Once a Travel Couple, Now a Travel Family
Though my shoulders are sporting a light sunburn from yesterday's stroll, as I write this, rain is pattering heavily on the roof of our Flixbus. We've done a few long-distance journeys with this company, and this is one of the most plush buses we've been on; we're on the upper-level, and the seats recline really far back. It's a little more air-conditioned than I would prefer, though, considering the thunderstorms outside.
Andrew and I are on our way back to Paris for the second time this trip (my third time ever, Andrew's...sixth? Seventh?) after spending a week in Holland with my family. We left Wales--rather abruptly, it seemed, though I don't know if there's a truly graceful way to extract yourself from a situation as intense and time-warpy as that--and spent two nights in Liverpool with my Nana's cousin Brenda and her daughter. From Liverpool, we took a one-hour flight to Amsterdam to reunite with my parents, sister, and honorary brother-in-law.
It is such an awesome and strange thing to be with some of your closest people after so long in such a new place! We stayed in Hoorn for the first three nights of our adventure, in a long, narrow, and tall (aka Dutch) Airbnb. My sister Kelly and her Sebastian, and then Andrew and I, took turns cooking dinner two of the nights. We sampled quite a few Dutch beers and explored the town. We all found Hoorn to be beautiful, with a charming harbor, a few picturesque canals, and enough bars and cafes to be the European experience we were excited to show my parents. It was a big enough town to spend a few hours exploring, but small enough for us to start calibrating our cyclist awareness before experiencing the craziness of Amsterdam proper. Because Andrew and I were the last to show up at the Airbnb that first day (and because everyone assumed we'd spent enough endless time together) we got the two little bedrooms on the third floor with a twin bed each. But our own bathroom!
Hoorn was more than an hour away from Amsterdam via public transit, which is why we only stayed there for a few nights. We did make it to the Van Gogh Museum on our second full day, which was fantastic and so worth the trek into town. Van Gogh is one of my all-time favorite artists (I know I'm not alone in this) and the museum has something like over 200 of his works. My dad also studied art and I get a lot of my skills and interest in drawing from him, so it was special to be there together. A pretty cool moment was stumbling upon a piece I hadn't seen before: one of Van Gogh's works from his time in Paris, of Boulevard de Clichy. Andrew and I rented an apartment just around the corner from the spot in the painting for our month in Paris in December. I bought a postcard of that one on our way out, and will probably acquire a full-size print to frame in our future living space once we're home.
Van Gogh's "Boulevard de Clichy" (postcard form)
Hoorn's little harbor. Can you spot Andrew...?
At one point we did Rick Steve's walking tour of the Redlight District around mid-day, heeding all the warnings from travelers before us about the seediness. Maybe it was the time of day, or maybe it's just the massive influx of tourism, but I didn't see any of the sketchiness people talked about; the main streets were packed with young people and tourists shopping for weed, and the alleyways where you find sex workers were even okay. Was it jarringly different from what I was used to, walking past windows with women in lingerie waiting for clients right on the other side of the glass? Certainly. I think there's excellent literature about the sex work industry in Amsterdam that is worth a peruse.
The streets and canals and mind-blowing number of bicycles in Amsterdam were something else! I feel like a lot of the photographs of the canals, lined with beautiful trees and colorful buildings, make Amsterdam look cute and quaint and almost...quiet. Meanwhile, in real life, just behind every photographer is a busy street with trams and scooters and cyclists and tourists, and the center is actually quite busy! I've also never been anywhere where the bicycles reign supreme before--when people say Amsterdam is full of bikes, they are not kidding. Or exaggerating. Even with all the crowds and things going on, we managed to run into my Uncle Mike and Aunt Thays almost as soon as they arrived in the city. We'd fully intended to give them space to relax and recover from their long flight before making plans to join up with them, but the universe planned something else.
Amsterdam on Father's Day!
Our last two nights as a nuclear family all together were spent in Edam, a little closer to the city. Edam was possibly even more delightful than Hoorn. There were more canals and it was a bit smaller, and everything was beautiful. We watched the sailboats from a waterfront lunch spot, and then watched canal boats a few hours later in a different spot and drank Aperol Spritzes while we waited to be joined by Kelly and Sebastian--Sebastian just graduated with a degree in classical guitar, and got to enjoy a leisurely afternoon playing all sorts of guitars in a music shop with the owner and some lucky onlookers.
The Airbnb in Edam was adorable and well-stocked, and the four of us "kids" had a slumber party in the second bedroom on two pull-out beds. There was a cat that lived there named Jill, which was very confusing for me. I think the highlight of this portion of the trip was the little canoe/power boat our host rented us for ten euros, which we used to cruise Edam's canals at dusk our first evening.
Edam's canal boat cruise, steered in turn by Andrew and Sebastian, criticized by myself and Kelly
What kind of story do you think she's telling?
We were all aware the whole time that the "travel style" we would enjoy while being with my parents would be different than when Andrew and I are on our own, but this fact was never made more clear than when the river cruise ship arrived in the port on Monday. Ten of my family members are cruising the Rhine on the Scenic Jasper as we speak: my parents, my grandparents, my mom's two brothers and their wives, and my grandma's sister and her husband. They all got into town at staggered times. Kelly and Sebastian were due to fly home later Monday evening, and Andrew and I were heading to a hostel by the beach for two nights, but we were surprised and delighted to find that the cruise ship had no problem holding our ratty and dirty luggage for the day, for free. They also gave us guest passes to hang out aboard the ship.
I'm proud of our budget-travel ways. I feel accomplished when we can find beds to sleep in for $6 a night or manage to cross a few countries for $20 each in bus fares. But I think it is a new life goal to be able to do one of these bougie cruises. We were all sitting around in my grandparents' corner suite with big windows looking over the water, and Giovanni the steward came in to see if we needed anything. "Giovanni, could we get two bottles of champagne and glasses for everyone?" my grandpa asked. And so it appeared! Giovanni explained to everyone that if they ever wanted a cocktail party before dinner, just to let him know and he would arrange it. There was a pillow menu available if the pillows weren't quite to their liking. There would be meetings in the lounge every afternoon to go over the itinerary, but if they didn't feel like leaving their room, they could tune into these meetings by going to the lounge cam on their own TV. Like...what world is this?? (Meanwhile, we're stoked to find an Airbnb that provides a working shower.)
The fireplace screen seems a little out of place, but it is an option.
We were allowed to stay for lunch. I couldn't believe our luck, honestly. I suppose between the ten of them, my crazy family paid enough money to the cruise line that they figured they could spare a few cups of tomato soup and a bottle of champagne for us kids? It was the best way to get quality time with my grandparents, too. I grew up about two miles away from their house, so this is the longest I've been away from them (and my parents and sister, for that matter). I think they'll all have an awesome week together; it's a fun bunch of people. I'm so lucky to have a big and vibrant extended family that all get along so well, and even luckier to get to hug and catch up with many of them halfway around the world.
Group photos are hard
After lunch, we left everybody to nap and shower and settle into fancy boat life and went to meet up with our friend Dion who we'd met at our hostel in Bucharest many weeks ago. Though Kelly and Sebastian tried to go their own way to kill time, we ended up running into them, too. Amsterdam is not a small city, and yet it seemed to be for us! After dinnertime, we caught a shuttle affiliated with our hostel to take us the 45 minute drive to our beds. (Flying Pig Beach Hostel was quite comfortable, but no Scenic Jasper.)
On Tuesday we saw all the family in the morning, but their boat left the port a little after noon. We waved them off from the opposite shore, in Amsterdam Noord. We rounded out our time just wandering parts of the city we hadn't seen yet, soaking in the 80 degree sunshine. My shoulders and legs haven't seen daylight in months. We had a very slow lunch and fell asleep in a park for a bit. Our last night in Holland was spent on the windy beach in Noordwijk, eating Dominos pizza, just a few minutes from our hostel.
Now we are on a Flixbus, making our slow and painful way from Amsterdam to Paris. We're delayed by at least an hour due to traffic, no doubt made worse by the thunderstorms. There's so much to look forward to, though! We have two nights in an Airbnb on our own (shoutout to Suzy!) and then we join friends for the Fête de la Musique. Mom and Dad get into Paris following the cruise on Monday, Aunt Bev and Uncle Dave the day after that, and then we have a Workaway in the South of France beginning in July. Summer is here, and it's busy, and stormy, and sunny.
Last day in Amsterdam.
A view of Antwerp, Belgium from our Flixbus window.
Some of the bridges in Edam were QUITE low, even for our little boat, but we made it.