Monday, September 18, 2006

Travel Post, Part II

Okay, so if you haven't read Part I (below) about Kim and Mike's wedding, go do that first since it comes before this chronologically!

I stayed up until about 12:30AM packing and getting other things ready for Matt, and got up at 6:30AM in hopes that I would be tired enough to sleep on the plane that night. When I went to the bank after lunch on Monday to pick up my currency, I was immediately taken back to see the bank Vice President, who apologized profusely and had the Fed-Ex envelope on her desk. Well remedied, but BoA is still on probation until they credit the money from the first order back to our account.

We took a taxi to BWI and got there at 5:30PM, and there was practically no one there. We got through ticketing and security in about half an hour, and then had like 2 1/2 hours before boarding. It was a little weird that all the gate area TVs were playing the news reports on the fifth anniversary of 9/11. We just basically sat around and read for a while.

I tried to sleep on the first leg of the flight but for the most part was pretty unsuccessful. It wasn't that I wasn't tired; I just couldn't get comfortable enough to fall asleep. We had dinner on the plane, and then around 4 hours into the flight, an attendant came over the intercom asking if there was a doctor on the plane. Rhoda looked around for a minute to see if anyone else would stand up, and when no one did, she finally stood up and said "I'm a doctor." They asked her to come back and assist a woman who was having chest pains. It turned out that the woman was having a heart attack, but we were two hours away from land so there was nothing the plane could do in terms of an emergency landing. Rhoda did what she could in medical terms, and the woman (who was Icelandic and didn't speak English) ended up making it off the plane still alive and conscious; they had an ambulance waiting and EMTs boarded the plane as soon as we landed. At one point one of the flight attendants asked Rhoda "What kind of doctor are you?" When Rhoda told her "I'm a dermatologist" she asked "Do you know what you're doing??"

So we landed in Keflavik (right outside of Reykjavik, on the southwest tip of Iceland) at around 6am local time, and I've been up for 18 of the past 20 hours. We had about an hour and a half to get coffee and browse through the shops on the concourse. Two notable things about Iceland - one is that people really do look like the stereotypical Nordic, especially a lot of the flight attendants (tall, blonde and beautiful). Apparantly this is because their population has been relatively "undiluted" for almost 1000 years, and geneticists use Icelandic DNA for gene studies because it's such a pure population. The second is that people drink beer in Iceland at 6AM. I'm not kidding.

The second leg of our flight was uneventful, and we made it to our hotel around 3PM, after a short train ride from Schipol Airport to Centraal Station (our hotel was right across the street). We showered and changed and then went out into Amsterdam. We hadn't eaten since breakfast on the flight, so we stopped into a little tapas cafe for some bread and cheese (how very European). We walked around the Red Light District (during the day), which was an interesting experience. The marijuana cafes look a lot like regular coffee shops, except they don't have glass in the front windows. Instead, there's just big mattress-like couches, with guys lounging around doing bong hits. I've never seen a marijuana cafe right next to a McDonalds, but I guess from a practical perspective, it makes sense because if you get the munchies you can just go next door. They also had mushroom cafes (psilocybin), and some very interesting souvenir shops - places where you can buy such things as a set of salt and pepper shakers painted in the traditional delft pottery style. Except that they're shaped like giant penises, and they're painted with marijuana leaves. Oh, and they also have prostitutes in this area of the city, except that they're kind of old (45+ in my best guess) and pretty large.

So after that we decided to go to the Anne Frank House, which was pretty incredible. This was the house where the Frank Family hid out from the Nazis for two years, and Anne wrote her diary that was later published. So, you go through the warehouse area first, which was the cover for "The Annex." Then they have the bookcase that hid the secret stairs pulled halfway out, and you go up the stairs into their hiding place. It was pretty amazing. The furniture was gone, but they had pictures of how the room looked when they were there. Anne's room still had all the magazine pictures and movie stars glued to the walls. They had footage from Bergan-Belsen (where she died) and interviews with some of the other people (her father Otto and Miep, his secretary who was smuggling them food) at the end. I was glad I was able to see it all.

We went out for a glass of wine that evening and then crashed around 9:30PM - for 14 hours. I don't think I moved all night. The next day, we did a couple canal boat tours of the city and went to the Van Gogh Museum. The canal boat tours were great; you got to see a bunch of different places in the city and didn't have to walk. Well, that's the theory anyways. We took the first line that goes around the west part of the city and got off at the Museum, and spent a couple hours there. You're not supposed to take pictures (though I don't understand why), but I got a pretty decent one of Sunflowers and a slightly less decent one of Irises. Unfortunately my favorite painting was on loan in New York (two points if you know which one it is). Then we took the canal boat back up to Centraal station, and got on the line that goes through the east part of the city. We got off at City Hall to walk around and do a little bit of shopping, and got back to the boat stop at 6:08 for the last boat at 6:15...which never came. We waited for about half an hour before we decided to walk back to our hotel; I'm bad with distances but my estimate would be that it was something in the range of 1.5-2 miles. It was kind of nice to see the city though.

We took a train to Leiden that evening and then a taxi to Noordwijk (which ended up costing 35 Euros, almost $50, for about 20 minutes). The hotel we were staying at, Hotels van Oranje, was right on the coast of the North Sea. It was pretty awesome.

Pictures from the entire week are here, although Thursday-Sunday will be covered in Part III. Keep reading for more!

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