Back to the real world

The vacation is over. We are back on PEI and putting our home together. We have promised the girls a “second Christmas” celebration that has a real tree and not a picture of a tree on a chair in a hotel. For the most part, we are attempting to get back to a regular schedule and prepare for the start of school and all of the activities of everyday life.

This marks the end of the blog, at least for now. We have great plans for additional travels of the same sort. Our trip was a complete success beyond our expectations. There is no question of wanting to go again to a new place for an extended trip so the blog may be revived when we are able to travel again.

Until we travel again.

Back to Berlin

Tomorrow we are leaving for Berlin. This will make me have to get up really early–5am. This is very early to me because I woke at about 9:30 today. I don’t like getting up early. It makes me feel excited in a sleepy way and that means I don’t sleep that well. At least I will be on a plane, which means there is no chance of too much car sickness. But my fear of heights will be doing it’s job of making me very scared during the take off and landing. I also dislike having to sit so long on a plane. When we get to Berlin we will need to find our new apartment, which is close to our first apartment. It is about one street over from the last apartment.

I do not know what else is going to happen because none of this has happened yet, these are just my estimates.

Settlers of the beach town

My body is righteously angry at me and I do not blame it. The good news is that our house in Enniscrone is coming together nicely. We went on a big shopping trip to Ballina (gaelic Béal an Átha — pronounced, to my amateur ear, roughly as Baa – Lane – Ah) today and bought a load of groceries that included many of the staples of a useable kitchen. We also returned the O2 mobile Internet USB stick and picked up the Vodaphone version. The Vodaphone version is substantially better and we wil be keeping this one. We will go back in the next couple of days and trade in the current “loaner” for a proper one with a more substantial data plan.

When we returned, Janet made an amazing lunch and supper. The highlights were asparagus tips for lunch and an amazing chicken soup (from the remains of a chicken from yesterday) for supper.

The girls went swimming this evening at the pool. I have heard many stories of the wonders of the water slide. Both Robin and Sarah are asleep now. There was almost no time between walking in the door after swimming and walking into the bedroom. Jan bought memberships for everybody for three months. I think we will be staying around here for a while. If not, the cost was very low. One of the beauties of a tourist town is the drop in proces when the tourists leave.

I took the time the girls were swimming to rest at home. I am hoping to get rid of a cold sore that I acquired yesterday (stress related, perhaps) in short order so I am sleeping and doing as little as possible. Hey, I will take any excuse to be a lazy sod.

I have challenged the girls to write tomorrow (after their morning swim). I am going to tuck in with a glass of Chimay Première (actually, two glasses; this is the second) and read a bit of a mystery novel we found in the 3 for €10 pile in a bookstore this morning. I have a post about the amazing beer we found in Amsterdam stirring in my head. I hope to get it out in the next couple of days. Tomorrow I am going to get back at my schooling again and take one more step toward a comfortable routine. Until then, it is drink, read, and be sleepy.

Off to Ireland

We have spent the day today cleaning and packing to leave for Ireland tomorrow. We have to be out of the house by 9:00am and then back at 11:00am for a final goodbye. We will not have any Internet access in Ireland for the first little while so the blog may be “dark” for a couple of days.

A little reassurance

It is common (at least I say that it is common) that when embarking on an uncommon enterprise there will be people who suggest that it is … uncommon. The uncommonness can sometimes be referred to as stupidity, craziness, and similar terms of incredulity. It is okay; it is not as if the people undertaking the enterprise have not thought the same things. I know that we certainly have with respect to our extended vacation.

Filmmaker Roko Belic (not me ...)

As we booked out next location on the west coast of Ireland we spent a fair bit of time wondering about the rationale of continuing. The next stop will involve changing more to a “living” rather than a “traveling” lifestyle and more effort will go into schooling for the girls and less will be spent wandering around a city. There will still be time for travel. It will be more local and I do believe we will be able to explore by driving around Ireland (and likely Northern Ireland). This will be my first time driving on the “other” side of the road. That will be rather fun.

After we had decided to continue and booked our stay, I saw an article in the New York Times titled “But Will It Make You Happy?“. Consider reading it. It expresses an idea that Jan and I have worked our way around to in the last few years. Some of the quotes that I liked the most were the following:

“The idea that you need to go bigger to be happy is false,” she says. “I really believe that the acquisition of material goods doesn’t bring about happiness.”

One major finding is that spending money for an experience — concert tickets, French lessons, sushi-rolling classes, a hotel room in Monaco — produces longer-lasting satisfaction than spending money on plain old stuff.

“the one single trait that’s common among every single person who is happy is strong relationships.”

This is the kind of reassurance that makes it easier to continue the trip. For us, it is true that the time is going very well and we spend a lot of time talking to each other and discussing our daily adventures (today’s was a canal cruise, by the way). The trip has been an experiment in living relatively simply and with minimal possessions. We are not “roughing it” in any sense. We are very comfortable (Paris excepted) with what we have. We are just not buying much more “stuff”. However, it is geting close to the time when I am going to buy a shirt or two. If you notice a strong repetition in attire when I appear in photographs, there is a good reason.

Our trip will eventually end but I am already planning out how we can arrange to save up for the next one. I know that I would happily give up a flat-screen television or a new car for a chance to spend a couple of months somewhere like we are doing now.

The types of transportation

Transportation is different in Europe. I mean that transportation in Europe is different than transportation in Canada (and North America) and also transportation within the three cities we have visited is different.

The proliferation of bicycles is one of the biggest differences. In Paris, Berlin, and especially Amsterdam many people ride bicycles. The people who ride bicycles are from all ages and walks of life. There are old men and women, children, business people, “fashion models”, delivery drivers, parents, and so on. This is transportation that is universal. The bicycles are very simple and gearing is usually internal to the rear hub. There are baskets, fenders, and wide seats. This is transportation and it is practical.

The use of the road and sidewalk space is also very different. Mostly (and here I emphasize mostly and not always) pedestrians have a place to walk that is free of vehicles. There is also usually a lane for bicycles (either sharing the sidewalk space or the roadway space–and sometimes it is hard to tell which is which … that leads to the “mostly” I mentioned above). Scooters and small motorcycles live in a gray area which mostly should be on the roads but sometimes wanders into the bicycle lanes and sometimes onto the sidewalk. Similarly, bicycles will occasionally wander onto the road or sidewalk. Mostly everybody stays where they should be … but not always. Yet it seems to work. The chaos I saw on our first day in Amsterdam was so far beyond what I could understand in terms of rules and sharing of the road that I was scared … and also impressed that the bodies from accidents were not filling the canals regularly. There is a pecking order here and the people know what it is and it works. The available space gets used and people share. Pedestrians occasionally walk on the roads and the car drivers are wary. A motorcycle will wander into the bicycle lane (or sidewalk, to park) and nobody dies.

There is also a surprising lack of horn honking (yes, it happens; just not as regularly as it would if everybody got angry when a bicycle, pedestrian, or motorcycle got out of its designated area). That aspect of travel amazes me. I like it a great deal. Compared to the news story that Charlottetown police are going to crack down on bicycles on the sidewalk (and the fact that people need to know the rules better to go biking and pedestrians are worried about injury), they would run out of ticket books as fast as they could write the tickets in any of the three cities we have visited.

Having said this, there are differences:

  • In Berlin there were beautiful cars. I saw all of the Mercedes models and variants, including the supercar varieties. Similarly with Audi and BMW. We saw multiple Lamborghinis and Ferraris. Because we are fans of the British television show Top Gear it was fun to pick out the exotic cars and variants.
  • In Paris there were beautiful motorcycles. When I saw multiple Buells on a walk from the Louvre I became suspicions that the motorcycle was the vehicle for Parisians. It was then I started noticing that the evenings were filled with the high-revving sounds of sport bikes and the streets were filled with crotch rockets of all shapes and sizes (and, yes, there were lots of scooters and other types of motorcycles). People in Paris were not driving the cruiser bikes. I saw more Ducatis than all of the Harley-style big bikes (Buell excepted).
  • In Amsterdam the bicycle is king. It is black and it is basic and it is bicycle. There are variants on the theme where a bike may have a large box on the front with two wheels and the box steers the bicycle. There are bicycle carriers for children and all sorts of panniers. The most surprising thing I have seen so far are the adults that sit sideways across the carrier on the back of the bike while another pedals. I saw a very attractive and well-dressed woman take a couple of quick steps and slide sideways onto a moving bike that was being pedalled by (presumably) a similarly well-dressed and handsome man and the smiled and chatted as they drove. Rather than try to describe the variety, I encourage you to look through Amsterdam Bicycles (82 pictures of bicycles taken during 73 minutes on 9/12/06 in Amsterdam, Netherlands)–this is how it really is and it is very foreign to us foreigners. The expensive cars and motorcycles do not seem to be as abundant in Amsterdam; but I am new to the city so I may spot them later.

I have not said much about the scooters. They are of the traditional Vespa stylings for the most part. I have seen a few “real” Vespas and many made by Piaggio. There are a surprising number of three-wheeled scooters, if they are really scooters at this point, by Piaggio as well. BMW makes a very attractive scooter that is covered with a roll cage and looks very attractive as well. There are not many of the BMW scooters around and the vast majority are the Vespa style.

Up until now we have used only mass transportation or our legs. We are bus and train people with a brief stint on an airplane to get from Berlin to Paris. I daresay we will travel the canals some in Amsterdam because to do otherwise would be to miss out on one of the major features of the city. Having said this, I am very tempted to get a vehicle and wander into the melee that is everywhere. I do not think it wold be a car. There are just too few cars around here and they really have a disadvantage in the city (outside the city wold be fine). Maybe a bike or a motorcycle would be fun for a bit. Most people say that we must get a bike and see the sights. It would be a shame not to.

The first day in Paris

The apartment is small and the walls are not painted except for two walls. Everything else is white wall papered. The bed that Sarah and I got given is not a bed at all. It is a couch, a very small couch. It is supposed to pull out but this one; you just unfold the cushions and sleep on those. It is too small for two girls so I pulled the blanket off of Sarah and put it on the floor with a pillow.

Sarah did not wake up at all when I took her blanket so I got away with sleeping on a nice soft blanket. The blanket pattern is a tiger. It has orange and black stripes. The bed inside my parents’ room is, in fact, a bed—a reasonably hard bed, but a bed.

Inside the room where Sarah and I are sleeping there is the kitchen (the cooking is done using a hotplate) and the dining room (a pullout table and two chairs) and the entryway. So our room is incredibly crowded.

Last night we were incredibly tired from the plane ride and the walk to the apartment and the Metro ride. To save mommy from having to cook, she went out and bought us a hamburger each and two orders of fries and two large bottles of cold water.

Once we finished eating we were all ready to go to sleep. By that time, our bed was already pulled out and we tried to go to sleep. Then, I couldn’t sleep and took Sarah’s blanket and slept on the floor. After I slept for a long time something woke me up. I thought it was just a firecracker because we have been hearing a lot of those. Then I saw a flash of lightning and the rain started. So, there was a storm on the first night I tried to sleep in our new apartment. The first thunder woke everybody up, I think. Sarah may have still been asleep. It is hard to know with her. Pretty soon, when the thunder and lightning and rain died down a bit, I went to sleep.

The first day in Berlin

Today I took many train rides to Berlin then I waited for what seemed like ten hours then we got in our apartment and unpacked.

I had a very long walk with a very heavy pack in Berlin and I am incredibly sleepy here in Berlin because we got up very early–around 5:30am and we had a very rushed morning in Amsterdam.

On the first train ride from Centraal Station to Hilversum I felt motion sick.  We left Centraal Station at 6:35am.  One the second train from Hiversum to Berlin it was very noisy once a group of women got on.  They were acting drunk and were drinking and cackling.  It was around 9 o’clock in the morning.  Before the women got on we got a nice quiet sleep because the people around us were sleeping too.

When we arrived at Berlin we got our monthly passes for the U-Bahn then we got on another train.  Then we got on a subway to the closest station to our apartment.  We then walked to our apartment (and got lost) and then waited a long time for the woman who was renting the apartment to us.  Eventually she came and let us in.

Once we went into the apartment building, she showed us which one was our apartment and then showed us around.  We paid her.  Then we got cleaned up and had  nap (many naps).

Centraal station

When we arrived in Amsterdam’s centraal station, I had a mental image of a train station, and from the inside, it looked like a very large train station. From the outside, it looked like a castle Amsterdam central station

Today Sarah, Robin and I went off on another hunt for food. I suspect this will be a very common occurrence given our desire to spend little and stay and stay longer. On our way back I saw a sign on a shop window for espresso, cappuccino, and lattes. In I went with the good intention of bringing Gordie back a cup full of love. Unfortunately for him, there was no take away, just a spot to stand and drink great coffee. For me however, the fair trade organic Sumatran latte was heaven in a cup. The very kind shop owner also gave the girls chocolate and a place to sit while mom drank to her heart’s content. Guilt is now getting to me and I think that I may head out with a cup from here to bring Gordie back his own.