try. I asked about the puffy "pannekoeken" or "dutch baby" I remembered having at the Pannekoeken Huis in Bartlesville and at home from Mom's oven, but this turns out to be an American creation that, unlike pizza, has not made its way back to the old world. Instead he took us for poffertjes ("little puffers"), which are tiny buckwheat pancakes made in a special mold. I went ahead and indulged, and for the rest of the trip I ate gluten with no reaction.

I had been told by friends who had visited Amsterdam that Albert Cuypmarkt was not to be missed, so Jessie and I checked it out while Kaj went to a bar. It's a street market much like ones we saw in Italy, but many blocks long, and most of the vendors also have storefronts behind, since the market is all day, every day.

Kaj then took us to the IJ (the river/canal/lake that forms the city's north border), where we saw the Mediamatic greenhouse and Shaffy's Tuin garden. It was clear to me that someone had had some permaculture training, but I was too shy to ask the people who were having a party in the garden.

By this point it was getting toward sunset, and Kaj recommended we take the ferry across the IJ for a view of the skyline. Unfortunately the ferry was delayed, so by the time we got on board it was quite crowded and dusk was well underway.

Kaj felt our tour would be incomplete without a stop at the Red Light District. Having been to Las Vegas, Jessie and I were underwhelmed. It seemed downright restrained having the licensed prostitutes exhibiting themselves fully clothed in their storefronts rather than (strippers) dancing mostly naked in the street!

We passed by the Anne Frank house but did not try to enter, since the lines were quite long for those without reservations, but we took a few photos of the iconic church tower that Anne described seeing from her window.

We made a stop at a grocery store to buy food for breakfast, since Kaj subsists on coffee and alcohol when at home. We were tired and hungry and had trouble making decisions, but we were happy with everything we eventually bought! Red currants are one of the crops that grow well in the Netherlands, and we'd already enjoyed currant flavored soda, so we bought some fresh currants, local yogurt, cheese, and granola.

Our last stop for the night was at an Indonesian restaurant that Kaj frequents enough to be known to the staff. We ordered an assortment of 15 different dishes and were only able to finish about 2/3 of it. One does not ask for a doggie bag in the Netherlands, so we had to leave it. We got back to Kaj's condo after 10.

admin Sat, 09/24/2016 - 12:14




See our photos from Leiden and Nuenen.

Sunday, Sept 25

When I checked my email in the morning, I learned that our AirBnB host in Paris had been robbed! She canceled our booking, and I used the refund to book another room, but I did not thoroughly read the reviews. Cue ominous music.

Jessie and I returned our bikes to the rental place and checked out the Museum of the Canals. It turned out to be mostly social history, not technical. We had boxed salads on the train station platform while waiting for our train to Leiden ... even the cheapest convenience-store food we had in the Netherlands was excellent.

Suzanne, an art therapist in Leiden, met us at the train station and walked with us to the botanical garden, where she and Jessie continued to talk while I explored the garden. It's not the oldest such garden in the Netherlands -- the one in Amsterdam is over 370 years old -- but it's still very historic.

Back at the Leiden train station, I bought us tickets to Eindhoven via Den Haag and Rotterdam, and I learned belatedly from the ticket agent that I should have just bought tickets to Eindhoven in the first place, back in Amsterdam, because they don't care where else you go en route so long as you pay for the farthest point. Lesson learned, at a cost of an extra 40€.

In Eindhoven we boarded a bus for Nuenen, intending to get off in the center of town, but we missed our stop and rode nearly to the next town. This meant that we walked back all the way through Nuenen as well as to the Van Gogh fietspad in Eindhoven, a total of probably 7 miles.

In Nuenen we saw Van Gogh's childhood home and his father's church, among other sights, in spite of the setting sun. We meant to stop for dinner but didn't quite get to it, so we ate a pastry from a vending machine (which was excellent) and some gas station sandwiches (also excellent).

The fietspad (bike path) turns out to be covered in glow-in-the-dark spots that in some places are illuminated by solar-charged blacklights. Suzanne had been surprised to hear we were going all the way out there just to see the fietspad lit up, but we ran into a number of other foreign tourists doing the same thing!

We caught a city bus to the train station and a 10pm train back to Amsterdam.

Ben Sun, 09/25/2016 - 12:24




See our photos from Friesland.

Monday, Sept 26

Jessie overslept in the morning due to a small army of gas-powered hedge trimmers in the condo complex drowning out her alarm! We still had time for a canal boat tour (included in our HollandPasses) before we caught the train to Friesland, a region in north Holland.

We met art therapist Celine Schweitzer in Grou-Irnsum. She drove us around the area and to a CSA farm she belongs to, the first such in the Netherlands, as well as to her local community garden, before we had tea at her house. She dropped us at the train station in Leeuwarden, and we got back to Amsterdam around 10pm.

Ben Mon, 09/26/2016 - 12:51


Belgium by Bus

Belgium by Bus

See our photos of Belgium.

Tuesday, Sept 27

We thought we left Kaj's condo in plenty of time to catch our bus to Paris, but we were slowed down by our luggage and missed the Metro train we needed to catch, and the next was taken out of service, so that by the time we arrived at the bus depot at Sloterdijk station we had missed our bus by 15 minutes. The next was not for 2.5 hours! Fortunately I was able to book tickets with no advance notice for the same price as the tickets I had bought days in advance, and we got a refund on the unused tickets which we gave to Kai.

The bus stopped for lunch at a truck stop in Belgium; that and a scheduled stop in Antwerp were all we saw of Belgium on our way through, though we snapped some photos from the window!

The bus got delayed by construction in northern France, and the driver had to take union-mandated break at Charles de Gaulle airport, so rather than wait it out we switched to the Metro, but our connecting train was canceled! Confused and tired, we surfaced from the Metro at one point and tried to get our bearings -- right across the river from Notre Dame!

We finally arrived at our Airbnb around 9pm. The host had been waiting for us and had to run, so he just handed us the keys. We climbed 9 floors of rickety, narrow spiral stairs to find that the room had only one single, dirty bed instead of the double bed that was advertised, one thin pillow with no pillowcase, no sheets or towels, and the toilet was down the hall. Jessie immediately booked a hotel on Priceline... it was in a less convenient neighborhood, but it had all the amenities we needed!

Ben Tue, 09/27/2016 - 11:15




See an album of our photos from Paris.

Wednesday, Sept 28

After our late arrival at the hotel, we slept late in the morning before having a fabulous Parisian breakfast at a nearby café. We explored the neighborhood near the Musee d'Orsay, then saw the museum itself in the afternoon. We took the Metro to the Eiffel tower, had dinner from some roadside stands, and saw the Arc de Triomph from a distance on our way back to the hotel. I did our laundry at a laundromat across the street from the hotel, and we both went early to bed.

Thursday, Sept 29

Well rested at last, we got up early and had the same excellent breakfast at the same café as the day before, then got to the Louvre well before the doors opened. The dreaded long lines turned out not to be a problem this late in the season, so we used the main entrance in the pyramid in the middle of the courtyard.

Jessie had a short list of must-see artworks, so we got those out of the way first, then spent several hours perusing other European painting and sculpture, as well as some of the Egyptian artifacts. We were surprised and amused by the shopping mall you have to pass through on the way out... not just a gift shop, but an actual mall, complete with Apple Store!

We walked to Notre Dame and then got to Sainte Chapelle about an hour before closing. I needed a restroom and asked the security guard at the entrance if they had one inside security, but it was closed for construction, so I went looking for another while Jessie waited for me inside. By the time I got back from one of the automated self-cleaning toilets about a quarter mile away, they were no longer letting anyone into the chapel, and I had to wait for Jessie on the street with no way to contact her, since her phone was in airplane mode. She went in without me, but we promised to return when we had more time!

We had a rest at hotel, then went for dinner with no plans to do anything more, but over dinner we both had the same idea to go see the Eiffel Tower lit up. We sat on the lawn near the tower with hundreds of other couples and groups, overpaid for cheap champagne from a vendor, walked along the Seine some more, and got back to our hotel at 12:30.

Ben Thu, 09/29/2016 - 11:20




See an album of our photos from Versailles.

Friday, Sept 30

We slept in, planning to visit a nearby Indian buffet for brunch, but it didn't open at 11am as advertised, so we had to check out of our hotel first, and we wound up returning to same café as the past two days, but this time we got the full breakfast with omelets!

We hauled our luggage to Porte Maillot, at the northern tip of the largest park in Paris. Jessie did homework at a park bench while I explored the park on foot and by Velib rental bike. Then I sat with luggage while she went for a walk... much to my surprise, she not only walked to the Arc de Triomph, she also went inside it to the room at the top!

We accidentally took a train the long way round to Versailles, so what should have been a 20 minute trip took more like 3 hours, but we weren't in a hurry! We checked into an Airbnb with Tom. The room was nice, although Tom was a heavy smoker, and the trains went practically right by the window, and Tom's Wi-Fi password made reference to ISIS, which was troubling... but compared to the 9th floor disaster, it was quite nice!

Saturday, Oct 1

We had breakfast in a corner café near Tom's apartment, then walked through town to the palace of Versailles. The line to enter was quite long. We followed along with an audio tour of the king's quarters, public spaces, war murals, and a special exhibit on the American revolution and the role played by Versailles as a location for signing the treaty. I had been unaware that the revolution was ended by a Treaty of Versailles as well as WWI; there was strangely little mention of the latter Treaty.

We spent the afternoon exploring the extensive gardens, Marie Antoinette's palace, and Trianon, the palace where Louis XIV entertained his mistress. We somehow managed to walk back to Tom's after being on our feet all day, stopping at an Indian restaurant for dinner.

Ben Sat, 10/01/2016 - 11:29


Home via Paris

Home via Paris

Sunday, Oct 2

We had breakfast at a patisserie since the corner café was closed on Sunday. We took the more direct train into Paris and stored our luggage in a locker in Gare de l'Est station. We then went to the Musee des Arts et Métiers, where we enjoyed free admission and lots of models, but we found most of the interactive exhibits out of order.

We then went back to Sainte Chapelle so I could see it and Jessie could enjoy it with more time and better light than before. Afterward we needed a restroom break which (as before) took an extremely long time. Jessie's feet were bothering her after all the walking of the day before, but we managed one last stroll along Ile de Cite on our way back to our luggage.

I had booked us one last Airbnb near the airport. Our host was in Switzerland, but his parents let us in and offered us a 20€ ride to the airport in the morning, which was a good deal.

Monday, Oct 3

Our flight home was uneventful. The plane was much more spacious and less packed than on the way out, so we slept better. Unfortunately I started to feel a cold coming on, which laid me up for most of the next two weeks, and then Jessie caught it! But better then than during the trip! It was an amazing and unforgettable adventure.

Ben Mon, 10/03/2016 - 11:32