The travel conundrum

Everybody wants to visit exotic new places, but today, few people like to travel. By traveling, I mean footslogging through cavernous airports, squandering time in long waiting queues, going through the ignominy of security checks and dozing uncomfortably for extended periods of time in back-breaking seats.

Personally, I cannot wait for the relaunching of commercial supersonic planes like the Concorde that will cut the flying time in half; but according to my spies, they won’t fly until 2023. And by then I might not be in the mood…

“The worst thing about being a tourist is having other tourists recognize you as a tourist.” Russell Baker

No matter how hard you try, when you travel you will always be recognized as an interloper. In a foreign country, you will stick out like a basketball player trying to hide in a crowd of pygmies.

Everybody (at least some) dreams of visiting an unfamiliar country incognito, being the only foreigner in the crowd and blending smoothly with the locals. But it is impossible. Even I, speaking fluent French, won’t get away with it in France. I am tainted.

Like bloodhounds, the natives sniff out our alien scent and know right away that we are trespassers. It is almost like tourists have a giant T painted on their backs.

Of course, you could try it to fake it. You could ensconce yourself at a sidewalk café, throw a pack of cigarettes on the table, call loudly for a waiter and order a tiny cup of undrinkable espresso. But it is a tricky stunt that might end in disaster.

Personally, I don’t smoke, I don’t like strong coffee and I don’t have the Depardieu’s panache to pull this stunt.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did.” ― Mark Twain

 True. The best time to travel is when you are young and sound of body and mind. But when you are in your salad days, you probably won’t have the money… and when you are finally well off, you are permanently fatigued.

There has to be a solution. Maybe get a sugar daddy or a sugar mommy… or rob a bank and spend the loot on an extravagant adventure… and write a best-seller about it.

The perfect time to travel might be in the winter when hotels and restaurants (and museums) are empty and begging for “turistas”. They might discard the fact that you are an obtuse foreigner if you have a few rubles to spare.

Christmas in Vienna or Stockholm has a good ring to it!

Alain

Endearing Amsterdam

Our river cruise ended in Amsterdam, and instead of hopping into a plane right away, we stayed four additional days to explore this fascinating city.

Before I continue, here are a few things (straight out of Wikipedia) that you should know about this “stad”.

“Amsterdam is the capital city and most populous municipality of the Netherlands. It has a population of 854,047 within the city proper, 1,357,675 in the urban area and 2,410,960 in the metropolitan area.

Amsterdam’s name derives from Amstelredamme, (around a dam in the river Amstel.) The city has more than one hundred kilometers of grachten (canals), about 90 islands and 1,500 bridges.

Famous Amsterdam residents include Anne Frank, Rembrandt van RijnVincent van Gogh, and philosopher Baruch Spinoza.”

When you visit this city, you cannot miss the distinctive architectural style of the canal’s houses. They all display a Dutch Gable and if you pay attention, you will see a hook underneath. When you attach a pulley and a rope to it, you have a manual elevator to bring up any heavy or bulky item to the floor you choose.

“The Netherlands are wet, flat and full of stoned people.” John Entwistle

This sounds malicious but I found it to be partially true. The smell of pot is everywhere and on the Rembrandtplein square, many boisterous kids are obviously high.

In Holland, you will see no hills. The land is as flat as a pancake. One saying goes: “The land is so flat that you can see your dog running for three kilometers.”

So, this topography is ideal for bicyclists… and they are everywhere. They are also hazardous, especially for tourists. The bike riders appear silently from nowhere and show no intention of ever stopping. Some wear headphones, and some (horror) are using their phones while riding. Last but not least, nobody wears a helmet in Amseltown. Those things, everybody knows, are for American sissies.
When crossing any street, you better look (twice) right and left before venturing on the no Dutch man’s land know.

In Amsterdam, everybody (including cats and dogs) speaks English. The Dutch have always been seafarers and merchants and they will speak any language to sell their goods. And they are good at it. They put to shame pitiful monolingual Amerikanen.

While mingling with the natives, Tamara spotted a lot of well-heeled Russians. They are the Americans of yesteryear, spending money like drunken sailors. Nothing is too good or too expensive for them. Caviar and vodka days are here again.
Thank you, comrade Putin!

Amsterdam is above all a city of beer, boats, and bikes. If you have stamina and if you enjoy any of those things, this is the place for you.

A word of caution though: like any celebrated city, it is mobbed by hordes of tourists, especially in the summer.

Dag dag!

Alain

On this edition, you will get 2 photo albums for the price of one. Enjoy!

In search of the Lorelei

We are (finally) back. It is always exciting to go on a journey… but by George, it is absolutely wonderful to come home.

Most of you already know that time off can mean hard labor, especially when an “excursion” (or two) awaits you every single day of your getaway. And hard labor it was. According to my iPhone, on the average, we walked between 4 and 5 miles a day (often more), which was a lot to take for my left foot still suffering from “plantar fasciitis”.

So how was our trip to the old continent in general? It was great. And the “old continent” by the way has a lot to teach us and is often more cutting edge than our vaunted New World.

The airfare (Economy Premium) from San Francisco to Paris was fairly comfortable but 10 hours resting on my derriere is a bit much. Every part of my body deserves respect and I am sorry to say that I grossly disrespected that part.

The biggest hassle on this trip was the flight connection from Paris to Zurich in the Charles de Gaulle airport. The distance from one satellite to the other is humongous and it is a long-distance marathon for exhausted passengers.

Fortunately, my travel agent (Jan Toulon) had the great forward-thinking idea of asking for “assistance”. So, waiting for me in Paris was an Air-France wheelchair driving attendant to take me painlessly to my destination. Thank you, Jan, for that lifesaving suggestion.

We embarked on the “Avalon Panorama” in Basel (Switzerland) and disembarked in Amsterdam a week later. The ship was 443 feet long and 36 feet wide. But most excellently, it carried only 156 passengers with a crew of 52 people. In my book, bigger is never better!

The rooms were spacious, the service excellent and the food to die for. The only setback was the cold weather. It snowed in Basel and rained intermittently throughout our journey. But this didn’t dampen our spirit. We just bundled up and soldiered on.

Every excursion was led by a “guide” who always had a scintillating command of the English language. I would be willing to bet that half of California is not as proficient in English as our guides were.

For each excursion, all the participants were given a Bluetooth earpiece which allowed us to hear very clearly the guide’s comments… even when they strayed 30 feet away from that person.

As you can imagine I took a lot of pictures. This cruise and the subsequent stay in Amsterdam were a photographer’s dream come true. So, I shot around 3000 pictures which (after a strenuous effort) I managed to bring down to about 800.

I will probably post 3 or 4 albums; two devoted to the Rhine cruise and the 2 others devoted to Amsterdam.

Good to be back. I hope that you will like the pictures.

Alain