Tonight the kids and I had supper with dear friends from Princeton who are in London for the semester. It was perfect. Happy Halloween.
Walking back to our flat tonight, Lee asked me if we could be done with museums. I held his soft, pudgy, four-year-old hand and looked down at his wispy toddler hair. I’m not sure if Errol had other plans, but I told him yes. He could be done with museums. More London playgrounds to discover tomorrow.
We went to London today. The whole crew. When Neddy was fussing in line at the Basel airport, Errol tried to reason with him: “ Most of traveling is just waiting.”
Is that right?
Most of traveling is just waiting?
We did stand in line a lot today: visa checks, security, passport control, boarding, passport control again.
Travel days try everyone’s patience, but they’re not what travel is. The long lines and timetables are the yuck you have to work through to get to the good stuff. It’s not easy, but travel is usually rewarding. When the waiting is over, the fun can begin.
Oberlin, Thom and Vinnie’s school, hosts a Halloween party each year. One of the founders was born in America, and she said Oberlin celebrated Halloween before anyone else in Germany: “Ten years ago Halloween didn’t exist here,” she told us today.
The kids were looking forward to the party and especially loved the fancy face painting. One of my favorite moments of the party was when Lee sat in the face painting chair and when asked what he wanted he said softly, “ Kürbis.” Sweet Lee understood her question and answered with the German word for pumpkin.
On the way to the party, I did my usual inspection of the kids as we were getting up to leave the tram. Lee, our black cat, wasn’t wearing his tail. “Lee, where’s your tail?” He quickly trotted back and found it between the seats.
A few hours later, just as we got off the tram, Vinnie shouted most sincerely,
“Does everyone have their tail?”
The twins with serious faces reached back to double check.
It was hilarious.
Though you’d hardly know it around here, Halloween is quickly approaching. Both schools held parties today since they’re on break next week. We can’t really tell if this is a holiday the whole country gets behind. Chocolate Santas and Advent calendars are already in the grocery stores. It seems Halloween doesn’t get much commercialization. Sadly, this means I don’t get my annual overdose of candy corn and all her glorious cousins.
H&M was our Halloween headquarters this year, but it didn’t fulfill all our needs. Last Sunday In Amsterdam, Buttless and I walked by a Claire’s. I noticed they had witch hats and vampire capes--two necessary items for Vin the witch and Thom the vampire. Buttless advised me to get them, and I’m glad she did. I still haven’t seen any for sale in Freiburg.
I finally found a set of vampire fangs tucked away in a dm yesterday. Dm is similar to CVS, but a huge difference is every CVS and Walgreens in America is overflowing with Halloween junk this week.
Our American library came through and invited our family to trick-or-treat there last night. It was only six office doors, but the kids were so excited to be in costume.
This morning my heart sank a bit to see Lee and Ned sort through their candy. They each had their six pieces lined up. Not much of a sort, but we all know that next year we’ll be back trick-or-treating in Riverside.
Tuesdays are library days for us, and yesterday was an extra special Tuesday at the library. They celebrated German National Library Day with treats, tours, and lots of American decorations. Errol and the bigs arrived before the twins and me, and Vin came running at me smiling and waving a little American flag.
It takes at least two trains to get from Amsterdam to Freiburg. My transfer was in Frankfurt, and I had 25 minutes between arrival and departure. Soon after leaving Amsterdam, the notifications started to arrive that my train would be late. Deutsche Bahn couldn’t guarantee I’d make my transfer.
I was scheduled to arrive in Freiburg at 23.09. I was traveling alone so being late wasn’t a huge deal, but I wanted to be home by 7.15 a.m. so Errol wouldn’t have to wake the twins for the Oberlin run.
My current train started canceling stops to make up time, and announcements began to tell us how to navigate the changes. Passengers to Freiburg/Basel were instructed to change trains in Cologne and change again in Manheim. During these announcements, the man next to me started talking to me in German that required more of a response than my usual smile.
“I’m sorry. I only speak English,” I told him.
“Oh, I’m sorry for speaking German to you this whole time.”
We talked for awhile as the train chugged closer to Cologne.
“Actually, I work for an American company--John Deere,” he added.
“John Deere?! My dad is a farmer!”
We Thomsen sisters are an enthusiastic bunch. Sometimes I need to reign it in, but this was just too exciting. John Deere?! What are the chances?
Luckily, this guy wasn’t the type that minds enthusiasm. We rode the next train together and talked the whole time. We parted in Manheim, but I hope to see him again. He promised a tour of the factory. 140 tractors made each day!
I walked into our Freiburg flat at 12.40 a.m.--6.5 hours to spare.
The hostel provided breakfast each morning. It was set on a picnic table under a large white tent to keep the rain off. They served three of my favorite foods: salami, cheese, and cucumbers. They also had the Dutch generic version of Nutella. I convinced Buttless to try it on cheese. She was reluctant but ended up endorsing the combination. Try it at home.
On Sunday morning we checked out and took the bus back to Amsterdam Centraal. Buttless had a big suitcase that needed to be rehomed in storage. Miraculously, the large roller bag fit into a normal-sized locker. We were amazed and took a picture like the good millennials we are.
The Hermitage Museum was next. I liked the Outsiders’ bit most. The works were made by artists with no formal training.
Once it was noon, we were ready for our wine and lunch. We found a place tucked away with no menus. Two women ran the restaurant, and I told Buttless it reminded me of Idgie and Ruth and the Whistlestop Cafe. The food was delicious, and we didn’t hear any English amongst the patrons (besides ours). This was not the case everywhere else we went--lots and lots of English in Amsterdam.
We strolled through the Red Light District before landing back at Centraal for more refreshments and baggage retrieval. Buttless was off to The Hague, and I was booked on the 16:37 train to Germany. More on that train adventure later.
The weather could have been better, but the bouts of pouring rain kept us on our toes. All told, Amsterdam was lovely.
I met Buttless for a weekend in Amsterdam on Friday afternoon. I took the twins to kindergarten as usual and then hopped on a train to Frankfurt. From there, I boarded another train to Amsterdam. 6.5 hours later, we pulled in.
The night before, Buttless informed me what she’d be wearing. Errol and I laughed, but knowing her outfit’s color wasn’t enough. We were supposed to meet at the station but couldn’t find each other. Finally, after trusting some shady wifi networks, we reunited. Then, our adventures began.
Sleeping in Amsterdam is expensive. It’s a reason I didn’t go there before. I had heard from other backpackers that you needed to book a hostel in advance, and they weren’t cheap. That wasn’t my style.
Now, I don’t mind the planning but am still annoyed by expensive. Buttless and I were taken aback by the prices of dorm beds in Amsterdam. When we were on our adventures 10+ years ago, we’d consider an 18€ bed a splurge. We began our search weeks ago, and the ones that weren’t already sold out were running 100€ a piece! It was looking like getting a twin hotel room would be about the same price.
Like I’ve mentioned before, I love hostels. I finally found one for us, for the “deal” price of 60€ a bed. The hostel was a temporary pop-up next to a campground. They sold sleeping spots in little tents, big tents, and tiny temporary cabins. I booked us beds in a cabin. The tents were cheaper, but I chose the 4-bed female cabin. Best decision ever. It had electricity and a little space heater. It rained a lot over our weekend, and several times we remarked how awful it would have been if we’d decided to rough it in a wet, cold tent.
On Friday we rode the free ferry from the station to Noord and then walked in the rain to our hostel. Along with sleeping bags, they handed us Heinekens at check-in. Buttless was thrilled. The walk from Central was farther than advertised, and we used the bus as soon as we picked up our transit passes.
We wandered a bit and found a great restaurant for supper. We left Cafe van Zuylen happy and full. As Buttless and I were ready to go to bed, everyone else was about to go out. Most of the people at the hostel were in Amsterdam for a techno festival. We didn’t even meet the two women we shared our cabin with until the following evening. They hadn’t returned from Friday night parties when we left Saturday morning.
Buttless advised to head to the Van Gogh Museum first thing Saturday. I was particularly excited for this museum because last spring I read a biography on the Van Gogh brothers called Vincent and Theo. I loved it and was looking forward to seeing so many of his pieces I read about.
The sun came out during our lunch at a street cafe, and we took a canal cruise through the city. I liked this a lot. It’s fun to see a place by boat. That afternoon we visited three more museums: the Diamond Museum, The Museum of Bags and Purses, and toured an old canal house called the Willet-Holthuysen Museum.
We ate at a Mediterranean place for supper and then went to a coffee shop for dessert. We walked to Dam Square and found a carnival. We passed food stands selling “spun sugar” (cotton candy) but noticed they hadn’t gone as far as American carnival food. No funnel cakes or fried oreos in sight.
We returned to our hostel to again find most of our fellow guests hadn’t gone out yet. We met our roommates: two friends who spoke English to one another, but one was French and the other German. We laughed about how we were on opposite schedules. They had slept all day while we were out.
They told us the big show of the night didn’t start until 2 a.m. They left the cabin at 12.45 to start their night. I saw them go, felt the cold air rush in with the open door, turned over, and fell back asleep to the rain. Sometimes it feels so good to be 33.