Sunday, August 28, 2011

Singer Family Vacation Continued

Ten years ago, when we were on our way to Israel and we got accidentally stuck in London just before Shabbat with two little kids and no place to go, and we somehow magically found at the very last minute a hotel room and a sufficient amount of kosher food, but not without much fear and a few tears, Ross said then the he gets it-- that he is no longer a bachelor who can fly by the seat of his pants..  That now he is a father, and he has to be more responsible.   I felt the same way.  (Raise your hands if you have heard that story about London a million times.  Just double-checking...).

So explain to me how it happened that we thought that two overnight flights, with a 13 hour stop over in Amsterdam in between, with FOUR kids, seemed like a really cool idea.  Though I have to say, in the end, I am not sorry we did it.  That's why we fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants-ers never change.

Our flight from Houston left at 4:00 in the afternoon on Tuesday.  It was scheduled to arrive in Amsterdam at 8:00 in the morning.  Sounded perfect-- we get a good night's sleep on the plane, and get off bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to see the windmills and the dykes and the Anne Frank House.  The problem is, 4:00 PM is not exactly bed time.  When we arrived in the Amsterdam morning, it was 1:00 AM according to our bodies, and most of us hadn't slept a wink.  Just Adin for two hours..  So when we got off, all everyone wanted to do was sleep.  We were so desperate we tried to rent a hotel room in the airport, but they only had single rooms.  We tried to get drinks for the kids, but the airport only sold drinks to people with  pending flights, and our connecting flight was so far away that it wasn't on their radar.  So we sat in chairs by the security exit for awhile just because we literally couldn't put one foot in front of the other.  This was working for some, but horribly uncomfortable for others, so we decided we had to go back to plan A, and take a boat tour around the city.  It was one of those tours where you can get on and off as many times as you like, so we figured we could ride out the circuit a few times, catching some z's, and when we awoke, we could see the sights.

 As we stepped outside of the station, we discovered to our surprise, after the sweltering dry heat of Maale Gilboa, and the record-breaking temperatures of Baltimore, and the blasting humidity of Houston, that Amsterdam was cold, and also rainy.  That had just never occurred to us.  We were not prepared for this eventuality.  But we sucked it up.  No one complained too loud (because they were too tired), and we made our way to the tourist boat.  It was covered and climate controlled, and we proceeded to sleep for 3 hours.

When we purchased the ticket, the salesman explained that it was good on any of four different lines.  We could get on and off as we pleased from all four.  We knew we wanted to see the Anne Frank House, and that was only on two of the lines, so we took the first one of those that came to the station-- the red line.  When we awoke hours later,dozens of people had come on and off the boat many times, I can only imagine them staring and perhaps chuckling at the crazy Jewish family sprawled out over several benches, laden with over-stuffed carry-on bags.  I can only imagine because I was sleeping at the time.  When I awoke (before the others), I made a point to explain to newcomers that we were jet-lagged, on a layover from America.  It made me feel better to think that I could convince strangers to not think we were crazy or homeless or something.  Because hey, you never know when you will see total strangers you meet in random foreign countries again.

As I sat up, I began to take in the breathtaking scenery around me.  We were riding in the canals, along streets with exquisite brownstone buildings.  The automated guide was pointing out where the mayor lived and where the steel company had its warehouse (both storefronts in the same neighborhood and looking amazingly similar, except for the gargoyle statues on the mayor's house, and the company logo on the steel).  Along the sides of the canals were houseboats with real people living in them.  During the short circuit of the tour, we saw a tremendous range of standards of living on these boats.  Some were little run-down boxes with peeling paint on the windows, and tended flower boxes on the window sills.  Others were large and ornate, well crafted and nicely painted, and you could see things like large ornate candlesticks and fancy set tables through the windows.  When Rivital awoke, she looked around and said, "These are the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen."

Eventually we all awoke and agreed to get off at the Anne Frank House.  As I looked at the map to figure out the stop, I suddenly realized that while we were sleeping, the boat had changed routes.  We were now on the green line.  I panicked, afraid that this would be one of the boats that doesn't go to our destination, but as luck would have it, Anne Frank was the very next stop.  With a little change in plan, we decided we would scale our trip down to the Anne Frank House and a kosher restaurant, and head back to the airport.  As we stepped off the boat, we felt the driver smirking, so I explained about how we had just gotten off a sleepless flight and we were jet-lagged.  He smiled and said that makes a lot of sense.  I said, "Oh, do a lot of people do that then?"  His face went serious and he replied, "No."  We told him we were headed to the Anne Frank House, and he said, "Good luck!"

What did he mean by "Good luck?"  We had no idea, ...until we approached the Anne Frank House.  The line went out the door and around the block, extending deep into the neighboring courtyard.  This was going to be a long wait.  In the drizzling rain.  It was amazing-- no one in line looked remotely Jewish.  What were they all doing here?  The man whose job it was to say we couldn't come in with all our luggage told me that they get over a million visitors a year.  Unbelievable!  So Shai and Tali and Abaye and Ross waited on line, and an hour and a half later got to see what it was all about.  Adin and I waited outside in the drizzling rain, squeezing under a little awning when the rain fell.

By the time the guys came out of the museum, our chance for the kosher restaurant had vanished.  In fact, we had to hurry back to the boat to the train to the airport (someone should write a movie about that...).  We made our flight in plenty of time, and here we are in Israel, alive and well to tell about it.

Next year I think we'll try Paris....

Oh yeah-- I forgot to mention the very coolest thing we saw in Amsterdam-- first of all, bicycles EVERYWHERE (though not a helmet to be found), but most amazingly-- A multi-level parking garage FOR BICYCLES ONLY.  Literally-- with the winding parking garage, and all bicycles!!!!  Not to mention all the bicycle street parking where there are just heaps of them lining the streets!!  (of course, they have to come out every two hours and move them to the other side of the street for street cleaning...)  (just kidding-- Manhattan joke...). 

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